To be candid, I bought “A Face Like A Chicken’s Backside” (AFLACB) because someone had mentioned it in a comment made to this blog quite some time ago. With a title like that, who wouldn’t be intrigued? So, when I found a copy on shelf E6 of Kinokuniya, I wasted no time in grabbing it, plonking my money down at the cashier, and rushing off home for a good read.
Perhaps I should not have been too hasty.
From the cover, I was able to tell AFLACB was not (as I thought it would be) a compendium of tasteless jokes. Instead, it was plainly obvious that it was a book about soldiers and the military. I also noticed that the book was originally published by Greenhill Books in 1996, but my copy was actually a 2003 imprint by a Singaporean company called Cultured Lotus. “Hmm… what made this book so interesting to a bunch of Singaporeans?” I thought. I needed to know. So, I dived in.
AFLACB is about the adventures of a British army officer by the name of JP Cross, who incidentally, also wrote the book. The author served in Malaya (as it was called then) from 1948 to 1971 – so far, my kind of guy. As far as I could see, this book deals with three stages of the author’s life during the period in question.
The first part is about the author’s life as a company commander in the Gurkha regiment of the British army. This first part revolves around his exploits in countering the Communist terrorist threat in northern Perak and Kelantan. This is gripping stuff and takes us on his three extended and gruelling excursions into the jungle to eliminate a Communist leader by the name of Ah Soo Chye.
These operation took a toll on Cross especially when he lost his fiancée who left him because he had to go on operations on the very day they were supposed to get married! Nothing, it seems, can get between the author and his duty to Her Majesty the Queen.
In these adventures, we also get to meet several colourful Temiar aborigine characters like Mudak, Kerinching and Senagit who appear – off and on – to help the author rid Malaya of the Ah Soo Chye menace. There is also a Temiar headman whose name – curiously enough – was Helwood! How cool is that?! Anyway, did Cross, in the end, manage to snuff-out Ah Soo Chye? You’ll have to read the book, kiddo…
The second part of the book deals with his posting to Borneo (as it was called then) during the Confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia. In the main, his tour of duty in Borneo was to revamp an indigenous fighting unit known as the Border Scout. During this period, Cross was practically wearing four distinct hats: a major in the British army and also as a Superintendent in no less than three police forces – Royal Malaysia Police, Sabah Constabulary and Sarawak Police Force. This is the only guy who has the distinction of having been a soldier and a policeman at the same time!
In any case, reading of his adventures, I came across an interesting fact: It involves being given a monkey skin hat by the headman of a long house. What does this entitle the recipient to? You’ll have to read the book, mate!
The final part of the book involves the author’s stint as head honcho of the Jungle Warfare School in Ulu Tiram, Johor. While it is widely known that he school trained soldiers of many armies from the Commonwealth, it is less known that it also trained soldiers from Laos, Thailand and also – South Vietnam! Of course, I don’t think this had anything to do with them losing to the Vietcongs. South Vietnam fell – I think – not because of weapons or tactics: They lost because of politics. But that’s a whole different kettle of fish.
What were my impressions after reading the book? Cross, it struck me, is the consummate professional soldier; albeit a bit on the eccentric side. He is multi-lingual, multi-faceted, multi-skilled – multi everything – sort of like Rambo, but with a brain. I always imagined that an officer of the British army would be cut from this mould. Further, it is apparent from the book that he has tremendous respect for the professionalism, courage, discipline and fighting spirit of the Gurkha regiment.
However, his biggest enemy was often not the opposing army or bands of insurgents that prowled the border areas. Most of the time, his real enemy was departmental (regimental?) bureaucracy, bungling politicians and simple old-fashioned stupidity on the part the powers that be.
Is there anything else I can add? Hardcore Malay nationalists (read: those very few right-wing fanatics who live on the fringes of neo-fascism) are well advised to steer clear of this book. Cross makes no bones about making several rather uncomplimentary comments about the Malays, the Malay Regiment and also the concept of Malaysia. This probably explains why the Singaporean publisher was so interested in this book.
But for the rest of us, this book will provide several hours of reading pleasure, especially when accompanied with a nice pot of Darjeeling and some freshly made scones. It does provide an alternative insight (justifiable or otherwise) into how things were at the time.
So, what does the title, “A Face Like A Chicken’s Backside” have to do with all this? It was the author’s nickname when he served on these shores.
Title: A Face Like A Chicken’s Backside
Author: J P Cross
Price: RM29.90 (or something like that)