A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.

– Joseph Campbell, American professor

Peter Lim Chian Seng can thank his lucky stars he is alive because the day he entered this world during WW2, he was almost strangled to death.

“I was a born a premature child on Dec 9, 1941 and according to my mother, I barely made it because my umbilical cord was wrapped around by neck nine times.”

“Chian Seng”, which in Mandarin, means “destined to live”.

When he was an adolescent, Chian Seng joined the Sarawak constabulary at the height of the Confrontation and the Communist insurgency in 1964.

It was an uphill task battling communists who had 1,000 cadres spread out in various camps and at least 20,000 sympathisers.

The terrorists also had an “assassination squad” that made covert attacks, often turning up during Chinese New Year eve to gun down informers in the
presence of their families.

 Joining the Special Branch — a few handpicked Chinese policemen tasked with winning “hearts and minds” — he had many enemies.

Stationed at the Bau district bordering West Kalimantan, he became a thorn in the side of the communists.

Exposing the activities of some of the most successful “killer squads”, Chian Seng soon found himself at the top of the hit list.

On a fateful July 31, 1971 afternoon, Chian Seng and his wife were driving from Bau to Kuching.

“As a precaution, I asked my wife to hold on to my .38 Smith and Wesson revolver loaded with six rounds, and keep it in her handbag.

“As we were turning around the bend at the winding old Bau-Kuching road at the Kampung Buso junction, a group of heavily-armed CTs were waiting in ambush.”

They opened fire, spraying his Volkswagen with shotgun pellets and bullets.
“I was hit by a pellet in the right eyebrow which was embedded in my skull while a bullet grazed my left chest and went through the car.”

Despite this, Chian Seng did not stop and had the presence of mind to step on the pedal but seconds later, discovered another group waiting 25 yards away.

Apparently the CTs had instructions to eliminate him at whatever cost because he was a key Special Branch “running dog” — a term the CTs gave the underground policemen.

“As the blood from my head injury spurted forth, it blurred my vision, but I drove through the hail of bullets in the second ambush and lost control. I crashed into a telephone pole and the car slipped down a gully.”

The couple then got out before the vehicle could slide further down.

In a life-and-death situation, Chian Seng took cover and shouted out defiantly that he was well armed.

In the face of stubborn resistance, the terrorists fled as other civilian vehicles would be passing by sooner or later. They were also aware security forces personnel frequently travelled along the stretch.

“It was still touch and go because the CTs could still be around, waiting to finish me off. I had only six rounds of ammo and made sure that if I had to fight them, I had to leave at least one bullet for myself.

“I knew what was in store if they had captured me. Their torture methods were brutal as they had mutilated and murdered government sympathisers before.”

When it was safe enough, his wife climbed up the embankment and waited by the roadside, hailing a lorry. The couple were then taken to the Bau police station.

Four months later, Chian Seng escaped from a second ambush at the Bau-Jugan junction, a stone’s throw from the Siniawan police station, and again lived to tell his tale.

Many of these untold stories have been compiled in a book titled ‘Crimson Tide Over Borneo: Untold Police Stories (1952-1990)’, about the 20-year Communist insurgency in which more than 1,000 people died and scores injured.

Between 1970 and 1972, the “killer squads” murdered 63 Chinese and Iban civilians.

 By 1979, 124 civilians, including pro-government civil servants, teachers, native chiefs, ex-communists and informers had been killed.

Among the most grotesque killings was that of a man tied up to a tree, tortured and burnt alive at Tondong bazaar; disembowelment of an informer; and killing of a teacher in front of his students.

As we prepare to celebrate Merdeka Day on Aug 31 and Malaysia Day 16 days later, let us say a prayer for our fallen heroes and those who gave their lives so that we can live in peace.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.