The Leaderless Men
In Kuala Lumpur Lim Hung, a twenty year old railway clerk, was making his way to the station ticket office where he worked as a junior. He had been with the Malay State Railway since leaving school. There had been the promise of a place at University, but he had turned it down flat in order to supplement the family income, and to provide that little bit extra since his father, who had once been employed by the same railway company, had been involved in an accident which had made him incapable of further employment. Lim was the youngest of the family of six, consisting of two brothers now married and with families of their own and Choy his sister who was older by twelve months. Lim, along with Choy had decided that they would be the breadwinners for the family. Their mother had died while they were both at school. Choy worked as an assistant at Frasers multi store and the money she earned was enough to pay the bills, with a little left over for the occasional treat, while Lim’s wages went toward payment of the house and small holding. It was a warm day, with just a few wispy clouds in the sky as Lim walked down the main road toward the station office, taking particular notice of the shops all around making preparations for Christmas, which was fast approaching. Most of the larger stores were displaying neon signs in a multitude of colours, even though they knew that there was a war going on in Europe, there did not seem to be any lack of festive spirit.
The possibility of a war in the east was just too ridiculous to imagine. Even Lim had allowed himself to be lulled into this false sense of security. If the possibility of war is so imminent he thought, why did not the British start building defences and preparing people. Seeing the relaxed attitude of the British residents it was obvious that there was not going to be a war. Then in any event he thought, it is not my problem, that’s what we have the British here for. He quickly changed his thoughts to the coming evening’s entertainment with his new found girl friend Cynthia, who he was meeting after finishing his shift. He would be introducing her to his father, and friends at the Chinese Peoples Club. Everyone knew that it was a political club run by the Chinese communist party, but no one seemed to mind. His mind was so occupied that he forgot to wave to Choy as he passed the shop where she worked. She would most certainly tell him about his ignorance when he arrived home tonight. He had first met Cynthia who also worked for the railway, when he had needed to go to the wages department concerning a shortage in his pay packet. She had been the clerk responsible for the error. Although he had met her on several occasions since, tonight was going to be the first time they would be on their own. She had been instructed by her parents to be sure to bring him home to meet them and to share a meal. He knew that it was their way of saying, bring him home to be vetted. Lim followed his usual routine by collecting a cold drink from the station shop then sitting down in the rest room to read the paper. Hup Chan one of the railway porters was already in the rest room waiting to start his shift. He seemed excited and could not wait to ask. “Have you heard the news?”. Before Lim had time to answer “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbour, Singapore and Hong Kong”. Lim opened his paper preparing to be met with the news, “Its not in the paper” said Hup Chan , “ I heard it on the radio just fifteen minutes ago, According to reports they have landed at Singora and Petani in the north” Lim gave an involuntary shiver “Does that mean that we are at war with Japan?” He asked, Hup Chan nodded his head knowingly. Lim could not understand why people would go to the trouble of decorating and advertising for Christmas if they knew that war was coming. It didn’t make sense. Although he had no axe to grind with the British, his feelings were partisan, this was an Asian country and there would have been no need for the Japanese to attack had it not been for the British being in their country.
It was only yesterday that he had been in agreement that the Japanese were a cultured gentle race, who would do all in their power to avert war with America and Britain. They must have been provoked by the Americans he thought. Lim sat back deep in thought, wondering how this was going to affect his future. Would he be called on to serve in the Malaya forces, he was twenty, so he was old enough. Maybe the British will repel the Japanese and it will all blow over. “Its not our war” said Chan and to add a little bravado “I am not bothered there’s no one can make me fight if I don’t want to”. Hup Chan was a man of about forty years and apart from a visit to Singapore many years ago, had never been out of Kuala Lumpur, but his mannerism hinted to a youngster like Lim that he was a man of the world. After finishing his drink, Lim reported for duty to his superior Mr Shan, who he knew was a man of experience with a sound knowledge of history, especially Chinese history, having served with the Chinese army in Tiensen and Shanghai as well as Madang, Matou and Wuhan. Maybe it was the bitter memories of this which caused him to be sat in solemn mood as Lim walked into the room. “Do you think that the Japanese will attack Kuala Lumpur?” Asked Lim Without speaking Mr Shan shook his head from side to side “Will we all be called up to fight?” Asked Lim and once more there was no reply apart from the shaking of Mr Sha’s head. Shan looked up from the ticket machine which he had just been preparing for the lunch hour traffic. “I don’t think it will make a scrap of difference what I think or what anyone else thinks, what will be will be, and I would suggest that you allow matters to take their own course and do not get involved”. The shift had passed ever so quickly for Lim, and as he started his homeward journey he pondered on the things which he would ask his father. For one thing he wanted to know what he should do in the event of a Japanese invasion, and if it would be better if he volunteered instead of waiting to be called up. Dozens of questions filled his mind. It was the sudden appearance of is sister waving from the door of Frasers which pulled down the curtain on his imaginations and he suddenly remembered that he had a date for the evening. In between dressing for his date, he asked his father many questions, to which unfortunately there were very few answers. The