MACVA Tribute To A War Hero - Maj Lee Ah Pow (Rtd) PGB
Unsung and retired warriors who contributed to nation building often ride into the sunset with the younger generation in Malaysia not even aware of what they have done let alone who they were. History is such that often those mentioned are heads of states while others who have contributed in their own way are invariable left out and often forgotten. Without the sacrifices of those who fought in the 1st Malayan Emergency (1948 – 1960), the Confrontation (1963 – 1966) and the various military operations to rid the country of threat from the communist terrorist. Malaysia could well be another chaotic country immersed in military conflicts as evident with many other countries around the world today.
The current generation of citizens in Malaysia enjoys modern infrastructure with foreign and local investments in all forms, colours and sizes. People mingle around attending to their needs spared and sheltered from the constant armed threat of the communist terrorist. All the development, foreign direct investments, luxuries of modern life today is only possible because of the sacrifices in the early days and by those who have contributed.
This article represents an attempt to capture some of the stories and exploits of those who dedicated their lives to nation building and made life as we know it today possible. One such individual is none other than Maj Lee Ah Pow (Rtd) PGB of the Royal Malaysian Armour Corps or Kor Armor DiRaja as it is known today.
Maj Lee Ah Pow (Rtd) PGB was born on October 9, 1937 in the small settlement of Rompin in Negeri Sembilan (a south western state in Peninsula Malaysia). He was the second child but oldest boy among six siblings. His father Lee Seng was a general contractor who was aligned to the British while his mother was a Filipino of Chinese descent who was somehow wrongly named Mesah binti Ahmad which often resulted in her being mistaken for a local Malay Muslim. Maj Lee (Rtd) PGB received the calling to join the army after witnessing atrocities when the Japanese captured Malaya from the British during WWII.
His own his father was captured and tortured by the Japanese after being renegaded by an uncle (his father’s cousin) who reported his father as a communist agent. His father was hung up and tortured for four days and night at the Seremban Police Station before they brought his father’s lifeless body back to Rompin. Recounting the painful memories of those yester years when life was shrouded with uncertainties he described how as the eldest son but only as a young boy he had to recover his father’s body from the Seremban Police Station. On the way home, the train broke down and he had to part carry, part drag and part stretcher his father’s lifeless body all the way home. Miraculously his father survived the ordeal despite being hung up, beaten for days on end and being dragged home.
Maj Lee (Rtd) PGB received his primary education at the Chung Hwa Primary School in Bahau before being transferred to the Seremban Anglo Chinese School. His father had objected to him having anything to do with any military be it with the government those days or with the communist terrorist. When his father became aware that he was joining the Federation Military College, he was told to leave the house and was effectively disowned. Torn between his father’s wishes and his calling to be in the position to influence to do the right thing he continued with the military.
The contributing factors that led to him sticking to his decision to remain at the FMC was largely due to him being exposed to Japanese military atrocities first hand during WWII and at time it was also the 1st Malayan Emergency. It was two years later during the Chinese New Year in 1955 that he decided to return home to visit his family. Upon reaching home and not knowing what to expect he knocked on the door. His father opened the door and stood watching him. After what seemed like ages, he asked if he could enter and his father relented and they made up.
At the Federation Military College
Life at the Federation Military College or FMC as it was proudly known in the 1950s was full of new experiences such as firearms training and basic military tactics compared to the Anglo Chinese School. Lee Ah Pow moved on from being a “Budak Boy” to Officer Candidate after passing his Fifth Form Cambridge “O Levels” examinations.
Cadet Officer Lee recalled being actively involved in sports including boxing and basketball. He enjoyed the adventurous life but considered himself an average cadet. Upon completion of his training, the obvious choice was to be commissioned into the Federation Armoured Car Regiment (FACR). He recounted that the choices those days were merely, the FACR, Signals, Artillery and Transport.
Maj Lee’s (Rtd) PGB wishes came true when he was commissioned into the Federation Armoured Car Regiment in 1957. His exploits as a young officer with the FACR were colourful and full of adventure including a stint as peacekeeping troops under the Organization Nations Unes au Congo. He was deployed in Tawau, Semporna and Lundu in Sabah during the Confrontation and saw numerous military operations along the Malaysian-Thai border throughout his military career. It was in Congo that he was presented a gallantry award.
Organization Nation Unes au Congo
Post WWII, nationalism swept across Belgium Congo as with most other parts of the world. Serious riots broke out across Congo before the Belgians granted them independence on June 30, 1960. Mutinies and unrest was the order of the day with different factions claiming sovereignty over parts of Congo. Belgium despatched troops on July 10 to protect its citizens and its interests. Congo, now an independent state regarded the Belgian action as external aggression and a violation of a peace and friendship treaty signed between Belgium and Congo. Congo appealed for military intervention from the United Nations Secretary General. The United Nations deployed a multi-national force which facilitated the withdrawal of Belgium troops. The power struggle and hostilities between the different factions in Congo escalated beyond control resulting in another United Nations intervention.
