ALFRED HENRY RETIMANA ~ A burglary and Trade-Me purchase of a Malaysian campaign veteran’s medal goes full circle.

340572 ~ ALFRED HENRY RETIMANA

The purchase from TradeMe of a General Service Medal, 1918-1962 with clasp MALAYA by a private collector some 10 years ago was recently sent to MRNZ, now being surplus to the collector’s requirements. 

Unlike the campaign medals and stars issued for Second World War service, all official medals issued after the WW2 were named to their recipients.  A named medal makes the possibility of reuniting it with its owner or descendant family should it be lost, stolen or sold significantly greater.  This particular medal was named to a NZ Infantry soldier, 340572 PTE. A. H. RETIMANA. NZ REGT.     Alfred Retimana’s General Service Medal (GSM) with clasp MALAYA indicated he had served in that country with a New Zealand infantry battalion during the Malayan Emergency which lasted from 1948 to 1960.

Without a digitized file on the AWMM Cenotaph website, it did not take long to locate Alfred (known as “Alf”) and Mihiata Retimana’s family from the NZ Electoral Rolls.   Fortunately for me Alf and Mihi Retimana had spent a good proportion of their married lives living in the Wellington, the Hutt Valley area, and as luck would have it they are still living there.

Alfred Henry Retimana was born in Dargaville in 1935.   In 1954, Alf as a 19 year old was balloted for Compulsory Military Training (CMT) which he undertook at Papakura Military Camp. 

Malayan Emergency

Also at that time New Zealand was contributing troops to the Malayan Emergency  which had arisen out of an attempt by the Malayan Communist Party to overthrow the British colonial administration of Malaya.  The Emergency was declared on 18 June 1948 in response to the murder of three British rubber planters in northern Malaya and over the next 12 years of conflict, New Zealand soldiers, sailors and airmen made a significant contribution to the Commonwealth effort to defeat the communist insurgency. 

At the time Alf Retimana was undertaking his CMT, the Commonwealth countries including Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom had committed infantry battalions, and special-forces (Special Air Service) to the British 22nd SAS Regiment.  All Commonwealth troop contributions formed part of the UK led 28th ANZUK Brigade whose HQ’s was in Singapore and the troops located in a forward operating base at the Terendak Garrison Camp in Malacca, Malaya.   In addition, the RNZAF and RNZN supported these operations for the duration of New Zealand’s involvement in the Emergency. 

340572 Private Alf Retimana – NZ (Infantry) Regiment discovered he actually enjoyed the CMT training so when the Army canvassed its CMT volunteers in 1957 whom had successfully completed their training to serve in Malaya with a NZ battalion, Alf and his mates jumped at the chance and volunteered.  

After extensive training at the NZ Regiment’s home in Burnham Camp, Private Retimana deployed to Malaya with the 2nd Battalion, NZ Regiment in 1959 flying by RNZAF aircraft to Australia, Indonesia to the NZ base in Singapore, and later on to the Terendak Garrison Camp in Malacca, Malaya. 

NZ Army involvement

New Zealand had first became involved in Emergency operations in 1949, when a flight of 41 Squadron Dakotas were deployed to Singapore as communist victories in mainland China appeared to threaten Hong Kong.  Attached to the British Far East Air Force, these aircraft flew regularly to Hong Kong.  One Dakota was stationed in Kuala Lumpur to drop supplies to forces engaging the Malayan Races Liberation Army (MRLA).  By the time the flight was withdrawn in December 1951, it had made 211 sorties and dropped 2840 kg of supplies.

In January 1951 10 NZ officers and 14 NCOs deployed to Malaya with the 1st Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment (1/FIR).  This unit gained a reputation for effectiveness in operations against the guerrillas.  By the time it was withdrawn in 1956 about 40 New Zealanders had served with 1/FIR, and two had been accidentally killed.  

Far East Strategic Reserve

New Zealand became more directly involved in Malayan Emergency operations in 1955 after deciding to contribute forces to the British Commonwealth’s Far East Strategic Reserve.  The Reserve’s primary roles were to deter communist aggression in South-east Asia, and to respond swiftly if deterrence failed.  As a secondary role, the forces committed to the Reserve were to participate in actions against the guerrillas in Malaya (also known as Communist Terrorists, or CTs). 

