Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wickham Trolley - The Forgotten Malayan Emergency Hero.

Railway services in Peninsula Malaysia were the preferred mode of transportation back in the days when the country was largely covered in jungle and lacked good road networks.

Trains were the lifeline to move people and produce around the country.

When the Malayan communist insurgency peaked, railway services particularly the railroads became favorite targets of guerilla saboteurs. As the conflict escalated, the terrorists became bolder at blowing up rail tracks and inflicted heavy human cost.

The devastation soon overwhelmed the authority and a quick fix to the problem was urgently needed.

Before too long, the security forces found their answer in the British made armored Wickhams Trolley – a tank look-alike except it ran on train tracks. The trolleys were originally manufactured by D Wickham & Co of Ware, Hertfordshire and brought to Malaya by the colonial administration.

Each of the 2-ton Wickham Trolleys or AWT, was armed with search light and machine guns on the turret. They were immediately deployed in key roles as front guard and to provide cover for interstate train services.

Subsequent insurgent attempts to disrupt railway services were met fiercely by government soldiers in these self-powered Wickhams on steel wheels. AWT quickly proved itself to be a deterrent force and provided all-weather and round-the-clock protection for all trains.

However, when the Emergency ended in 1960, AWT triumphing records were cut short and many of the AWTs were left idle at KTM sheds in Klang. Their formidable fighting tales began to fade with time too.

Recently, the railway authority has embarked on giving the AWT a new lease of life as war relics in various museums and establishments.

For the best view of the Wickhams and to get a glimpse of how AWT was effective in its role, then check out the Armored Trolley No. 60 at the Malaysian Army Museum in Port Dickson.

The Army’s AWT No. 60 spots a grey body and it is parked along a steam locomotive and train coach. The museum has undoubtedly the best display of the Wickham and with a bit of imagination, visitors can see for themselves how the armored trolley protected trains in those turbulent times.

The Royal Police Museum in Lake Garden, KL is the next best bet to see a Wickham. AWT No. 63 is painted in police blue indicating a different ownership but the logo on its side shows KTM with its roaring tiger.

No much is revealed in the Police Museum about the success made by the Malaysian Police on the Wichham but fighting communist insurgency in those days was a concentrated effort involving different parties and strategies.

One can also head to the less conspicuous Tunku Abdul Rahman Memorial in KL to see -AWT No. 56.

However, like all the AWT on display, they are exhibited outdoor and their fate is left to the mercy of the weather. Information on the Wickham is sorely lacking and similarly all venues don’t provide sufficient materials about where and how the Wickhams were deployed.

One need to go to the KTM Mini Museum at the Old KL Train Station to find Wickham related materials. In its small gallery, there is brief information on the three Wickham Trolleys and their whereabouts. There are old photographs showing men on the AWT preparing guns and search-light, but unfortunately, this railway museum does not have static display of the armored trolley.

No comments: