Friday, 1 July 2005

Lest we forget - Part 2

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Drifting in and out of conciousness, images of familiar faces and familiar places appeared like a slide show, sometimes, rudely interrupted by a splash of cold water on his numbed face. He couldn’t feel his legs anymore. In fact he had lost track of time and place since the attack on his ship by German U boats, that sent him and his shipmates overboard, into the cold waters of the Bay of Biscay. All he could see now, in the pitch dark night, were remnants of what was once the magnificient merchant navy ship, on which he had served as a carpenter.

It must have been the familar images of loved ones in Malaya, thousands of miles away. that kept him going, that willed him to stay alive on the plank of wood drifting in the wide foreign ocean. When and how he was rescued, was a blur as exhaustion, hunger and dehydration took its toll on his already weak body. He must have drifted for three days at sea without food and water and hope of being rescued was fast fading.
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Pak Cik Hamid Carpenter recounted the incident as if it was only yesterday. The fact that he survived at all was a miracle. That he was rescued by another Malay on another Merchant Navy ship cruising the Bay during the height of the second World War, was just stuff that movies are made of. And what was to follow was just material for a blockbuster for Cathay Kris. Pak Mid recovered fom the ordeal and married the daughter of the Malay sailor who rescued him and remained in London till he died some years ago.
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The reason I dug out this story from my dusty files from my dusty shelves, was that in a few days time, we will see the 60th anniversary of the end of the second World War. Much will be said about the heroes who died defending the nation against the enemies. Praises will be sung, flowers will be laid for the heroes, mainly from the Armed Forces – the Air Force, the Navy and the Army. The Merchant Seamen had not been given full recognition for their role in the war efforts. This I found in one journal from a Merchant Navy site, a resolution by the House of Commons on Oct 30th 1945.

“...That the thanks of this House be accorded to the officers and men of the Merchant Navy for the steadfastness with which they maintained our stocks of food and materials; for their services in transporting men and munitions to all battles over all the seas, and for the gallantry with which, through a civilian service, they met and fought the constant attacks of the enemy”.

The then Minister of War Transport, Alfred Barnes said:
“The Merchant Seaman never faltered. To him we owe our preservation and our very lives”

And this from the Merchant Seamen:
“But for those sailors who served their nation before and during the war, and those who lost loved ones, these thanks rang somewhat hollow. Despite the sacrifice, the,merchant sailor and families were to receive scant reward”.

In my last post I wrote about the memorial in London as well as the one by the Mersey River in Liverpool. These are the memorials for the Merchant seamen who died at sea, their stories, told by those who survived.

The Malay sailors who worked alongside others as merchant seamen, were then known as Laskars. They were recruited and much sought after because of their reputation as hardworking people.

Pak Mid was only 18 when he started working for the Merchant Navy. His father was also a carpenter on board a ship and he inherited the skills and did repair work, until his ship was torpedoed during that fateful night. He was then living in Southshields.

During the interview, Pak Mid revealed that the Malay sailor who rescued him, nursed him back to health and offered him the hand of his half English, half Malay daughter. He could hardly refuse. But back home in Malaya, a young girl waited for the return of her fiance.

“Eh, kau dah bertunang, ye? “ roared all the others around him, listening in to the interview.

Yes, he admitted he left his fiance back home. His relatives, it later emerged, consulted a bomoh who looked at a bowl of water, sprinkled some flowers into the water,and pronounced him dead.

I met Pak Mid twice and I still have a lot more to ask him but he went before I could arrange for another meeting.

Pak Cik Hamzah, or Hemze as he was known to his friends, also had some funny stories to tell about his experience during the war. His ship was luckily one of those that escaped, but a false alarm rang one morning as Hemze was sleeping soundly in his cabin.

“I was rudely woken up by my friends whoa sked me to jump off the ship as we were about to be attacked. I was not dressed and they said, no time to dress up..and I jumped into the water – very cold, without any clothes on!,” he said, giving that toothless grin as he shuddered at the memory.