last thing Lim remembered was his father shouting to him not to be late home, before starting to run for the bus which would deposit him close to the Chinese Peoples Club. Slinging his lightweight jacket over his shoulders, Lim inspected himself in one of the windows before entering and joining some friends at one of the tables. There was a strange atmosphere, it was so much different than the usual Sunday night, and then it suddenly struck him, that the place was full to capacity and he half knew why. Every table and every seat in the place was occupied, some by people he could not recollect having seen before. He looked around for Cynthia, but it was apparent that she had not as yet arrived, so clutching a glass of fruit juice he wandered across to watch the men at the mahjong table. There did not seem to be any serious players because they were all talking at once and the topic was the same one which people had been discussing all day. The Japanese attack. One of the men who Lim had met previously at the club asked, “Are you one of the volunteers ?”. Lim looked over his shoulder anticipating that the question was directed at some one standing behind. Then realising that the question had been directed at himself, he asked “What volunteers?”. “ The president is coming along tonight to ask for volunteers”. Lim not wanting to appear to be behind the times, nodded his head and gave a soft “yes”. At the same time the room became suddenly quiet as four well dressed men and a fifth in the uniform of a Chinese army officer walked through the room and into the committee room at the bottom end . As soon as they had disappeared the general discussion increased until it was hard for anyone to hear what the man next to them was saying The door opened and more people came in including Cynthia, his date. Lims eyes lit up as she approached, she was wearing a mandarin style green dress with a golden motif and a floral arrangement of red Hibiscus. Her black hair tied into a pony tail bobbed up and down as she walked toward him with a slight cheeky smile on her face. Lim felt he was luckiest man alive. Away went any thoughts of the Japanese and hatred. He was about to escort the most beautiful girl in the world. He took hold of her hand and reflected on its delicacy, as he guided her to where there were now two seats vacant, close to the stage from where the president would be making his speech. They were soon joined by other friends of their age group all waiting in anticipation to hear what their leader was going to say. A bell sounded and lots of voices began to shout for silence, making more noise than there already had been. Finally some sort of order was restored, and a small man with spectacles stepped on to the stage introducing himself as Yui Ming the secretary of the KL Chinese Communist Peoples Party, he then introduced Aung Chen, the leader of the party executive.
Aung Chen spoke about the executive and their work paying tribute to the men who unpaid and unrewarded were keeping the Peoples Party alive. Finally he started to talk on the subject which everyone in the room had attended to hear. The Japanese, who he referred to as the common enemy of most Asian countries. The Japanese leeches who invade and suck the wealth from the countries they enter. Very much similar to the British Imperialists, they assume that the world was built for them, and each in turn destroy the economy of the countries over which they rule, subjecting the peoples to work as slaves. The first thing we must do is to strike at the Japanese before he has time to settle, then after we have rid Malaya of them, we will then drive the British out. Our task is not going to be an easy one but with your loyalty and fighting spirit, we will succeed in cleaning Malaya of two vipers. He spoke with enthusiasm occasionally bringing his fist crashing down onto the table in front of him, each time making those closest jump. China has millions of men similar to yourselves who will be prepared to join in our struggle, but more urgently we need volunteers now to start the defence and then the final overthrow of both British and Japanese Imperialists. The men around started to cheer and clap, shouting out various slogans, and it was some time before order was once more restored. Yiu Ming made a further small speech and called for volunteers from among those present . “We need as many young men as we can manage, youngsters who will carry on the struggle, we need teachers, instructors, radio technicians, trackers, explosives experts, but mostly fighters”. He took a sip from the glass at his side and continued. “We require men who know the jungle, men who can speak several languages including Japanese and English. The club will remain open tonight, for the purpose of enrolling as many new members as possible, who are prepared to join in ridding our country of these foreigners”. Once more the cheering opened up, Lim felt the hair on the back of his neck begin to stand up, and a cold shiver went down his spine as the impact of what had been said began to sink in. Cynthia pulling at his arm, brought him back to reality. “I don’t think you have heard one word of what I have been saying” she said “ What was that?” asked Lim “Oh! I was only teasing, I asked if you would be one of those volunteering” He half smiled as he replied ,”I don’t know yet, but I feel that there is a place for me somewhere. After all I do speak three dialects plus English and Japanese”. Cynthia went on to place several reason as to why he should not volunteer, including the fact that there was only himself and Choy bringing any money into his house, but his mind was made up and he asked her to wait while he went along to the room where officials were taking down the details. “No way” she smiled, “I am coming to join up with you”. Lim hesitated and then pushed her down into one of the chairs. “You wait there, I won’t be long” He walked through the door marked secretary, at the same time that one of the officials approached Cynthia to ask if she was going to volunteer. She shook her head and made for the exit. The room Lim had entered was one usually used for committee meetings and such, but now it was completely devoid of any furniture except for a table behind which were placed four chairs. Standing around the room there were groups of men, young, old, rich, poor, all waiting to offer their services. The buzz of chatter stopped as four men entered and occupied the vacant seats behind the table.
