The Battle of Kampar

Not many are familiar with the Battle of Kampar during WW2. Major (Rtd) Bhagwant Singh Virik and team are working hard to ensure the four-day epic battle is remembered in the years to come.

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NST | Opinion | 10 Jan 2016 | Asia Samachar | 
Major (Rtd) Bhagwant Singh Virik (front) with a group that visited the historic site of the battle of Kampar. - Photo/Bhagwant Singh Virik/Facebook
Major (Rtd) Bhagwant Singh Virik (front) with a group that visited the historic site of the battle of Kampar. – Photo/Bhagwant Singh Virik/Facebook

EVERY soldier knows that when he or she goes to war, the chances of not coming home are high. It was the same for the those who fought the Japanese Imperial Army in the Battle of Kampar, which saw the Japanese suffer their biggest defeat in their Malayan campaign during World War 2.

Since Malaya was not prepared to defend itself from the rapidly advancing Japanese troops, it secured the help of British, Sikh and Indian troops.

“They fought our battle for us in the Battle of Kampar, which lasted from Dec 30, 1941 to Jan 2, 1942.

“They died as heroes, far away from their homes, and the best way to honour them is by building a monument so that their families can come and pay their last respects,” said Major (Rtd) Bhagwant Singh Virik.

Baghwant served in the Malaysian Army from 1965 to 1990 as a logistic officer in the Service Corps, now known as Kor Perkhidmatan DiRaja Malaysia. Although the 72-year-old veteran was not involved in the battle, he knows a lot about it as his mentor was the late Chye Kooi Loong, who was 12 when the Battle of Kampar happened.

“The British soldiers he encountered called him Joe,” he said.

Chye, a former teacher, had also written a book about the war and was determined to build a monument in memory of the fallen heroes.

“As a student in the 1960s, I used to go with Chye to the site, known as Green Ridge, to dig for relics. We collected a lot of the things that soldiers carried with them.

“We found things like helmets, barrels for the rifles, mess tins to cook food and mugs. We set up a mini museum at the Anglo-Chinese School in Kampar and I was its ‘curator’ for six months between 1961 and 1962.”

Bhagwant said the relics were now housed inside a museum in Kuala Lumpur. He said the Battle of Kampar was also a tribute to the endurance and valour of the 11th Indian Division after its heartbreaking experience in North Malaya. It was reported that almost 1,300 soldiers of the British Empire had battled 4,000 Japanese soldiers.

“Whenever British soldiers or veterans came to Kampar, Chye would take them to the narrow hilltop where the battle took place,” he said.

“Chye had tried his very best to get a monument built at the site, but nothing happened until he breathed his last.”

Chye died at the age of 85 in Ipoh on April 23, 2014. When Chye passed away, Bhagwant was determined to keep his legacy alive. However, he was shocked when he recently saw a huge signboard saying that the land on the iconic hill is for sale.

“I am shocked and disappointed. Only recently, during his visit here, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced his intention of building a monument here in memory of the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Kampar,” he said.

When asked to talk about the epic battle, Baghwant’s eyes twinkled.

“It was the 1st Leicestershire Regiment and the 2nd East Surrey Regiment, which merged and became the only British Battalion who won their honours in the four-day epic battle of Kampar from Dec 30, 1941.

“They reached Ipoh on Dec 19 and 20 and two days later, the refitted 15th/6th Indian Brigade moved to Kampar by train and road.” Kampar was chosen by Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, who was then General Officer Commanding Malaya, to make a 10-day stand to hold the Japanese thrust.

“There was heavy fighting on Dec 28, 1941 for the vital Kuala Dipang iron bridge over Sungei Kampar. “The Indian troops had to withdraw. The Indian and British defenders did not have reserves to replace the wounded.

“Captain John Onslow Graham and Lieutenant Charles Douglas Lamb led a company of Sikhs and Muslims to counter-charge the Japanese positions. “Graham led his company to Green Ridge and gave his final instructions. He then led the group down the trench from Green Ridge.

“Graham told his men that the attack must succeed and the honour of the Punjab Regiment depended on it. He wished them all the best. Soon after, the counter-charge up the rear of Thompson Ridge started.

“Lamb was the first to be killed by a hail of machinegun fire. However, the second line, inspired by Graham, shouted their battle cries! “They continued their brave counter-charge like men possessed.

“Graham was everywhere, giving exhortations to his men.

“He led his men in the final assault, but before he reached the third line of Japanese trenches, a Japanese trench mortar bomb fell into the trench he was in and blew off his legs below the knee .

“Although wounded, he kept shouting encouragement to his troops. ‘Go boys, Go!’ he said, and, kneeling on his shattered stumps, hurled hand grenades at the remnants of the 41st Japanese Regiment, which by then had fled towards the jungle.”

He said the Battle of Kampar, which is considered a “long battle” by both sides, must not be forgotten and future generations had the right to know about this. Born in India, but growing up in Kampar, Bhagwant said the Battle of Kampar was close to his heart.

“As an army veteran, I would feel sad if those who laid down their lives here are not remembered,” said Baghwant, whose father was killed during the separation of Punjab in 1947. Bhagwant took this writer to meet Chye’s wife, Yoon Lai Fun.

 

The original story, authored by Raja Khalidatul Asrin, first appeared at New Sunday Times (10 Jan 2016). You can view it here.

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