This is a story of my days as a Platoon Commander operating in one of the remotest area of Sarawak; a place called Bekalanan, perched high up in the pristine mountainous region of the land of the Muruds and Kelabits.
I was then the 8 Platoon Commander of Bravo Company, 6th Royal Malay Regiment, and my Officer Commanding was Major Dahalan Sulaiman. We were then based in Kluang, Johore and had received orders from the Intelligence Officer, Lt Hussein Suffian that the Battalion was to be deployed to Labuan for a scheduled tour of about a year. This was around 1967.
At the briefing, I was told that my platoon was to be deployed to Bekalalan, with the Company HQ based at Long Semado, and the Battalion HQ at Labuan. Having listened to a short briefing by the unit's Intelligence Officer, I looked at the map and noticed that Bekalalan was right up close to the Indonesian border. I could not imagine what I was heading for, because this was my first overseas deployment in Sarawak, and to be on an independent mission fronting the Indonesian troops across the border. I suppose, this was to be my test as a platoon commander, at a time when the country had just ended the period of 'Konfrontasi' with the Indonesians, but the feelings of suspicion among our two armed forces was still lingering in the air.
The battalion flew off from Changi Air Base to Labuan around mid 1967 on an Australian Air Force C 130 aircraft. This was to be my first flight on a C 130 military aircraft, and to be strapped in a 'para jump seat' for the next 3 hour fight to Labuan, proved taxing on the body.
Upon our arrival at Labuan, we were greeted by our advance party officers, and the resident battalion officers from 4th Battalion Royal Malay Regiment. I knew that I had 3 officers from my intake who were posted to 4th Battalion Royal Malay Regiment, i.e. Mazlan Baharuddin, Azuddin Ahmad and Aziz, but somehow, I did not get to meet them at Labuan.
After having rested a day at Labuan, my platoon was set to be deployed to Bekalalan. We were first to be flown on board a RMAF Caribou transport aircraft to Long Semado, and thereafter by the Allouette helicopter to Bekalalan in several sorties.I remembered that the pilot of the Caribou aircraft was one Flight Lieutenant Yunus Tasi, who later rose to become the Air Force chief.
It was rather a cloudy morning when we took off from Long Semado to Bekalalan, with only 5 of us in the Allouette, in the first sortie. It was rather a short flight, but having to view the area from the air, makes me wonder how would one feel having to walk the area on foot. We saw how mountainous the area was, but for the Muruds that lived in the area, walking was the only means of getting from place to place..
After a brief flight, we landed at Bekalalan, and to my surprise it was Mazlan, my course mate who was the platoon commander that had to be relieved. I sensed that he was not too eager to leave just yet, and I wondered. After a quick handing over briefing, Mazlan was set to fly off in one of the later sorties. I remembered Mazlan telling me all that was good in Bekalalan, and even a hint at the presence of a Murud beauty named Rinai living at Long Rusu; a 45 minutes walk from our base. I did not know what beauty was like to the young ladies living in the interior of Sarawak. Was it different from the ones we regularly meet in town? Or was Mazlan saying it in jest, to keep my spirits up, for the isolation that my platoon was to face in the months to come?
The first thing that I did upon my platoon having all landed in Bekalalan was to send out small security patrols around the base which was located on a hillock, that overlooked a stretch of opened area that was later to be a landing strip for small fixed wing aircraft. I wanted my patrols to be familiar with the surrounding area, and to note the long houses that are in proximity to the base. Certainly, Long Rusu and Rinai wasn't in my mind as yet.
A few days later, we received our first resupply that were airdropped from a Caribou aircraft. Somehow, the surrounding villagers would know our resupply schedule, and they would loiter around our base to watch the airdrop. It was at this moment that I noticed a young beautiful Murud lady among the villagers. I wasn't sure whether this lady was the Rinai that Mazlan had spoken about, and I took no serious notice of her.
A few weeks later, I decided to lead a patrol to familiarised myself with the area, at the same time to acquaint ourself with the people living in the long houses. Long Rusu was my intended location, and I plotted the route to the long house. It wasn't difficult getting to Long Rusu because there was already an existing jungle route, frequented by the villagers.
After a 45 minutes walk, we arrived at Long Rusu, which had a large playing field close to the long house. I enquired from a villager to meet the Tuai Rumah (head of the house) first, because that was the normal courtesy before a visitor was granted permission to enter the long house.
I was introduced to the Tuai Rumah, and he welcomed us all into the long house. I introduced myself and said that we are the new troops that had replaced Mazlan's platoon, and hope that he was not offended by our presence. It wasn't too difficult talking to the Tuai Rumah because he understood a bit of the Malay language. While we were talking to the Tuai Rumah, his wife appeared to serve us tea, and besides her was the same young lady that I saw during the airdrop. This I thought was Rinai, the Bekalan beauty, and sure enough it was Rinai.
On our return back to base, Rinai was the talk among the soldiers that accompanied me on patrol, and the talk soon spread throughout the base, and it never ceased even after we left Bekalalan and return home to Kluang, Johore, a year later. Rinai was truly a beauty, that had captured the hearts of troops of No. 8 Platoon, B Company.
Now, 42 long years had past since I left Bekalalan, and it was Mazlan who rang me up a few days ago, to remind me of Rinai, the Bekalalan beauty.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION