Thursday, October 27, 2011

St Michael's A Place To Rest For British Soldiers

The plaque commemorating the presence of
British Battalion at St Michael's Ipoh.
Pix courtesy of Mr Anthony Morris
On 18th December 1941,  the 2nd Battalion The East Surrey Regiment and the 1st Battalion The Leicestershire Regiment, paused at St Michael's Institution, Ipoh for a well- needed rest after an almost continuous withdrawal through Kedah and North Perak in the face of fierce attacks by the Japanese forces. 
They stayed until the early hours of 23rd December 1941. The Japanese had the upper hand in their onslaught as they had air superiority and tanks. The British did not have a single tank in Malaya.
While at SMI, the British troops were allowed by the Brothers to stay in the classrooms of the main block on all floors. At that time, the West wing and the East wing of the Main block did not exist. The armoured cars, bren gun carriers and lorries were lined up outside the school in front and under the trees at the back. 
An image of a British Bren Gun Carrier. Courtesy of Mr Joe Willis, England.
The Brothers allowed the food for the soldiers to be cooked in the Brothers' kitchen. Brother Paul and the others were very accommodating and years later after the war, the soldiers still remembered the warmth of the Brothers and grateful appreciation noted by the soldiers who cherished the simple gesture.
Knowing full well that they would have to face the Japanese Forces in a bitter battle soon, the Reverend Henry Babbs held a service for the Anglican soldiers in the chapel. The Catholic chaplain, a Father Ward gave the Catholic soldiers a General Absolution as there was no to time to hear them individually.There was also a mass for them in the chapel. The chapel figured significantly for the Christian soldiers and for many of them it would be the last time in a Christian sanctuary. One soldier who was not a Catholic asked Bro. Paul for a scapular. Bro Paul gave him a Sacred Heart scapular which he carried with him all the time and he still had with him after the war. The soldier was Private Jock Perrin of the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. He passed away at Portsmouth in 1983.
It was at this time,on the 20th of December 1941, that Lt. Gen. A.E. Percival decided to amalgamate the two badly depleted battalions into one battalion to be known as The British Battalion. It was the first time in modern British military history that two battalions were made into one, due to heavy casualties suffered in the opening battles of the Malayan Campaign .  
St Michael's Institution had the honour of witnessing this birth of the British Battalion which lasted until 14th of February 1942. This was an important part of British Military history and SMI will always be featured whenever the origins of The British Battalion is spoken of. 
Mr Chye holding the book, "The British Battalion".Pix from the Star
In memory of this historic occasion,  a specially made brass plaque was donated by Jeffrey Liew to be placed in the school as a memorial to the British Battalion and the unique role that SMI played. This plaque was similar to the one at St Andrew's Cathedral in Singapore.
Unfortunately, the powers that be in the State of Perak five years ago, and certain officials, refused to allow this historical plaque to be installed in the school on a matter of pride which could have been solved easily, by all parties concerned . Five years later in 2008, this plaque still remains to be installed in a place of honour at SMI.
Local war historian, 80 year old, Mr Chye Kooi Loong is the custodian of this plaque and awaits the day when he can place it in the school for posterity.

Article courtesy of Mr Anthony Morris. His website is Thanks Mr Harneak Singh for the alert.

Note from the Editor: The SMI Centennial Celebration committee during the previous meeting had given the nod for the plaque to be fixed to a wall at St Michael's Institution. Mr Chye has consented to hand over the plaque to the school so that a ceremony can be held to remember the fallen heroes. We are currently working on the special day and the guests to be invited! Stay tuned - Peter Khiew.


SMI 1912-2012 said...

It will be 70th Anniversary of the formation of British Battalion this December. The question now is are we going to celebrate this historic formation at SMI? It means a lot to us, Michaelians, as this historical moment took place on our home field. We have spoken to historian Chye Kooi Loong and he is willing to help us to organise the celebration. He is even willing to loan us photographs and other apparels related to this historical event.

So Michaelians, need your feedback fast.

Harneak Singh
5A3 1980.

Peter Khiew said...

There are suggestions the High Commissioner, officials from the British Council and perhaps the spouses or children of members of the British Battalion are invited to witness the historic moment when the plaque is mounted at St Michael's Ipoh. I believe there are still regiments, local and abroad, who hold these members and their outstanding sacrifices, vividly in their mind. Can we plan now Mr Harneak? For a start, we contact the British High Commission. We move from there.

brinlaw said...

Good start.History should be recorded if not it will be forgotten. We should also make an effort to contact the Japanese embassy and get the details of the Japanese Battalions who were occupying St Michael.Maybe some old photographs of Japanese soldiers in St Michael.