An MV’s report on ANMA7

by Afidah Zuliana binti Abdul Rahim

Social Unity through Culture, Art and History: The Museum Challenge

This gripping theme prompted me to sign up for the first conference of its kind in Malaysia. I was excited to hear and learn from the experiences of National Museums across Asia. Luckily, Jega said he would hold up the fort for training the new volunteers so thanks to my fellow Tuesday trainers for releasing me.

Premiera Hotel was a bustling place on the morning of October 29th. Around 10MVs were dotted around the conference hall. I met some Korean representatives from ICHCAP, UNESCO whom I quickly introduced to Angela Oh, our Korean MV trainer.

The opening ceremony was grand with a spectacular cultural performance by our tourism dancers. The Deputy Minister of Tourism graced the occasion and delivered the keynote address. He acknowledged the challenges to the role of museums in promoting social unity considering the competition from other forms of entertainment available.

Subsequently, session one began. The representative from Mongolia shared a list of overseas exhibitions they had run since 1989, mainly with the Genghis Khan tagline. The most notable development he mentioned was the barcode inventory project they undertook between 2017-18, which has greatly eased storage and retrieval of their massive artefact collection.

The Japanese rep focused on the Asian Gallery at the Tokyo National Museum which houses 20% of their total collection. They connect viewers with artworks through exhibitions and related events. The goal is to provide the experience of different cultures towards a greater understanding of cultures. They hold multi-faceted events on unique themes eg. special tours by curators and Indonesian wayang kulit performance on the theme of love. Also, yoga sessions were held at the museum for better appreciation of Buddhist artefacts.

Our Penang State Museum rep shared her cross-cultural project, ‘Silang Budaya’ which redefines the museum perspectives through the interpretation of artefacts by young people. For example, students had used a tiffin box as inspiration for creating a multi-level phone accessories carrier. The project has instilled a love of history amongst polytechnic students, whose core subjects would be more technical. Museum staff supported the students to set up and curate their exhibition. She welcomed collaborations with other museums for future projects.

A cultural performance at the start of the conference

Next, the Philippines rep shared the experience of heritage building restoration at their National Museum. Even though there were many challenges, the restoration has brought recognition and appreciation of museums by the public through partnerships and donations. She also shared how they disseminated their national hero stories via a tour for school teachers, who could then translate their passion for the hero on to their students. So many ideas shared in just one morning!

Lunch time was networking time again. We sat with a gentleman from UiTM who has initiated the survey on Muzium Negara; and also, with some police officers who are now administering the Police Museum in KL.

Session 2 was moderated by a well-spoken Malaysian lady. In fact, we were impressed by all 3 moderators who were of retirement age. Next, China astounded us with its exponential growth of museum visitors. Customer service is at the top of their agenda. We were treated to a video on their Joint Asian Civilisation exhibition.

The Indonesian reps showed how their culturally diverse 700 ethnic groups considered themselves “different but still one”. Museums feature traditional games, batik workshops and theatre stories to engage their audience. There are dance performances every Sunday and university students play traditional musical instruments. Their outreach programme allows the blind to touch artefacts with gloves.

Social inclusion through multi-disciplinary aspects are echoed at the National Museum of Nepal. Homestays are offered to enhance their cultural experience.

The Malaysian Ministry of Tourism held a “keretapi sarong” movement, which encouraged millenials to wear their sarongs on the train to a secret destination– a nod to traditional wear in a fun environment.

The annual Sabah Craft Exotica programme has been running since 2005. It features local handicraft by Sabah’s 35 ethnic groups. The Korean rep was impressed by the bottom-up approach to culture-sharing in Sabah. With 115 sub-ethnic groups, Sabahans are eager to demonstrate their particular crafts, enabled by Craft Exotica. This programme also helps to preserve ethnic crafts.

Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, unified in diversity. Their museum connects communities in order to build a cultural identity and to preserve national cultural values. However, they face difficulties in approaching the public in terms of budget for IT since young people would connect better with ancient objects through technology. Also, their staff needs training to obtain professional skills and to overcome language barriers. They are keen to cooperate with foreign museums and to combine museum with other social and cultural activities.

In session 3, the rep from Thailand introduced us to the ancient city of U Thong, located in central Thailand. With 20 sites found along with many Dvaravati (Indian-influenced) artefacts, U Thong museum is now a cultural hub. The museum serves as a learning centre, which develops critical thinking skills, encourages innovation and instils a love for history amongst the public, especially children. They organise family activities on Sundays and integrate efforts with the local government in experiential learning. Also, their museum places importance on social media presence.

Personally, I found the final presentation by South Korea most impressive. In an increasingly multi-cultural Korea, museums have increased their role in diversity education. They have embraced these changes by offering targeted activities for immigrant workers, marriage immigrants and members of the international community. Also, to encourage mutual understanding and respect, their folk museum has culture discovery boxes for children, which can be loaned to schools, libraries and kindergartens. The National Museum of Korea has many exhibition exchanges with numerous countries around the world, bringing a myriad of cultural diversity experience to its people.

We left the conference with plenty of food for thought. There is no doubt that the ANMA executive closed-door meeting can build on the conference proceedings. Hearty congratulations to Department of Museums, Malaysia (JMM) for a successful conference!

Speakers and officials

Visit to Kuala Kubu Bharu (KKB)

by Eric Lim

As I am writing this article, the Air Pollutant Index reading in four stations had recorded very unhealthy levels yesterday. Johan Setia in Klang, Selangor was the highest with a reading of 229. 

The API was hovering around the 100 level a week earlier when I brought a couple from Hong Kong to a half-day tour of Kuala Kubu Bharu. I met Rochas and Alexis Tse during my call of duty at the National Museum on 2 September 2019. At the end of the tour, they had enquired about other museums in the city and we communicated using social media. When I mentioned about visiting Kuala Kubu Bharu, they immediately said yes. So off we went on an early Wednesday morning, leaving KL city centre at 7.00 am.

Kuala Kubu Bharu or affectionately known as KKB, is 60km north of the city using the trunk road known as Federal Route One. The journey is now made easier and faster with the use of the Rawang Bypass, which was opened to traffic on 28 November 2017. In less than an hour, we had reached our destination and our first stop was for breakfast. Alexis had ordered a bowl of Laksa noodles, which I thought was adventurous for someone from Hong Kong. Then we went to the nearby wet market where I was told that bananas from our country are better than imported bananas that are available in HK. A local elderly Chinese woman who was standing beside us gave us some in-depth information about the dokong and duku langsat and Rochas decided to buy some dokong to take home. We returned to the car to keep all the purchases and off we went to explore KKB.

History of Kuala Kubu

KKB and its surrounding area, collectively known as Ulu Selangor, were inhabited since the Neolithic Age 4,000 years ago (discovery of slab stone burials in the Bernam Valley in the North of Ulu Selangor) and through the Metal Age 3,000 – 2,500 years ago, with the discovery of iron artefacts and bronze celts in nearby Rasa and Kerling. Moving forward, the 18th century CE saw the arrival of people from Sumatra, the Rawa and Mendailing, who came in search of new land and for tin. Sungai Selangor was the main river that transported goods including tin, to Kuala Selangor, which was then the royal capital of Selangor. It became an important route and it even prompted the Dutch to set up post to collect taxes from the Malays when they managed to capture Kuala Selangor towards the later part of the 18th century CE.

