By PSS | Posted: Friday April 23, 2021
Sam Harvey was just 21 when he and his mates decided to join the army to help the New Zealand effort in the Malayan Emergency.
Now 85 and living in a unit at Invercargill’s Peacehaven Village, Sam was a fresh-faced Cromwell boy when he and his mates had the - by his own admission, slightly optimistic - idea of heading to Malaya for an adventure.
“We thought it might be a good holiday.”
Turns out, Sam was the only one of his mates to actually go to Malaya.
But it’s a decision he’s never regretted.
A keen bush man, the idea of being out in the jungle appealed to the young Sam and the time spent searching for the insurgents in the jungle was something he enjoyed.
He doesn’t remember feeling scared as his company searched the terrain for four week stints at a time.
“I just wanted to catch them.”
But the Malayan jungle was a far cry from the bush he was used to in Central Otago.
“You’d get soaking wet, then the next day would be hot and sunny. We didn’t carry spare clothes then, but when the sun came out we’d be dry in half an hour.”
Then there were was the wildlife. Monkeys, elephants, even tigers roamed the jungle, adding to the dangers the men faced.
“One day there’d been an ambush and we dug in, then about two o'clock in the morning there was a racket and we think “what’s that?”
Preparing to face a hoard of guerrillas, the men were surprised to instead come face to face with a herd of elephants.
“We told them if they stampede, they’re gone.”
The elephants, and the men, survived.
He spent 280 days in the bush in the first of his three years serving in the army and while he remembers the camaraderie with the other 30 or so men in his company fondly, he remembers the weeks that they were off on leave even more fondly.
“When we came out of the bush we got two weeks leave…The most important thing was the bar. The first week you’d remember, the last week you wouldn’t.”
He returned to New Zealand in 1961, arriving right at Christmas. But instead of being able to celebrate his homecoming and the impending festive season, he was instead confined to bed, having contracted Malaria.
“I was sick for weeks.”
Fortunately there were no ongoing health impacts of the “jungle fever”.
On Sunday Sam, like hundreds of other veterans around Southland, will attend an Anzac Day service.
He has been attending services for years, and this year will attend the service at Peacehaven.
It is an emotional time, as veterans remember their experiences, the friends they served with, and those they lost.
One of the men in his company lost his life in Malaya, and there have been others that have died since returning home.
Every two months the Southland Malayan veterans gather for dinner. It’s a chance to chat, to laugh, to remember.
“Some of them are hard cases. Some of them are younger than me.”
And while memories of some things have faded in the past 60 years, Sam is sure of one thing.
“I have no regrets about going. I’d go again tomorrow.”