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“Tuan’s Lament”, a war song written by Semut operatives during WWII

A war song is any musical composition that relates to war or a society’s attitudes towards war.

Sometimes a war song can be pro-war or antiwar while some are just description of lives during war time.

Do you know when Operation Semut took place in 1945 during War World II (WWII), the operatives composed a song about their lives in Sarawak?

The operation was a series of reconnaissance operations carried out by Australia’s Z Special Unit.

About Operation Semut

Launched in mid-1945 by the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD), the operation had two main missions.

First was to gather intelligence and to train the indigenous people in launching guerrilla warfare against the Japanese.

Overall, the operation was considered a remarkable success. It was estimated there were about 1,500 Japanese casualties with 240 captured under Operation Semut. These were inflicted by a force of around 82 Allied soldies and 200 local guerrillas.

While there were no casualties amongst the Z Special Unit members, about 30 local heroes were killed during combat.

Photograph of Major G. S. Carter (centre) with Semut 2 operatives. Credits: From Australian War Memorial website, Public Domain.
About “Tuan’s Lament”

“Tuan’s Lament” written during Operation Semut is sung in the tune of “The Mountains of Morne” by Irish musician Percy French.

The lyrics were published in The Sarawak Gazette on Jan 31, 1965 under the article “From an old War Chest”.

Going through the lyrics now, readers could at least catch a glimpse what the operatives went through 75 years ago.

“Tuan’s Lament” chorus mentions ‘Charlie the Raj’ which most probably refers to Charles Vyner Brooke, the third White Rajah of Sarawak.

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See the war in the eyes of Semut operatives through the lyrics of “Tuan’s Lament”:

Verse 1
Away in the east far out o’er the sea
There’s a place named Sarawak, a great mystery
They said you will go and fight the foe there
We answered ‘For Charlie we’d fight anywhere’.

Chorus
Charlie the Raj
Charlie the Raj
Its all in the service of Charlie the Raj

Verse 2
Our ideals were high and our hearts very large
We left home and comforts to fight for the Raj
To relieve the oppressed was our guiding aim
But we found ourselves players in a far different game

Verse 3
We arrived in Sarawak so strange and so dark
Where collecting of skulls is the lads favourite lark
Each house has its quota, smoked to a turn
At the first glimpse of this for the homeland you yearn

Verse 4
The first thing they told us was ‘here you must stay’
And work for dear Charlie on a dollar a day
The rate they arrived at was decided by Fish*
They dare not pay less ‘cos the coolies get this.

Verse 5
We chased round the country- the Japs on the run
The natives decided to join in the fun
With sumpits and parangs they did rather well
The ‘heathen’ decided Sarawak was hell.

Verse 6
The Japs soon discovered that no man can spare
Lebeh satu kapala and a handful of hair
To join honoured ancestors Jap not lose face
If stop in this country just not in the race

Verse 7
The ‘heathen’ surrendered and now he has gone
But for Charlie the Rajah we still carry on
But now we are tired we don’t want to roam
So Charlie, dear Charlie, oh please send us home.

*Fish here may be a nickname for J.C.B. Fisher

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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