On Saturday 24 August 2019, the SA/NT Branch of the National Malaya-Borneo Veterans Association of Australia hosted its annual service of commemoration in the West Torrens War Memorial Gardens in Adelaide.
CAPTION: Principal Guest of Honour at the Adelaide Malaya-Borneo Veterans Dayceremony Hieu Van Le, Governor of South Australia, who is also Patron of the SA/NT Branch, NMBVAA. Photo by Major (ret’d) Paul Rosenzweig.
This service, marking the 59th anniversary of the end of the Malayan Emergency in 1960 and the 53rd anniversary of the end of Confrontation in 1966, honoured the contribution of Australian Defence personnel in these two campaigns.
Local Australian Air Force Cadets supported the service by providing a Catafalque Party armed with innocuous 7.62mm SLR rifles representative of the Confrontation era.
The Emergency was an ‘undeclared war’ fought in the Federation of Malaya immediately following the end of World War 2, between 16 June 1948 and 31 July 1960.
Then, between 24 December 1962 and 11 August 1966, the Indonesian Confrontation with Malaysia was another undeclared war fought following a series of cross-border raids into Malaysian territory. Australian and New Zealand units fought in Borneo and West Malaysia as part of a larger British and Commonwealth force under overall British command.
Australia’s commitment to both campaigns in Malaya fell within the context of its membership of the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve (BCFESR).
The service and sacrifice of Commonwealth and Malaysian troops during the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation was not in vain, serving to uphold the sovereignty of the British protectorate of Brunei and the Federation of Malaya, allowing the successful attainment of Malayan independence on 31 August 1957 and the eventual creation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.
In 2011, the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs designated 31 August (the date of Malayan Independence) as the official date of commemoration for these two campaigns.
Each year in August, on the Saturday closest to 31 August, the SA/NT Branch hosts a service of commemoration – but this year the Branch held the Adelaide event slightly earlier than usual to permit a pilgrimage party to conduct a similar service in Kuching, Sarawak on 29 August.
From the Emergency and Confrontation, and related activities of that era, there were 71 Australian casualties: four were members of the RAN, thirteen were members of the RAAF, and 54 were Army. Three were National Servicemen or former National Servicemen.
And Confrontation wasn’t just confined to the Malay Peninsula: of those who died, five died in Sabah and nine died in Sarawak.
Of the Australian fallen from the Malayan Emergency, one was buried at sea in Malayan waters, one was lost in an aircraft crash in the South China Sea, and one has no grave identified. Among the fallen from the period of Confrontation, two were lost at sea and have no known grave.
Although some of the fallen were repatriated, there are still 50 Australians from these two Malayan wars who remain buried overseas – in the Taiping Christian Cemetery in Perak, the Penang Cemetery and the Kuala Lumpur Civil Cemetery in Malaysia, and in Kranji Military Cemetery in Singapore.
In the Commemorative Address, Major (ret’d) Paul A Rosenzweig said, “Let us lay a wreath today, and recall the sacrifices our colleagues and forebears made overseas. Let us especially remember the five who have no known grave, and the 50 who remain at rest overseas in the soil of our neighbours”.
Although the conflicts being commemorated are not well known publicly, their place in Australian military history is being assured through these commemorative events.