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Epic story of Limbang’s brave policemen

KOTA KINABALU: This is a page from a book BUJANG BERANI – Patriots, Warriors and Unsung Heroes authored by Sarawak veteran journalist James Ritchie, scheduled to be launched later this month. This will be the former New Straits Times senior newsman latest book, adding to 27 titles under his names.

According to Ritchie, the book is the story of Sarawak’s decorated and several hundred forgotten heroes including 2,000 Border Scouts who have not been paid “compensations” promised by former Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak ten years ago.

Limbang’s brave policemen

In the early hours of December 8 1962, the rural shantytown of Limbang underwent an infamous insurrection which shook Colonial Sarawak.

In the long-forgotten “Battle of Limbang”, 400 armed Kedayan rebels led by former Sarawak constabulary Sgt Salleh Sambas, captured the Police station manned by handful of 18 personnel.

In the epic shoot-out nine brave Sarawak stood firm and defended their station with their 303 rifles in a fierce gun five-hour battle before it finally fell.

But not before losing four dead policemen and at least 16 rebels.

Two Police constables—an Iban from Simanggang Bisop anak Kunjan and Sanggah Jambang, a Selakau from Lundu—stood out as “heroes”

  The events unfolded a day after the rebels tried to capture neighbouring Brunei alerting the police at Limbang.

 As a precaution the Inspector Latiff Basah instructed Bisop to place a loaded light machine gun on top of the counter of the charge room, in case the station came under attack.

At 2amm on that fateful day Bisop thought he was dreaming when he heard his colleague Wan Jamaluddin bin Tuanku Alek shouting “musuh…musuh” (enemy… enemy)”.

From Tabuan Melayu in Kuching, Wan Jamaluddin was a cousin of the  Dato Sri Wan Junaidi bin Tuanku Jaafar.

James Ritchie

Junaidi was the aide de camp Dato Sri John George Ritchie (James Ritchie’s father) who was the first Malaysian Commissioner of Police of Sarawak in 1967.

In 2010, Junaidi became the co-writer of my 488-page book together with ACP Thoo Kim Nyian entitled “Crimson Tide over Borneo”.

Later in 2016 he wrote his 575-page memoir “A Policeman” voicing his disappointment with the government in forsaking the Sarawak policeman.

In his preface he wrote he was disappointed with the “lack of recognition” of the sacrifices made by the policemen and their families. 

He said: “Originally the book was harsh and critical. It was toned and watered down on the advice of my friends like James Ritchie, Adeline Liong (from the Sarawak Tribune)”.

Bisop said: “I jumped out of my bed was in my underwear and singlet and quickly hung my amulet and charms around my neck and rushed to the station.

“To his horror, I found Jamaluddin lying dead just outside police station compound.  Next to him was rebel whom Jamaluddin had killed.

When he saw some rebels trying to enter the charge room, he cocked the machine gun and started firing.

He added: “I realised that rebels who were armed with only shotguns, could see us under the lights of t charge room.

“So, I fired at the florescence light and the whole room went dark.”

 In the midst of battle, three other colleagues were also killed Bidayuh Cpl Kim Huat, PC Insol anak Chundang and  PC Bujang bin Mohamad, a Malay.

Bisop who was 22 at that time lamented: “I lost four of my colleagues on that day– Kim Huat, Jamaludin, Bujang and Insol.”

He continued: “The second person to die was Cpl Kim Huat who went to the armoury to get more ammunition for my Bren gun.

“At about 2.50 a.m. Cpl Kim Huat, a Bidayuh from Kuching, was shot but died 15 minutes later crying out “mother I’m dying.”

In the meantime, Insol who was engaging the rebels from outside the police station tried to re-enter the charge room to assist the others but was shot in the back and died shortly after.

 PC Bujang who was armed with a 303 rifle was the fourth person to die when he joined Bisop and Sanggah in the charge room.

Bisop said: “After Bujang killed two rebels he stood up near me giving the enemy a clear shot.” 

Many years later Bujang’s son joined the police and rose to the rank of DSP and worked as the chief bodyguard of the Governor Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce.

Continuing with his story Bisop said as time passed and dawn was breaking, a Kadayan rebel shouted out “Keluar…kami orang sudah pegang perintah…bagus kamu serah.” (Better surrender because we now have taken over the government.)

Bisop said: “I was furious with the rebel’s arrogance because they had killed my friend Bujang right before my eyes. I replied in Malay-Kadayan dialect saying “Kami tidak mau serah diri…kalau berani, Lawan Tia!) (We will not surrender…if you dare, let us fight to the death).

By then only Bisop and Sanggah were left defending the outpost.

 “So, I made a pact with Sanggah to fight to the end. He agreed I would shoot him if he tried to leave his post and he agreed to shoot me did the same,” he added.

At about 7am Bisop heard the voice of the Resident, R.H. Morris outside the police station pleading to the duo to give up.

The rebels had threatened to hang Morris and his wife and several other detainees.

“Resident Morris called out to us at least five times but I refused to respond. He was in the hands of four to five armed rebels.”

“After considering the possibility that the rebels would kill Morris and his wife if we did not obey, both Sanggah and I agreed to come out.”

“As we left the building in daylight, I noticed there were 16 rebels lying injured or dead near the gate of the police compound and the ground of the main entrance. I think a number of them were hit by bullets from my machine gun.”

 Sarawak Information officer Alistair Morrison in the “The Gallant story of the Defence of Limbang” described the incident:

“This is the story of heroism–Sarawak heroism–of how a handful of police held out against a violent onslaught by hundreds of rebels. It is a story that must be told to Sarawak in full.

“Those who were able to take part in the actual fighting were representative cross-section of Sarawak’s racial makeup.

“These men have written a splendid page in Sarawak’s history and one which will never be forgotten. –  20 January 2024

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