Kem Syed Putra aka Tambun Camp by Lt Col (Rtd) Fathol Zaman Bukhari
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Article reproduced with his kind permission.
Kem Syed Putra, or more popularly known as Tambun Camp, is located along Jalan Raja DiHilir (formerly Jalan Tambun), a stone’s throw away from the Pantai Putri Medical Centre and the Perak Income Tax Department. Gunong Panjang, at 1,058 feet, forms an imposing backdrop making the camp’s identification less onerous to outsiders. This military camp has a long history dating back to the years when Malaya was a colony of the British Empire where ‘the sun never sets’. The 365-hectare camp, named Suvla Lines, was built poste haste by the British in 1941 in reaction to the hegemonic threats by Japan. Until the late 1930s the defence policy was based on the presumption that the mere appearance of the British naval fleet from home waters would cause the Japanese to flee.With Germany posing an even greater threat on the home front,a new policy was rehashed in 1940 with emphasis on the defence of the naval citadel in Singapore and ground troops stationed well forward in the Malay Peninsula covering the Siamese border.
Some air support was deemed appropriate thus the feverish construction of aerodromes at Alor Setar, Kota Bahru, Machang and Gong Gedak. The 41st Infantry Regiment from Hiroshima. During the Japanese Occupation, little was known about Suvla Lines except it was used by as a base by troops of the Japanese Imperial Army. The 28th Indian Brigade whose Gurkha soldiers gave a good acoount of themselves at the Battle of Kampar against Japanese troopers from the 41st Infantry Regiment.
After the war, the camp was reoccupied by a succession of Gurkha battalions until it was formally handed over to the Malaysian Government on October 4, 1965 in a ceremony which witnessed the absorption of two Ranger battalions, the First and Second Battalion, into the Malaysian Army. The date has remained a momentous day in the calendar of the Ranger Corps. Gurkha Soldiers At the height of the Emergency (1948 to 1960), Gurkhas from Suvla Lines were instrumental in denting the pride of the Communist Terrorists, especially the Fifth Regiment, which operated in the jungles around Tanjong Rambutan, Jalong and Sungei Siput.
The Gurkhas too lost several of their numbers in contacts and well-laid ambushes. The first casualties suffered were four killed in an ambush at Tanjong Rambutan in August 1948 and were buried in the Gurkha cemetery within Suvla Lines. A total of a hundred Gurkhas, including dependents, were interred in the cemetery, which is being maintained by the Commonwealth Grave Commission. An Indian caretaker is employed by the Commission to care for the graves. This immaculate graveyard lies in the shadow of Gunong Panjang and is a sight to behold. In June 2004, Remembrance Day ceremony, observed at God’s Little Acre in Batu Gajah, was extended to this obscure cemetery as a mark of respect for the lost souls who died in the defence of Malaysia, far away from their homeland in the mountains of Nepal. The event is now an annual affair organised by Dato’ R. Thambipillay and is observed on the first Saturday of June every year.
Suvla Lines was renamed Kem Syed Putra on December 4, 1986 as a tribute to the late Raja Perlis, Almarhum DYMM Tuanku Syed Putra ibni Almarhum Syed Hassan Jamalullail who was appointed the Colonel-in-Chief of the Rangers on November 11, 1971. His place is being taken over by the present Agong, DYMM Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin ibni Almarhum Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail. The first Ranger battalion to occupy Suvla Lines was the First Battalion Ranger Regiment and followed by Third and the Fourth, in succession.
The exploits of the late Capt M Chandran are well documented. Chandran was an officer with the Fourth Battalion Ranger Regiment when it was stationed at Suvla Lines from June 1970 to March 1972. On June 3, 1971, a 10-man combat intelligence team led by Capt M Chandran was tasked to track an elusive band of terrorists operating at the foothills of Gunong Korbu. After 10 days of tracking, the team chanced upon the terrorists who were encamped on a hill slope in the Korbu Forest Reserve. As Chandran and his men approached the campsite, the enemy opened fire. Without hesitation, Chandran ordered a frontal assault and was killed in a hail of bullets. The terrorists abandoned their position and ran helter-skelter. A search later revealed that some 40 Communist Terrorists were in the wellfortified camp.
Although vastly outnumbered, Chandran took a gamble and assaulted. He was awarded the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa, posthumously and was one of the only three recipients of the nation’s highest bravery award in the Ranger Corps. Kem Syed Putra The first troop to occupy Suvla Lines was a Gurkha battalion from the 28th Indian Brigade in September 1941. This Indian brigade formed the reserve of the 3rd Indian Corps under Lt- Gen Sir Lewis Heath. During the Battle of Kampar (Dec 29, 1941 to Jan 2, 1942), the 28th Indian Brigade was in the thick of action and the Gurkhas gave a good account of themselves killing many young Japanese soldiers.
