MALAYSIA’s sole George Cross recipient, Awang Raweng, never wanted the publicity that came with an act of valour in Johor 63 years ago, when he saved the life of a British soldier.
The incident occurred at about 9am on May 27, 1951 when the Iban tracker’s 20-man platoon was ambushed by a group of 50 communist terrorists (CTs) while they were seeking out the enemy in Kluang.
The 84-year-old “Tua Kampung” (headman) of Nanga Skrang recalled that in the first burst of gunfire, three of his colleagues, including a second lieutenant, were killed.
“Three British soldiers were dead while two others were badly hurt,” he recalled.
“When I realised that we were outnumbered, I ran across to the soldiers who were lying in the open.
“The CTs who were perched on top of a hill opened fire, but the bullets did not hit me.”
Awang then dragged one of the injured soldiers, Private Griff Hughes, into the underbrush and stood his ground. While defending his position, Awang was shot in the thigh and arm.
He added: “How could I abandon Private Hughes? I was only 19 and he was hardly older. I told myself, and also somehow communicated to Hughes, that if we were to die, we would die fighting.”
Finally, after holding his position for almost six hours, reinforcements arrived and the CTs fled.
Within a year, Awang would become the only Sarawakian or Malayan to be awarded Britain’s highest civilian award, the George Cross, and with the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in September 1963, he would be invited to attend the biennial Victoria Cross and George Cross Veterans Day gathering at Buckingham Palace.
He is one of only nine George Cross and 20 Victor Cross survivors and hopes to hear from Private Hughes, whose leg was amputated soon after the incident.
Awang, who attended the Heroes Gathering on Tuesday, reflected:
“After Malaysia was formed, the British government invited me to Buckingham Palace every two years, where I would meet Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and, more recently, Prince Charles.
“But the saddest thing is that while I was a guest of our former colonial masters, I was never invited to any Heroes Day event here until very recently…I was very conveniently forgotten!”
A tracker in the British army, Awang enlisted in December 1950 and a month after his training he was attached to the 10th Platoon, D Company of the 1st Battalion, Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment when the incident occurred.
Awang, who was given a private dinner and some pocket money by Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing at a restaurant last Friday, said the biggest insult came when he was invited for the Merdeka Parade in Kuala Lumpur in 2011.
Awang, who is illiterate, added:
“I thought, finally, it was worth the wait and that at last they would recognise my sacrifice to the nation. The organisers paid for my airline ticket and those of my two grandsons.
“But sadly we were treated like peasants…When I asked if we could have our daily allowance, one of the members of the organising committee gave me RM20 – our allowance for the day.
“We returned to Sarawak feeling very insulted.”
Awang said the fault could lie with the Merdeka Day organising committee and not the top officials, who were unaware of the contributions.
“Actually, I have never wanted all the publicity but if that is the way we treat our own kind, then it is going to be a very sad day.”
Awang belonged to the elite Iban trackers who served during the Malayan Emergency from 1948-1960 and were recruited as “scouts”, attached to British units to help in the defence against the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).
By 1950, there were a total of 484 Iban trackers serving in the Federal Civil Liaison Corps in Malaya. In 1953, they were organised into a regimental formation as the Sarawak Rangers, among whom was the late Malaysian hero Kanang Langkau.
Marion Hebblethwaite in her book One Step Further said:
“During operations against the bandits in Malaya a section of a platoon of the Worcestershire Regiment was ambushed by about 50 of the enemy. The leading scout was killed instantly and the Section Commander fatally wounded.
“Awang anak Raweng was hit through the thigh bone and at the same time, a soldier, moving behind him, was hit below the knee, the bullet completely shattering the bone. Awang anak Raweng although wounded and lying exposed under heavy fire and automatic fire, collected his own weapons and that of the soldier and dragged him into the cover of the jungle.
“In view of the impending bandit attack, Awang, completely disregarding his own wound, took up a position to defend the injured man.
“There he remained, firing on every attempt made by the bandits to approach, and successfully drove off several attacks.
“Ultimately Awang was again wounded, the bullet shattering his right arm and rendering further use of his rifle or parang impossible.
“Despite loss of blood from his undressed wounds, he dragged himself over to the wounded soldier and took a grenade from the man’s pouch. He resumed his position on guard, pulled out the pin of the grenade with his teeth and with the missile in his left hand defied the bandits to approach.
“So resolute was his demeanour that the bandits who had maintained their attacks for some 40 minutes, and who were not threatened by other sections, withdrew.
“The coolness and fortitude and offensive spirit by Awang anak Raweng were of the highest order.
“Despite being twice wounded he showed the utmost courage and resolution to continue the fight and protect the injured soldier.”