The Malays in Ulu Selangor were involved in the Selangor Civil War (1867-1874) and it was during this turbulent time that the town got its name. The conflict separated the Malays into two factions, on one side led by Raja Abdullah, Raja Ismail and, later, Tengku Kudin. The opposing faction comprised Raja Mahadi, Raja Mahmud and Syed Mashhor. The Chinese rival groups also joined the fight with Hai San led by Yap Ah Loy, throwing their support for Tengku Kudin while Ghee Hin led by Chong Chong offered support to Raja Mahadi. The Malays in Ulu Selangor supported Raja Mahadi. As a defence against his rivals, Raja Mahadi had built an earthen fort near the mouth of a river and that was how the town got its name – Kuala Kubu (fort at the mouth of the river). Raja Mahadi managed to capture Kuala Lumpur in March 1872 but a year later, Tengku Kudin together with reinforcement from Pahang and Hai San came charging back to retake Kuala Lumpur. Raja Mahadi fled to Singapore while Syed Mashhor retreated to Perak. Years later, both men were given pardons by Sultan Abdul Samad but Raja Mahadi died in Singapore while Syed Mashhor returned to Kerling as a Penghulu (chieftain). He developed the place by opening up lands for tin mining and he died in 1917.

Selangor became a British Protectorate at the conclusion of the Selangor Civil War. At that time, tin mining activities in Kuala Kubu was second only to Kuala Lumpur and this prompted Frank Swettenham as the First Assistant Resident of Selangor to visit Kuala Kubu in 1875. He commented that the huge dam constructed by the Malays with the help of the Orang Asli in the 1700s as gigantic in size. Tin mining was carried out just below the dam.

Kuala Kubu circa 1906. Photo taken from http://peskubu.org/latar-belakang-sejarah-kuala-kubu/

In July 1883, Cecil Ranking, a young man of 26, started work as Tax Collector and Magistrate and he immediately got down to serious work wanting to show his capabilities to impress the Resident. However, his work was cut short because three months later, on the fateful evening of 29 October 1883, the huge dam broke and flooded the town. It was recorded that floodwaters rose as high as 10 feet; 38 houses were destroyed and 50 people perished, including Cecil Ranking. Local legend has it that Cecil Ranking had on that day, shot a sacred white crocodile believed to be the guardian of the dam. As a result, the dam broke. However, there were other factors more likely to have caused the tragedy.

  1. The dam was more than 100 years old and the wood was already rotting away.
  2. Cecil Ranking was seen dropping three dynamites on the dam ten days before the tragedy for the purpose of killing fish and this action could have shaken the foundations of the dam.
  3. It was raining non-stop few days before the flood.
  4. It may be linked to the Krakatoa volcanic eruption on 26 and 27 August 1883 in Indonesia. The tremor was felt in Kuala Kubu. It was to be one of the deadliest and destructive volcanic events in recorded history.

The new township was built nearer the left bank of Selangor River and the British were by now leading the development. In a short span of four years, the population grew to 7,580 making Kuala Kubu the third largest town in Selangor. Tin mining continued to be the main activity of the town and more lands were opened up for mining including Peretak, which is on the Main Ranch. By 1887, tin output for the year had doubled that of 1885. Also in 1887, British announced its “greatest undertakings in road making ever essayed in the Federated States” with the start of the construction of a bridle track from Kuala Kubu to Kuala Lipis in Pahang (capital of Pahang at that time as well as a gold mining centre). It was to be the earliest federal road ever constructed in Pahang. With this massive undertaking, Kuala Kubu became known as the Gateway to Pahang. It was on this very road that another historical event took place – the assassination of Sir Henry Gurney on 6 October 1951 by the Malayan Communist Party terrorists. Gurney was travelling in a convoy to Fraser’s Hill. Today, this road is known as Federal Route 55.

Mail service using motor vehicle in 1910. The vehicle is passing through Jalan Kuala Kubu on the way to Kuala Lipis.

Train service arrived in 1894 when the final section of the railway track was completed linking Kuala Kubu to Serendah, Rawang and Kuala Lumpur. In 1906, bus service from Kuala Kubu train station to Kuala Lipis was made available.

 Kuala Kubu railway station in 1900

Also available in Kuala Kubu was a nearby hill station called Treacher’s Hill (a.k.a Bukit Kutu), named after Willam Hood Treacher who ventured into the place in 1893. W.H. Treacher was the British Resident of Selangor from 1892 to 1896. There were two bungalows serving as a sanatorium at the peak of the hill until its closure on 31 December 1932 due to soil movement that rendered the resort unsafe. There was also an army training camp set up in 1915 to recruit volunteers for World War I in Europe.

Sanatorium on Treacher’s Hill

However, the improvements done to Kuala Kubu did not last long as the township was constantly ravaged by floodwaters. There were floods in 1885, 1913, 1917 and by 1921, the District Officer of Ulu Selangor announced the abandonment of Kuala Kubu and shifted its district headquarters to Rasa. Between 1923 and 1926, Kuala Kubu was flooded a number of times and finally upon the advice of the Public Works Department at the end of 1926, the Government decided to move the town to a new site up river and to higher land.

Flooded area of Kuala Kubu in 1926
Kuala Kubu in the 1920’s

Kuala Kubu Bharu – 1930 to present

Charles Crompton Reade, a town planner from New Zealand, who was employed by FMS, was given the task to plan the new town – Kuala Kubu Bharu. Reade planned the town along the garden city concept, such as distinctive use of zoning, angular visual entry to the town centre, and a compact town centre to allow space for the parkland separating the residential areas and hospital. Today, KKB is recognized as the first garden township in Asia.

Earliest shophouses in KKB. Post office on the right.
Charles Crompton Reade

One of the earliest shophouses built in the commercial sector of the town has the year 1930 embossed on its top front façade, which marks the birth of KKB. Other significant structures built in the 1930s:

  1. The former Land Office built in 1931 by the British on top of the administrative sector, overlooking the town.
  2. The clock tower commemorating the coronation of King George VI.
  3. The stone monument commemorating the Silver Jubilee of King George V.
  4. The former Holy Ascension Church, which is now being used as the Hulu Selangor Traffic Police Headquarters.
  5. KKB Post Office (neoclassical architecture with round gable window and round tribe casement window).
  6. Old Fire Station built in 1931.
  7. Shophouse No 1 & 2 at Jalan Dato Tabal (formerly Bowen Street).
Commemorative clock tower

Besides these structures and buildings, it was recorded that an airfield was set up on the outskirts of the town in 1931 as a means of transport for high-ranking officials as well as for goods. The airfield was used during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) for the landing of Taylorcraft Auster light aircraft.

