Remembering those we lost during the Limbang rebellion
By Patricia Hului
In 1945, the British started to end her colonialism in Southeast Asia and was slowly planning her exit from the region.
One of her many exit plans included Malaysia, a political administration covering the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo (Sabah).
Many were not happy with this plan, one of them being Sheikh Azahari Sheikh Mahmud, a left-leaning Brunei politician turned rebel who was widely known as A.M Azahari.
He was leader of the Brunei People’s Party and the North Kalimantan National Army (TNKU) with plans for Brunei, North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak to form a constitutional monarchy.
As we observe Malaysia Day today, it is fitting to remember those who perished in the hands of those who fiercely fought against this federation.
With that, one has to look back at the Limbang rebellion.
At 2am on Dec 8, 1962, TNKU militants led by Limbang native Salleh Sambas began their assault on Limbang, part of the Brunei Revolt in which several areas of Brunei such as Seria and Temburong were also under siege in an effort to seize Brunei town and topple its Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III.
In Limbang, a town inconveniently sandwiched between Brunei territories, TNKU attacked a police station.
They captured weapons from the station, later taking Australian-born resident of Sarawak’s fifth division Richard ‘Dick’ Morris and his wife Dorothy with 12 others as hostages.
British Royal Marine L Company, 42 Commando led by Captain Jeremy Moore was dispatched to free the hostages.
By dawn on Dec 12, Moore’s forces were closing in on Limbang town by river to ambush the police station where the rebels were hiding.
But the rebels heard the sounds of the barge engines they were using, and then greeted the marines with bullets, killing two of them before they managed to land.
Despite losing the element of surprise, Moore and his commandos managed to gain control of the police station and discovered some of the hostages in the hospital including Morris.
They spent the rest of the day searching Limbang from house to house during which three more marines were killed.
After the raid, Moore was awarded a bar for his military cross and two other corporals had military medals.
Local Heroes of Limbang
What may be closer to any Sarawakians’ heart is the story of the local policemen who defended the police station in the early stages of the attack on December 8, 1962.
In ‘The Gallant Story of the Defence of Limbang’ by Alastair Morrison, a district officer during the colonial times who later became a government information officer, he called the event ‘a story of heroism’ on how a handful of police held out against a violent onslaught by hundreds of rebels.
He gave a brief account on the fate each of the police officers who defended Limbang.
– Corporal Kim Huat
Kim was the person-in-charge at the police station. The Kuap native took up his station in the recreation room at the upriver end of the station building from where he fired at the rebels.
He was then seriously hit and succumbed to his injury.
– Inspector Abdul Latip Besah
When he first heard the sounds of gunshots firing from the police station, Latip took his gun and left his house to attack the rebels.
Bullets were flying his way from several directions; he returned fire but was shot in the arm. Latip hid until daybreak before being captured by the rebels.
– PC Wan Jamaluddin Tuanku Alek
Police constable Jamaluddin dashed into the barrack room at the back of the police station to warn the men sleeping there.
On his way back, he was attacked by the rebels outside.
His body was found with the bodies of two rebels whom Jamaluddin might have killed before he himself was shot.
– PC Insoll Chundang
While attempting to open the arms cage to obtain more ammunition, Insoll was shot down.
He was originally from Saribas.
– PC Bujang Mohammed
Kuching native, Bujang was killed when firing from the window of the police sergeant’s office.
– PC Essa Maratim
Essa was in the barrack room when it first happened. He took his shot on the enemy, killing one man who tried to enter the barrack room.
Essa then climbed into the loft over the barrack room after his ammunition was exhausted.
With his useless weapon, he remained there in hiding for the next four days without food and drink.
– PC Bishop Kunjan and PC Sangga Jampang
Bishop was from Batang Undup while Sangga was a Bidayuh from Lundu. They fought together from the station sergeant’s office.
They finally gave up at about 7am when they heard Morris was taken to the station at gun-point.
– PC Zaini Titun
Originally from Mukah, Zaini was far from home. He was at the government office when the offense broke out. The police constable fired on the rebels who headed his way but was quickly over-powered.
– PC Muling Kusan
Betong-origin Muling was on duty at the prison nearby. He left his post and began assaulting the rebels from the flank.
He was captured later in the morning and taken as hostage.
All the other members of the Sarawak Constabulary were also taken prisoner, mostly in their quarters or barracks.
They remained as hostages until the British Royal Marines came and raiding Limbang town.
Remembering those who lost their lives
Morrison wrote, “The fight put up by the police in Limbang, was a splendid example of good morale, devotion to duty, and aggressive spirit. The police never had a chance, but they showed great bravery in holding out as long as they could and in taking the fight to the enemy.”
He added, “Those who are able to take part in the actual fighting were a representative cross-section of Sarawak’s racial make-up.”
A year later on Aug 3, then Governor of Sarawak Sir Alexander Waddell unveiled the Limbang Memorial which stood in front of the police station commemorating those policemen and royal marines who perished during the rebel attack.
He was quoted saying, “Their homes were far from here, some in other parts of Sarawak, some ten thousand miles away. Different in background, different in race, different perhaps in religion, in habit and in custom they had in common that for which they died, the ideal of liberty and its preservation and abhorrence of mean sneaking brutal intrigues which threatened this land and for a time overran this place.”
Waddell also stated, “These men will not have died in vain if they have inspired us through the land to put aside all bitterness and jealousy, all self-seeking and dissension and to put our lives and abilities, unreservedly as they have done, to the services of our country in whatever task we are called upon to undertake.
“Our way of life is not perfect but we have the means, if we have the will, to make it better for those who come after.
“And if we fail, the night of misery which many of you experienced here, will quench the torch of liberty handed on to us by those who have fallen.”