The secretary called for silence, and Lim gasped in surprise that the men behind the table were all wearing Chinese army uniforms. From the braid and medals it would seem that they were officers of rank. The secretary called first for all those men who had no academic qualifications, but who wished to be trained as soldiers to step forward. Their names were taken and they signed or made their mark, and were then given instructions as to when they would be required and told to leave the room. As soon as they had gone, the secretary called for those remaining to come forward so that particulars could be taken of their various qualifications. Of the twenty or so who had remained behind, just five were left and Lim wondered why he was one of those. He was about to make some excuse and leave the room, when along with two men who had professed to have been with the Chui Liung Intelligence section, he was asked to come forward to the table. Each was given a sheet of paper containing various questions and at the same time were asked several questions. After which they signed the paper and agreed to obey the laws and directions of the Peoples Party Anti Japanese Executive. The secretary was glancing through the sheets which each man had signed, and noted that Lim could speak three dialects and two languages, which seemed to impress him so much that he was asked to remain after he had sworn the oath, which was sworn under pain of death Lim began to wonder if he would be strong enough to uphold everything which he had signed for. After a brief wait, the secretary informed him that his application had been successful, and that he would be required to return to the club premises the following evening for briefing and further orders. He was not to tell anyone where or what he was doing and must inform his employers that he would require leave of absence for a short period of time. There would be no need to worry about the consequences, as the majority of the staff working for the railway company were also members of the CPP. As for his family he must only tell them that he would be working away for a short while. A sum of money would be paid into his bank account to cover any immediate losses. Every thing seemed so mysterious, it was similar to the American films he had seen about the black hand gang. It seemed so far fetched that he wondered if it was not some kind of leg pull and he thought of laughing out loud, but seeing the grim faces of those around he decided to go along with it all. As he left the club, he wondered if he had done the right thing after all. But it was too late now, he had burned his bridges. He looked around for Cynthia. Not realising at first that it was well after midnight and that she would most certainly have gone home. The journey back home seemed to take much longer than usual, most probably due to his train of thought concerning the night’s events and what it would all mean to him. He felt a slight chill and the hairs on the back of his neck stiffened and he wondered as he let himself into the house, was it all really happening to him. It did not need an alarm clock to wake him the following morning, Lim was up and about before the birds had started their dawn chorus. He had had a restless night in which he fought dragons, swam lakes and crossed mountains, all in a futile effort to rescue the damsel in distress, before going on to fight the Japanese in the swamp ridden jungles. He had survived man eating crocodiles and tigers, finally falling into the arms of his wife. But it was not Cynthia and he could not understand why. He awoke in a deep sweat with a feeling of despair and it was not until he had finally had a shower, that he was able to shake it off. At breakfast no one mentioned his late arrival home, so he thought it would be better to remain silent. He had much to think about including the fact that he would be leaving his father and sister without giving them any explanation He fully realised that his going would create a strain on the family budget for a short while until the money came through from the CPP. Doubts began to rise in his mind as he gulped down his coffee and set off to meet Cynthia before she went into the office. Choy his sister began to chide him about having only just left his girlfriend and now he was rushing off to meet her before she went into work.” It must be true love” laughed Choy “What would you know about it” he replied “you haven’t even met her yet” Choy smiled knowingly and asked “You would not like to put a bet on it would you”. He would not be drawn, being in too much of a hurry for arguments and discussions, he knew Choy would only be kidding. See you tonight he shouted back as he went through the door. Arriving at the station a good three hours before his shift was due to start, he walked straight through to the office where Cynthia was working and he marvelled that no one had bothered to stop him going to talk to her during working hours. “What happened to you then?” Asked Lim, “I came out of the club expecting you to be waiting so that I could have the honour of escorting you home, but when I came out you had disappeared”. “ I should think that I had at that late hour, wait until this evening and I will explain everything to you”, with the smile which she gave him, what else could he do he asked himself. “I will see you outside the station at eight o’clock “she said before leaving .
Lim walked around in a lovesick dream not knowing where he was heading until he found himself outside the covered market. The fact that there were no shoppers did not matter to him, it was only as he was about to walk through the entrance that the voice of an English soldier alerted his brain. “He my lado what do want round here?” barked the soldier. Lim looked up suddenly, “Sorry “ he apologised, “I was going into the market”, “What F****** market?” asked the soldier. “Well this one of course” replied Lim who had failed to notice that the whole of the market area was covered row upon row of army beds, above the entrance a large sign indicated that this was the home of the 3 group M R U. Lim quickly realised his mistake and was about to apologise again when “piss off “ shouted the soldier “or you will get my bayonet stuck up your arse”. Lim hurried away, it was his first encounter with the British army, similar to his opinion of the Japanese he had assumed that they were all gentlemen who played cricket and went to church on Sundays. Because of this rude awakening, it caused him to begin to look up and take notice of his surroundings. In the short time since the Japanese had entered Malaya, several British army signs and indicators had been erected and he surmised that they would probably be of great assistance to the Japanese when they came this way. He also noticed that British soldiers who at one time always seemed to have a cheerful disposition were now walking around with a dismal look on their faces. Certain shop owners had begun to stick brown paper strips across their shop windows, which he later learned were to stop the glass from shattering should a bomb burst close by. Passing the Shanghai Bank, he paused to watch Indian and Chinese labourers filling sand bags and stacking them around the windows and doors, and he suddenly realised that the streets were full of uniformed men of varying nationality and it was only now that he realised the full implications of the Japanese invasion and the possible effect it would have on his future.