In the book “Tarikh Kuala Kubu 1780 – 1931” published by Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu, it revealed a letter written by the District Officer of Ulu Selangor to the Resident about the naming of streets in KKB. The British discarded the local names written in Malay and mentioned about the unavailability of “well known Asiatic gentlemen connected with Kuala Kubu”. He then forwarded a list of five names of “Europeans who have been intimately connected with Kuala Kubu”:

  1. Ranking (as in Cecil Ranking, the first Tax Collector and Magistrate to be stationed at Kuala Kubu)
  2. Bowen (long serving District Officer of Ulu Selangor)
  3. Davidson (who made Kuala Kubu his home for about the last 25 years of his life)
  4. Stonor (who was the District Officer, then the Secretary to the Resident and finally the British Resident of Selangor)
  5. Maxwell (possibly William George Maxwell who was Resident of Perak and after whom Maxwell Hill was named before the name changed to Bukit Larut or his father, William Edward Maxwell, who was Resident of Selangor).

The four main streets in KKB were named after Bowen, Davidson, Stonor and Maxwell, only Ranking was not selected. Today, they have all changed to local names – Jalan Dato Tabal, Jalan Dato Balai, Jalan Mat Kilau and Jalan Dato Muda Jaafar respectively.

A sketch of Kuala Kubu Bharu and surrounding areas. Taken from Kamalruddin Shamsudin (2015) Charles Reade: Town Planning British Malaya 1921-1929, pp. 291

Next, we shall look at some “well known Asiatic gentlemen connected with Kuala Kubu Bharu”.

  1. Jawaharlal Nehru made two visits to Malaya i.e in 1937 and 1946. Both visits were to look at the welfare of Indians in the country. It was during the second trip when he visited KKB at the invitation of one of his family members who were then working in KKB.
  2. Rehman Rashid wrote the book “Peninsula – A story of Malaysia”. In one of the sections, he wrote about small towns in the country. After he retired, he came and stayed in KKB and immediately fell in love with the place. He then wrote a book Small town as a special tribute to KKB.
  3. Popular Malay singer, the late Sudirman Haji Arshad also sang about KKB. In his song entitled Joget Kenangan Manis, he sang “kalau pergi Kuala Kubu, tulis nama atas batu”, which translates to “if you go to Kuala Kubu, write your name on a rock”.
  4. David Chin, owner of Dave Deli restaurants owned a shophouse in KKB. Whenever he came to cycle with his buddies, he will open his shophouse for them to enjoy their meals and to rest. He called his place “Bicycle Stopover”.
  5. B.Rajkumar is a local-born athlete. He broke the national men’s 800m record by clocking 1.47.37 to win the gold medal in the Asian Track and Field (ATF) Championship held in Jakarta in 1985. It remains a national record.
  6. The late P.Gunasegaran was a top local golfer and he made his name at the 1996 Malaysian Open where he lost an epic eight-hole playoff to Joakim Haeggmann of Sweden at the Royal Selangor Golf Club in KL. Until today, no other local golfers have ever come close to his achievements in the Malaysian Open history.

Today, KKB remains the main administrative town of Hulu Selangor district. And there are plenty of training centres around the town such as Royal Malaysian Police Academy, Central Region Fire and Rescue Training College, Royal Malaysian Signals Army Unit, AsiaCamp (Team Building Camp), Kem Bina Semangat Ampang Pecah, just to name a few. 

The following are some of the main attractions in KKB:

  1. Sungai Selangor dam
  2. St. Paul Catholic Church
  3. Former Coates Theatre built in 1953
  4. KKB Hot Spring @ Taman Arif
  5. Chilling Waterfalls
  6. Kampung Orang Asli in Pertak
  7. Bukit Kutu
  8. Old Chinese Temple at Ampang Pecah

By the time we left Galeri Sejarah Kuala Kubu, after our last stop of looking at old photographs of KKB, it was almost noontime. We went straight to Teo Kee stall to have our lunch. They serve delicious Teochew dishes and porridge. After lunch, we took a last look of Kuala Kubu Bharu town before heading back to the city.

Kuala Kubu circa 1910. Photo taken from Cheah Jin Seng (2008) Malaya: 500 Early Postcards, Singapore: EDM, pp. 52

Note: I forwarded a copy of this writeup to Alexis and this is what he wrote in return:

“Kuala Kubu Bharu is absolutely a strange city to me. After being guided through various historic sites within the city, a strong sense of similarity floated. Vaguely, KKB seems like one of the New Zealand cities, which I have visited. Would it be like Port Chalmers, Picton or Napier? Eric told me that KKB was the first city in Malay Peninsular with town planning initiative by Charles Reade, a colonial town planner. We are lucky and privileged to be guided to this special city for an in-depth understanding of the history of Malaya”.

References:

  • Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu – Tarikh Kuala Kubu 1780 – 1931
  • Muzium Negara – Information board

The Great Steppe exhibition – MV Guided Tours

The on-going exhibition at Muzium Negara is a fascinating look at the ancient history and culture of the nomadic peoples from the Eurasian Steppe. During the Iron Age, around the 9th century BCE to the 2nd century CE, the Scythian culture flourished in the steppes and the exhibition showcases many artefacts from this culture. The showpiece of the exhibition is Altyn Adam, the Golden Man. This is the name given to a skeleton discovered together with 4000 gold ornaments in 1969 in a burial mound near Issyk. It has become the symbol of Kazakhstan, from where this exhibition originated.

Was the Golden Man really a man? Could it possibly have been a woman? Find out at Muzium Negara where Museum Volunteer guides will be on hand to take you on a guided tour through this exhibition. Our tours start on Thursday 10 October at 11:30 am and these will be on a daily basis (except Sundays) until the end of the exhibition on 31 October. Tours will also be conducted in French on two of these days. Please find the tour schedule at the link below (you will need to scroll down).

Tour Schedule: daily at 11.30 am between 10 October and 31 October 2019. The schedule is available at https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/mv-calendar/

Photographs of some exhibits are shown below. Find out their stories from the museum volunteers. Also find out the symbology behind the design of a yurt (tent) and the Zoroastrianism practices behind the burial of the Taksai princess. A touch-screen display examines some of the cultural practices such as the ritual to cut a rope when a child reaches the age of one.

The Steppe culture was equestrian-based and each piece of the saddle has symbolic meaning.
Akinak dagger decorated with heads of two griffins in profile. Dated to the 4th/3rd century BCE.
This necklace consists of pendants with garnet insets. The exquisite workmanship is dated to the 3rd/2nd century BCE.
An image of an elk in yellow metal framed by a metal ribbon. Dated to the 4th/3rd century BCE.

A Charcoal Factory at Kuala Sepetang

by V. Jegatheesan

Charcoal is a controversial fuel these days due to climate change and atmospheric pollution fears. Nevertheless, this fuel was a standard feature in the kitchens of most Malaysian houses. It is still being used although on a much reduced scale. Making charcoal is not a matter of just heating wood until it is burnt. It is more involved than that requiring the right type of wood and the right method. However, it is still a very basic process with no high tech blast furnaces or machinery. A recent visit to the Khay Hor Holdings Sd. Bhd. Charcoal Factory provided me with good insight on how charcoal is made.

This signboard is of the dealership but it involves the same people

The factory is located in Kuala Sepetang, formerly and better known as Port Weld. Kuala Sepetang is within the Matang mangrove forest reserve, which at 40,000 hectares is the largest and best-managed mangrove forest in Malaysia. The west coast of the peninsula has many other mangrove forests, Kuala Selangor for example, but they do not replant the chopped trees thus depleting the forest. Matang, however, is recognised as a good model of sustainable mangrove forestry and conservation.

