MALAYSIA CAME INTO BEING with a gathering of partners, comprising the then Federation of Malaya together with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, to form a new nation called Malaysia, each holding their individualities. The concept was announced by YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Alhaj, the Prime Minister of the then Federation of Malaya, on 27th May 1961 at a press luncheon in Singapore.
However, unification and its ultimate formation was not plain sailing, with the setting in of Confrontation, proclaimed in 1962, led by the Indonesian President Sukarno. The first clash was on 12 April 1963 with the attack on the police station at Tebedu by TNKU (Tentera Nasional Kalimantan Utara) raiders. This was followed by a similar incursion, the attack on the police post at Kampung Gumbang Bau, eleven days later, and then, among others, the well-known Long Jawei Garrison attack on 28 September 1963, just a few weeks after the inauguration of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.
The landings and security incursions into Malaysian territorial states, particularly the Sarawak border, had wider repercussions than Sukarno had ever anticipated. This confrontation called for the response and engagement of the British and Commonwealth Forces with the coming of the Australians and New Zealanders to the defence of the new nation Malaysia, under the joint Security Operation, code named — “OPERATION CLARET”.
On 1 February 1965, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Keith Holyoake announced that a small Special Air Service detachment, together with 1RNZIR (1st Batallion of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, would be deployed in Borneo as soon as possible.
In addition, New Zealand crews would man two former Royal Navy minesweepers, renamed HMNZS Hickleton and Santon, which would join the frigate HMNZS Taranaki in patrolling Malaysian waters in the Malacca Strait.
During late February the 1st Ranger Squadron NZSAS, consisting of about 40 men under the command of Major W.J.D. Meldrum, began its tour of duty. They were replaced by a similarly sized detachment, commanded by Major R.S. Dearing, in October. Both detachments took part in Claret operations alongside Britain’s 22nd Regiment SAS.
1RNZIR, commanded by Colonel R.M. Gurr, was deployed in Borneo May 1965 when it relieved a Gurkha battalion in Sarawak. In a series of skirmishes, it inflicted substantial losses on the enemy without suffering any fatal casualties. New Zealand troops in Borneo were ably supported by No.41 Squadron RNZAF in Singapore. The squadron’s Bristol B170 Freighters flew regular resupply flights into Borneo, dropping food and equipment to British and New Zealand ground forces on jungle operations.
Relieved in October, 1RNZIR returned to its base in Terendak Camp in Malacca, Malaya. By the time it was redeployed to Borneo in May 1966, the confrontation had died out with the fall of Sukarno.
50 years later saw a growing inspiration for the Aussie and Kiwi veterans to revisit their memories of their deployment in Sarawak, giving an opportunity for this 50th anniversary commemoration and thanksgiving.
On 29th August 2017, we had a wonderful ceremony with the unveiling of the New Zealand Malayan Veterans Association commemorative plaque at the Heroes Memorial Park in Kuching in the unique Kiwi tradition, opening a wonderful page of renewal in this Commonwealth friendship.
Dato Lim Kian Hock (PSBS, JBK, PBK, PPC, PPBPPD) is the Chairman of the STF Heritage Development. He retired from Civil Service as Assistant State Secretary in 1995 and has held service as District Officer, Magistrate, Legal Officer (BDA) , Secretary, Sarawak State Legislative Assembly (DUN) and Secretary of the Parliamentary Association, Sarawak Branch.