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Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2006, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Secret history of a forgotten war
By Cameron Buttle
BBC Scotland

Veterans in Malaysia
Veterans arrive

Soldier in Malaysia
War memories

Veterans lay a wreath in honour of fallen comrades
Final respects

A party of Scottish war veterans has flown back to Malaysia, where they fought 50 years ago.

The men from the King's Own Scottish Borderers were fighting in what became known as the Malaya Emergency.

Drew Penman
Drew Penman's ashes were scattered in Asia

The veterans' journey back to the other side of the world was much more than a return to what many call a forgotten war.

These young men came from every corner of Scotland. For many, the journey to south east Asia in the 1950s was their first time on a plane, their first time out of the country, their first time away from home.

But, without exception, they proudly boast that they would not have missed their time in Malaya for the world.

The banter was free and easy among those making the return trip.

All of these men had something in common - they were back in the place where, as teenagers, the rest of their lives were formed, where they all say they became the men they are today.

They picked up right where they had left off.

It wasn't just the joking and the wind-ups, it was the comfortable silences shared by men who had not seen each other for more than 50 years.

Sense of pride

Men who had lain in ambushes for up to 17 days at a time, when talking, washing or cooking was forbidden, for fear of giving away their position to a deadly enemy.

Many freely admit that it is only now that they really understand why they were sent to Malaya and why they were fighting.

It's not so simple as to say that they just did as they were told. There was a sense of pride in getting on with the job, not letting down the others in their squad, platoon or company.

But the ever-resourceful Jocks also knew how to enjoy themselves - and how to get the cash to do so.

Spend just a few minutes with the veterans and you get an insight into military service which is not found in any history book

Two weeks leave from the jungle would mean pressing the trousers, shirt and tie, which the regulations stated they still had to wear, even out on the town in Batu Pahat, Jahore Baru or even Singapore.

The intense heat would evaporate a little more petrol in the tanks than normal and jungle rations would suddenly run low.

Spend just a few minutes with the veterans and you get an insight into military service which is not found in any history book.

One veteran remembered an instruction from a seasoned sergeant who told him to only ever put five rounds into a six-shot revolver.

The theory was that a miss-fire would fall on an empty chamber.

After imparting this advice the sergeant walked into the next room. There was then a loud bang, before the sergeant staggered back into the room having shot himself in the leg.

It is hard to imaginie the bond struck during the campaign

A medic was called, who promptly fainted at the sight of blood.

The veteran shook his head as he marvelled at how many of his comrades had survived their service intact.

Foot injuries were apparently the most common ones sustained by signallers in the regiment.

Unable to carry a rifle because of the radio set, they were all issued with a revolver. When two signallers met it was not long before wages were being bet on quick-draw competitions which often went wrong.

This story sparked a debate as to how bullet-proof the armoured troop carriers were.

Spread ashes

Better known as "pigs", the cumbersome three-tonne trucks carried 15 "piglets" and their kit.

The argument was settled by one driver who wanted to remain nameless to protect the guilty.

He recalled: "One of the boys fired off a round when he was climbing into the back.

"It whizzed about the back like a wasp on fire, it must have hit every panel. It was like the Keystone Cops piling out the back.

Veteran piper
A piper played to remember the fallen in the campaign

"Aye, they were bullet-proof all right."

The bond these men still share will never be understood by those who did not serve with them.

Drew Penman, from Dumfries, was one of the first to sign up for the trip back with the "boys".

However, he died before the visit took place.

His time in Malaya meant so much to him that his family asked his fellow veterans to take his ashes with them. They were spread at the Cheras Road Military Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur.

As the urn was emptied into the breeze and the last notes of Fleurs o' the Forrest faded into the distance, one man who served with Mr Penman wiped away the tears and joked: "Well, he'd paid his deposit..."

Malaya veterans renew medals vow
09 Oct 06 |  South of Scotland
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04 Oct 06 |  South of Scotland
Veterans relive Malaysian mission
03 Oct 06 |  South of Scotland
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02 Feb 06 |  Scotland
Malaya veterans in fresh campaign
28 Oct 05 |  Scotland

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