Authors: Peter Neville
THE ROSE OF
All italicised words are in Bahasa Melayu except where indicated. (Ch.) Chinese, (Hi.) Hindi.
Chinese nurse or maidservant
roof thatch made from palm leaves
traditional blouse worn by Malay women
traditional clothes (specifically the blouse) of the
or Straits Chinese
a simple hut or temporary shelter
(Ch.) traditional Chinese long, slender dress worn by women. The dress has a high, closed collar, is buttoned on the right side of the dress, has slits up the sides and hugs the body
small, dried fish eaten as a snack or used as a flavouring ingredient in Malay cuisine
voile fitted blouse, often elaborately embroidered, open fronted and pinned together with gold or silver three-piece broaches (the word
is derived from the Arabic word
meaning clothing and was introduced via the Portuguese language)
large marine fish-trap
straight or, more commonly, wavy-bladed (usually ceremonial) dagger
a kind of long, coarse, weedy grass
machete or cleaver-like knife used to cut through thick vegetation and as a weapon
(Ch.) traditional Chinese ritual in which a believer, wishing to know the answer to a question or to know what the future might hold, offers incense to the god of the temple, tells the deity his worries (or asks a question) then throws two semi-circular objects called
on the floor; should each
land on a different side, which is an affirmative result and is known as
sheng bei (seng bui
in Cantonese), he proceeds to the next stage of shaking a bamboo canister, from which one stick falls to the floor; he must then throw three consecutive
to ascertain if this numbered stick holds the right advice for him (if three consecutive
are not achieved, he must shake the canister again for a new stick); with three
he shows the numbered stick to the temple custodian, who consults an almanac to derive its meaning
(Ch.) traditional Chinese clothes comprising a jacket and pants, often worn by
(Ch.) generic name for any small boat propelled by oars or a scull
(Hi.) traditional Indian dress comprising a long piece of material elaborately wrapped around the body
skirt-like garment wrapped around the lower body, worn by men and women
small hat worn by Muslim Malay men
formerly a Malay greeting or salutation, usually to a superior (no longer in common usage)
three-wheeled vehicle propelled by a man peddling either in front of or from behind the passenger seat
literally upriver, a slang term used by British and Australian military personnel to refer to the jungle
(Hi.) combined with a trade, the person who performs or is associated with that trade
The bombers were returning. Down at the airstrip, with the drone of the approaching aircraft becoming increasingly louder, a bustle of activity ensued. Crash tenders, fire rescue units and speeding ambulances raced to their designated areas of the runway, and there they stopped, with engines running, ready and waiting for the planes to land. From the control tower at RAF Kuala Lumpur, cutting the blackness of the Malayan night, signals blinked. And from beyond the perimeter of the airfield, gunfire, aimed at the incoming planes by Communist terrorists lurking in the nearby jungle, stabbed the darkness.
The first plane came straight in, the bright beam from her nose searchlight cleaving a passage over the roof of the jungle below. She flew over the railway embankment at the approach end of the runway before her engines were cut. The plane plummeted down and with a screech of tires hit metal, a bounce, more screeching as she hit again, the squeal of brakes, and the twin-engine bomber was running free, heading for the palm grove at the far end of that perilously short runway.
Before that first bomber came to a standstill, a second bomber roared out of the darkness over the jungle, and came in low and slow, her searchlight flashing on only moments before crossing the railway embankment. She, too, hit metal and bounced up the runway until she ran free; to be followed in procession by three more planes, all running the gauntlet as tracers and more stabs of flame from Communist terrorists' gunfire greeted them on that final approach.
The sixth bomber was still out there, in the darkness, with smoke billowing from a dead engine. Blinking lights from the control tower beckoned.
“Hello KL. Hello KL. This is Red Fox Six. Are you receiving me?” The voice flooding into the control tower was clear and calm. “Come in, KL.”
“KL control to Red Fox Six. Receiving you. Over.”
“Red Fox Six to KL. Starboard engine gone. Losing altitude fast. We're coming in now. Do you read me? Over.” Except for a hint of urgency, the voice remained calm.
“KL to Red Fox Six. Read you loud and clear. Come on in, but watch out for the embankment. We're waiting for you. Over.”
