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Gemencheh War Memorial in Negeri Sembilan

From: Author: Date:2008-08-23 Click:

Engineers from the 14 Troop of Australia's Second Combat Engineer Regiment recently helped to spruce up the Gemencheh War Memorial in Negeri Sembilan.

  In May, I visited the war memorial in Gemencheh, Negeri Sembilan, and wrote about it. The article was read by a military officer on rotation at the Rifle Company Butterworth (RCB), and it just so happened that his troops would be refurbishing the memorial site in july.

  So he invited me to go and see the work.

  As I drove there along the Tampin to Gemas road, I saw dozens of stalls selling durian. It was obviously the height of the season, and they were being sold very cheaply compared to Kuala Lumpur prices, at a mere RM1 a kilogramme.

  When I reached the memorial site, Major Matt Prior, the officer commanding RCB,was there to meet me. The place was a hive of activity, with men in camouflage uniforms hard at work on the grounds surrounding the memorial.

   I was surprised at tile size ot the camp, which was located on the strip of land between the trunk road and the old disused road.

  Major Prior welcomed me with a cold drink and gave me an introduction to the work they were doing. There was one main memorial  a large marble structure erected by the 2/30 Infantry Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces. This was in memory of the men from the battalion and other supporting units who fought the Japanese here during World War 11 on Jan 14 and Jan 15,1942.

  The 27th Brigade from Australia was assigned to defend the area around Gemas that
January, and the 2/30 Infantry Battalion from the brigade was placed at the Gemeneheh River to ambush the advancing Japanese. The Australian troops blew up the wooden bridge as the Japanese were crossing.

   Many Japanese were killed and their advance down the country was delayed.

   Having been briefed on the background of the battle, I was introduced to Lt Michael Donker, 22, who was in charge of the operations. He said there were 28 guys working there over a six-day period. They were army engineers from the Second Combat Engineer Regiment, mostly from Brisbane.

   This regiment is subdivided into the 7th Combat Engineer Squad, and then into the 14

   Lt Donker said the men were happy to be working here as they were doing jobs they were trained for. Prior to this assignment, some had been working on the Hellfire Pass in
Kanchanaburi, Thailand, of the infamous Death Railway fame.

  I spoke to Sapper Jeremy Long from Newcastle in New South Wales. He bad only been in the army about 14 months and was quite happy
about his overseas posting to Malaysia.

  "I find it interesting to do the work, as it's something I'm trained for rather than just a routine exercise," said Long, who was rendering the walls of the new flower beds.

  The troop had cleared the scrub land surrounding the memorial site. They laid down gravel on the entire site and bordered the two long sides with flower beds. All the materials had been bought locally.

   The men also constructed a wheelchair-friendly boardwalk leading to the memorial. They were then still putting preservative on the planks, so I had to be careful not to step on them. At the marble memorial, they made four boxes in each corner. These would be used as sentry boxes whenever they held services here.

   There was also a flag pole behind the memorial. There was to be no permanent flag, but one would be raised during services such as on Anzac Day, and when the 2/30 remember the anniversary of the battle in January.

   Sapper Ben Cooke, 23, a plumber back home, said, “I am glad to be here. I can feel the war. By doing this work, one is able to put something back."

  The men were allowed to rest when the heat of the day got too much. To compensate for this, they had work until around lain. The only drawback to this nocturnal arrangement was that lots of bees were attracted to the lights.

  However, the men were well looked after, for the camp cook supplied them with tea and muffins at midnight. I wasn't able to meet the
morial in honour female cook as she was away buying provisions, but all the guys sung praises of her and said she deserved a medal for looking after them.

    The kitchen was large and looked well-equipped. The sleeping area consisted of camp beds in an open tent. There were toilets at the back, and at the other end of camp they even had showers. So it was all quite luxurious and the guys didn't have to bathe in the river!

  Sgt Ben Stevens, the troop sergeant and technical advisor, told me they had the plans for their assignment drawn up before they came to the site, and that work was progressing we and was on track.

   All the guys commented on the friendliness of the locals. Many had come to visit them and some had brought sacks of durian. Unfortunately none of the guys I spoke to liked the king of fruits.

    Lots of drivers hooted their horns and waved as they drove past. Various officials from Gemas and Negeri Sembilan also visited them.

   When the work was completed, the troop held a simple service before packing up and heading back to Butterworth and then on to Brisbane.
The 14 Troop did a good job here.

Hopefully people will respect the site and there will be no new cases of graffiti or damage.

   The refurbishment of the site means it will need little maintenance, and will probably be visited by further rotations of troops.
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