The images above are from https://www.rainforestjournal.com/kuala-sepetang

There are a few factories in the area, but the one we visited was the only factory that gave a tour. This was led by Mr. K. Y. Chuah, a member of the owning family, who, in his work clothes of a sports shirt, shorts and sandals, gave us a spirited and engaging tour of the factory and its operations.

Mr Chuah explaining the process

Among the mangrove, the two species most commonly used are Rhizophora apiculata and Rhizophora mucronata. Mangrove trees are locally referred to as bakau. Any wood can be made into charcoal. However, these species can withstand high heat. The charcoal-making process involves high heat to remove the water content in the wood. This is smoked out rather than burnt out. It also gives a shine to the charcoal.

The Rhizophora apiculate tree (Image from https://www.rainforestjournal.com/kuala-sepetang)

The wood from these trees is initially very heavy, as we found out when carrying one of the logs, because of high water content. In fact, this wood will sink in water and not float like other woods, because there is no air space due to water saturation. It is after all a mangrove swamp tree.

The kiln is igloo shaped and there are six of them located in a large shed. The bricks used are of the same type as used in housing. The structure is plastered with very fine clay and sand to seal the kiln completely. It does take an expert to do this perfectly. The kilns are all 7m in height by 6.7m in width. These sizes are specified by the Forestry Department to make it easy to calculate the duty to be paid.

Wood is stacked to fill up the kiln. It will weigh some 50 tons inside. This is high because of the water content of the wood and when the process is completed, it will weigh some 10 tons only. The fire is not inside as the wood is not burnt. The fire is on the outside and it is the heat that slowly goes in to heat the wood and remove the water content. There are six flues or vents around the kiln to allow the vapour to escape. Simply put, heat goes inside and heats the wood to release the water content.

This is just the first stage with the fire burning for 14 days. Workers in three shifts have to check every 3 to 4 hours to top up the wood and keep the fire consistently going. If not topped up and the fire lowers, the oxygen leaks inside and the fire follows inside and burns the wood.

A close-up of the fire just outside the kiln
Vapour coming out of the vent

The vapour comes out of the vents. It is in fact steam, which is very hot and has a strong pungent odour. Expertly smelling and seeing the colour, as well as using a thermometer to be sure, the workers will know when it is ready to reduce the fire to a smaller one. Through experience, the workers know how to control the slow fire. It is still hot inside but the vapour is reduced and, thus, not as hot as before. This will continue for another 11 days after which there is no longer any vapour. The workers then shut down the fire and seal the kiln completely. It will take another 7 days to cool it down completely.

Finally, the kiln opening will be hacked, the bricks removed and the charcoal taken out. The six kilns in this factory are used in turn to continuously produce charcoal.

The condensed vapour is referred to as vinegar; it is liquid oil, which is collected. Mr. Chuah extolled the virtues of this and of other products, which can be used as mosquito repellents and soaps with no chemicals added.

Mr Chuah holding a bottle of the Charcoal Vinegar

The factory is in a swamp area and the stench takes some getting used to. The canal by the side is used to bring in the wood from the forest. It is a tidal canal and therefore used on certain days only. Contract workers are paid to cut and transport the wood and are paid after delivery. As the forest is harvested, the cutters have to go in deeper and so it takes longer to bring the wood in.

The Forestry Department annually allots the specific lots for harvesting and they have to use their allotment. Otherwise, the following year’s allotment will be reduced or the licence cancelled. The replanting is also managed by the Forestry Department but tendered to contractors.

Mr. Chuah explained that Japan buys 70% of the production and they insist on these species. According to him, the Japanese despite being very high tech still believe in charcoal. They use it as barbeque fuel as more people prefer traditional methods. For those who can afford it, houses are built with a layer of charcoal beneath to keeps the houses warm in winter and it absorbs odour. In addition, among its many other uses, charcoal is also used as an absorbent.

All in all, it was a very interesting tour and appreciation of charcoal. Questions were in our minds as to whether charcoal is environmentally friendly to use. It is not fossil fuel and it is touted as being green. However, how much of the carbon released is recaptured by reforestation?

Exhibition: History of Malaysia-Sino Interactions

by Eric Lim

Recently, an exhibition with the theme “A History of Malaysia – Sino Interactions” was held at The Mines 2, Sri Kembangan, Selangor. It was organized by The Federation of Hokkien Associations of Malaysia and supported by the Embassy of The People’s Republic of China in Malaysia.

The exhibition highlighted the good ties between The People’s Republic of China and Malaysia. Diplomatic relations between the two countries started in 1974 when the then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak visited China and met Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Chou Enlai. Today, China is one of our major trading partners and our export to China has increased to record highs. Local Musang King durians and white coffee are sought-after items in China.

The exhibition covered four sections as listed below. Exhibits were mostly in pictures with information written in Chinese and English, plus a few records and publications.

  1. 2000 years of Malaysian-Sino interactions before 1974,
  2. Ethnic Hokkien Chinese and their roles in Malaysian-Sino cultural exchanges,
  3. A historical review of the 45 years of Malaysian-Sino diplomatic relations, and last but not least
  4. Sheer endeavour to reform the Divine Land of the People’s Republic of China and the formation of Malaysia.

Section 1

In this section, we learn about the historical and cultural interactions between the two countries that took place nearly 2000 years ago. The Chinese record, Di Li Zhi Hanshu, mentions a kingdom named Duyuan, which some researchers believed to be at Kuala Dungun. However, some researchers also believe that it could be located in Kra Isthmus. This was the earliest Chinese record of contact with the Malay Peninsula and it was during the reign of the Western Han Dynasty. In the Songshu record during the Yuanjia Period in the 5th Century CE, there were mentioned of two ancient kingdoms, Pohuang and Gantuoli. Other records include a book written by Zhu Fan Zhi in the Song Dynasty and Dao Yi Zhi Lue written by Wang Da Yuan during the Yuan Dynasty.

When Malacca grew in stature from a little fishing village to an international entrepôt during the 15th Century CE, China played an important part in its transformation. It was during the time of the Ming Dynasty that the Chinese fleet under Admiral Zheng He made visits to over 30 countries spanning the west Pacific to the Indian Ocean; Malacca was a major stopover for the Chinese. It was also during the Ming Dynasty that saw the earliest Chinese immigration to our country. Contributions of early Chinese immigrants were mentioned and one of the notables was Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1910). He was initially based in Penang but later shifted to Singapore when it became established as a well-known trading port. Later, he was summoned by the Emperor of China and was promoted to be the Minister of Agriculture, Industries, Roads and Mines for the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.

Moving forward to the era of The Republic of China, the exhibition showed pictures of local support for the Chinese Revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and in the fight with the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937-1945. Tan Kah Kee responded positively by setting up funds for the Chinese to fight in the war. Besides parting with their money and valuables, Malayan Chinese were even willing to fight in the battlefields. One picture showed an advertisement in a Chinese newspaper of the recruitment of volunteer drivers and mechanics to serve in China. They were tasked to transport ammunition and supplies travelling the treacherous road linking Burma (Myanmar) and Yunnan with a section consisting of twenty-four bends.

