PETALING JAYA: When the men stepped out of the jungle, the Semelai villagers were at first worried they might be communist guerrillas coming to take what little food they had.
But the uninvited visitors to Kampung Pos Iskandar that day were British.
Andak Tin Tun tells FMT he thinks it was 1953 when the servicemen in their floppy hats arrived in his village in the dense Pahang jungle.
They had come to recruit young village men to join them in their fight against Malayan communists in the jungle.
The British military needed the Orang Asli for their much valued jungle tracking and survival skills.
Andak Tin Tun immediately stood up and volunteered. Despite being 40, Andak, real name Dullah Payud, was recruited.
Eight of his friends also volunteered to go with the British soldiers and were enlisted on the spot.
“The Orang Putih didn’t force us to join. They didn’t need to. We were happy to go, for the safety of our village and families,” remembers Andak.
“The situation at that time in my village was really bad. It was hard to get food, or to go anywhere. But it wasn’t just us, it was bad for everybody in the forest.”
He says he felt neither fear nor courage when he left his wife and village to hunt down communist guerillas.
The British paid him RM60 a month. “That was a high salary in those days,” he says.
“They gave us weapons and trained us to use them. That took around six months.’
As well as firearms skills, they also taught the recruits how to identify their communist enemies.
“They told us to look out for men wearing black, and who looked Chinese.”
These vague instructions got Andak into hot water when the British mistook him and some friends for communists.
“I was held and taken to Sungai Bera in Pahang. Then they took me all the way to Seremban. Finally, after two days one of our trainers recognised me and told them I might look Chinese but I’m not, and I sure was not a communist,” he says. “I was released and taken back to the jungle.
The men lived in rough camps in the forest. Food and supplies were dropped from helicopters most days. “We just ate sardines and anchovies in tins,” he says.
Andak can still recall spending long days and nights on alert in case the enemy was nearby. When out on patrol they had to be constantly vigilant for signs of an ambush.
He and his friends were never wounded in battle.
“I only saw communists in the jungle face to face two or three times,” he recalls. Nevertheless, he says he managed to kill around 15 of the enemy at a distance.
He thinks he stayed in the forest for around three months. He can’t recall exactly when he managed to return to Kampung Pos Iskandar and his wife and family.
Now 90, he lives in Kemayan, Pahang, in a traditional wooden stilt house.
He tells us he still feels great pride and happiness to have contributed to the lasting peace in Malaysia.