ForeverMissed

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The unsung heroes

Shared by Allen Walker on May 20, 2010

 Thousands of men and women put their lives on the line for this country during World War II, but none of their sacrifices have been given due recognition. To counter this, one organisation seeks to return the names, faces, and ultimately, the honour of these super troopers to our national consciousness.

Rosemary Fell is not the type to forget easily. Yet the 70-year-old retiree has no recollection of her father, Eric Reeve, the headmaster of Bandar Hilir English School in Malacca. He died as a Japanese prisoner-of-war when she was a toddler. Whatever memory she has of him — the sound of his voice, the colour of his eyes, the lullabies he sang — has been blown away like dust in the wind.

“Once my mother heard of the news of his death, she seemed to want to forget the horrors of what happened to him. It was as though he never existed,” the soft-spoken UK-born native says.

“His name was never mentioned, and I never liked to ask for fear of upsetting her.”


 

It wasn’t until 2005 that she learned she wasn’t alone. There were countless other children like her scattered around the world. Together, they formed the Malayan Volunteers Group (MVG) to pay homage to the Volunteer Forces who fought bravely in the wars of Malaya.

Fell — in partnership with Badan Warisan Malaysia — is in the midst of one of her missions. She is standing in front of dozens of guests, many in their 60s and 70s, reciting forgotten names, dates and events from a creased paper. A clunky projector beams MVG’s motto, “Andainya kita terlupa’’ (or “Lest we forget”), behind her.

“The volunteer movement originated during Britain’s major conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. It began with the Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps in 1854, then Singapore Volunteer Artillery Corps and, soon after, the Malay States Volunteer Rifles. In the 1930s, as war clouds once more started gathering in Europe, there were people in Singapore and Malaya who realised that they should be partly responsible for their own defence,” Fell reads.

 

“Men from all walks of life — Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and Europeans — joined the Volunteer Forces. Unlike the Alliance Forces, these men weren’t in their 20s. Many were part of the Malayan elite in their mid-30s who received basic military training at night and at weekends. My father, as my mother said, would go off to ‘play soldier’ over the weekend.”

Records have shown that the figure stood at over 18,000 men and the number of causes covered all aspects of defence from ambulance units to artillery units. Despite these staggering numbers, the battalions did not stand a chance when the Japanese attacked the northern states unexpectedly in December 1941, and this eventually led to the fall of Singapore.

What ensued was the darkest chapter in our history, but it is now stashed away like a chest of secrets. Fell, however, is persistent and, through her tireless research, has gathered much information about the volunteer movement in Singapore and Malaya from several sources, particularly by one Captain T. M. Winsley.

The book is, unfortunately, one of the few surviving records available today. The rest has been irrevocably damaged or lost. As Badan Warisan’s council member, Datuk Ismail Adam puts it: “Not a word has been mentioned in our history books.”