In August 1960, Malaya responded to a call by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold to contribute troops and equipment towards the United Nations Force in Congo. The Malayan Special Force (MSF) which comprised primarily of an Infantry Battalion and a Reconnaissance Squadron was dispatched together with other supporting units.
It was in 1962 when C Squadron, 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment was to be deployed on another tour of Congo when Maj Lee (Rtd) PGB, a Lieutenant at that time was selected to undergo a Regimental Signals Officers (RSOs) course in the United Kingdom. It was therefore intended that he remained as part of the Regimental rear party. Lt Lee turned down the course and opted for deployment to Congo despite being advised that he would lose the opportunity for promotion to Captain.
During this tour the MSF was operating under the command of the Indian Independent Brigade Group which was led by Brigadier R. S. Noronha. The Malayan contingent comprised C Squadron of the 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment and the 2nd Battalion Royal Malay Regiment. C Squadron, 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment operating in Elizabethville in Congo was organized as follows:
• Squadron Leader: Major Asna bin Mohamed Sutan.
• Squadron Second-in-Command: Captain J. C. Rodrigues.
• No. 1 Troop Leader: Lieutenant Tan Siew Soo.
• No. 2 Troop Leader: Lieutenant Tee Bua Bian.
• No 3 Troop Leader: Lieutenant Lee Ah Pow.
• Rifle Troop Leader: Second Lieutenant Raja Hj Ahmad.
Tensions were high when C Squadron returned to Congo in June 1962. The main task of C Squadron was to patrol the numerous tracks on the outer perimeter of the Elizabethville airport. On September 12, 1962 Lt Lee Ah Pow was on one of these patrols together with a reconnaissance section from the 2nd/5th Gurkha Battalion when they encountered a Katangese road block led by a Caucasian mercenary. No. 3 Troop comprised four Ferret Scout Cars while the Gurkhas were mounted on two Land Rovers and was commanded by Maj Gupta. The Land Rovers were sandwiched between the Ferret Scout Cars with Lt Lee in the lead Scout Car. The terrain was flat but tall grass and scrubs provided good cover.
On their return leg, the patrol entered a track which led to an intersection known as the Martini Junction. Lt Lee in the lead scout car spotted about 30 – 40 Katangese soldiers who tried to stop them. The Katangese were shouting and jeering with a lot of hand gestures. Before long Lt Lee realized that they were surrounded. He heard Maj Gupta shouting, “Lieutenant do something! Do something!” The Gurkhas meanwhile had dismounted and occupied prone positions in all round defence. Lt Lee dismounted and ordered the Katangese to withdraw. A Katangese soldier in return shouted “Malaya apano bolozi!” or Malaysia no good! When the Katangese refused to withdraw Lt Lee felt something amiss and headed back to his vehicle. As he was about to mount onto his Ferret Scout Car a shot rang out barely grazing his left ear. He jumped into his Ferret Scout Car and ordered his men to return fire.
As soon as the Ferret Scout Cars opened fire and jockeyed into firing positions more Katangese soldiers emerged from the tall grass and started running away. Lt Lee told his soldier to cease fire as their mission was peacekeeping and the Katangese had their backs to No. 3 troops and were running away. In the brief exchange of fire the Katangese retreated leaving behind two dead. A search of the area revealed that the patrol had accidentally entered into a Katangese defensive position. A large cached of firearms and ammunition including machine guns and rocket launchers abandoned by the fleeing Katangese were recovered.
Recounting the incident Maj Lee (Rtd) PGB related that as the fire fight was on going he was at the same time worried as the exteriors of the Ferret Scout Cars were mounted with jerry cans of gasoline which could easily catch fire should a grenade be hurled at them. He told his soldiers that if they die, they would take some of the Katangese along with them. Lt Lee was decorated with the gallantry Pingat Gagah Berani for the way he handled the situation and for saving the day. Two months after his encounter with the enemy Maj Lee (Rtd) PGB received news of the passing away of his father.
In 1971 Maj Lee (Rtd) PGB switched from the Royal Reconnaissance Corps to the Military Police. While in the Military Police his notable achievements include cracking a scandal where Kangaroo meat was supplied to soldiers instead of beef and resolving a stand-off between soldiers and youth connected to triads in Kuching. He retired from military service after 20 dedicated years.
MACVA are very proud of Maj Lee Ah Pow (Rtd) PGB achievements and sacrifices for King and country. A nation war hero, MACVA wishes him good spirit and good health in attending all forthcoming Armed Forces Day, Warriors Day and Merdeka Day celebrations.
Capt Lim Cheng Huat (Rtd)
8 Sep 17
A. Renjer Valour - Firefight in Elizabethville http://renjervalour.blogspot.my/2006/03/firefight-in-elizabethville-congo-lt.html