Before the Japanese invasion of Malaya, the Japanese…
Faded photographs in a family album showing a cluster of young men in olive drab uniforms laughing out from the page or standing rigidly to attention against a backdrop of tropical vegetation and veranadered barrack blocks – who were they and what took them away from home in their teens and twenties?
Some were conscripts – National Servicemen Rock and Rollers from the 50s and others “Soldiers of the 60s” men of the new career army growing up in the Swinging 60s – others, their fathers were men of the 1940s who had fought against the Japanese a ferocious and skilled enemy in a country that was then called Malaya.
Some were our fathers – grand fathers – great grand fathers. Some never came home and those who did had a few stories to tell, jokes to be shared with old comrades and medals to be worn on Remembrance Sunday. Today this intense time in their young lives can seem remote, and yet with daily news of fire fights in Afghanistan intensely relevant and topical .
We want to know more about the heroic but doomed fight to defend Malaya against the Japanese in 1942. In the 20s and 30s Malaya had been a wonderful place for Europeans to live and work – the Japanese invasion would change civilian as well as military lives forever. How did these men, women -and children survive the harsh life of prison and detention camps.
The “Emergency” saw National Servicemen, sometimes reluctant soldiers, fighting in Malaya. Men from Britain, East Africa, Australia and New Zealand fought alongside Malayan soldiers and police in what remains one of the text book post-war counter-insurgency campaigns and a 12 year war that saw the birth of Malaysia. It also saw a role for Special Forces that has been enhanced and expanded ever since.
Finally the “Confrontation” in which an aggressive, expansionist and nationalist Indonesia attempted to crush the Malaysian Federation in overt raids and covert operations in Sabah and Sarawak in North Borneo. Cross border raids by British and Commonwealth troops into Indonesia remained top secret until the 1980s.
Photographs, letters, documents and medals tell their story – but is a story that made need interpretation. Genealogy programmes on television have pointed the way and fostered this interest and made us aware that at a click of a mouse we can access some some remarkable research facilities Today children, grand children – and veterans, both civilians and servicemen and women are joining associations like COFEPOW (Children of Far East Prisoners of War) and the MVG (Malayan Volunteer Group) to exchange information and develop and enhance their research.
Research can be remarkably exciting. Folders at the national Archive at Kew may contain unique regimental records or correspondence by ministers or officials that set in context what was happening to family, friends or comrades. Sometimes research can reveal events that have been buried in memory or never spoken of because they are and remain too painful to talk about- and this can explain the anger or depression that haunted men and women for years after the event.
Research can be a healing experience.
With this in mind Spirit of Remembrance seeks to bring together relevant and useful websites so that there is a central point where we can gather and exchange information.
Please let us know if you know of any other websites and we will happily add it to our list.