KUCHING, Sept 21 — Sarawak’s Iban leaders thanked the state government for according a state funeral to former Iban tracker and the nation’s sole recipient of the George Cross gallantry medal, the late Datuk Awang Raweng, at the Heroes Memorial here.
Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Masing said Awang deserved such honour not just for his bravery in the frontlines during the Emergency, but also his sacrifice for the security of the country.
“I’m very pleased that the state government is giving him a state funeral.
“He deserves it. He should be recognised, and he is the civilian given the highest honour of bravery — the George Cross,” he said.
Masing was speaking to reporters after paying his last respects to Awang at the wake in Kuching Civic Centre here yesterday.
Awang passed away on Friday (Sept 18) at his son’s residence in Sri Aman at around 2.15pm.
His body was brought to Kuching for burial at the Heroes Memorial today (Sept 21). It arrived from Sri Aman at the Kuching Civic Centre around noon yesterday.
“If he was an enlisted army in the British Forces he would earn a Victoria Cross, the highest medal in the Commonwealth. But because he was not an enlisted army member, he was known as a civilian, Iban tracker, so the highest honour would be the George Cross.
“Nonetheless, I’m very pleased that the state government honoured him by giving him a state funeral for what he had done,” added Masing.
Awang was awarded the George Cross — the second highest award in the United Kingdom’s honours system after the Victoria Cross — on Nov 20, 1951.
As a member of the Worcestershire Regiment, he fought off 50 communists while defending the position of an injured British soldier, Private G Hughes, in Johor in May that year, despite sustaining serious injuries himself.
In a previous interview, Awang had reportedly held a live grenade in his left hand after his right hand was severely injured in the gunfight, and dared the communists to attack him, subsequently holding them off and forcing them to withdraw, saving Private Hughes’ life in the process.
Prior to his death, the Nanga Skrang native was one of 20 surviving George Cross recipients in the Commonwealth, and the only one from Malaysia.
He had been entitled to meet Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace once every two years and received a tax-free annuity of about £1,300 from the British government.
He was awarded the Panglima Setia Bintang Sarawak award, which carries the title ‘Dato’, by Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud in conjunction with the Head of State’s 82nd birthday in 2018.
He was also conferred an honourary master’s degree in Education Strategy by Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia in 2015.
Masing said he was also involved in assisting Awang, accompanied by his two grandsons, to fly to the United Kingdom a few years ago to meet Queen Elizabeth II.
“So at least I had that opportunity to assist him in whatever way I could.
“I think the people of Sarawak should understand that regardless of whoever you are, which race you belong to, you got to honour those who sacrificed their lives for the security of this country,” he said.
Meanwhile, a former deputy chief minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang, on behalf of the Iban community, expressed his appreciation to the state government for according a state funeral to Awang.
“I cannot thank the state government enough for all its consideration and good deeds and respect, because Awang is our first hero earning the George Cross. It is not easy to get.
“It is the second highest honour in the Commonwealth and not many got it, about 20 in the Commonwealth, and he was the only one from Malaysia,” he said.
Jabu recalled the time when he worked together with Awang in 1989, when he was tasked by the then chief minister Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud to conduct a reburial for Iban warrior Rentap at Bukit Sibau.
“To conduct the reburial ceremony, customs require several brave men as celebrants, and Awang was one of the brave men I called to participate,” he said.
Among other brave men who were called to participate were the late Datuk Temenggong Kanang Langkau, Jabu added.
After the ceremony was over, he said Awang needed to travel quite a distance to go home, and so he offered Awang a lift in his helicopter.
“I took the privilege of sending him back by helicopter over to his longhouse,” he said.
“I know him very well. He had been a very good and loyal friend. In fact we were very happy together when he was awarded a datukship in 2018.
“I am also partly responsible for making a recommendation to the government for him to get datukship for his service to the state and the country.
“It is a great loss but everybody has got to go, and only God decides when one is to go,” said Jabu.
State Secretary Datuk Amar Jaul Samion said the state funeral accorded to Awang will involve the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM), the veteran associations and the Sarawak Veteran Affairs Department.
“I would like to convey my heartfelt condolences to the family of the late Datuk Awang Raweng, our hero, on his passing.
“He was a brave fighter, a courageous fighter, disregarding his own safety for the sake of his colleagues, and also for the sake of the nation.
“This is one of the most important qualities that he had — selfless, courageous, determined — to ensure that our nation and country was free from any dangers during those emergency period,” he said. — Borneo Post Online