His shift at the railway passed very quickly, possibly due to the main topic of conversation and the effect it would have on all their lives, so that by the time Cynthia arrived for their date he was bursting to tell her of the many things he had heard discussed that day. But for all his enthusiasm, the sight of her beauty left him speechless for several minutes and they walked along in silence, neither wishing to break the spell of togetherness. Finally as they reached the row of houses where Lim lived, he asked “What happened to you last night? who escorted you home ?, were you alright?” His several questions came gushing out. Cynthia squeezed his hand. “As soon as you have changed , I will take you to meet my father, we will have a meal and after that I will tell you everything you wish to know” Lim was about to argue, but she put a finger to her lips “go and do as I asked “ a further hesitation and she half pushed him away. “Hurry before I change my mind” and Lim went into the house Cynthia following.
Choy was about to start chiding her brother Lim, then suddenly saw that he had brought his girl friend home and adopted a more demure attitude and waited to be introduced. “Cynthia this is Choy my brat of a sister, Choy this is Cynthia” then he introduced her to his father, leaving the room while he quickly washed and made himself a little more presentable, leaving the three of them talking .
He returned dressed in his best clothes and taking Cynthia by the hand he eased her toward the door and at a look by his father he said “I will be eating out tonight and might be late coming home, so don’t wait up for me”. He little realised how prophetic his words were to be “I will be late coming home”. After a short taxi ride and a ten minute walk, Lim found himself on the north side of KL, the houses and Macadam roads had been left behind some time ago as they approached what appeared to be the remnants of a rubber plantation.
“If this is where you live how do you manage to walk all this way to the office?” Asked Lim. “I don’t walk “she replied “my father or one of the men usually drive me to the station approach and I walk up from there. Lim was amazed that someone with obviously so much wealth, should wish to hold down a miserable eight hour a day job and why of all people she should be interested enough to walk out with him when she could have any boy youth or man in Kuala Lumpur.
They came to two large iron gates behind which a long pathway led to an old Victorian style house. The gates were guarded by two tough looking Chinese soldiers, each equipped with a pick axe stave and a revolver . The guards smiled and nodded to Cynthia and Lim felt the heat rising to his face, but tried to appear as casual as possible. No one was taking any particular notice of him however, and one of the guards opened one side of the large gates and as they both walked through the two guards followed them along the approach to the house at a discreet distance. Arriving at the great oak doors of the house, Lim noticed that this too was heavily guarded, but the two guards were in immaculate uniforms each sporting a golden star in the centre of their peaked caps, and Lim wondered what he had let himself in for, everything seemed so mysterious. Cynthia led the way along the entrance hall to where a further several uniformed soldiers stood talking between themselves and they all smiled as Cynthia came along. She took hold of Lim’s hand as she led him up the ornate stairway with its highly polished bannisters running along both side of the stairway and Lim compared the house with those he had seen on the films owned by the American cotton barons in the deep south of America. They entered a sitting room complete with chintz covers and window curtains. In one corner there was a large drinks bar, strategically placed alongside stood a grand piano.
In the middle of the room there was a large rectangular oak table with carved legs, the whole highly polished like a mirror. Seated at the table were four uniformed officers, their uniforms of an infinitely richer quality than any Lim had seen before and on the table in front of each was a well braided cap in the centre of which was the gold star of the Chinese Republic.
The younger of the men, a man in his early forties, stood up as they entered and walked over and embraced Cynthia, after which he held out his hand to Lim and vaguely he could hear Cynthia saying “This is my father” and turning to Lim she said” this is my friend who I have spoken to you about, Lim Hung”.