During the rush, he broke his leg and of course that grounded him for a while and he spent sometime in hospital. Pak Cik Hamzah died four years ago, I think...his bags all packed, ready for me to take him home to be reunited with his family.

Another Pak Cik who survive the war was Pak Cik Majid Mohamed,who also started sailing at the age of 18 in 1939,working as a deckhand on the merchant navy ship that took him to places like Russia, Africa, Australia and America.
“I remember there was a convoy of 35 ships, some from London and some from liverpool. The bombs just rained continuosly but Allah saved my life." Once in Newcastle, there was a least one bombardment a week, he said, remembering the blast which would light up the night sky and left the smokey debris from its impact the next morning. As a result of my story, Pak Cik Majid was reunited with his sisters and family members after more than 50 years away.

There are still many gaps in my stories, many more that I need to know to quench my thirst for this knowledge that is fast fading. There are not many people left who can tell me. Or are there?

Last year, the Malay community in Liverpool paid their respects to the Malay sailors who died at sea, eventhough they were civilians and not in active combat. Their contribution to the war effort must always be remembered and appreciated. Posted by Picasa
This passport photograph was found somewhere in the depths of the Cardiff Bay - that of a Malay sailor, with a Singapore Passport.
His name..Baba bin Baba.

Some years ago, a third generation Malay, Pak Mat Abu, who belonged to the Malay Club in London, where I met and befriended the Pak Ciks, was given the honour to carry the Malaysian Flag in a ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall, as a mark of rememberance for those Malays and Malayans who contributed to the war efforts and died in the process. It was a beautiful and touching event. During the grand finale, thousands of poppy flowers rained down from the ceiling of the grand the - tune of “We’ll meet again, dont know where, don’t know when...”


Ruby M. said...

wahhhhhhhhhhhh .thats a really moving piece! i dont know what to say. but so many must have been touched/moved by your work, especially those who are reunited. that means so much.

atiza said...

reading your stories about the pakciks always made me cry..

and i did, again..

thanks for sharing such a beautifully written memoir, kak teh

Vittorio D'Amore said...

hi, sorry i'm not a photographer....
the idea of my blog is to build a "inspiration flux box" able to contain texts, ideas, stories, topics, speechs and images about everything.

Then these materials will inspire the work of our musical collective.

we can exchange the results of our work by mail, we will send u the mp3 file of our song inspired by your photo, text, story or topic of your post.

if u want to participate to the network, link to:

Thanks a lot!!!

narfnarf said...

this is so beautiful kak teh. i'm forwarding people to this entry on my blog, can?

AuntyN said...

Kak Teh, tak tau nak kata apa. So very touching especially baca how those sailors tinggalkan kampung halaman then sampai berkubur kat negara lain, sedih sangat tu.

On happier note, your sentraal station tu I like, really like. hehehe

Sidah Salleh said...

i myself is a history buff so u can imagine how much i enjoy your writing. i wish i have the same strong will as you do to do similar projects.

Lollies said...

a moving piece kak teh. Are there any documentaries done on them for the Malaysia TV?

Anonymous said...

waiting for part 3, 4, 5 .. and .. er.. buku. cepatlah kakteh!! sempat tengok kat tv malaysia masa raya (a few years ago), these pakciks being interviewed by kakteh. sedih dengar cerita mereka.

zone 6 northeast,

Suraya said...

hi kak teh, I've been a silent reader of your blog for a long time.
I once read an article about these Pak cik sailors a few years back. very touching story and i have been interested ever since to know more about them. But sayang nya tak banyak information yang ada. Or at least i yang tak jumpa kut. I hope that you will continue to write more about them.

atenah said...

we are waiting for the book! (arms akimbo, right foot tapping)

Atok said...

one thing i found out, bila sembang with those Liverpool pakciks, some of them spoke in the old Malay style, macam dlm cerita P Ramlee pulak rasanya. :)

Nazrah Leopolis said...

you are right about those unsung heroes needing more remunerations and compensation. what you are doing is definitely a start. little gestures move mountains in time.

