In the past two months, my blog was transformed into a Jungle Warfare zone for a brutal war that happened before I was born. My posts about Malayan Emergency from 1948-1960 since the death of the Communist guerrilla leader Chin Peng received interesting feedback. In How much was Chin Peng worth? my reader Ruby left this comment:
“My father fought in the Malaysian uprising (on the British side). Well, he spent his National Service in Singapore; not sure he did much actual fighting. He got a medal for it recently – from the Malaysian government.”
This comment was too good to believe for any blogger. With Ruby’s help, now I’ve got an intriguing story from a British veteran who served in Malaya in 1955.
Ruby’s father, under the pseudonym Cockhorse, shared with us his time in Malaya and the medals he recently received, including the prestigious Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal from the Malaysian government. The term Pingat Jasa means Service Medal in the Malay language.
The Government of Malaysia introduced the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal in 2005 and awarded it to British and Commonwealth veterans who served in the conflict in Malaya/Malaysia between August 1957 and August 1966. Since 2011, the Pingat Jasa Malaysia can be worn on all occasions with Her Majesty the Queen’s permission. The veterans wore the medals for the first time in the 2011 Remembrance Sunday Services and Parades in November. In the UK, Remembrance Sunday is held on the second Sunday in November.
The medal came with the following citation:
This medal is awarded to the peacekeeping groups amongst the communion countries for distinguished chivalry, gallantry, sacrifice or loyalty in upholding Peninsular of Malaya or Malaysia sovereignty during the period of Emergency and Confrontation.
Below is my interview with veteran Cockhorse, who served in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency.
1) Where were you in Malaya? What was your particular memory?
Cockhorse: I was in Malaya for about a year. In 1955 I was conscripted to two years’ National Service. I spent the first nine months training as a wireless fitter (servicing wireless transmitters and receivers), and then was posted to Seletar (Singapore) which, amongst other functions, was a large maintenance base.
It was in many ways a dream posting as Singapore was so different from Britain – and don’t forget that in those days, in U.K. food rationing had only recently ended in July 1954, and we were in a period of austerity. Overseas travel was a rarity, so the opportunity to venture to the Far East was great.
We flew out in a Hermes, and the journey took eight legs. We landed at Paya Lebar – Changi was then a large R.A.F. station.
My involvement was at R.A.F Maintenance Base at Seletar on Singapore Island. When I was there, in 1955, the Emergency was nearing its end, but there was still trouble across the Straits in Johore.
2) What do you mean by “trouble across the Straits in Johore?”
Cockhorse: At that time the ‘Malayan Emergency’ was being contained, and most of Malaya was a White Area (unrestricted travel) but there was still CT (Communist Terrorist) action on the state of Johore, and travel there was restricted, with villages contained within fences and restrictions on travel with searches of cars and people entering and leaving the villages.
I also recall seeing (not necessarily in Johore) deserted villages where the inhabitants had been resettled in New Villages, to stop food and equipment getting to the CTs. There was a groundswell for Merdeka (independence), and there were demonstrations (largely by students) and the occasional riot in Singapore (and probably elsewhere).
3) Tell me something more about Seletar of Singapore please.
Seletar was a large station – almost two stations separated by the runway across which the connecting road ran (useable only when planes were not taking off or landing). Each camp was more or less self-contained with its own dining mess, NAAFI, cinema, etc. There was a Radio Repair Squadron, and Air Repair Squadron, the planes themselves, a photo intelligence unit, a flying boat (Sunderlands) squadron, a bomb dump, etc. There was also a golf course and a swimming pool!
We had a generous local pay allowance, so were relatively well off, and visits to Singapore town were easy when we had time off. We could enjoy the joys of eating genuine local food – Malay, Chinese and Indian (which had barley spread to UK) and drink Tiger beer (superior to Anchor beer)!
Whilst stating the above, I am conscious that soldiers were patrolling in the jungle on the Mainland, and, indeed, the son of my neighbour was killed in an ambush whilst on a jungle patrol.
Cockhorse: Han Suyin, as an author, is known to me. The famous book and film ‘A Many Splendid Thing’ (with the song Love is a Many Splendoured Thing) is of my era, and I remember seeing the film at the Cathay cinema in Singapore. I may have read her autobiography, and I will certainly read it again.
5) Please tell me something about your medal from the Malaysian government. What was the ceremony like?
Cockhorse: The medals I showed you are the British General Service Medal with clasp Malaya (this is the one with the purple and green ribbon). Service in Singapore/Malaya was classed as ‘active service’ and we were awarded the medal for this.
The other medal is the Pingat Jasa Malaysia, which was recently awarded by the Malayan authorities to commemorate those who served in the country after Independence until British Forces finally withdrew. On a technicality, I think that I was not strictly entitled to this medal!!
The Malayan Medal was presented by the Malayan Military Attaché in London at a gathering at a local RAF station in Stamford.
My Related Posts:
- Batang Kali: The voyage without a suitcase
- Batang Kali: Story of a dispersed family
- Batang Kali: “Heaven knows the truth.”
- Batang Kali: Inspiration from a historian
- “And The Rain My Drink” new edition by Han Suyin
- Chin Peng, Leon Comber and Han Suyin
- Chin Peng’s favourite poems
- Chin Peng’s farewell letter: Dare and Duties
- How much was Chin Peng worth?
- Migration to the New Village
- Death of a communist leader