His nerve and emotions at breaking point, Lim observed to himself surely this is the same man who the secretary introduced at the club, and now was being introduced as Cynthia’s father. Such a lot had happened in so short a time that he wondered if it was not some kind of game and that he would soon wake up to find himself in bed and he tried to figure it all out . His girl friend the daughter of one of the leaders of the Chinese People ‘s army who was also a communist and guerrilla leader of high repute. It was all becoming very confusing. Other people around him were talking, but he did not hear them, his mind was elsewhere. He could feel someone pulling at the sleeve of his jacket and suddenly realised that it was Cynthia asking if he would like something to eat now, and he nodded his head unable to speak and was led into another room where he unwittingly accepted a drink knowing full well that he never touched alcohol. Once seated at the table a meal of rice and various meats was served and he helped himself to meagre portions still in a dream world. He could hear Cynthia as she was explaining to him her fathers role in the Chinese Peoples Working Executive when Aung Chen entered the room . “My daughter has told me that you speak several dialects and languages quite fluently” Lim agreed with a nod of the head, still too dumfounded to open his mouth. “I also understand that you have both become great friends” Again Lim nodded his agreement and without thinking lifted the glass of wine and took a drink to ease his dried up throat. The drink had the taste of yam and other fruit juices but with a bitter after taste which was quite pleasant to the pallet. Not having tasted alcohol previously he tossed the whole contents of the glass down in one go, draining it completely. By now the other officers had entered the room and were conversing among themselves, occasionally Lim heard reference to the Japanese having conciliated their landing and were now in control of all the airports in north Malaya.
The drink had gone to Lims head, and combined with the oppressive heat of the night caused him to feel drowsy and to occasionally nod off. Aung Chen was relating how he had become the leader of the Malayan movement, explaining that he and his wife had originally lived in Tiensen, from where in 1927, while Cynthia was a small child, they had moved down into Shanghai, then on to Cambodia and finally to Ipoh in Malaya, where they had set up home in 1933. .His wife had died of tuberculosis just one year after settling down and the only people who cared were the people of the movement. He had in return worked hard and diligently for the party as an organiser, union leader, on to party leader and finally in 1940 becoming the leader of the Malay Communist party in Kuala Lumpur. Turning to Lim who although he had been listening had not absorbed everything , he said “Now you are going to be one of my close assistants, working alongside my daughter”. Suddenly Lim was wide awake, as if by magic and he repeated the phrase “you will be working alongside my daughter” over and over in his mind. That means he told himself, Cynthia must have known last night that I had volunteered my services. Turning to Cynthia he asked “Why did you not tell me last night that you were a member of the Communist party and that your father was a leader “. She was taken aback and frowning answered “Because if you had known these things before hand, I would always have it in my mind that you joined the party because of me” she paused “as it is, you joined the party without any persuasion from me and I am proud of your decision”.
Lim appeared to be upset and she could see that she had not been completely honest and she was about to offer further explanation when her father came over, Taking Lim by the arm, he steered him into a small ante room and placed him in a large leather arm chair, then sitting opposite Aung Chen began to speak, “Let me explain to you and try to get you to understand that my daughter in no way tried to deceive you into joining the party. After I have finished, if you want out you are free to go”. One of the servants brought a tray of coffee and gave Lim a cup as Mr Chen continued. “Neither my daughter or myself, had any idea that the Japanese were about to attack Malaya, so there was no reason why she should need to inform you of her political views at this time. It was your decision last night to volunteer your services. Once you had stated that you wanted to be part of the group, there was nothing which she could do or say. When she came home last night, she asked me to cancel your application by saying that you were not required at this time and I refused, because I know and you know that no undue influence was placed upon you to join.”
Mr Chen stood up and continued. “The fact is that it was your decision to join and therefore it must be your decision whether you remain or withdraw your application. Everyone in the association are sworn to secrecy and at no time must a persons membership be made public, for the good of the association, but mainly for their own safety. Imagine what would happen should the Japanese over run Kuala Lumpur. They would immediately round up all members of the party and execute them all without mercy. You may understand now why my daughter was under no obligation to disclose to you that she was a member of the party and what predicament you placed her in”
As the facts began to filter through, Lim had to concede to the argument, plus the fact that the effects of the drink were beginning to take over, despite drinking several cups of black coffee, he tried to continue to talk, but found himself drifting away from the subject and finally unable to beat the grip of the grape, he let his head fall back against the cushions, as he did so, Mr Chen left the room, his place taken by Cynthia, who seeing him fast asleep, took up a position in one of the other chairs and dozed.
After about an hour or so Lim was awakened by Cynthia gently shaking his arm. “Come on lazy bones we are going for a meal, are you going to join us” Lim lifted his weary head and started to rise but just a little too quickly as he had acquired his first hangover.
The dining room consisted of a long wooden table around which were placed eight carved chairs. On the table was an array of dishes, spices, fowl, meat, savoury’s, an assortment of bread, bowls of fruits, cake and sweets. Lim looked at his watch and realised that he had been in the house for more than six hours and wondered if his father would be waiting up for him. In the dining room Mr Chen and the three officers sat at the top of the table with Lim and Cynthia seated together on one side. The meal was served by all male servants and as they offered him wine, Lim shook his head vigourously.
The conversation naturally centred upon the invasion and the necessity for the party to obtain weapons as quickly as possible. To do this money would need to be acquired and discussions on how to go about it were discussed at great length. Several methods of obtaining arms were discussed including stealing them from the British and Allied soldiers and it was finally agreed that information should be sought as to where the allied ammunition dumps were and how to penetrate them. Since it had always been obvious that the communist party would receive no assistance whatsoever from the British, it was going to be necessary to steal.
