KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 14 — On a cool, misty morning, some 200 people gathered to pay their respects yesterday to those killed in the line of duty defending the Commonwealth.
Among the veterans present at the Cenotaph near the National Monument were Major (Rtd) Harjit S. Rendawa, 65, who said it was important to both remember and remind people of the sacrifices of those who came before them.
Harjit, the Malaysian Armed Forces Sikh Veterans Association vice-president, said the country risked losing its rich military and historical heritage if it did not act to preserve sites and document veterans’ narrations of various conflicts.
“The Battle of Kampar was fought by an outnumbered British force against a larger Japanese unit but skilful use of the terrain delivered the Japanese their first serious defeat,” he said, citing an example.
“It was fought on four hills, three of which have been developed. We need a memorial on the remaining hill to preserve the memory of the brave men who fought there.”
Harjit, whose team built territorial markers for the country in the South China Sea, said he did not lose heart in his struggle to draw attention to the past.
“The war memorial is planned in remembrance of British and Indian troops of the 11th Indian Infantry Division,” he said.
“Plans for the monument were complete and were only awaiting a decision by the Perak state government to gazette the area as a heritage site before construction begins.”
Lieutenant Colonel (Rtd) Amreek Singh, 66, said those who had not experienced war often took peace for granted.
“We have not seen conflict since 1990 and a whole generation of officers have experienced nothing but peace time soldiering,” he said.
“Peace must not be taken for granted and the young people must make an effort to find out about those who fought so they can enjoy the freedom and peace they now have.”
Amreek, who served 25 years in the military, recounted his time in the 1st Ranger Battalion saying people who had never seen war were constantly fixated by it.
“Our unit accounted for over 100 enemies killed but that is not the point. It was our duty but war and conflict is temporary,” he said.
“The camaraderie and esprit de corps we had while serving lasted through the years and my old mates still visit me with their families. That’s what is important not the violence.”
Datuk R. Thambipillai, 86, served in the Royal Malaysian Police force between 1949 and 1984 and was in the thick fighting communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency.
He was unable to attend the ceremony in Kuala Lumpur but would be part of the veterans attending a separate ceremony at the Cenotaph in Penang on Nov 27.
“We need to also be grateful and never forget those who came from overseas and fought for our freedom. We must never let this knowledge and experience slip away from us,” he said.
Thambipillai, who retired as Batu Gajah OCPD, said thinning numbers meant young people needed to take up the responsibility of being involved in preserving history.
“Young people need to get involved in remembering the past. This is not something they are detached from ... it is their history as well and they cannot escape it,” he said.
Representatives from 20 different embassies, veterans, students and serving military personnel gathered at the Cenotaph at the national monument to mark the occasion, held annually on the second week of November.
Serenaded by the Kuala Lumpur Pipes and Drums band, guests took part in the brief and crisp ceremony, singing: O God Our Help in Ages Past and I Vow to Thee My Country.
A reflection for the fallen was read by Andrew Hwang of St Andrews Presbyterian Church followed by a rendition of the Battle of Kampar by Malaysian Armed forces Sikh Veterans Association Major (Rtd) Tara Singh.
Garden International school students, Aushka Upadhyay and Julia Lee, recited “In Flanders Fields” and “For the Fallen” respectively followed by the Last Post and Reveille trumpeted by Joseph Jenkinson of the British High Commission, marking a two minute silence.
Also present were Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, son of Yang diPertuan Besar Negri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Almarhum Tuanku Munawir.
British high commissioner Vicky Treadell paid tribute to the British Indian Army personnel who perished during the Malayan Campaign of World War II.
“We recognise the debt we owe all those, be it military or civilian, who gave of themselves for the Allied cause. We laud their comradeship and we remember their sacrifices.”