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Remembering John Davis

John Davis

From Chin Peng

Many people tend to believe that friendships cannot bridge the divisions of international conflict – particularly in situations where those with close bonds of trust and understanding find themselves in bitterly opposing camps.

I would quietly differ with this viewpoint. I would even go as far as to suggest that perhaps there might be a lesson for our troubled world today in the decades-long relationship that has existed between my friend, John Davis, and myself.

It is not that we were in constant touch with each other throughout this time. Historical circumstances determined that this was not to be. But these very historical circumstances also determined that at no point in our lives, once we had met and worked together, would we ever forget each other.

I well remember the day John Davis and I first came into contact. It was September 30, 1943. The place was Segari Beach on the Malacca Straits section of Perak State in Japanese occupied Malaya. John was there to establish links to the outlawed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) – the only active anti-Japanese resistance group then in existence in the country.

After initial introductions, John presented me with his credentials– a letter signed by Admiral Louis Mountbatten, head of Britain’s Ceylon-based South East Asia Command. (SEAC). I was there representing the Perak state committee of the CPM.

That initial meeting forged an association that was at first expedient. We both wanted to rid Malaya of a common enemy. But both of us ultimately realised that the period of being allies in a common cause would eventually come to an end. And it did.

But I can never forget my time together with John in the Malayan jungle. I remember him as an implacable leader in the most harrowing of circumstances. On one occasion, in the Bidor region of southern Perak, John and I, together with a band of CPM guerrillas, had gathered to recover a joint personnel and arms drop by RAF aircraft. Things went terribly wrong. Parachutes landed in wrong areas. Arms landed where personnel should have been and vice versa. And to top it all, we came under heavy Japanese machinegun fire. I was 20 years old at the time. John was in his early 30s. I had never encountered such a sustained attack before and perhaps for the first time in my life I knew the feeling of real fear. I looked across at John and he appeared calm and in control. This is the picture of John Davis that has stayed on my mind all these years.

John was also man of principle and I recognised that very early on.

I came to appreciate it when our guerrillas became his group’s security force at the hill-top Blantan camp. I knew it when the CPM signed the Blantan Agreement with SEAC on February 26, 1945. This tied his cause and mine to an honourable agreement, albeit of limited duration.

I knew it when I saw him again during the Malayan Emergency. We renewed old ties at the so-called Baling peace talks in northern Malaya from December 28 – 29, 1955. Sadly, these failed.

Because of our wartime association, John had been deputized to look after me at Baling during the CPM’s negotiations with Malaya’s Tunku Abdul Rahman and Singapore’s David Marshall. John escorted me to and from each bargaining session. My onetime ally was now my enemy. We both acknowledged this fact. But at no point during that Baling episode did I feel any personal hostility on his part. Neither did I feel any antagonism towards him. We strongly differed on matters of politics and principle, but there was still great mutual respect that precluded personal enmity.

The world moves on. Visions and goals likewise modify and change from all perspectives.

So when I visited the United Kingdom in 1998, I sought out my old friend John Davis. It was my way of showing my deep gratitude for a man who, despite being vehemently opposed to my anti-British colonial struggle, always treated me fairly and decently.

You cannot ask more of a man or a friend. John Davis is a great loss to this troubled world.

One final thought. When John and I got together in Britain that day in 1998 he gently laid down the ground rules for our reunion. "Chin Peng," he said, "let’s just talk about the good old days."

And that is how I will always remember him –– John Davis in the good old days.

Chin Peng November 2, 2006