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Limbang Rebellion (Paperback)

Seven Days in December 1962

Military P&S History > By Century > 20th Century

By Eileen Chanin
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 272
Illustrations: 24 black and white illustrations & 2 black and white maps
ISBN: 9781526796981
Published: 21st May 2021



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Between 8 and 12 December of 1962, world attention focused on a surprise rebel uprising that sprang up in northern Borneo, where hostages were taken and threatened with execution. The small river town of Limbang, administrative centre of the Fifth Division of the British Crown colony of Sarawak, was the pivot of the confrontation that Harold Macmillan told John F. Kennedy was as dangerous a situation in South East Asia as the Western Allies had seen since the Second World War. The Brunei revolt turned out to be the opening act of the diplomatic and military conflict between Indonesia and Malaysia known as Confrontation ('Konfrontasi').

Britain and the Malayan Prime Minister aimed to create a federation of Malaysia by combining the two British colonies in Borneo and the island colony of Singapore with already independent Malaya. Opposition to this came from Brunei Malay politician Sheikh A. M. Azahari. The self-styled Prime Minister of a 'united' northern Borneo mounted an anti-Malaysia insurrection. This uprising became known as the Brunei revolt. An amphibious dawn assault at Limbang on 12 December by L Company of 42 Commando British Royal Marines liberated the hostages whom Azahari's rebel forces were preparing to hang.

The story of Limbang and what it represents has not been fully told until now. While terrifying, Limbang was also a life-affirming experience for those involved and forged life-long bonds. It ends not with the heroic release of the hostages in a commando raid, where British forces faced heavy resistance, but with the impact these events had on the lives of all concerned.

This is a must read for all who served on Tons during the ‘Konfrontasi’ 1962 & especially the crews of the FISKERTON & CHAWTON. Our Hon Sec, Peter Down, is mentioned in this publication having supplied some information to the author due to him being involved in the operation. In my humble opinion this is a well written book which places the reader in the heart of the location & subsequent events.

Ton Class Association

It is a gripping tale of seven dramatic days that helped to stall the initial North Kalimantan National Army's efforts to take over the whole of Borneo Island as well as, of course, rescuing the hostages. Nevertheless, it was the beginning of the wider and longer campaign that came to be called Confrontation. 'Limbang Rebellion' is lucidly written, thoroughly researched and well documented; it makes riveting reading.

Bulletin of the Rag, Army & Navy Club

A well-written book which places the reader in the heart of the location and subsequent events.

Bob Dean, Ton Class Association

The book draws from eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries and other historical documents to reflect the experiences of those who lived through the rebellion and showed courage, resilience and dignity

The Sunday Star, Sarawak

Limbang Rebellion reads more like a thriller, drawing you into the lives of the people caught in the conflict. Should be on your year-end list of books to read.

The Star Sarawak

The Limbang Rebellion in 1962 had a historical impact on Sarawak in particular and Malaysia in general, as it indirectly opened the minds and eyes of Sarawakians who were initially sceptical of Sarawak involvement in the formation of Malaysia.

New Sarawak Tribune

With an impressive command of detail, the author has gathered witness accounts from her own interviews and a treasure trove of archival material that give the reader a visceral understanding of what it was like to be a prisoner, and what it was like to be a soldier seeing action for the first time. There is much to recommend in Limbang Rebellion. It will appeal especially to readers with a passion for military history that is informed by geopolitical context and the personal impact of armed struggle

The Australian

This is a human tale of courage, fortitude and bravery…It is a gripping tale of seven dramatic days that helped quell the initial North Kalimantan National Army efforts of taking over the whole of Borneo Island. It was beginning of a wider and longer campaign that came to be called Confrontation. Whether you were there or not matters little as this is one of the Brush Fire wars that proved the value of Royal Marines Commandos in challenging situations. Some may find a few of the personal stories conflicting, but that is what is remembered in the heat of action. It makes riveting reading and is lucidly written, thoroughly researched and well documented.

Globe and Laurel

The book highlights true heroes such as police personnel and ordinary people who did extraordinary things to protect and save others in great danger.

Borneo Post

The assault on Limbang first captured my imagination when I saw Terence Cuneo’s remarkable painting back in the 1970s. Since then I have taken every opportunity to read any reference and have been privileged to meet a few of the Royal Marines who were present on 12 December 1962. The operation was mounted to rescue the hostages whose voices have largely been silent – until now. Two of the hostages were Resident of the Fifth Division in Sarawak, Dick Morris and his wife Dorothy, whose story is told by Eileen Chanin, their daughter-in-law.

The author has drawn on a fabulous array of personal stories from the archive of Dick Morris – private and official correspondence during and after the rescue. We also read the touching words between husband and wife and many of these references were hitherto unpublished. One could not fault Eileen Chanin’s research, as the very detailed bibliography makes clear. Those references are extremely useful to anyone wishing to dig further. Eileen also interviewed a number of those present who cast their minds back 50 years to recall life in the jungle, as well sound archives from the Imperial War Museum. Sadly, while those interviews took place as recently as 2012, Bob Rawlinson who was awarded the Military Medal for the action, died the next year.

This is probably the most detailed version of the assault ever published. She captures the sensation of being under fire very well. The immense gratitude of the hostages towards their rescuers, and sympathies for those killed, are abundant.

Perhaps this intimacy with the central characters means “Limbang Rebellion” at times reads like a family memoir, along with a feeling of being padded out. And the narrative is occasionally jarring.
“The atmosphere in the room was very tense. ‘Very close tension’, Moore said. “

Despite these shortcomings “Limbang Rebellion” is a very good book. It shines a light on not only of the most daring and successful hostage rescue missions but life as a colonial administrator in the twilight of the Empire. Recommended.

Peter Weedon

About Eileen Chanin

Eileen Chanin is a Sydney based historian and writer. Her books have been awarded the History Prize of the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards and been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction, the 2011 CAL Waverley Library Award for Literature and the 2012 Australian Historical Association Magarey Medal for Biography. She is an honorary senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales.

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