'I could have shot Chin Peng'
British tracker, Jarum Antot, was only five metres from killing the leader of Communist Malaya, but he remained observant. -NST
LIMBANG - He was just five metres away from the leader of the Communist Party of Malaya, Chin Peng, but his orders were merely to observe.
He could have done more than that but his orders were to track and gather intelligence about the enemy for the British.
Sergeant Jarum Antot was one of the few Iban Trackers with the British Army during the Malayan Emergency.
The Malayan Emergency was a guerilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and the CPM from 1948 to 1960.
"I tracked him for hours and then, there he was -- Chin Peng. The man was high on the wanted list. I could have shot him dead. But my orders were only to carry out surveillance," Jarum told the New Sunday Times when met here recently.
In 1958, a young and strapping Jarum volunteered with the Iban Trackers, an elite Iban pathfinder unit assigned to track down communist terrorists in the jungles of Perak.
The Ibans, who spent most of their time in the jungle hunting and collecting jungle produce, had impressed the British with their tracking skills.
In 1948, at the beginning of the Malayan Emergency, groups of Iban trackers were recruited to help in the defence against the CPM.
These Iban trackers were organised into a regimental formation as the Sarawak Rangers in 1953. Prior to 1963, they were attached as scouts to many British units serving in Malaya.
In 1963, following the formation of Malaysia on Sept 16 of that year, the unit was transferred from the British Colonial Forces to the new Malaysian Army and expanded into a multi-battalion, multi-ethnic regiment called the Malaysian Rangers. This became the Ranger Regiment in 1971, before being given the "Royal" prefix and, hence, known as the Royal Ranger Regiment in 1992.
"Four of my uncles joined the trackers, so I decided to sign up, too. Being one of the trackers then was a way out of the traditional way of life. And that was what I wanted to do then.
"Despite the recognition given by the British and the honour of being able to serve in the unit, life was tough in the jungle. It was nothing like what I had imagined or anything I had gone through before while hunting for animals. Our assignments were mostly to hunt dangerous armed men. There was always a lot of fear felt by each and every one of us when we were out on assignments," said Jarum.
Jarum, now 78, is a temenggong (headman) in his village in Meraban.
He is one of those forgotten armed forces veterans, who had risked their lives for the country.
Jarum said being a tracker, they experienced a lot of action in the jungle.
"We were always first and in front of everyone. And if we were found out or captured, we knew that support was far away behind us. We operated like commandos behind enemy lines. We were the special forces in those days."
During his time in the jungles of Perak, he only saw Chin Peng once but was involved in many armed encounters with the communists.
"I could have shot Chin Peng and that would have ended the emergency in Malaya. But orders are orders."
Jarum never received proper education, but he learned fast and picked up English during his time with the British.
When the Malaysia-Indonesia Confrontation began in 1963, he was seconded to the Police Field Force in Sarawak.
He was happy to receive the news but disappointed as well. This was because he was told that his chevrons would be stripped and he would only serve as a constable with the Police Field Force.
"I joined the trackers because I wanted a better life and earn good pay. Life was dangerous with the trackers but with the army, we were well taken care of.
"But since my rank was stripped, I thought I might as well go back to my village and spend time with my family."
He did that during the Confrontation, but said he contributed much and did all he was ordered to do during the Emergency.
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