Section 2

This section talks about the formation and role of the Federation of Hokkien Associations Malaysia (FHAM) and the contributions made by its members. The FHAM was formed in 1957 and today it comprises 211 member associations. Some of the well-known members include:

  1. Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961). He was born in Xiamen, Fujian Province and became a successful businessman, leader and philanthropist. He contributed financially to the building of Chinese schools in British Malaya, Singapore and China. Xiamen University is one of them. He returned to China in 1950 and passed away in Beijing.
  2. Robert Kuok. He was born in Johor Bharu in 1923 and he is of Fuzhou origin. In his autobiography, he mentioned his love for China. He helped China overcome its sugar crisis and he became one of the overseas capitalists who invested in China and helped its economic growth since the reform in 1978.
  3. YB Tan Sri Dato Michelle Yeoh. Born in Ipoh in 1962, she is of Hokkien descent from Tong An county. Michelle is an international actress who made her name first in Hong Kong acting with Jackie Chan in the “Police Story” movie series. She struck stardom in the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” movie in 2000. Then on to Hollywood where she starred in a James Bond movie and the recent “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018).
  4. Datuk Lee Chong Wei. Born in Perak in 1992, his ancestral hometown is Nan’an. He is considered a legend in badminton having being ranked No.1 for a consecutive of 349 weeks. He won three silver medals in the Olympics. His rivalry with Lin Dan of China has always been heated topics for badminton fans all over the world.

The above is a highlight of just four of its members. The exhibition also included an expanded list of successful business people, educators, entrepreneurs and many more.

Section 3

Section 3 tells us of the relationship between both countries for over 45 years. In 1971, The People’s Republic of China or commonly known as China today, was admitted to the United Nations after the 21st time of voting on its application. Malaysia was one of the 76 countries who voted in favour of China. In May of 1971, Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who was then the chairperson of PERNAS led a team of delegates to the Canton Fair and they were received by the Premier of the State Council of China, Chou Enlai and the Vice Premier Li Xianian. This meeting marked the establishment of bilateral trade relations between the two countries. This was followed by a visit by Chinese officials to our country in the same year.

The historical visit to China by Tun Abdul Razak was held from 28 May to 2 June 1974. Malaysia was the first nation in Southeast Asia to take steps to normalise ties with China. Since then, every Prime Minister of Malaysia had paid official visits to China. For the record, Tun Dr Mahathir had made nine visits to China, the last time was in April 2019. Five of our Yang Di Pertuan Agongs also paid official visits to China. They include the late Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak, Tuanku Ja’afar of Negri Sembilan, the late Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah of Selangor, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin of Perlis and Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin of Trengganu.

Chinese leaders also made official visits to our country. They include Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, Li Peng, Zu Rongji, Wen Jiabao, Li Keqiang and the then Vice Premier of the State Council of China Deng Xiaoping who came in 1978. During his stay in our country, Deng paid respect to Almarhum Tun Abdul Razak at the National Mosque.

Section 4

The last section, starts by focussing on Modern China. In 1979, the setting up of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone marked an important step forward in China’s opening up to the outside world. On October 10, 1987 saw the opening of the first KFC outlet in Beijing. Then on 16 October 2003, Yang Liwei became the first Chinese “taikonaut” who completed China’s first space trip. At 8.00 pm on 8/8/2008, the opening ceremony of the 29th Summer Olympic Games was held at the Beijing National Stadium a.k.a Bird’s Nest. In 2022, Beijing will host the Winter Olympic and Paralympic for the first time. The last row of pictures at Section 4 put the spotlight on the Formation of Malaysia. It revealed some interesting information that may not be available in mainstream media. Some of these are highlighted below.

  1. It was said that just before our independence, over 2 million Chinese in Malaya felt neglected due to many restrictions when applying for citizenship. This prompted Lim Lian Geok to set up the National Congress of Chinese Societies at a gathering held at the Chin Woo Stadium; it generated support from Chinese all over Malaya. A memorandum was signed by 1,094 Chinese associations. In it was a demand for constitutional reform with three main suggestions – Chinese language as an official language, adoption of the principle of Jus Soli and equal rights and obligations. It further stressed that it was “reflecting the views of Chinese opinion generally in the country”. Chinese Malayans were defined as Chinese who treated this country as their permanent homeland. This was a significant event of Chinese awakening in the history of Malaya. 
  2. Did you know that the first Alliance rally was held on 20 January 1955 in Kajang, a town where the Chinese were the majority?
  3. The first general election in our country was held on 27 July 1955 and the Alliance Party won 51 out of 52 seats. However, only 20% of the population were eligible voters, and out of this number, Chinese voters were a mere 11% as compared to 84% of Malay voters. With that in mind, UMNO demanded to contest in 90% of the seats. The move was opposed by Tunku who had threatened to resign, and after negotiations, it was decided that UMNO would contest in 35 seats, MCA in 15 and MIC in 2.
  4. The first day cover to commemorate the Independence of Federation of Malaya on 31 August 1957 shows a picture of three men – Malay, Chinese and Indian, representing the three main races in our country. A closer look shows Chinese characters written on the left side of the envelope.
  5. The Declaration of Independence was made available in three different languages, namely English, Chinese and Jawi and it was signed by Tunku Abdul Rahman. The Chinese version is believed to be the only one available in the world apart from similar ones in China. It ends with the following “….with God’s blessing shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice”.
  6. A patriotic song entitled “Song of a New Born Malaya”. The lyrics tell about the deep feeling of love for the Motherland and the earnest hopes for the new-born nation. This song was discovered in Broga New Village.

The exhibition provided a good understanding of the relationship enjoyed by both countries. It also highlighted the contributions of local Chinese to Malaysia and their fostering of greater relationships with The People’s Republic of China.

Malaya at War (part 2)

by V. Jegatheesan

For Part 1, which covers days 1 and 2 of the tour, please visit https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2019/09/02/malaya-at-war-part-1/

Tour – Day 3

This was a long day. The first stop was the Army Museum Port Dickson. It is a small museum but filled with interesting displays and exhibitions. For airplane buffs, there is an armed Canadair CL-41G, locally renamed Tebuan, the first fighter jet of the Royal Malaysian Air Force. There is also a de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou transporter and an A4 Skyhawk. For artillery gun buffs, there is a good display of artillery guns.

Among the many displays, there were exhibition halls portraying the Melaka Sultanate, the British era and some others. However, the main attraction is a full replica of a communist tunnel system. As you walk along inside, you can see the medical supplies they had, the various arms used, a diorama of a surgery and a meeting room. This is very impressive but you must be cautious if you have a problem in closed spaces.

The tunnel

We then had a long drive to Kampar and a lunch pack to nourish us on the way. Kampar is along the old trunk road south of Ipoh and it is the first real location where the British forces put up a reasonable defence against the Japanese advance. The British plan was to stop or delay the advance and the Japanese plan was to seize it for the Emperor as a New Year’s gift. However, the Emperor only got his gift on 2nd January 1942.

The town has hills opposite overlooking the town and this provided a good place for an attack on the Japanese from high ground. Here we had the assistance of Encik Shaharom Ahmad, a Malaysian Military Historian and Researcher and his colleague, Hisham, dressed in period uniform. Also assisting was Mr. Santokh Singh, a retired teacher and another enthusiast in present day casuals. Shaharom, Hisham and Rizal are members of the Malaysian Historical Group. Though members are not academics, their keen interest and knowledge is a credit to them all. With metal detectors, they have found artefacts and have also spent money to buy the period uniforms.

