The Early Merdeka Years: My Story by Lt Col (R) Tan Siew Soo KAT, KMN, AMT (Armour)
Wednesday, January 05, 2022
During the immediate post-Merdeka years in the 1960s, there were three events I would
categorise as milestones in our nation’s history. While I was involved in all of them, this story is
essentially about the third milestone, the involvement of the Malayan Special Force as United
Nations peacekeepers in the Congo.
Tan Siew Soo, Lt Col (R)
My relationship with our army began in January 1954 when I enrolled in the Boys Wing, Federation
Military College. Three years later in January 1957, I was among 18 ‘Budak Boys’ selected to join
the inaugural Cadet Wing Intake One as regular officer cadets. Having graduated on 13 December
1958, I was commissioned into the Federation Armoured Car Regiment (FACR) as a 2nd
Lieutenant in C Squadron FACR.
The FACR, like the Federation Regiment, was a major multiracial unit created by General Sir
Gerald Templer in 1952. A Squadron was raised in Rasah Camp, Seremban on 1 September 1952.
Although only a squadron, it was referred to as the Armoured Car Regiment. B Squadron was
added in 1957 and C Squadron in 1958.
I joined the newly formed C Squadron, which had no operational experience, so together we
earned our stripes in Kedah and Perak in 1959. Chasing the remnants of Chin Peng’s men across
the border, C Squadron FACR was deployed on border operations for seven long months from
March to October 1959. It was active service seven days a week, 24 hours a day, but every 40th
day, the soldiers were granted four days of operational leave with free railway warrants to return to
base in Kuala Lumpur to see their families.
This Squadron was based in Hobart Camp, Gurun, with one troop detached at Titi Akar in Pendang district, and another troop in support of the infantry battalion (4 Royal Malay Regiment (4RMR)) at Kroh on a one-month rotational basis. When back at Hobart Camp, we were often deployed to carry out ambush operations at likely communist terrorist tracks and ‘dead letter boxes’ — the latter were rendezvous points for communists to meet their sympathisers to collect information, mail and, sometimes, supplies.
On 1 January 1960, the Federation Regiment and the FACR were amalgamated to form the Reconnaissance Corps (Peninjau); 1 Federation Regiment became 1 Recce, and FACR became 2 Recce (later Cavalry and now Armour).
. Daimler Armoured Car No 1 Troop C Sqn FACR at Titi Akar, April 1959
From a full-blooded Cavalry, we became half-Cavalry and half-Infantry; the big Daimler Armoured Cars were discarded, retaining only our Scout Cars. However, the role and traditions of Cavalry were retained together with our smart ceremonial uniforms.The first post-Merdeka milestone for our country was the passing of the first King, DYMM SPB Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Rahman Ibni Al-Marhum Tuanku Muhammad. His face is possibly the most recognisable face in the whole country; you see it on every ringgit note you carry. He died halfway through his reign.
The Royal Funeral Procession entering Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, 02 April 1960. (The Cenotaph is now located at Tugu Negara.)
I am proud and honoured to have participated in his state funeral procession, the only one of all our monarchs conducted in the British tradition. This involved personnel of the Royal Malayan Navy towing the royal casket on the gun carriage. Right ahead of the sailors, leading the royal procession, was the Recce Sovereign Escort led by Major Zain Hashim while I was bringing up the rear. All VIPs and mourners were behind the gun carriage.
With reversed arms we marched all the way from Istana Negara on Bellamy Road to the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station en route to Sri Menanti. This was also the one and only time that the sovereign escort was dismounted. I still remember it being a hot, sunny morning and beads of sweat were streaming down our foreheads and dripping onto our faces, which some in the crowd mistook for tears. Being the first royal funeral procession, the roadsides were overflowing with spectators paying their last respects.