Significance of July for Brunei

[I wanted to write about His Majesty's Birthday but I have written a few articles already in the past. So rather than repeating myself, I thought I will write something about July itself and its significance for Brunei. There was another important date that happened in July but nobody remembered that anymore. Anway, I wrote this article and it was published on Monday 18th July 2011 on The Brunei Times in my Golden Legacy column.]

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Significance of July for Brunei
by Rozan Yunos

JULY 15 is a date that all Brunei citizens and residents remember. July 15, 1946, is the date of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam's Birthday and therefore the annual celebrations of the birthday. The recent 65th birthday celebrations were equally grand to all the others before it. Thousands of citizens thronged to the Taman Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien to watch the annual birthday parade as well as to wish their loyalty and appreciation to His Majesty.

The Brunei national tri-colours of yellow, black and white with the red crest had been seen flying everywhere in the country where the public have been enthusiastically putting them up in residences, business premises and government office buildings. In addition, major buildings in the capital and the other towns had huge banners conveying their greetings to His Majesty.

Alongside the road, schoolchildren and teachers and members of the public, waited along Jalan Tutong waiting for His Majesty's motorcade to drive down to the Taman.

With flags and hadrahs in their hands, it was a colourful ceremony as well as a celebratory one. After the parade, it was the celebrations at Istana Nurul Iman where His Majesty gave the annual birthday titah and the annual honours and medals.

Only the major honours were awarded during the birthday itself. The remainder will be awarded during other days after the birthday. In the evening, there would be a banquet.

July I5 is certainly a date most remembered. But that July in 1946 also has a special date which tended to be forgotten nowadays. It restored Brunei's pride and position as a nation which is no longer occupied by an invading army.

Not many in Brunei remembered World War Two or even want to remember the war. It happened swiftly. On December 16, 1941, 10,000 Japanese troops landed in Kuala Belait. Within six days, the Japanese had managed to occupy Brunei. The British despite the agreement between Brunei and United Kingdom did not defend Brunei at all leaving only a tiny detachment of a Punjab Regiment in Kuching to protect the three territories of Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei. Their only plan for Brunei was to deny the Japanese from getting the oil in Seria.

The Japanese more or less left the Brunei public alone. It was only towards the end of the war that the Japanese were seen as more harsh. It was towards the end of the war that the benevolent Japanese Governor was replaced. From 1943 the Japanese had started to suffer. Frequent attacks and bombings by the allied forces made supplies difficult to be sent and received by the various Japanese garrisons throughout the occupied Southeast Asian nations.

On June 10, 1945, Australian forces headed by Lieutenant General Sir Moorshead, landed at Muara Beach under "Operation Oboe" to recapture Brunei. They were supported by American air and naval units. Brunei Town was captured in three days after a heavy bombing campaign by the Allied Forces which virtually destroyed and flattened the city including the town mosque.

The Australian forces advanced from Muara into Brunei Town without much resistance from the Japanese. The majority of the Japanese soldiers fled to Limbang, Terusan, Tutong, and Kuala Belait. The Allied soldiers saw the extensive damage done by the Japanese during the occupation which was made worse by the Allied Forces' bombing operation in Brunei. From then on, Brunei was temporarily placed under the British Military Administration or the BMA.

The BMA's immediate actions were to restore peace and to regain the people's confidence in British administration. Thus the years 1945 to 1946 saw efforts being made by the British to rebuild Brunei and to revive its economy. The BMA carried out reconstruction work and started some form of administration in preparation for civilian rule. The man in charge was Brigadier Mackie, who was the Chief Civil Affairs Officer.

The BMA also had to revive Brunei's economy. This included reopening the Seria oilfields which the Japanese had set on fire. It was only in September 1945 that the fires were under control.

However by 1946, the British Malayan Petroleum Company was able to restore 113 wells and drilled 17 new wells. The hospital in Brunei town was also rebuilt. Dispensaries were provided in the other districts and a maternity service was set up.

A police force was reestablished and shop houses, schools and government buildings in the towns were soon repaired and reconstructed.

At the same time, new policies were also formulated by the British to strengthen the security of the Malaya-Borneo territories as well as a more systematic administration.

Conditions in Brunei improved much faster than was thought possible that on June 26, 1946, Lieutenant General Sir Montagu GN Stopford signed a "Declaration to end the British Military Administration in the State of Brunei". The declaration was signed in Singapore. Lieutenant General Sir Montagu was the Acting Supreme Allied Commander for Southeast Asia then. In the declaration, there were two main items. The first was the declaration to end and to pull out the BMA in the State of Brunei. The second was that the declaration would take effect when the Sultan of Brunei was able to resume his government in the State of Brunei.

It was this historic day in July in 1946 that Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin signed on July 5, 1946, that His Royal Highness proclaimed that in respect to the phrase "so far as it concerns the State of Brunei with effect from the time we resume our Government of Brunei" that "now therefore we, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Akhazul Khairi Waddien Ibni Almarhum Sultan Mohamed Jemal-Ul-Alam, Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, Sultan, do hereby proclaim: We hereby resume for ourselves the government of the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam and subject to and with the advice of my council full legislative, executive and administrative powers and responsibilities over all persons and property in the state so far as is consonant with treaties, agreements, conventions and declaration with his Britannic Majesty's government".

The proclamation further read "We thereby declare that it is our intention to enact in council certain legislation which will provide that certain proclamations made by or under the authority of the military administration shall continue in force in the State of Brunei as indicated in the schedule hereto, and it is our wish that in the meantime the provisions of these proclamations should be applied in our state, "There were 10 legislations which were included under this schedule".

The July 5, 1946, proclamation by Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin returned Brunei's pride and integrity back to Brunei after being occupied by the Japanese and the British Military Administration. Though the British Resident returned soon after with WJ Peel appointed as the first post-war Resident.

Ten days after the proclamation, on July 15, 1946, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah was born at Istana Darussalam, Kampung Sumbiling.

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