Food and clothing depots must also be raided, but by far the best idea was to follow the Japanese advance and then raid the former allied dumps while the Japanese were too busy advancing to take adequate precautions. “We have knowledge of the party at Lipis who have done that very thing, as the ammunition does not fit Japanese rifles and armament, the dumps are being totally left open and Lipis have taken advantage of this, so if we follow their example, we too can become armed. ”
The conversation drifted on to various individual pleas and experiences and Lim still not fully recovered from the effects of the alcohol was becoming tired and restless. Mr Chen noticing this suggested to one of the servants that he show Lim to one of the spare bedrooms . Everyone stood and wished Lim good night with a promise that he would be called early the following day and no sooner was his head on the pillow, he was sound asleep.
Lim was awakened the following morning by one of the servants who informed him that Cynthia had gone to work as usual, but that she had left a message to say that he must have a meal and that she would meet him later as arranged. Lim had a quick snack, after which he was driven in a private car to the town centre. He had finally made up his mind to remain with the party and call to see his father and explain everything to him, after which he would go along to the station and hand in his notice.
Arriving home he went up stairs and threw a few items of clothing into a duffle bag, then went to the garden at the rear of the house where he knew that his father was seated. “So you are home then?” asked his father without even looking over his shoulder. “I am sorry” apologised Lim. “I stopped at Cynthia’s house last night “ he paused wondering how to begin to explain . ”Look dad, I am going away for a few days “ Before he had time to continue his father cut in, “I know what you are going to say, you have joined the army and you are off to fight the Japanese” “well yes, in a way” replied Lim, “ I have joined the Chinese peoples party” His father turned as he spoke, “Don’t tell me that you are a bloody commi”. Lim was undecided what to say next “What does it matter who I am fighting alongside so long as I fight against the Japanese” He could see the tears welling up in his fathers eyes as he spoke. “ I’m sorry dad, but I don’t think I would be any good as a soldier, I am going along as an interpreter”. “Interrogator you mean” said the old man sharply. Beneath it all, Lim knew that what his father was really saying was, why are you going?. The old man placed his arms round Lim’s shoulders “Just so long as you are careful and come back to us, I don’t really mind”.
Lim picked up his bag, “I will call and say goodbye to Choy before I leave, and I have made arrangements for money to be sent on to you” He walked out of the house not having the courage to look back in case he should change his mind.
At the station offices he had expected things to be different, he had a gut feeling as he called over to Cynthia asking her to meet him outside the station, then walked down the approach to one of the benches. She joined him, throwing her arms round his neck. “I am sorry” she said. “Sorry what for?” asked Lim. “For not telling you who my father was”. “ Oh! forget it, what are we going to do now?” he asked . “My father has asked that I arrange for your wages to continue to be paid each week, no one will be any the wiser, I have placed your name on the permanent sheet.” “ What if someone should find out?” he asked. “Well seeing that I am the only one making up the wage sheets and drawing the cash from the bank, I cannot see any way in which it can be found out. The only person who could possibly find out would be Mr Simmingly and he is far too involved in the war effort to be interested. “She paused to let it sink in then said “I will take your pay envelope to your father each week and at the same time keep him and Choy up to date on any developments” Lim thanked her and placed his arms round her shoulders as she went on My father asked me to advise you that you will be expected at the club at three o’clock and for you to wait there. He looked down at the ground “So if you want to say goodbye to Choy before hand, you had better go now”
The parting was brief, a hug, a kiss, but thankfully no tears as Lim walked away from the station not looking back. On his way to the club he called at Frasers fashions to bid farewell to Choy. From the tears she shed, one would have thought that he was already dead, but she seemed to cheer up after he promised to write and inform her of every detail.
The club seemed empty, especially compared with the previous night, just one or two small groups playing mahjong or talking .
Lim sat down in one of the upholstered chairs thinking to himself how fast things had moved in just a couple of days. One moment he was on a date and next he was rubbing shoulders with one of the leaders of the Chinese Peoples army as well as being involved in a situation never ever imagined in his young life. His train of thought was interrupted by Mr Yui the secretary shaking his arm and requesting that he follow him to one of the rooms at the rear, opening the door “There is food and drink inside” said Mr Yui. The room was smoky in the best tradition of a Charlie Chan film and the chatter which he heard as he entered died down to low whispers. It was fairly obvious that Mr Yui commanded respect by the manner in which everyone ceased talking the moment he entered the room.
Yui called for attention and then asked that they all congregate round a table, on which there were dishes containing food, steaming pots of coffee and tea, and invited them to help themselves. While everyone was busy eating, Mr Chen entered the room and mingled among the men. It was apparent by the manner in which he was greeted that he too was well known to practically everyone in the room and as the men began to settle down, Mr Chen walked over to a large blackboard which had been placed at the foot of the stage and began to draw a rough map showing Lipis, KL and other prominent villages. Having acquired the correct aspect he called for attention .