The ridges are not very high, about 120m as we were told. There are three ridges i.e. Thomson Ridge, which is now a housing estate; Cemetery Ridge, which remains as such; and the Green Ridge, which has been left alone, so far. On 30th December 1941, the Japanese arrived and the battle started. Ultimately, the Japanese suffered heavy losses of about 500 or an unknown number. At one point, they even had to withdraw but the British pulled back because of Japanese reinforcements coming in from Teluk Anson (now Teluk Intan). This was considered a success for the British as the advance was delayed but the British still had to retreat to Slim River.

We climbed the Green Ridge and saw the trenches that remain, though overgrown. There the remnants of the artillery gun positions and trenches leading higher up to a larger area where the headquarters was set up. From here supplies were sent down to the positions. Now looking so serene and quiet, it must have been hell on those four days in the past.

A trench, now shallow

Shaharom explaining the gun pit together with Santokh

Take away the vegetation and that is how it was

A section of Kampar, now such a peaceful place

After Kampar we made another ‘Quantum Leap’ and proceeded to the Sungai Siput Estate, formerly known as the Phin Soon Estate, now well known as the spot where two of three British Planters were shot sparking the Emergency. The bungalow is no more but a monument and a gallery have been erected. The gallery had many posters and pictures. We were assisted by Mr. Harchand Singh Bedi, a Military Historian Researcher, with his immense knowledge. The monument was placed by the Malaysian Palm Oil Association. The estate is owned by the National Land Finance Cooperative Society, which is maintaining the gallery.

The gallery at Sungai Siput Estate

It was already late evening and on the way we stopped at the entrance of Elphil Estate now owned by Sime Darby. This was the scene of the first shooting of the British Planter and now there is only a board at the entrance marking the area. Unfortunately, the name on the board is Walter instead of Walker. This board was put up by the Army Museum Port Dickson and I am making attempts to contact them to correct this error.

It was a long day and we checked into the Weil Hotel just after 9pm. At Kampar we had been joined by 4 officials from Tourism Malaysia and the Director of the Northern Region Tourism Malaysia. They accompanied us for the same earlier reason to get to know the various sites so that they can create memorials or plaques to permanently recognise and remember these historical sites.

Tour – Day 4

The next day saw us at the nearby Ipoh Railway Station, which the older locals will remember for the lamb chops in its first class ‘dress for dinner type’ restaurant and later on, in ‘casuals allowed’.

In front of the station, there is the Cenotaph erected in 1927 commemorating Remembrance Day in honour of the fallen in World War 1, but now including those fallen in the World War 2, the Malayan Emergency and the Confrontation. We then moved nearby, Ipoh being a small city, to the Saint John’s Anglican Church. This place suffered some damage in Japanese aerial bombing meant for the railway station, intending to destroy the trains carrying ammunition of the retreating British forces. The church also has a small air raid shelter.

The Cenotaph

The St. Michael’s Institution in Ipoh also has a place in the war. Retreating from Jitra downwards, the British 11th Indian Infantry division suffered heavy losses. Within this this division the 2nd East Surrey and the 1st Leicestershire Regiment were so badly reduced that they had to be amalgamated to form the British Battalion. This unit remained till the end in Singapore. This amalgamation was done at St. Michael’s and later the school became a Japanese Prisoner of War camp.

We then travelled to Batu Gajah where the famous cemetery known as God’s Little Acre is situated. Here are graves of the three planters who were killed during the Emergency, as well as graves of many civilians, military and police who fell during the Emergency. This is a very old cemetery and there are also many graves of very early residents of Batu Gajah; the oldest that I saw was dated 1886.

At the entrance of God’s Little Acre
The Roll of Honour

Next stop was a town called Papan where the Malayan heroine, Sybil Karthigasu, lived during World War 2. She helped the communist soldiers of the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army and was tortured for it by the Japanese. After the war she was sent to England for medical treatment where she died after some years. Later she was reburied in the cemetery next to the St. Michael’s Church. She was awarded the George Medal for Bravery. The house is sadly in total disrepair and Mr. Law Siak Hong, President of the Ipoh Heritage Society, has taken a great interest to restore the house to a decent form. Nothing belonging to the family remains and the only reminder is the hole under the staircase where they hid the radio set, radios being banned then with serious consequences if found. Later on Sybil’s daughter donated a cabinet.

Sybil’s house in Papan
Hole under the staircase in which the radio set was hidden
Mr. Law Siak Hong giving a tour

After lunch in a nearby Pusing, we left for Taiping. Passing the well-known beautiful Lake Gardens, still peaceful despite very large crowds of people, we arrived at the Taiping War Cemetery. Here are the graves of those killed in action during the war, the Japanese Occupation and those posted here after the war but before the Emergency. Among some 800 graves, about 500 are unidentified. The Christian and non-Christian graves are in two separate sections; they are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Some members of the Taiping Heritage Society were at hand to meet us, led by their President Mr. Yeap.

A formal ceremony was held at the Cross of Freedom with a prayer and a short sermon by Reverend Dr. Philip Mathius. This was followed by the Oath by Lt. Col. John Morrison accompanied by the Last Post by three buglers of a local Scout Troup. A wreath was laid by Commodore (Rtd.)  Arasaratnam of the Royal Malaysian Navy accompanied by Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman.

The Taiping Heritage Society then hosted us to tea at the New Club, which had been founded in 1892 by members of the Perak Club (founded in 1885) in protest of the Perak Club’s rule of restrictive membership to high-ranking officials. We returned at night for our dinner here.

Tour – Day 5

The next morning was a mix of history and places of general interest. We started at the Spritzer Plant, in case you did not realise, a Malaysian company producing natural mineral water. Water is pumped from an aquifer 400 feet below, purified and bottled. The Plant is situated just below the hills, which are behind it.

We stopped at the Matang Museum, a historical building built by Orang Kaya Menteri Ngah Ibrahim, the son of Cek Long Jaffar who is credited for opening up the Larut district for tin mining. The building has variously been a Teachers College, Japanese Army headquarters, a Malay school and now a museum.

The Matang Museum

This museum is off the beaten track and is well worth a visit. One side of the perimeter wall was damaged when a Japanese fighter plane crashed into it. There are many displays and artefacts including about tin. But at the back are stone pillars, or stele, which is a Japanese memorial to their soldiers killed in the invasion at the Thai Malayan border.

We stopped at a charcoal factory in Kuala Sepetang, or once known as Port Weld. Mr. Chuah from the factory gave us a tour. This factory produces high quality charcoal from bakau, a swamp wood. Much of it is exported to Japan. The bakau is cut from the surrounding swamps. But it is well controlled with replanting and is monitored by the forestry department. Incidentally, making charcoal is not just burning the bakau. It’s a much longer and involved process. Another blog another day.

Mr. Chuah explaining how charcoal is made
Inside the empty oven

We then travelled on to Penang and checked into the Royale Chulan Georgetown. This is in the old Boustead building, which were once offices and warehouses by the quay.

