Heart & Soul: Cop proves mettle in 1940s Kampar, gets medal for gallantry

  • Living
  • Wednesday, 06 Mar 2019

Sir Edward Gent congratulating Sher Mohamed with a firm handshake. Photo: Mohamed Rafique Sher Mohamed

When the war came to an end in 1945, my late father Sher Mohamed Allah Baksh was based in Port Swettenham as Port Officer with the rank of Keibu Ho (sub-inspector in the police force under the Japanese occupation).

Even though life was very hard and food was scarce, our family survived the Japanese regime.

Even under adverse circumstances, he worked hard to wrangle out a living and managed to impress his Japanese masters with his capabilities.

With the Japanese surrender on Aug 15, 1945, an “interregnum” followed which marked a period of lawlessness and unrest, before the delayed British forces formally took over control of Malaya on Sept 12, 1945.

He was then 31 years old and had witnessed the extrajudicial reprisal punishments launched by the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) against collaborators in the police force and civilian population, the arrival of the Allied forces and the surrender of the Japanese occupation forces. Japan’s surrender had come in the nick of time. A D-Day-like invasion by the Allied forces had been averted. Had it taken place, this would have caused undue suffering to the people.

Overdue promotion

Before the war, father was earmarked for an Inspector’s rank under the British but, alas, his hopes of attaining this long-awaited position were dashed when Japanese Imperial forces invaded the country.

Now with the return of the British, he was delighted when he was finally appointed as a Probationary Asiatic Inspector in 1946. He was thrilled at the prospect of discarding his rank-and-file police hat which resembled a basket, which he regarded as akin to losing one’s self esteem and dignity, in place of the officer’s peaked cap.

He was sent to the Police Training Depot in Gurney Road (Jalan Semarak, or present-day Jalan Sultan Yahya Petra), Kuala Lumpur. Upon completion of his training, he was posted to Kampar, Perak, a dangerous tin-mining town where crime was rampant.

Hotbed of crime

During World War ll and unknown to many, the Kampar police station was just on the outskirts of town, where a bloody battle, the Battle of Kampar, was fought between the advancing Japanese forces and the British, Indian and Gurkha troops. This epic battle took place from Dec 30, 1941, to Jan 2, 1942, when the Allied forces withdrew, having achieved their objective of slowing the advance of the powerful Japanese.

Police station
The Kampar Police Station that Sher Mohamed and Graham served in after the war is still there today.

After the war, the people in Kampar and elsewhere faced a great deal of hardship and challenges, not only to eke out a living but concerning their personal safety and security as well.

To maintain peace and order, the British Military Administration established the Civil Affairs Police Force (CAPF) to restore the police force to tackle escalating crime. This included murders, kidnapping and extortion contributed by widespread gangsterism and acts of thuggery, especially in towns where commerce and retail business were picking up to support the local residents, particularly where tin mine operations and rubber estates existed. This was the exact situation in Kampar when father reported for duty in the Kampar Police Station, some time after mid-1946.

Courageous and capable

His immediate superior, ASP-OCPD Maurice Graham, had forwarded his requirements to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, DP MacNamara, for an assistant who is courageous, disciplined and capable. My father fit the bill perfectly.

So although the war had ended, the new war was on gangsterdom and the bandits with their acts of terrorism and hit-and-run tactics. The key to winning this war was by winning public trust.

So both my father and Graham worked closely with their band of detectives to nip the hotbed of criminal activity flourishing in Kampar. Both were very brave men, dedicated and committed to the tasks at hand and able to stare danger in the face.

There was the right chemistry between them from the start. Both were sportsmen – father, an outstanding champion athlete and a marksman before the war, and Graham, an avid swimmer and rugby player. And both were upright gentlemen with a sense of humour. Both were passionate about their work and responsibilities to rid Kampar of its menacing image. They made a good team and were able to depend on each other. Both inspired their men by example and courage.