“I think most of you are known to each other, the only new arrivals present today are Lim Hung who will be our interpreter, Kim Fat our new quartermaster” he went on to name several more recruits, then finally, “I don’t propose to make any long speeches, we all know why we are here, suffice it to say that you are now to be known as Cobra battalion. Lee Sun who you will respect and support on all occasions will be your leader As you are aware, having fought against the Japanese in Manchuria and Tiensen, he has a great knowledge of the Japanese. I ask you to give Lee, all your support, you will always report to him on any matter vital or otherwise and let him be the judge as to its urgency”. Mr Chen looked around at the men as if making a mental record of their faces, then went on . “It is now four o’clock, I expect every man to have vacated the club premises within the next two hours and acting on the instructions given, will make his way to the rear of the railway and collect his arms and equipment”, he paused “you have all been given a time to report, if you comply with that, we should all be clear by seven o’clock. ”
“The first to go will be Sep San, followed by Mr Ho and Mr Sha, the last two will take Lim with them. Lee Sen has all the details and it only requires me to wish you all good luck and a safe journey”. Within seconds he was gone and Lim found himself among strangers, still with no knowledge of what he would be required to do, he walked over to Lee San the leader and was about to introduce himself, when Lee put out his big hand and gripped Lim’s outstretched hand firmly. “You must be wondering what this is all about” Lim nodded “I have been hearing a little about you and that you are to be our interpreter” Lim nodded once more as he said “I have no idea what I am supposed to be doing” “Do not worry “ replied Lee, “ It is new to us all, I will be advising you on your duties as soon as possible, be assured that your services will be very much required later, so for the time being just place your trust in me”
Lee was a thirty five year old adventurer, as a mercenary he had fought with the Chinese battalions and the Russians against the Japanese, he could understand a smattering of both languages, but only enough to get by, he was muscular and a keep fit fanatic, well liked and respected by all who knew him. “Don’t worry about a thing” he advised Lim “I will teach you all I can about the basics in the time we have available, just on chance you might need them, apart from that I will instruct you on what you will most certainly be doing”. He picked up his small haversack and turning to Lim he said “Now we had better get down to the railway shed” Lim allowed himself to be ushered out of the room and into the evening air, his adventure was about to begin.
The men had been instructed to make their way to the old tool shed at the rear of the railway siding, where the linesmen took their daily break, inside was a section where the tools were kept and a section where electrical equipment was stored. Lim followed Lee into the hut where several of those who had been at the club were waiting for their instructions. As the last man entered Lee instructed that a curtain should be drawn across the entrance and the single window, after which an oil lamp was lit. Two men acting on instructions from Lee, began to remove several floor boards. As soon as they had removed the requisite number of boards, Lee asked each man to acknowledge his name being called. Lim Hung, interpreter, Sep San jungle guide and tracker, Pat, cook and general handy man, Tan Ho, the medic, Mr Sha Haw Min and Mr Wee, close to the door Ismail and Lal the two Malays in the group, and the man doing all the heavy work Mr Singh the only Indian, a strong muscular man who had deserted from the Indian army some months previous. Beneath the floor boards there came the stench of rotting wood mingled with paraffin and axle grease.
Lee knelt at the side of the hole and lifted out several rifles and small arms, some still coated in the grease in which they had been packed by the manufacturers. Lee counted, four rifles, four thirty eight revolvers, one Thompson sub machine gun. He then instructed Singh to replace the floor boards. Each of the Chinese received a rifle and the two Malays a revolver, Singh would have the Thompson, with a revolver each for himself and Lim. Lims first reaction was to object to carrying a weapon. But when Lee had explained to him the consequences of meeting a Jap and not being able to defend himself he quickly accepted the proffered weapon. Food and medical supplies were passed around to be carried, including supplies for the group they were going to join.
There was very little conversation in the hut as they set about cleaning their weapons and packing the parcels of supplies. One or two carried long knives and daggers, family heirlooms which had been handed down. Lim watched as Lee went outside and he could hear him talking to someone and was about to follow when Lee came back carrying a box of ammunition and two extra pans for the Thompson machine gun.
Time seemed to pass very quickly and Lee instructed them to finish whatever they were doing and prepare to move out . “Sep San and Pat, you two will lead, the rest will follow at five minute intervals. Mr Sha and George Wee will follow, followed by Haw Min and Mr Ho, then Ismail and Lal then Singh, Lim and myself. Once in the jungle, should there be a problem, one man will report back to me while the other remains where he is until the problem is sorted. There is to be no unofficial smoking, and no talking whatsoever, right lead on”.
