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August 31, 2023

Honouring Malaya & Borneo Veterans: A Story of Sidney Peter Bryant

Today, on August 31, we commemorate Malaya & Borneo Veterans Day and take a moment to pay tribute to those who served in the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation, and reflect on their remarkable stories. Among them is RSL LifeCare resident Sidney Peter Bryant, a distinguished veteran who played a crucial role in the Malayan Emergency.

“I was born in Manly, New South Wales, back in 1930. It’s a privilege to have lived through 93 years, seeing how time goes by. In the year 1949, things were far from rosy. The prospect of finding work was bleak, opportunities were scarce. So, I made a choice – I enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. It seemed like the right thing to do, a way to make a meaningful contribution. Little did I know that this decision would lead me on an extraordinary journey.

Fast forward to July 26, 1950, No. 1 Squadron embarked on operations against the communist guerillas spread across the Malay peninsula. For eight long years, the squadron was in the thick of it, completing over 3000 missions and dropping a staggering 33 million pounds of bombs. No. 1 Squadron – that was my unit, my comrades.

Malaya & Borneo Veterans Malayan Emergency No.1 Lincoln Squadron

Between ’53 and ’56, I was stationed with No. 1 Lincoln Bomber Squadron RAAF in Malaya. Day and night, we kept flying, doing whatever was necessary. I recall a day in February 1953, when our squadron dropped a whopping 100,000 pounds of bombs in the jungles of North Johor. It was relentless, demanding work. 

My service extended beyond the original 15 months. They must have thought I was doing alright, so they extended my tenure. I received a certificate of thanks from the governor for contributing to Australia’s effort during the Malayan Emergency. Can’t say I did it all alone, though. My family stood by me, rock-solid.

Malaya & Borneo Veterans Malayan Emergency

The Malayan Emergency may have been termed a “little war” in the grand scheme, but for us on the frontlines, it was immense. We were up against the communists, striving to bring stability to Malaya. Every step was a test of our strength and determination. 

You know, I volunteered for this mission. However, none of us truly comprehended the magnitude of the task at hand. The enemy were relentless in their fight to expel the British from Malaya. They’d strike at restaurants, killing innocent lives. In No. 1 Bomber Squadron RAAF Malaya, I served as a leading aircraftsman. My role was to ensure the aircraft were ready, engines checked, and operations smooth. There were moments when I joined my aircrew on bombing runs – a mix of nerve-wracking checks and adrenaline-fueled flights.

Malaya & Borneo Veterans Malayan Emergency

And breakfast, oh, it was an experience – etherised eggs and yippy beans, a far cry from the usual morning fare. Those years encompassed both triumphs and trials. We worked around the clock, day and night. Amidst the chaos, I’d sneak off for a game of golf. Golf became more than a game; it was a respite for my mind from the turmoil. I even won a Malaya Golf Championship trophy during my time there. 

Three medals grace my collection – British General Service Medal Malaya Clasp, The Australian Active Service Medal Malaya Clasp, and The Australian Defence Medal. Each one symbolizes the hardships we endured and the victories we achieved. 

In 1956, my journey in the air force concluded. From there, life took me on a different path. Transitioning back to civilian life wasn’t smooth, it took time to adjust. I ventured into work with companies specialising in industrial instruments, collaborated with the Navy, and contributed to an English company. For two decades, I served on the board of directors at Dee Why RSL Club, securing three life memberships along the way.

Malaya & Borneo Veterans Malayan Emergency

Time marched on, and now I find myself here at RSL ANZAC Village in Narrabeen, with my beloved wife, Betty. Twelve years have passed since we’ve made this place our home. Looking back, life’s been quite the journey, filled with ups and downs. 

I have known my wife Betty since even before I joined the air force in ’46. We both worked as shop assistants at Coopers. Life took us on separate paths, only to meet again in ’97, after 50 years, at the RSL Club. We embraced the opportunity fate had given us, and we’ve been together ever since, marrying in 1997.” 

Sidney Peter Bryant and wife Sidney Peter Bryant and wife

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