KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - For more than 60 years, the remains of eight British servicemen lay in shallow graves in the Malaysian jungle after their plane crashed during a battle between the then-government and communists known as the Malayan Emergency.
They would still be there had it not been for 82-year-old Dennis Carpenter, who wrote to the Malaysian government in 2008 to ask for a map pinpointing the location of the site where his brother, one of the servicemen, was buried.
His letter prompted the Malaysian military, police and forensic teams to locate the remains in the northeast of Malaysia, a hideout for guerrillas who had wanted to throw out the British and form a Communist state.
The servicemen were buried in a single coffin in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur last week with full military honors for their role in a tumultuous period in Malaysian history rarely spoken of today.
The 12-year-long Communist insurgency came in the aftermath of World War Two, with guerillas attacking rubber plantations, tin mines and towns while independence movements in Asia gathered steam.
Carpenter’s brother Geoffrey was part of the British counter-insurgency, helping to drop smoke markers for planes detailed to bomb the guerillas from their jungle hideouts in 1950.
“I was very close to my brother, he was very loving,” said Carpenter, placing a wreath on headstone of his brother Geoffrey, a British Royal Air Force navigator, as a lone soldier sounded a bugle during the ceremony.
“But the Air Force was his life, that’s what he always wanted to do. Which is why we’re happy that he’d done what he wanted to do, and he died doing what he wanted to do,” he said.
Carpenter’s brother was killed along with the other British servicemen, a Danish national, and three Malaysian officials when the plane crashed into a ravine after its engines failed.
Rescuers found the bodies nine days later but because of the insurgency they opted to bury the servicemen in shallow graves in the hope of coming back and holding a proper burial.
The air crash victims were among the more than 15,000 people who lost their lives in the insurgency, which started in 1948 when Britain did not allow the Communists to take part in politics as Malaysia moved closer to independence.
The country won independence from Britain in 1957, which historians say overshadowed the period of turmoil that preceded it.
Remembering all parts of history is important, said University of Malaya Emeritus Professor Khoo Kay Kim, who survived a Communist attack on a train during the emergency.
“I think people forget — not the generation which had first-hand experience — but the subsequent generations. It’s important that those who write history must really know how the environment was like, the feelings, emotions,” he said.
Editing by Niluksi Koswanage and Elaine Lies