The first pair made their way gingerly across the railway lines, the moon giving a slight spasm of luminance to enable them to find the right track into the jungle and then they were lost from sight. Sep San had been instructed to follow the known trails where possible, but if it was necessary to deviate he must leave a good sign. “What did you mean when you asked Sep to leave a good sign?” asked Lim. Lee who had been watching Lim was anticipating the question. “I was about to give you some idea on reading the jungle and your question has more or less pre-empted what I was about to say” Lee pulled his equipment closer to his sides as they began to move off. “Because you have spent all your life so far in the towns and cities, you will have very little knowledge of the jungle, which as well as being your enemy, on occasions it can also be your friend”. Lim stood to one side to allow Lee to take the lead. “You asked a question concerning signs, said Lee. Well there are many ways in which you can leave signs, from chopping a mark in a tree or even writing or carving a letter or number on a tree, but in order to read the jungle, we use the natural method of the jungle”. Lee paused, trying not to seem pompous or appear like a school master. “As you are probably aware there are many tracks and trails running through the jungle, some lead from a kampong to the nearest well or between one kampong and another and these you will find are well worn tracks, then there are the ones which travels between large villages and towns, these are the ones which I will refer to”. Lee paused to allow what he was saying to be absorbed. “In some instances there are kampongs and villages which do not sympathise with the Chinese. So in order to avoid trouble as well as keeping our movements secret, we make a detour and leave signs for those following, telling them which way to go round the kampong”. He paused once more trying to conjure up an example, If Sep comes to a point where he thinks it is wiser to detour and he moves to the right without indicating, the ones following could drift for miles in the wrong direction without realising, so Sep San, who knows the jungle like the palm of his hand, leaves messages which are not noticed by the casual traveller, but obvious to those following “Lee pointed to a small bush, If Sep was about to make a detour, he would choose a bush similar to that one, a bush which is somewhat different to the others around. Then he will break a small portion from one of the branches on the side which he is proposing to take and within a few paces he will place the small piece of branch on the ground on the left of the path, as if broken and discarded by an animal or someone passing through. To confirm the message he will only break the branch once. Had he been going to the right he would break the branch twice”. “But what if there are no bushes around?” Asked Lim hoping that he had stumped the leader. “Well that should be fairly obvious to even a town dweller. The lallang always bends in the direction taken by whoever treads on it and it will remain bent for about ten minutes before it gradually assumes its normal position. If the lallang is broken however it will remain pointing in the direction taken by the one passing over it. Should a number of people crush it down it will naturally remain down still pointing in the direction taken” Lim thought that he understood and nodded “you will pick it up as we go along” encouraged Lee.
After travelling for more than five hours, Lim was getting leg weary with short spasms of cramp, but he chose not to mention it. Singh who had spoken very few words since they had commenced the journey, now motioned for them to stop and keep silent, then moved quickly but quietly forward, and was soon out of sight. In the moonlight he had moved without seeming to disturb a fallen leaf, and as he left Lee slid down to the ground and indicated to Lim to do the same. Straining his ears above the sound of the crickets and bull frogs, Lim thought he could hear the sound of heavy gun fire and the chatter of a machine gun. As they remained flat on the ground the sound of approaching aircraft grew, until with their engines reverberating, they passed overhead. Lim looked up and could see the glint of their bellies, and he counted twenty nine Mitsubishi G4m1 bombers, the biggest he had ever seen, and he continued to watch as they flew unchallenged majestically across the night sky, in the direction of Kuala Lumpur. With their passing, the silence became oppressive and as they waited, Lim thought that he heard a twig snap. He froze as he tried to peer into the darkness of the jungle. Then, as if by magic, Singh reappeared. Indicating that they should maintain their silence, he lay down close by and they waited. No one spoke for what seemed an eternity and as the clouds began to cover the moon. They could all hear voices, faintly at first, but growing louder as they came nearer, until they could clearly hear the voices speaking in English. They were apparently unconcerned by the fact that their voices could be heard all around the jungle, and as Lee and the others watched, a party of British and Indian soldiers came straggling down the path.
There were eight altogether, two wounded men were being assisted by the others. They were devoid of equipment except that two of them still carried rifles. Singh indicated to the others to follow him and bending low he led them to the original path which they had been following. As soon as they reached a point where he assumed that they were safe from being overheard, Lee held up his hand and pointed to a large tree, where the three sat down .
“What caused you to go off like that?” enquired Lee of Singh, who was by now opening his haversack and taking out a British iron ration biscuit. Singh paused, biscuit half raised. “ I thought that I had heard firing at a distance where I calculated that Lal and Ismail would be, so I made my way to a position which would put me in front of them. They had obviously heard the same firing and had gone to ground. When I heard, then saw, the British soldiers, I came back to warn you”. He took a large bite of the biscuit and after chewing for a short while continued. “The soldiers were talking about other members of their units, hoping that they also had managed to escape and I heard one say something like living to fight another day”. He paused and took a further bite then continued “They seemed really scared and it seemed that they had been caught up in an ambush, one of them mentioned KL so I would presume that was where they were heading”. Singh took a large drink from his canteen then offered it round.
“OK” said Lee, we will rest for a further five minutes, then we must make haste and try to find Sep San then make camp at Kualu Kangsar. I need to get a message through to Zebra section in Larut to arrange a meeting”. He had only just finished speaking when from the distance came the sound of thunder as the Japanese bombers unloaded their cargo of death and destruction onto the unsuspecting civilian population of Kuala Lumpur.