The resident of Kem Syed Putra presently is Second Battalion Royal Ranger Regiment (the Rangers were conferred royal colours on March 3, 1992). Second Battalion has occupied Kem Syed Putra since November 1991. This battalion was formed in September 16, 1963 at Ulu Tiram, Johore. It was originally known as Sabah Rangers to complement the famous Sarawak Rangers formed by Sir James Brooke in Kuching in 1862. Both Sarawak and Sabah Rangers were later absorbed into the Malaysian Army and became the First and Second Ranger Battalion respectively. Lt-Col Nazrul Edgar bin Abdullah is the Commanding Officer of the battalion. Nazrul, 45, who hails from Petaling Jaya, has been in command of the battalion since November 11, 2005. Prior to this he was a staff officer at Headquarters Army Training Command at Kem Imphal, Kuala Lumpur.
Nazrul was commissioned into the Rangers on completion of his cadet training at the Officer Cadet School, Port Dickson on April 11, 1981. “We did not share the same limelight as the First, Third and Seventh Battalion Royal Rangers in terms of kills. The battalion had only two kills. The first was accounted for in Jalong on April 23, 1974,” said Nazrul. Since Sulva Lines is where the handing over of the two Ranger battalions had taken place, it was named the Home of the Rangers in April 1975. The resident battalion then was the First Battalion Ranger Regiment.
Today Kem Syed Putra has evolved into a well-rounded institution befitting its status as the Home of the Rangers. A peek into the Gunung Panjang camp will convince the visitor why it deserves such accolade. Within the camp complex is the Ranger Museum where artefacts from the various Rangers battalions are kept and preserved for posterity. A little ingenuity, however, is required to enhance the aesthetics of the museum. It should be opened to the public so they will come to appreciate the sacrifices made by the Rangers. And since it is located near the guardhouse and entrance to the camp, safety and security are assured.
The other features of significance are the Officers’ Mess and Rumah Kenyalang. The Officers’ Mess across the road to Tambun has undergone a major facelift after a freak fire in 2003 nearly burnt it to the ground. The mess houses the bachelor officers’ living quarters. The dining hall and living room are cosy and exude an ambience that matches the best Ipoh could offer. The bar, dubbed the ‘second Apple Jam’ in the 1970s, is devoid of life after religious dictates in the early 1990s restrict social interactions, in all service messes of the Armed Forces, to the mundane. Sale and consumption of beer, liquor and other intoxicating drinks in messes are strictly forbidden. poor taste given the unique nature of soldiering, which requires bonding and companionship.
The mess is an appropriate place for such an activity. The curtailing of this basic physical form of interaction is detrimental to the social makeover of the officers and its negativities are becoming more apparent each passing day. At the rear of the mess stands a dilapidated building, which is the first squash court in Perak. The building is in a poor state of repair and a major renovation work is desirous to return it to its former glory. Rumah Kenyalang is the official guest house at the Home of the Rangers.
The house is opened to all Ranger officers – serving and retired. The guest house has been so tastefully refurbished that it has lost all its originality. It is located within the married quarters compound of Kem Syed Putra. There are four rooms ranging from the Ranger Museum moderate to one fit for the King. Maj Salim manages the guest house with three minders. Salim has been the manager for over a decade. He takes pride in caring for the house and is committed to his job although he is nearing retirement. “For RM100 you can have the whole house for a day. That is exclusive of messing. Messing can be arranged on a need basis,” said Salim. Lunch and dinner are simple by any gastronomical standards. “But the cooks at the Officers’ Mess can prepare dishes to suit your taste buds,” he added instinctively.
The guest house has also undergone a major facelift. “It has been renovated at a considerable sum in order to add value to its name,” mused Salim. Rumah Kenyalang is occupied three days of the week mostly by senior army officers. Battalion Reunion From a humble beginning at the outbreak of the Second World War, Kem Syed Putra has come a long way to be a dedicated home for an icon of the Malaysian Army. Kem Syed Putra has become a beacon of sorts for the venerated Rangers – old and new.
The annual gathering of serving and former officers of the Second Battalion Royal Ranger Regiment is planned for on Friday, May 25, 2006. The venue, Kem Syed Putra. And being a former member of the battalion, I look forward to reestablish with the past and the present.