There was, however, a big difference between the two – Graham was single while my father was married with two children in 1946.

Mother often worried about Father’s safety because his priority was duty first, which took precedence over everything, including his family. She never discouraged him because she understood his dedication to his work was because of the love for his family.

Man of influence

My father’s sacrifice, drive and ambition at this point of his life were moulding him to become the man he would be in the future, who would carry out his duties to the country with unwavering and unflinching loyalty and devotion to duty.

He settled down to his job and got to know members of the public and the retail and business community in town. He developed a good relationship with the community who began to trust him.

The people of Kampar had observed his courage, tenacity and dynamism in apprehending armed criminals, on many occasions. The Kampar police led by Graham and him smashed gambling dens and stemmed other immoral activities.

Coupled with his easy-going, endearing and unassuming personality, my father became popular with the people. Soon, his reputation as a hero was starting to be established.

In mid-1947, events led to the saga of my father’s Colonial Police Medal for Gallantry where he would earn his spurs, and his reputation catapulted.

Information had been received that a notorious gang of criminals had arrived in Kampar to kidnap a popular tin-miner towkay. Kampar detectives had the gang under their radar for several days. When the hoodlums were ready to move on July 8, 1947, they hired a privately owned Singer Saloon taxi with a driver and proceeded out of town towards Tapah.

The police, armed with vital information laid an ambush about 11km from Kampar, close to Temoh, near the junction to Chenderiang.

What followed was an intensive and dramatic running gun duel between the Kampar police and the heavily armed gang. The kidnapping was thwarted, and a dangerous gang smashed.

Honoured for his work

My father’s act of valour and true grit brought him to the attention of the British top brass and his reputation was firmly established. Sir Edward Gent, the Governor of the Malayan Union, awarded the Colonial Police Medal for Gallantry to my father and Graham, in a grand ceremony at the Police Deport in Kuala Lumpur.

With Graham’s strong recommendation, father received a fast-track promotion to Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in November 1949 – a great honour those days indeed, not only because it was rare that an Asian held this position but because he had only recently been confirmed as an Inspector. This was in recognition of his hard work undertaking long patrols, without any break, into the jungle and foothills of Kampar and achieving excellent results as Commander of the Kampar Police Jungle Squad.

My father moved on thereafter through the Emergency years, carrying out his duties with exceptional ability, courage and capacity for leadership. He moved up the ranks steadily and continued to serve the police force and country with great distinction.

In 1969, after 35 years of exemplary performance and service, father retired as Deputy CPO Selangor with the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police.

The respect and close bond between my father and Graham lasted till the the end of their lives.

The people’s hero

Years later, and after father relocated several times, we often returned to Kampar to visit my maternal grandparents who lived in Aston Settlement.

There was a tin mine just behind the row of linked houses, and I recall having some nasty experiences there.

People remembered their Kampar hero and showered praises upon him. My grandparents received much respect as a result of their son-in-law’s unforgettable contributions and reputation. Whenever my grandfather took me on his rounds on his bicycle around Kampar town, people would be curious to find out if I was his son – and then they would reminisce about his unforgettable exploits.

Years later, a doctor in the company where I worked brought to my attention an incident in Kampar that his father had related to him. It was during the Emergency. His father was attacked by terrorists and would have been killed, if not for my father, he said.

In 2013, my wife and I went to Kampar to meet the late Chye Kooi Loong, an authority on the Battle of Kampar.

We spoke about Kampar during and after the war. He remembered the sight of the invading Japanese soldiers and the cruelty they inflicted on the people during their occupation.

He was just a teenager then. He could still recall how my father and Graham depended on each other, and were shot at on several occasions but survived. It included a shootout near Chenderiang.

He and his wife took me to the site where the Battle had taken place, and also showed me the old Kampar Police Station. As he turned the pages of my book Kismet, my dad’s biography which I presented to him, he smiled at the pictures of my father and Graham in Kampar, the town where my brother and I were born.

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