Tour – Day 6

On this day, we went to the Convent Light Street. Here we observed in a classroom the names of Prisoners of War from the American submarine USS Grenadier. This submarine was sunk near Phuket and some of the prisoners were interned for 108 days in this school, which was then the Japanese Naval Headquarters. The names were etched using their belt buckles on the door and walls of a classroom. The school has preserved these by putting a glass casing over them. A plaque has also been installed.

This school was not always a school. It was built around the bungalow of Sir Francis Light, the Founder of modern Penang. It was later the Government House and the offices of the early Penang Government. There is even a well in the compound used for Francis Light and another for the public.

Francis Light’s personal well in the school compound

The next stop was the Cenotaph at the Penang Esplanade. This is placed by the Penang Veterans Association in honour of the fallen in the wars from the First World War to the Communist Re-Insurgency.

The Cenotaph at the Esplanade Penang

Fort Cornwallis was not to be missed. Exhibits are sparse and only a part of the wall exists. But it is well maintained and conservation works promise new discoveries.

The final stop was the Penang War Museum in Batu Maung. Having lived in Penang in the early sixties, this place was for me and I am sure many other Penangites, a total surprise, not having known of its existence all this time. Located in the south east corner of Penang, it was built in the early 1930’s and was equipped with anti-aircraft guns, cannons, barracks, pillboxes, tunnels and facilities for the occupants. It was evacuated by the British in their retreat in December 1941. It was taken over and used by the Japanese to protect shipping, as well as a prison. After the war, it was abandoned and disappeared in the overgrowth.

However, in the 1990s, an entrepreneur, Johari Shafie, started a company and with the Penang State Government restored the fort and created a war museum. It was opened in 2002. I personally found it to be an interesting place and spent quite some time such that I was the last back on the bus.

Lunch was at the Queensbay Mall where we separately wandered in the food court for a variety of not just Penang fare. We returned to the hotel and gathered again for dinner. This was at the TOP View Restaurant Lounge on the top (of course), 59th floor of the KOMTAR Penang. Participants were given a Certificate of Participation. One of the group, Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman, was inducted as a member of the Council of Fellows of the War History Institute. There was Malaysian Cultural dance by four dancers organised by the Tourism Malaysia.

We boarded the bus back to the hotel with farewells to mark the end of a very well planned and enjoyable tour of the Malayan battle sites. An eye opener even to me as a Malaysian with a keen interest in our history.

For Part 1 of this report, please follow the link below. https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2019/09/02/malaya-at-war-part-1/

Malaya at War (part 1)

by V. Jegatheesan

‘Malaya at War’ was the title of a conference held in Kuala Lumpur on 10th and 11th August 2019. It was organised by the War History Institute, Holiday Tours & Travel Sdn. Bhd. and the Malaysian British Society. As the Research Director of the War History Institute, Mr. Seumas Tan, mentioned, there should be more stories about local war heroes as this would lead to more interest in Malaysia’s war history and consequently more visits to places associated with it. This will, in turn, generate military history tourism.

The Conference

The Keynote Address was by our first Royal Malaysian Navy Chief, Rear Admiral Tan Sri Dato’ Seri (Dr) K. Thanabalasingam. This was followed by Professor Brian P. Farrell of the National University of Singapore on the Defence of Malaya 1941-1942. An interesting first person account of the sinking of the Repulse was given by a survivor – Rear Admiral Guy Richmond Griffiths AO DSO DSC RAN (Rtd.). He is currently the Patron of the HMS Repulse Survivors Association. Kuala Lumpur at War 1939-1945 was covered by Andrew Barber, a Military History Researcher.

Most distinguished (looks belie their age):                                                      
L- R: Tan Sri J. J. Raj Jr,
Rear Admiral Tan Sri Dato’ Seri (Dr) K. Thanabalasingam
Rear Admiral Guy Richmond Griffiths AO DSO DSC RAN (Rtd.
The participants

Malaysian speakers were next starting with Mr. Harchand Singh Bedi, a Military History Researcher, who spoke on the Battle of Kampar 1941-1942. The story of Sybil Karthigasu was presented by Mr. Law Siak Hong, President Ipoh Heritage Society. War leaves behind a trail of wreckages and relics and Encik Shaharom Ahmad, a Malaysian Military Historian and Researcher, gave an illustrated description of airplane wreckages, bridges and pillboxes. A panel of speakers then gave their viewpoints on battlefield tourism and their involvement in promoting this. The panel comprised of Seumas Tan, Research Director War History Institute Sydney Australia, who acted as the moderator; George Yong and Zafrani Arifin, Malaysian Battlefield Guides; Henry Ong, Head Business Development Holiday Tours & Travel Sdn. Bhd.; and Dennis Weatherall, Australian Military Historian and Accredited Battlefield Guide.

The next day began with the topic on the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) which was very much a war but for various reasons called an emergency. This was covered by Mr. Christopher Hale who is a documentary producer and non-fiction writer. The famous Bukit Kepong Incident was described by Tan Sri J. J. Raj Jr., a Retired Commissioner of Royal Malaysian Police. He was the Officer in Charge of the Police District and was involved in the incident. From the Nanyang Technological University Singapore, Associated Professor Dr. Kumar Ramakrishna spoke on the Role of British Propaganda during the Emergency. The Conference was closed with a skit describing how a couple of Communists pressured a local couple for food. However, they were ambushed and killed. This skit was by the Malaya Historical Group all in period dress and uniform.

Tan Sri J. J. Raj Jr

The Tour

The Conference was followed immediately by a 6-day tour of the battle sites and memorials as well as a few other places of interest. The group comprised organisers Seumas Tan and Henry Ong, guide Zafrani Arifin and 2 officers from Tourism Malaysia. There were fourteen other participants, of which five were Malaysians. The remainder nine participants were Australians including one who had been here during the Emergency and another during the Confrontation.

The following is a description of the tour and a brief explanation of the battlefields, the battles and memorials. It is not meant to be a detailed description of the various battles as this will be too lengthy. The description also follows the tour route and not the specific battle routes as this involved a lot of criss-crossing and backtracking; it was not a straightforward fall back. These intricate details can be read from numerous books and the internet.

The route for the first day follows the start of the Australian forces’ involvement against the advancing Japanese army. As Australian Lieutenant General Gordon Bennet wrote in his book Why Singapore Fell, “Australians go in to bat”, a cricketing term. Their objective was to stop this advance and even drive the Japanese back, if not to delay the onslaught. The Japanese had been rapidly advancing down south largely on the west coast road with forces spread out on the fringes of the road, in the rubber estates and in the jungle, in fact everywhere in a broad sweep. They also had air cover in many places operating from occupied airports. Surprisingly, they also seized boats in Penang and Muar to get ahead and behind the British lines. The Forces, i.e. British Army, may have delayed the Japanese slightly and caused some losses, inflicted heavy damage, but they ultimately had to retreat into Singapore.

While this is where the Australian forces joined the war, the entire army here comprised of Australian, Indian and British units. Many units have been retreating from up north and were exhausted. Units had to be regrouped as each suffered losses.

Tour – Day 1

On the first day, we set off for Sungai Kelamah War Memorial in Gemencheh. This is along the old road south and close to Gemas. The Japanese, who had rumbled down at speed, arrived here on 14 January 1942. An Australian ambush party had already laid explosives under the bridge and awaited the Japanese. Bridges were routinely destroyed in war to stop or delay the advancing enemy forces.

