Brave Sabahans who fought the Reds
Published on: Sunday, September 18, 2011
By: Sherell Ann Jeffrey
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THE first batch of Sabahans who served in the Malaysian Armed Forces as part of the Sabah Ranger unit were also involved in tracking down communists, both along the Thai border and in Sarawak. In fact, Capt (rtd) Abdullah Yusof, who was 23 when he joined the Rangers in 1963, remembers it like it just happened yesterday.

Now in his 70s, Abdullah said he and two other Sabahan officers serving in the ranger regiment - Major Sabdin Ghani and Capt Boniface Jingulam - were ordered to hunt down the communists responsible for ambushing and killing 15 members of the Ranger Seven unit who were on their way back from Sik Guruh, known as Mong Gajah.

All three were posted to the newly-formed Ranger Seven regiment based in Kluang Camp Johor.

"It was in 1970 and the unlucky team was headed back to Sungai Petani when they were ambushed by communists.

"Me and the other two Sabahan officers were assigned to track them down.

However, we were unsuccessful because the communists managed to escape across the Thailand border," he said.

But luck was on their side on another occasion when the Ranger Seven unit was sent to Lundu Sarawak for operational duty and another 15 Malaysian soldiers were killed - also in an ambush.

This was in early 1972. "We suffered the worst casualties when some 30 communists ambushed our convoy comprising office clerks and food transporters on the way back from sending supplies to our post in Biawak, Indonesia.

The regiment lost 15 men and several were seriously wounded.

We also lost weapons, and radio set. It was the first time the Malaysian Armed Forces lost a radio set this way.

He said the next day, they were assigned to track down the communists but three weeks passed without any results.

Abdullah said tracking down communists can be complicated because they sometimes disguised themselves as rangers in order to hoodwink the people.

"When they enter the villages for food supplies, the villagers couldn't tell if they were communists or rangers because of the uniform.

"The problem was made worse by the fact that both the rangers and the communists had various ethnic races as members like Iban and Chinese.

"Three weeks after the ambush, the regiment received information that a group of communists will move at night from Kg Perian to the main road towards Kg Bokak. At 11pm the commanding officer assigned us to track and ambush the terrorists. There were 20 of us.

"At midnight, we managed to ambush the communists killing two terrorists during the attack.

We also managed to retrieve the radio set and several weapons."

Because of this, Abdullah was awarded the "Honorary Ahli Bintang Sarawak" by the Sarawak Government.

We also managed to kill two communists in Lundu District," he said.

Abdullah said life as a ranger was really challenging yet enjoyable.

Sometimes they are required to sleep in the jungle for weeks, sometimes for a month.

"We have permanent base camps built along the border.

These are equipped with all the necessary facilitiesÉwe even had a volley ball court.

"Its only when we stay in the jungle that we need to ration our food.

What we usually ate was baked beans from the tin, chicken or lamb curry.

But in those days, canned food was really heavy. One pack for five days in the jungle could weigh up to five kilos.

"We will be assigned to go to a certain spot to get new food supply, which will be sent by helicopter.

We usually carry food supplies enough for a week" he said.

Another danger they had to contend with were traps laid by the communists in the jungle.

He said the use of hidden traps was common during those days. These usually comprised empty tins filled with explosives, which could explode as far as 200 feet.

"The traps are commonly set near big trees because it is human nature to instinctively hide behind big trees when attacked."

Abdullah said the departing colonial administration formed two battalion ranger regiments called Sarawak Ranger One (Sarawak 1st Ranger) and Sabah Ranger Two (Sabah 2nd Ranger) in conjunction with the formation of Malaysia in 1963. It was in August that year, barely a month before the formation of the new Federation comprising Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya.

The British decided to form a ranger regiment for both these States comprising some 600 native recruits.

The officer in charge of recruiting the Sabahans was Major Plain and staff of the British army.

Major Plain and his staff went all over Sabah and managed to enlist 120 young Sabahans for the first intake which had all races, including a few Chinese.

The 2nd Ranger battalion was formally set up at Ulu Tiram camp in Johor and most of the senior officers were drawn from the British army and Royal Malaysian Regiment.

He said both the Ranger battalions were commanded by Col Welsted while the Commanding Officer for the 2nd Rangers was Lt Col Wood MC.

The group then moved to the Gurkha training centre at Sungai Petani.

In 1965, at the time of Singapore's separation from the new-formed Federation.

The British government handed both Sarawak One and Sabah Two Rangers to Malaysia and some 160 Sabahan youths that choose to enrol in the Malaysian Armed Forces came to take the Oath of Allegiance to the nation.

It was then that the Sabah Ranger Two was renamed Ranger Seven.

The first Sabahan officer commissioned was Maj (B) Sabdin Ghani in 1964, followed in 1965 by Lt Col Chin Kee Fong @ Johan Chin, Abdullah Hj Yusof, Kapt (B) Terence Sthalman, Kapt (B) Boniface Jingulam and Kapt (B) George Lai from Tuaran.

Before joining the Rangers, Abdullah was telephone operator based in Queen Elizabeth Hospital and later was posted to work as a telephone technician in Karamunsing in 1961.

"When I heard of the recruiting exercise in 1963, I immediately resigned from my job and joined.

We were offered a salary of RM60 a month at that time.

"All our essentials were provided for by the Navy, Army Airforce Institution (NAAFI) including shoes, clothes, food, even the cigarettes were given free once a week. The salary I got was usually spent on things like bread."

Abdullah, who served as a ranger for 14 years, said among the first Sabahan soldiers to be killed directly or indirectly due to conflict was Ranger Mohd from Tuaran, who was killed by mortar bomb in Kg Mentadak, Pulau Sebatik.

He said the first Sabahan non-conflict casualty was Ranger Albert Matanjang from Penampang who drowned during a river crossing exercise at Sg Jenang Kedah in 1964.

He said many Sabahans joined the rangers in 1963 but his batch comprised the first Sabahans to join the Malaysian Armed Forces.

"But, sadly, a majority of us who served in those days did not receive any form of recognition from the State Government until today.

"I hope the State government would do a survey on those who served the country in the 60s.

We have an Ex-Servicemen Association of Malaysia but most of them are not the original members from the 60s," he said, adding they plan to celebrate the 50th anniversary in conjunction with the formation of the Rangers in Malaysia.

Charlie Kwan now also in his 70s and another former Ranger, joined the force in 1963 when he was 22.

"At that time it was the Indonesian confrontation. I was looking for a job and thought I might as well join the army and fight to defend my country," Kwan said.

"I became a rifle man in 1965 but in 1966 I was assigned to work in the headquarters because I could speak and write English well.

My job was to manage the salary. Those days, salary was paid by cash and we will go around to the operation sites in trucks to distribute the money," he said.


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