MAY 20 — As an American who recently spent 10 weeks visiting Malaysia, I found it welcome news to read in the Malay Mail on May 6 that the site of the Battle of Kampar will be gazetted as a historical site.
My interest in the British Army’s defence of the Malay peninsula against the Japanese invasion in the early 1940s began with a visit some 25 years ago to the Taiping War Cemetery, where some of those killed defending northern Malaya are buried.
After some study, I learned about the success of the British Army contingent at the Kampar Green Ridge, including the 11th Indian Infantry Division, the British Royal Leicestershire and East Surrey Regiments.
I had visited the site of the Battle of Kampar, or Green Ridge, with the kind assistance of a close Malaysian friend several weeks before the Malay Mail article.
It took some snooping around and the help of some local residents to locate the battle site.
It was disheartening to find there was no signage, no explanatory plaques, nothing to indicate this was where members of the British Army, outnumbered 3 to 1, died and were seriously wounded in their successful stand against the invaders.
Indeed, across northern Malaysia, there are hardly any markers to educate the public about the sacrifices of the many defenders who fell in their efforts to defend Malaya.
It’s as if the war never happened on the peninsula; it is puzzling that such significant events leading toward the formation of modern Malaysia are not memorialised for the edification of the public.
When I reached the Kampar River crossing, I saw that the river was really just. a stream barely a dozen feet wide.
The key, however, was the depth of its banks: the river banks were deep enough to require the Japanese to repair the bridge, intentionally destroyed by the British, in order for its tanks to cross the river and head south towards Kuala Lumpur.
British artillery on the ridges above stymied Japanese efforts to repair the bridge, and the British infantry repelled the invaders’ infantry attacks on British trenches on Green Ridge, some in fierce bayonet exchanges, as the ridge strategically looms over the bridge to the south.
I traipsed up Green Ridge along a forgotten jungle path adjacent to a tin mine. Along the way, I passed evidence of British trenches, now grown over.
After a bit, I came to a rustic block memorial, a lonely altar in the jungle, said to be erected by local Indian veterans of today’s Malaysian Army justifiably proud of their predecessors.
In a mere 90 or so minutes on the jungle ridge, I acquired a dozen or so bloody leeches and countless mosquito bites.
It made me ponder how challenging the conditions would have been for those British soldiers, unaccustomed to the jungle, who endured discomforts and disease for months, and for a few, who stayed back as guerrillas, for years.
May the gazetting of the Kampar Green Ridge prompt signages and informational plaques to inform Malaysians about the battle.
Beyond that, may it be an impetus for other projects to educate the public about the history of the war in the peninsula.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.