Sarawak should count their blessings that the hazy days are over and must thank Mother Nature as it prepares to send the annual North-East “Landas” monsoon in our direction starting November.
After the haze which was one of the worst in recent times, we can expect to receive showers of blessing which will replenish the burnt padi fields heralding a new spring.
To think of it, I first arrived in Kuching December, at the height of the Landas 52 years ago.
The Landas toughened our resolve as my younger brother and I were sent to Sarawak—third class by ship from Port Klang--where we were shacked up in the lower deck for three days and two nights.
As tough as we thought we were, we initially had to ride out the stormy South China Sea and suffering in silence in the ship’s hull, we survived on an apple and some water throughout the journey.
A few days before Christmas of 1967, a Marine police speedboat with my parents and senior officers approached our ship which had arrived near Santubong. We hopped on hoping to take a ride back to our new home next to Fort Margherita.
However, my mother challenged me and said: “Sandy (my nickname) lets swim to Santubong village,” and dived into the sea heading for the beach 150 yards away.
I followed suit in my underpants and as I reached the Santubong shore I was stung by a jelly fish.
But I survived to tell this tale after my father’s right hand Iban officer Supt Ramsay Jitam came to my rescue--he urinated on my burning black and blue leg, this being the antidote since vinegar was not available!
And that was how I arrived in Sarawak-- in a Baptism of Fire.
I was fortunate to be born into a family of a compassionate father who was the posthumous child of Scottish miner Alexander Hector Ritchie from Aberdeen—home of Scottish national hero and King, Robert the Bruce.
The oldest son of a wealthy battle ranch owner from Old Meldrum; William Ritchie owned 146 acres of land and had six servants. Alexander was the oldest in a family of 14 siblings where four of the older children died young.
In 1901 Alexander left Scotland to seek his fortune in Malaya but fell ill 13 years later and died at the age of 36.
.Grandfather was buried in the Batu Gajah Christian cemetery on September 14, 1914 where expatriates and Colonial war heroes such as Iban tracker Unggat Ujom from Baleh were buried. Unggat died fighting the communists on September 7, 1955 during Malayan Emergency and his remains were later reinterred at the Heroes Cemetery in Kuching in 2011.
My father John George Ritchie was raised by his mother Tan Kim Phoon in a Thai-Chinese village about a mile from the old Jalan Bendahara-Jalan Datuk junction in Ipoh.
But when my father was 12 another tragedy occurred when his mother contracted Bubonic Plague and died.
Twice orphaned, my father was adopted into a Scottish family and sent to Anglo Chinese School in Ipoh where he excelled in sport and became Perak’s champion athlete winning the Victor Ludorum.Cup in 1934.
After leaving school with a Senior Cambridge certificate he stared work as a teacher and cycled daily 15 mile to Tanjong Rambutan for a handsome monthly salary of $20.
In 1935, like my grandfather, he left with a few dollars in his pocket to seek his fortune in Singapore.
It was here that he became a police Inspector and after serving 30 years rose and soon after Independence become Sarawak’s first Malaysian Commissioner of Police.
Prior to Sarawak, my father who was Chief Police Officer (CPO) of Kedah developed close ties with Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who was responsible for sending my father to Kuching.
In Kuching my father befriended opposition leaders such as SNAP’s Chief Minister Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan and SUPP’s Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui. To be fair, he also developed a close relationship with a young cabinet minister Abdul Taib Mahmud who later became Chief Minister of Sarawak.
It was a momentous era as my father streamlined the Sarawak Constabulary and leading to the formation Sarawak contingent of the Royal Malaysian Police and hand-picked Tan Sri Hamdan Sirat as his successor.
A champion of the underdog, my father’s fair to all the communities and sympathetic to the cause of the underdog and was not afraid to face adversity. He recalled an incident when he was asked by the Federal government to terminate the services of several hundred Kelabit Border Scouts from Bario, but refused.
In his memoir “The Adventures of Johny Ritchie” my father wrote:
“The fattened calf was slaughtered for the occasion…I in return was assigned to give notices of termination of service to these people. This would render them jobless and deprive the families from additional source of income.
“So I decided on the spot to give them their dismissal notices. I was quite prepared to face a reprimand from the authorities in Kuala Lumpur.”
Though he was later side-lined by the Federal government for “speaking the truth”, the Sarawak State government of Tun Taib honoured him for services with the title Dato Sri”, albeit 20 years later
During the Sarawak Communist Insurgency between 1963 and 1990, many of the officers and men were largely neglected by the government namely the Border Scouts.
During this time at least 100 police personal half of whom were Border Scouts, were either killed or injured.
During the late 1990s the Persatuan Veteran Keselamatan, Cawangan Sarawak or Veterans Association of Malaysia, Sarawak branch headed by former police hero the late ASP Wilfred Gomez anak Malong and I as honorary secretary, worked very hard to help the forgotten Border Scouts without success.
We travelled to various parts of Sarawak and met with their families and made promises hoping for government intervention.
But none came.
Even though my father was one of the luckier ones, there are still many disgruntled and disillusioned former policemen in disarray and left in the lurch.
Several months ago my father’s close aide and commander of the Sarawak Police Field Force (PFF) Supt Johnny Mustapha who was killed in a communist ambush in Sibu in 1975 was posthumously given the coveted Sarawak title “Datuk Amar”—44 years later:
Similarly, another former tracker Awang anak Raweng,87, recipient of the coveted United Kingdom’s George Cross (GC) which he won in 1950 while saving an injured British soldier in Johore, has not been recognised by Kuala Lumpur.
Awang was only given a Sarawak state title at the same time as Datuk Amar Johnny Mustapha—69 years later.
In the meantime two of Sarawak’s sole survivors of Malaysia’s Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP) PFF Sgt Ngalinuh Bala and Cpl Itim anak Bijam who fought off dozens of armed Terrorists near Sibu and saved the lives of half a dozen men, have been forgotten for their part in the epic battle in 1972—47 years ago.
Ngalinuh who was badly injured, was honoured by the Kelabit community last year and given a menial State award, is now wheelchair-bound while Itim who is partially deaf—no thanks to the hundreds of round she fired trying to save men whom he saved—can only hope the Iban community will do the same for him.
The time has come for us to own up and honour our unsung heroes.