Wed Jun 23, 2004

British war veterans walk down memory lane
in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - The last time British war veteran Ron Amos was in Malaysia he was an 18-year-old conscript soldier hunting communist guerrillas in the tropical jungles and swamps.
Now, fifty years later, he and a group of his ageing comrades-in-arms have returned to find a land transformed, and a quiet pride in the part they played in the country's history.
An international Formula One racetrack occupies one of the swamps they patrolled outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, and the city itself boasts some of the world's tallest buildings.
"Your country has developed so fast. I am happy our struggle has paid off," Amos told AFP during a tour of the capital and surrounding areas.
But, paying tribute at the graves of his fallen comrades at the Commonwealth War cemetery in Cheras, just south of here, tears come to his eyes.
"These young fellows never had a life. But I have a wife, children and grandchildren," he said.
"They died at such a young age. But it was a war worth giving our lives for."
Amos, 68, came to what was then known as Malaya in 1954 with the Somerset Light Infantry aboard a troopship from Liverpool via Singapore to fight a communist insurgency in this former British colony.
"We were given live ammunition as soon as we got on a train from Singapore to Malaysia, so we knew we were in for action," he said.
"All along the journey, it was dotted with just rubber trees and paddy fields, unlike now."
Amos and his fellow teenage conscripts were thrown into the fight against guerrillas who were launching deadly hit-and-run raids against British rubber planters and Chinese tin miners.
Under the scorching tropical sun in the neatly kept cemetery, where hundreds of fallen British soldiers are buried, Amos and his wife Edna laid flowers and recalled one of the most turbulent and dangerous periods in Malaysian history.
Pointing to the tombstone of A.B. Bennett from Kidlington, who had been in the same platoon, Amos said: "Just one shot. A sniper shot by a rebel killed this 19-year-old lad. That was jungle warfare."
On Bennett's tombstone is inscribed the classic tribute to soldiers: "At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember him."
But Amos and his group of comrades made their pilgrimage to Malaysia without any of the fanfare which accompanied the return of old soldiers earlier this month to the beaches of Normandy for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day in the Second World War.
The trip was led by the son of one of the dead soldiers, Paul Beaumont, 53, from Berkshire. His father, Raymond Beaumont was 28 when he was killed in an ambush in 1953.
"I was two years old when my father died. My mother became a widow at the age of 22. Life then was tough. I cannot remember my father but his friends tell me all about him," he said.
Visiting his father's grave, he had told him: "I am back dad. I brought along some of your friends."
Among them were Gordon Hopkins, 72, Eric Thomas, 70 and Don Breckenridge, who said: "It is a cultural shock for me to see what Malaysia is today.
"We came on a steam-powered train. We had to learn jungle survival. Unlike your highways and super-tall buildings now, it was only swamps, mosquitoes and the war against the running dogs."
Amos, who now lives in Oxford, married Edna in 1960 and spent the rest of his life with an engineering firm, never expecting to return after leaving Malaysia in 1955.
"To come back now, to say hello to my dead friends here, it gives me so much. I am old now, I don't think I can afford to come again but I will forever remember Malaysia."
Malaysia became independent from Britain in 1957, and the communist insurgency died out in 1963.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"