From out of the darkness the bomber's searchlight suddenly shot a piercing beam of brilliant light at the runway, illuminating brightly the many emergency vehicles lining the perimeter, the short strip of perforated steel plate and tarmac that was the runway, and the forever ominous railway embankment. The plane's alignment was perfect, except she was too low.
“Red Fox. You're too low! Pull up! Pull up!” yelled the voice from the control tower.
“Damn it! Not going to make it,” was the only reply that could be heard; it was as if the pilot was speaking those last few words to himself.
Everyone looked anxiously towards the source of the approaching bright light and the loud roar of the plane's one good engine. Suddenly, there was a vivid flash, immediately followed by a thunderous explosion as the twin-engine bomber slammed into the railway embankment and lit up the night sky at the end of the runway.
Red Fox Six, with its crew of three, was no more. Instead, the remains lay scattered in tiny fiery fragments over the end of the airstrip, the railway embankment, and the surrounding mass of jungle beyond.
Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Peter Saunders, dressed in cooks' whites dirtied by working in the camp kitchen, cradled a loaded .303 Enfield rifle in the crook of his right arm, and from a listless left hand there hung a military issue, brown enamel tea mug. Emaciated and weak from his second bout of malaria since being posted to Kuala Lumpur, four and a half months ago, Peter Saunders felt as if he was floating on air. He stood alone, among worn out rubber trees, under a canopy of green and brown in the old plantation on the hillside overlooking the airstrip. He could not see the railway embankment from where he stood, but he had seen the glaring flash and heard the terrible explosion that followed. As if in a trance he stared at the jumping ghost-like shadows among the trees, an eerie show created by the fiery inferno that now engulfed the scattered remains of the bomber. And above the trees, where the plane had gone down, a red and white glow flickered illuminating the night sky over the jungle. LAC Peter Saunders was just too sick to care.
Immediately following the explosion, the night noises were silenced in the jungle-overgrown rubber plantation, but only for a brief few moments. Soon, around him, life resumed again, the screams and shrieks of frightened monkeys in the tree tops, squeaks and squeals from smaller animals, the yelping of camp dogsâall mongrels fed and befriended by lonely RAF personnelâthe buzz and twitter of ten billion insects and the throaty bellow of bullfrogs. And, of course, there was the ceaseless high-pitched whine from cicadas and the myriad mosquitoes. LAC Peter Saunders heard only the mosquitoes. These he dreaded, for in such a short time they had brought him debilitating ill health. Sweeping a sweaty arm across his perspiration-drenched face, and smearing his glasses as he did so, he turned and walked dejectedly on. With the flickering glow over the railway embankment behind him, he slowly made his way along the half-mile muddy path which separated the cookhouse from the basha, a mud-floor hut constructed of
grass and roughly hewn coconut trees in which the RAF catering section personnel lived. The path was lit in places by an occasional light bulb strung up on a rubber tree. These lonesome bulbs created an aura of eerie insect-filled light which dimly illuminated, amid the silver and grey greenery, other huts, shadowy, with some in complete darkness. Originally built to house Malayan rubber tappers, and later, British and Australian prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation, these huts, in primitive and dilapidated condition, now housed British servicemen of the Royal Air Force who were stationed at RAF Kuala Lumpur.
A new RAF station was on the planning board, a modern camp with a much longer airstrip, but that did not help LAC Peter Saunders; he hated RAF Kuala Lumpur. To him the camp had meant only hard and hot work in the primitive kitchen, and ill health; sickness from malaria, from ringworm, skin diseases, foot rotâhe could not remember ever feeling so sick in his whole nineteen years of life.
He didn't fear the Communist terrorists who might be lurking nearby as he resumed his walk along the muddy path. He had become used to their presence, for they were everywhere, not only in the jungle, but also in the villages, and even going about their business unnoticed in Kuala Lumpur, the capital itself. If they were out to get him, he knew they would. Anyway, he felt just too sick, too weak and too dispirited to care.
Eventually he arrived at the cooks' basha at the left of the path, on a hillside, and almost hidden in the dense undergrowth. Like the kitchen, it was a mud-floored, bug-infested, part
grass and part wood hut with four-foot-square openings on one side, which served as glassless windows. There was no mosquito mesh covering these openings, so bugs, winged and wingless made their entry. However, unlike the kitchen, the basha did have a galvanized roof, rusted and with holes in places which let in the rain but it was, at least, rat free.