Malaya and Borneo Veterans' Day 31 August
Each year on 31 August, Australia commemorates Malaya and Borneo Veterans’ Day. It's the day we reflect on the service and sacrifice of all Australian military personnel who served in the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation. The Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour lists the names of 61 Australians who lost their lives in these conflicts.
Significance of the date
The date, 31 August, coincides with Merdeka Day (Freedom Day), marking the Federation of Malaya's independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. This commemorates both campaigns fought on the Malay Peninsula, in Sabah, in Sarawak and on the Malaysia-Thailand border.
Malayan Emergency 1948 to 1960
The Malayan Emergency was declared on 16 June 1948 when Malayan Communist Party (MCP) guerrillas murdered three estate managers in Perak.
The British colonial government reacted slowly to the insurgency. Economic, political and social problems afflicting Malaya’s Chinese community, many of whom sympathised with the guerrillas, had still not been addressed 3 years later. The assassination of British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney, on 6 October 1951 increased the Commonwealth military response.
Australia’s involvement began in 1950 when Royal Australia Air Force (RAAF) transports, bombers and personnel arrived in Singapore. They flew cargo runs, transported troops, dropped paratroops and did leaflet drops.
Ships of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) began serving in Malayan waters from 1955.
In 1956, Australian ground troops began anti-communist operations in Malaya, although contact with the guerrillas was very rare.
The communist threat had lessened by the end of 1959. By then, many MCP members had crossed Malaya’s northern border with Thailand. The Emergency was declared officially over on 31 July 1960, although Australian troops remained in Malaya until 1963.
In addition to air and infantry forces, Australia had provided artillery and engineering support. An airfield construction squadron built the major runway at Butterworth.
Lasting 13 years, involvement in the Malayan Emergency was Australia's longest continuous military commitment of the 20th century.
The Australian War Memorial's Roll of Honour lists the names of 39 Australians who lost their lives during the Malayan Emergency, most from the Australian Army.
Indonesian Confrontation 1962 to 1966
The Confrontation (Konfrontasi) resulted from Indonesian attempts to destabilise and destroy the new federation of Malaysia, which formally began on 28 September 1963.
The conflict originated in the Brunei Rebellion of December 1962. Indonesian-backed armed insurgents had unsuccessfully tried to seize power in the independent enclave of Brunei. Then small parties of armed Indonesian volunteers began to infiltrate Malaysian territory on Borneo. By 1964, Indonesian regular army units were involved.
Australia initially rejected British and Malaysian requests for troops to be deployed to Borneo. In part, the Australian Government feared that the conflict would spread to the Papua New Guinea border with Indonesia. However, Australia agreed to help defend the Malay Peninsula against external attack. Australian troops helped in operations against Indonesian paratroops and seaborne raids on the peninsula.
Although easily repelled, Indonesia’s attacks threatened to escalate. In January 1965, Australia agreed to deploy soldiers to Borneo.
Britain agreed to start cross-border operations, code-named Claret. They gathered intelligence and forced the Indonesians to remain on the defensive on their side of the border.
The first Australian infantry arrived in Borneo in March 1965. These troops, and their successors, were involved in combat on both sides of the border. Many suffered landmine casualties.
Two squadrons of the Special Air Service, several artillery batteries and parties of the Royal Australian Engineers were also deployed to Borneo. Ships of the RAN were involved in the surrounding waters.
Because of the sensitivity of cross-border operations, which remained secret at the time, Confrontation received very little coverage in the Australian press. Indonesia and Malaysia signed a peace treaty in Bangkok in August 1966, ending the conflict.
The Australian War Memorial's Roll of Honour lists the names of 22 Australians who lost their lives during the Confrontation.