The memorial at Gemencheh

At 4.10 pm, after some 300 Japanese troops had crossed, the Australians blew up the bridge killing about 30 Japanese on the bridge. Australians were also ranged along hillsides further back and fired on Japanese who had crossed. It is estimated that nearly 500 to 700 were killed with minimal losses for the allied troops. As far as they were concerned, the ambush was a success.

Remnants of the bridge. A new bridge can be seen in the background.

Nevertheless, in due course, the Japanese had gotten ahead behind them as the Australian ambush party withdrew towards Gemas, continuously avoiding Japanese advance parties who got behind Australian lines. Generally, withdrawal was not a simple matter in war as they were constantly harassed and fought with by the Japanese behind the lines and by heavy aerial bombings. Many units or soldiers become lost or trapped and had to find their way to their units or other units. The bridge was quickly rebuilt by the Japanese using timber from a local sawmill. Retreating forces destroyed the machinery but did not think the timber would be useful. In war, fuel, machinery, vehicles even street signs or anything that will give an advantage to the enemy is removed or destroyed.

Today we see a memorial site and the remnants of the bridge. Further away we also saw anti-tank cylindrical concrete blocks intended to halt advancing tanks.

Anti-tank blocks and us

A local enthusiast, Rizal, showed us around dressed in the Commonwealth Forces uniform. This uniform was worn by Australian soldiers on the way to the Middle East and when they were diverted to Malaya, they fought in this uniform. Over time Rizal has collected many artefacts, all rusted with time.

Today, the road has been realigned and a new bridge built.

We proceeded to the Gemas Railway Station. We were shown a photo of Japanese troops crawling along the lines anticipating enemy attacks.

The Gemas Railway Station – then and now

The next stop was the Gemas Broken Bridge. Today you can still see the remnants as seen in the photo below while a new bridge has been built nearby.

Gemas Broken Bridge

Next was the Buloh Kasap Bridge, which shared the same fate as the other bridges. A then and now photo shows how the bridge was rebuilt at speed by the Japanese. The ends of the bridge are still intact today. On one side damage from artillery shells can be seen. Markings on the concrete pillars below show that the bridge was built in March 1926.

Photo of the Japanese rebuilding Buloh Kasap Bridge

Both these unusable bridges seem to be painted and maintained by the local Council, but attempts to contact the Council to confirm this is still ongoing. Before the next bridge, we stopped for lunch at the VIP Hotel, a small yet beautiful hotel.

The Segamat Railway Bridge was also blasted and quickly rebuilt. Any advancing army will expect bridges to be blown up and are therefore prepared to rebuild them. It is a matter of speed to get it up and let the forces cross onward. Materials are usually sourced locally as in Gemencheh.

The photo shows the Japanese rebuilding the Segamat Railway Bridge

It is fortunate to have the then and now photos as it helps in imagining the various happenings. Unlike other bridges that have been replaced with realigned roads and new bridges, the Segamat Railway Bridge was repaired after the war and it is still in use. Our night stop was at the Ramada in Melaka.

Tour – Day 2

The second day saw us in Muar town. The local Tourism Officer boarded the bus and gave us a tour of the town. Of interest was the remains of the bombed out building behind the present Streetview Hotel.

We then got on the road, headed southeast and after 5kms arrived outside of Bakri. This is the location of the famous photo of 2 gunners with the anti-tank gun. They managed to do damage to the advancing tanks. Below I quote the caption to the photo from the Australian War Memorial website. (https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/040367/). This caption and the photo say it all.

BAKRI, MALAYA, 1942-01-15 (actually 1942-01-18). GUNNERS OF 13TH AUSTRALIAN ANTI-TANK BATTERY USING A 2 PDR (pounder) ANTI-TANK GUN ACTION AGAINST JAPANESE TYPE 94 LIGHT TANKS AT A ROAD BLOCK. THE FORWARD TANK HAS BEEN SET ON FIRE WHILST OTHER TANKS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF ROAD BLOCK, WHICH IS A FELLED RUBBER TREE, HAVE BEEN DISABLED.

The caption to this photo in Wikipedia reads “Australian 2 pounder gun of 13th Battery, 4th Anti-Tank Regiment, firing on Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks of the 14th Tank Regiment on the Muar-Parit Sulong road on 18 January 1942. [1] Sergeant Charles Parsons and his crew were credited with destroying six of the nine tanks in this engagement.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Muar).

The hillock on the right is all that remains of the original as in the photo. A huge swath of land has been cleared behind this for a large industrial estate. We hope this location will at least be marked. This was the purpose of having the two officers from the Tourism Malaysia so they will appreciate the locations and provide feedback on the importance of this and other locations and place a memorial or a plaque.

Interestingly, the gunner, Sergeant Charlie Parsons, mentioned is connected to the family of the daughter-in-law of one of our participants on tour. He found this out when he posted pictures of the tour in his Facebook and she informed him!!

Further south at Parit Sulong, which was taken by the Japanese on the 21st January 1942, we stopped at the Parit Sulong Memorial. A memorial ceremony was held and the following oath recited by Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman, who was one of our group. This is always recited at Australian memorial services.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.

Lest we forget.

(A Verse from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon)

Small Australian flags were placed on the memorial. We then crossed the road to an area that contained abandoned JKR quarters. It was in this area that some 150 prisoners and wounded Australian and Indian soldiers were held captive and then massacred. The Japanese General Takuma Nishimura was later sentenced to death for this.

The Oath by Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman
Placing of flags

After Parit Sulong and many other small battles, the British forces had to withdraw to Singapore.

The plaque on the bridge at Parit Sulong

It is a simple to read about battle sites. It can be another matter to visit them and see the actual spots where it all happened. War is a terrible thing in itself. Being at the sites can evoke emotions though it all happened in the past. We see and we move away.

Parit Sulong – how many know the past of this town

Then we made a “Quantum Leap” (refer old TV series) from the War to the Emergency – to Bukit Kepong, the scene of the annihilation of the wooden riverside police station by the communists on 23rd February 1950. Bukit Kepong is about 60km from Muar town. From the hillside across the station about 180 communists led by Muhammad Indera, looked down on the police station. In the police station were 25 policemen led by Sergeant Jamil Mohd. Shah. At 4.15am, the firing started. The police stood their ground, refusing surrender despite their families being killed as well. The station was set on fire and through all this the police defended the station. After 5 hours, it was over and the communists left leaving only four policemen and nine family members as survivors. This story as with the others is overwhelming.

Today, unfortunately the station has not been rebuilt. However, a gallery has been set up – Galeri Darurat Bukit Kepong or Emergency Gallery Bukit Kepong. On display are pictures and videos not just about the incident but also a lot more about the emergency, the independence, guns etc. There are also personal artefacts of the policemen and their families on display such as the household items of cups and saucers etc. etc.

The police at Bukit Kepong before the attack. Sergeant Jamil Mohd. Shah is seated third from left.

The day finished with our travel back to the Ramada and a good night’s rest before the next day’s events.

This report continues to Part 2 covering days 3-6. It can be viewed at https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2019/09/02/malaya-at-war-part-2/