Ely said...

wah kak teh very good story!!!

Kak Teh said...

Maknenek: yes, Alhamdulillah.
atiza: i am always humbled by their stories.
ayu: yes, pls do.
auntyN: yes..ramai lagi yang kita tak tau. Oh Sentraal station tu di ilhamkan oleh you...and for use by all.
petalingstreet: this is one obsession of mine - very time consuming.

Kak Teh said...

lollies - yes I have done several small features for RTM and that was what reunited some of them.
anon of aberdeen: wait, and wait.
tita: thanks for the comment. I wrote abt them a few ytears back in the NST.
atenah: keep on tapping - dont forget to change feet, nanti penat!

atok: that was what I said before in one of my earlier peices abt them.

nazrah: yes, it sure does.
ely: thanks.

Anonymous said...

Must have given you a warm fuzzy feeling to be able to reunite long lost family members.


Unknown said...

Beautiful piece Kak Teh. Thank you for sharing with us.

atenah said...

wanna add, reading abt old sailors in your blog reminds me of a friend of mine, a famous blogger. wishing him well.

Kak Teh said...

Yes, Lydia, but still not enough. this space, there'll be more.
Atena: sapa tu?

Anonymous said...

Superb work, Kak Teh. Don't mind if I use your piece for my social studies lesson?


anedra said...

this is so inspiring. these men have come a long way from their native lands and yet manage to make a decent living in a land so different from their own!

heheh..I;ve always had this thing for "sailors" anyway! ;p

pembacha said...

v. touching.

anyway, got any Malay Sultans sudi mencemar duli from their London homes to pay respects during the anniversary?

hana_kirana said...

Hye, Kak Teh... Thanx for dropping by at my blog and gave a sweet b-day wish for me. :) this is the first time i leave my comment here eventho i'm one of your regular visitor aka silent reader.. Thanx again. :)

Anonymous said...

Kak Z, one of your best! I'm touched.

Kak Teh said...

nour..yes, if it helps
anedra: u and salior? who, who?
pembacha: i think not. ada lah ceremony here and there..but i have no heard anything that will involve other parts of the world.
HK, thanks for visiting.
JM: thank you. and watch this space..banyak lagi nak kena dig out.

zaireen said...

KT..beautifully written..
Feed me more of these stories!

Kak Teh said...

zaireen, will do tapi kena ada break lah nanti orangjemu pulak! but yes, i will have to write more kalau tidak terlupa gitu saja.

anedra said...

kakteh, POPEYE!

kimster said...

Kak Teh
I really hope that a bok will come out of this. Kalau takde publisher, we can use my publishing house (skywriting studio) if you like. Nanti boleh discuss. Consider lah ye?

Dah semakin tua ni, saya macam tetiba rasa fascinated pulak dengan cerita2 bersejarah macam ni. Semalam lalu at Kino KLCC and at the history section they had this sign which says sthing like "read the past to understand the future". Terus teringat your blog entry about the Malay sailors.

kimster said...

I meant to write "I really hope that a BOOK will come out of this."

Kak Teh said...

Anedra: POPEYE????
Kimster: yes, I have always believed that we must understand the past to know the future..Ya, Bok pun Bok lah. I've repled yr email. :)

iJun said...

*schniff* *schniff*

Kak Teh said...

Ijun, dont be emo..go wipe yr nose!

nadya.s said...

kak teh..

salam again and really touch bila baca 2 article ni.

im officially addicted to ur blog,thanks to kak nazrah..

permission to add your blog link to mine yea..

Kak Teh said...

nadya, thanks for stopping by and yes, of course..u link me and i will also add you to my sentraal station.