An unsung hero of Malayan campaign : The Tribune India

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An unsung hero of Malayan campaign

An unsung hero of Malayan campaign

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo



NJ Ravi Chander

DURING World War II, Queen Victoria’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners rushed more units to Malaya in 1941 to check the advancing Japanese forces. Answering the call of duty, Marimuthu of Kokkalai (Tamil Nadu) bid farewell to his wife Mariammal and four children to join the Malayan campaign, little realising that he would never return. Marimuthu was the grandfather of my colleague, Kayalkanni.

Astonishingly, Marimuthu’s family remained clueless about his whereabouts for many years. The absence of records or photographs posed a challenge to the family in reconstructing his journey. The discovery of an old picture and a Google search led his kin to the Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.

Led by Marimuthu’s granddaughters, 16 family members flew to Singapore. Their excitement grew when they found his name inscribed on the memorial stone at the war cemetery. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find his grave — scores of them bore the legend ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’. The war cemetery houses over 4,400 graves. The family took pictures, perused war records and paid respects at the soldiers’ graves.

The Sappers are combatants who perform military engineering duties such as breaching, demolitions, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, field defences and airfield construction and repair. A fellow prisoner of war (POW) recounts that Marimuthu took a bullet in his skull, and it remained there for six months. Finally, when he went under the knife while still in captivity, he didn’t survive the surgery and died on August 10, 1942. Japanese cruelty towards prisoners is well-documented. They regarded the Allied troops as unworthy of honourable treatment because the latter had chosen surrender over death. Marimuthu may have suffered horrible torture.

After WWII, the military authorities returned the iron trunk containing his military uniform and medals to his family. Muthukrishnan, the eldest son, proudly donned the uniform and flaunted it before the villagers.

According to historical accounts, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) arrived in northern Malaya on December 8, 1941. Singapore fell to the Japanese just 69 days later. The Japanese air and naval supremacy made the Allied forces steadily lose ground, pushing them southward.

By the end of January 1942, all Allied troops had retreated to Singapore, and the battle for the city was quick and decisive. The IJA launched its attack on Singapore’s northwest coast at Kranji and seized strategic positions across the island. With resources dwindling, Lt Gen Arthur E Percival (GOC, Malaya) and his advisers surrendered. For the British, Indian, Australian and Malayan forces defending the colony, the campaign was a disaster.

Marimuthu, identified as Sapper 14391 from the 13 Field Company, Column 160, is one of the countless unsung war heroes who made the supreme sacrifice.

#Tamil Nadu


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