Friday, March 16, 2012

Unsung Heroes!

Never knew about the existence of the junior civil liaison officers (JCLOs), one of the many services that sacrificed themselves for the sake of the nation.

Vive le veteran!

A military man reminisces about life in the trenches, and more.

I WAS born in Penang, where I spent most of my growing years. In 1950, at 16 and still at school, I joined the Police Volunteer Reserve’s (PVR) jungle squad. This was the time when secret societies and moonshiners were active.

The PVR’s task was to trace and flush out those involved in their activities and to destroy their hideouts. So we patrolled the hills and searched the squatter areas.During one such operation, we were ambushed at Paya Terubong and our section leader (an inspector) was killed. It was an awakening for me, one that had a significant influence in my choosing to wear the uniform and serve the country.

In 1954, when the Civil Liaison Corps were recruiting junior civil liaison officers (JCLOs) to replace the fading Farret Force 136, I applied and was recruited. After intensive training in guerilla warfare, I was posted to the One Malaya Regiment (a Coy Lintang camp based in Sungai Siput, Perak).

William David Dass (standing, extreme right) with the Malaysian United Nations Peace Keepers Mission to Bakavu, Congo.

The main tasks of the JCLOs were to gather information on the movement and activities of the Communist Terrorists (CTs) and to liaise with the local securities and the 28 Commonwealth troops stationed in designated areas. The plan was to paralyse the CTs.

To carry out their tasks, the JCLOs had to go about disguised as beggars, rubber tappers, farmers or forest rangers. It was a dangerous operation, so much so they were branded the “moving human target” – literally, easy prey for the communists. The only defence we had were small arms; we were not even allowed to carry personal documentation to identify ourselves!

I have many sad and bitter memories of my years as a JCLO, most of which are best forgotten.

You can’t imagine how uncertain and lost we felt when we saw our comrades getting killed in the many ambushes set by the CTs. There were days when I had to sleep beside dead soldiers who were once my friends, and even dead CTs, until aid arrived. Those were sleepless nights filled with sadness and fear.

Once I was stung by hornets; I thought I would never see my family again. I was also bitten by poisonous insects; the only medication we had was local medicated oil, and the willpower to survive.

During the nights, we kept vigil in ambush positions in small trenches that lacked proper food and clean water. On one occasion, during an ambush position with the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), we were compelled to drink our own urine as we had run out of water and it had not rained for days. And when it did rain, it poured … so much so that we had to cross the Perak River and the dangerous mining pools in neck-high water!

When the trenches overflowed with rain water, I had to brace my legs between the trees and remain in that position the whole night, despite the leeches biting me, and the flies and mosquitoes buzzing around.

Many a time we slipped and fell off high, slippery limestone cliffs and hurt ourselves, but we had to move on. Once, I was too exhausted to notice a wild boar hatch and sat on it, only to be bitten by wild boar ticks! It was common to encounter or spot tigers, bears, wild boars, cobras and numerous poisonous insects and plants. I was very fortunate to have survived all these ordeals without any major mishap.

In 1955, I was deployed with 3RAR during the Baling Talks with Chin Peng. It was the time of the Emergency (1948-60). When the security forces in Sungai Siput mounted operations on CTs, I was commissioned to gather information on the movements of the infamous Indian CT Perumal. This operation saw the surrender of the two most wanted Indian CTs in Sungai Siput.

In 1959, when the Malaysian Government decided to form its own intelligence unit, I was one of the 15 JCLOs, the “cream of the corps”, recruited. We underwent a three-month course covering army, Special Branch (police) and jungle warfare training.

As a full-fledged Malaysian Army Intelligence Corps (KORRIS), I was posted to various battalions and garrisons which had their headquarters based in the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1962, I was sent to serve with the United Nations troops in Bukavu, Congo, under the 5th Battalion Malaysian Brigade.

I am proud to have had the opportunity to establish not less than 13 field security detachments in both East and West Malaysia, and served under several generals.

During detachments, very short notice was given for postings. As loyal, trained soldiers, we asked no questions and were always ready to move. I can only thank my wife for understanding how important my work was to me and how the military system worked, and for accepting the life of a soldier’s wife. It is a fact that not only does the soldier serve the country, his wife and his family do so, too, in their own way, by giving up their “rights” to a husband and a father.

On May 13, 1969, I was to leave for Sarawak on the Kota Raja. My wife and then two young children dropped me off at Port Klang, Selangor, and were on their way home with the army driver when news came about the riots. They were lucky that the driver managed to make a detour and brought them safely back to Mindef.

I was on duty in Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan during the Confrontation (1962-66).My immediate priorities then were the Indonesian Border Terrorist (IBT) movement in Sarawak and barter traders and illegal immigrants in Sabah.

In 1971, I was posted to London and was based at the Malaysian High Commission at Belgrave Square, as chief staff assistant to the services advisor. My wife and two younger children joined me on this family posting of several years, after which I returned home to Malaysia.

After 29 years of active service with the armed forces, I retired in 1980 with the rank of Warrant Officer II and returned to my hometown. It gives me great pleasure to say that I come from a military background as my father was a British/Indian military officer during WWI, having fought the Turks in Babylon.

Today, two of my sons also proudly don the uniform. The oldest is head of maritime enforcement with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency based at Port Klang and holds the rank of captain. Before this, he served as a commander with the Royal Malaysian Navy for 25 years.

My second son is a dental surgeon with the rank of colonel with the Malaysian Armed Forces, based in Malacca. He served as commanding officer of the Malaysian medical unit with the UN peacekeeping mission to Western Sahara, Africa, in 2009.

My family and I hold in high esteem and admiration the sacrifices of all those who have rendered their services and lives for the nation to achieve “Merdeka” and uphold the peace with the motto, “Who Dares – Wins”. We are honoured to have played a role in this great accomplishment.

A salute in memory of my fallen comrades: “I have learnt to live a life of appreciation because I have lived a life of a soldier.” As those in the military would say, “A soldier never dies, he only fades away …”

> William Dass (pic) passed away on Feb 5. His daughter, Elizabeth Dass-Brown, submitted this article, which he had written in 2010. There will be a memorial service for Dass on March 17, 11am, at St George’s Church, Farquhar Street, Penang.


Anonymous said...

even though i never knew him but i think his son and i went to the same school.we were neighbours in MINDEF and my moom would cook rendang for them during their festivities and in exchange we order muruku from them. come to think of it i seldom see him; the father i mean.
now i know why he is in the intellengence corps.
anyway the house where i and he used to stay in mindef has been demolished and what stands there is the RAW 515 HQ.
This article brought back memories of my time growing up in dad serve with the REJIMEN SEMBOYAN ANGKATAN TENTERA.he retired as warrant officer 2.

mumuchi said...

Glad to know posting this article has brought back memories to you. That is the reason the blog is established, to bring such info to the general public so there will be no more stupid questions like "Why we need a standing army for". There are too many unsung heroes and heroics that has gone unnoticed that makes us "lalai" in such peaceful times.