The Army’s initial contribution to the Reserve, a Special Air Service Squadron commanded by Major Frank Rennie which formed part of the British 22nd SAS Regiment, was particularly suited for operations against the guerrillas in their jungle sanctuaries.  From April 1956, the Squadron deployed in the Fort Brooke area on the border of the states of Perak and Kelantan.  In a series of operations it eliminated the local MRLA organisation, at the cost of one fatal casualty.  During 1957 the Squadron operated in Negri Sembilan in an area between the towns of Seremban, Kuala Pilah and Tampin.  Again it destroyed the local MRLA group.  

NZ SAS river patrol Aug 1957

A captured POW in Malaya

 

The end of the Emergency

From March 1958 the 1st Battalion, New Zealand (Infantry) Regiment, which had replaced the SAS squadron in the Strategic Reserve, took part in operations to clear Perak of CT insurgents.  Operating from Ipoh and later Grik, it mounted a series of deep jungle patrols.  Its achievements in eliminating guerrillas were second to none among 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade’s battalions.  By the time that it was replaced by 2nd Battalion, NZ Regiment in late 1959, most of the guerrillas had retreated across the border into southern Thailand.  The greatly improved security situation was reflected in the official termination of the Emergency on 31 July 1960.   

For the next four years New Zealand infantrymen periodically deployed in the Border Security Area as part of counter-insurgency measures.  During Confrontation with Indonesia 1965-66,they helped hunt Indonesian infiltrators in Johore in 1964, and saw action on the Borneo frontier while SAS squadrons mounted cross-border operations deep into Borneo.  The insurgents did not finally give up until the 1980s.

Costs and benefits

Approximately 4000 New Zealand servicemen served in Malaya/Malaysia between 1948 and 1966, 15 of whom lost their lives – three as a result of enemy action.  Among the casualties was the crew of a Bristol Freighter which flew into a mountain in 1956.  The New Zealand Army’s experience of jungle warfare had been limited to the few small actions by 2NZEF’s 3rd Division during the Pacific War.   Post WW2 preparations had been based around an open, conventional style of warfare however Malaya marked a new departure from these and provided opportunities to develop professional skills in a difficult but not too threatening tropical jungle operational environment.  Operations in Malaya also laid the basis for subsequent operational environments the NZ forces were committed to during the 1960s’ – Confrontation with Indonesia and the Vietnam War.

Selected text source: Courtesy of NZ History – https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/the-malayan-emergency 

Alf’s General Service Medal

When I phoned the Retimana residence I spoke first with Alf’s wife, Mihi who said they were still in the process of moving into a new home.  She also told me the background to Alf’s missing medal.  

Alf then spoke to me telling me that after the 2nd Battalion had complete its 12 months on operations in the jungles of Malaya, they returned to NZ in 1960. Once Alf had concluded his commitments to the NZ Regiment and Burnham in 1961, he returned to Wellington.  Once in ‘civvy street’ he took on a position as a Crane Operator in Petone which he remained doing for many years.  

Alf was most surprised to hear that his General Service Medal (GSM) had turned up.  He thought it was gone forever and had subsequently bought a replica medal as a replacement.  He said “I never thought I would see that again” and went on to explain that the medal had been stolen with other household valuables some 20 years before as a result of a break-in at their home in Petone.

After taking a number of ribbings by his mates over the years for not wearing his GSM, Alf had not long ago bought a replica medal so he could attend Anzac Days and reunions with a full complement of medals.  Coincidentally, his missing medal had been the subject of discussion just last year when Alf attended a reunion at Tauranga with his mates from the2nd Battalion with whom he had gone to Malaya in 1959.   

Since his discharge from the Army,  Alf Reitmana has also been awarded the following:

  • New Zealand Operational Service Medal (2002)
  • Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal (2004)
  • New Zealand Defence Service Medal with clasps, CMT and REGULAR (2011)

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Alf’s medal was couriered to him last week.  He will now be able to add his original General Service Medal 1918-1962, with clasp MALAYA to complete his official medal entitlement.

….. Te taonga me te tiaki i o taonga Alf.

The reunited medal tally is now 214.

GSM-obverse-cleaned

GSM-Reverse-cleaned

 

 

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