SOME Malaysians have written to correct the opinion of ulama and Ummah chairman Ismail Mina Ahmad on the role Malays and non-Malays played in defending the country before and after independence.
However, as far as I am aware, no mention has been made of the role played by volunteers during the Japanese invasion.
The Malayan Volunteers, as they are known, were territorial soldiers, men of all races and backgrounds.
Volunteer battalions had been in existence since the late 19th century, but in the 1930s, their units and members greatly increased.
The Federated Malay States Volunteer Forces (FMSVF) comprised four battalions, one for each federated state; the Straits Settlement Volunteer Force (SSVF) comprised two battalions for Singapore (then part of Malaya) and one each for Penang and Melaka; and there were volunteer forces in Johor (Johore Volunteer Engineers), Kedah and Kelantan.
In addition, there were the Navy Volunteer Reserve, Volunteer Air Force, Armoured Car Companies and other specialised units.
When the invasion began, these men did not operate with their volunteer units, but were assigned to regular British and Indian regiments and fought under their command.
Many were killed or wounded in action.
Though some volunteers became prisoners of war in Singapore, others made their way largely on foot back to their kampung and towns.
As the retreat drew closer to Singapore, British officers gave the option to the local born to discard their weapons and uniforms and return to their families.
Those who survived endeavoured to keep their military involvement secret from the occupying force.
And so, their brave service is largely forgotten or unknown.
Melaka’s B Company 4/SSVF included Captain Cho Seow Lim, who was killed in action in Singapore on Feb 13, 1942.
Company quartermaster Sergeant Tan Kim Tee was executed in Singapore on Feb 28, 1942, with 88 volunteers.
George Hess’e of the FMSVF Light Battery and Robert Devadason Sapper of 1/FMSVF, both of Sri Lankan descent, survived the war after hazardous journeys to their homes.
Hess’e travelled from Singapore to Selangor, and Sapper from Kuala Lipis to Gombak. Many Malays served in the Volunteers, and Private Md Yusuf Harun of the A Company 4/SSVF was one who made his way from Singapore back to Melaka on foot.
One of the European Volunteers was Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard, captain of 1FMSVF, who became a prisoner of war in Changi.
These are but a few examples. Malaysia has plenty of heroes from all communities who have defended the country, but their exploits, in particular those of volunteers, are unknown. A revision of the school history syllabus is needed.
Malayan Volunteers Group