KUALA TERENGGANU: The sacrifices of Sikh soldiers in jungle operations, notably the ‘Battle of Kampar’ during the Japanese Occupation, reveberates strongly with the veterans till today.
The Malaysians had joined forces with their allied comrades from Britain and India to quell the marauding Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, by holding the fort at the Green Ridge in Kampar, Perak for four days.
It was enough to slow down the quickly advancing Japanese soldiers to the south of Malaya, as 1,300 British Empire troops engaged in a fierce battle with 4,000 Japanese soldiers.
Recounting the ordeal of his super-seniors, Malaysian Armed Forces Sikh Veterans Association (MAFSVA) president Major (Rtd) Baldev Singh Ganda Singh, 70, said the role played by his Sikh kin from India, Britain and local soldiers was exemplary in defending the nation.
"Many were not only injured or maimed, but also gave their lives.
“We have not forgotten their deeds, thus in forming this association as a remembrance, honour and to assist fellow veterans in need,” said Baldev at a nostalgic inaugural reunion for the newly-formed MAFSVA at Trio’s Café in Bercham, Perak recently.
MAFSVA is pioneering efforts to preserve the Green Ridge as a historic World War II battle site and recognise it as a ‘Battle of Kampar’ war memorial.
Reminiscing, Baldev said that General Officer Commanding Malaya, Leutenant-General Arthur Percival was tasked with making a standoff by the 11th Indian Infantry Division against General Tomoyuki Yamashita's 5th Division’s advancement at the Green Ridge.
The ridge, atop the 4,070ft (1,233.3m) Gunung Bujang Melaka, was a strategic point that offered a clear view of the vital Kuala Dipang iron bridge over Sungei Kampar, and its surrounding plains covered with open tin mines and swamps.
The Japanese intended to capture Kampar as a New Year’s gift to Emperor Hirohito as the fierce battle began on Dec 30, 1941 before British Empire troops withdrew on Jan 2, 1942. There were heavy casualties on both sides, with thousands killed.
“Having ourselves seen action during the Emergency period of the Communist insurgency and Confrontation with Indonesia, the esprit-de-corps is there always.
“The Sikhs are a minority among the minority.
“As a band of retired soldiers, we believe in continuing to help our fellow veterans, many of whom had served with distinction and are now struggling to make ends meet,” said Baldev, who served with the Army’s Royal Logistics Corps for 18 years.
He added that MAFSVA continued to keep the military tradition of giving its members a regimental ceremony during funerals.
“The family members of the deceased are very appreciative in seeing that we are still able to give the dead veterans a memorable sendoff, complete with the bugler rendering the Last Post,” said Baldev.
Meanwhile, ‘Battle of Kampar’ war memorial project chairman Major (Rtd) Tara Singh said apart from being a source of national pride, the Green Ridge would be a heritage and tourist attraction.
He called on the local authorities like the Defence Ministry and Tourism Malaysia to support the project which has received the backing from the British and Indian high commissions.
“MAFSVA will host a ceremonial remembrance day prayer for the battle’s 75th anniversary at the Kampar Gurdwara Sahib on Jan 22 next year.
“We hope to get some headway by then,” said Tara.
MAFSVA vice-president and Perak chapter chairman Commander (Rtd) Avatar Singh Sarban Singh said a campaign to register Sikh veterans is ongoing through the assistance of gurdwaras nationwide.
“We have put up posters at the gurdwaras and despatched messages via social media to disseminate the information, especially to the families of veterans who are disabled, bed-ridden or ill.
“This is our way of giving back to society,” said Avatar, who had served the Royal Malaysian Navy.
MAFSVA deputy president Major (Rtd) Bhagwan Singh Virik, who was a logistics officer with the Royal Services Corps for 25 years, said he had been fascinated with the Green Ridge as a student.
“I used to visit the ridge with former teacher Chye Kooi Loong to dig for war relics left by soldiers. These included badges, helmets, mess tins, mugs and others.
“We collected them for a mini museum at the Anglo-Chinese School in Kampar where I was its curator for six months in 1961-62. The items are now at the Armed Forces Museum,” said Bhagwan, 72.
He paid tribute to the valour and endurance of the British Empire soldiers: “They died as heroes, far away from their homes, and the best way to honour them is erecting a war memorial so that their families can come and pay their last respects.”