S. Indra Sathiabalan /
IT ALL began in 2008 when retired Lt Col Robert Rizal read a blog about the gravestone of Ungkok anak Jugam, which was found by the side of a road where a highway was built.
The gravesite was initially right smack in the middle of the highway and was moved to the side to make way for the project.
Robert, who retired from the army in 1992, comes from a long line of Iban warriors.
Reading about the find was the beginning of a personal mission for him to locate the bodies of the 21 Iban trackers and rangers who were killed in action between 1951 and 1963 while fighting the communist guerrillas. The late Ungkok was one of them.
Along with local ranger regiments, the police and medical personnel, Robert’s quest to make sure that these brave men receive a proper burial in a heroes grave in Kuching is the focal point of History channel’s Last Journey to Sarawak.
In a teleconference interview with Robert in Kuching, he explained how he went to Alor Star after reading the blog. “When I saw the grave, I could not believe that no one saw it fit to move it to a more dignified place.”
Around that time, Robert had written a book entitled My Adventure (2008) which tells the story of his life and his 25 years in the Malaysian Army.
“At the end of 2008, when my book was launched by the chief minister of Sarawak (Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud), I took the opportunity to brief him on what I had seen.”
Robert wanted the remains of the grave to be moved back to Sarawak. He also felt that he had to find all the other graves of the Sarawak soldiers as well.
He found out that the remaining 20 soldiers had been given proper burials. Two were located in Singapore’s Kranji Military cemetery, four in Taiping cemetery, two in Batu Gajah and four in Cheras. The rest had their names etched on a memorial at the Terendak Military Camp in Malacca.
“They were buried in deep jungle at that time,” said Robert who added that there was no chance of finding those graves. “At the time, it was very difficult to bring their bodies out.”
The records of these trackers were kept by the British army. “I managed to find them through the internet,” said Robert.
He then informed the chief minister and also the army’s veterans department who helped him in his mission to bring the remains of these warriors home.
Before Robert’s attempt, no one really made the effort to get the bodies sent back to Sarawak and he himself has no idea why.
For Robert, he was simply motivated by the fact that these dead soldiers had families back in Sarawak who would properly take care of their remains.
“I am satisfied that they now have a proper place to rest in peace,” he said, adding that he is happy his quest has been documented in Last Journey to Sarawak.
“I hope to make people aware of the contributions of the Iban trackers and how they sacrificed their lives for the country.”
Last Journey to Sarawak is part of History’s Negaraku specials to celebrate the country’s 55th year of independence.
Other documentaries that will premiere on this channel are 1941: The Fall of Penang on Aug 19 at 10pm and Special Forces: Malaysia GGK on Sept 2 at 10pm.
Last Journey to Sarawak will premiere on History (Astro Channel 555) on Aug 26 at 10pm.