Retracing a soldiers path – Escape via Sungai Perak- Part I

Retracing Spencer Chapman on Sungai Perak

On the eve of Christmas in1941, Spencer Chapman, a British soldier from 101 Special Training School, and his reconnaissance team was sent behind enemy lines to gather information on the Japanese advancement and to meet the raiding party at Sungai Trong. After traveling through dense jungle from Parit to the Bruas road, they were unable to reach the rendezvous in time and had to find their way back to headquarters. Not knowing where the front line was, their plan was to slip down the Perak river at night at Parit, which will lead them straight to Teluk Anson (now Teluk Intan), beating the Japanese  who were on their way to take on Singapore. Sargent-Major Patterson, Sargent Sartin and Lieut.-Col Chapman would travel 50 miles on a badly holed ferryboat, without engine, through unknown territory where bombing and machine gunning was constant.

Goofy us having fun before the start of the paddle

Inspired by this story, Keong and I made plans several weeks ago, to revisit Chapman’s escape route by paddling two kayaks down Sungai Perak from Tanjung Belanja (near Parit) to Pasir Salak Resort (5 km short of Chapman’s exit point at Kg. Pasir Panjang).

Our plan was simple, 2 vehicles – 1 parked at the take out point at Pasir Salak Resort and the other at Tanjung Belanja. As we paddle down river, we would camp a night at the half way point on an island near Bota Kanan, then continue to the exit point at Pasir Salak Resort the following day. From there, we’d pack the gears and kayaks, then drive our way back North to pick up the other car at Tanjung Belanja, and head for home.

Unloaded our kayaks and busy packing with two friendly Mak Ciks chatting away

At the put-in point, the only challenge we had was finding a safe place to park the car. But with luck, En. Harun who owned a house just by the river at Tanjung Belanja allowed us to use his house compound for our vehicle and packing area. Weather that Thursday was slightly gloomy, fortunately with no rain. Water level was apparently slightly lower, but according to the locals, had no cause for concern.

Immediately upon drop in, we can feel the current of the river sweeping us downstream

Once we were on the boat, the water had only a slight current. As the river was wide at the beginning, our speed was approximately 3 kmph when not paddling. This gave us a lot of sight seeing and photography opportunity. To be more accurate, we were paddling lazily, while cracking jokes for most of the day. In Keong’s term, we were ‘slackin’ big time! But, that was just what we needed, “a fun no-rules expedition, with a buddy”. We even decided to skip cooking lunch, and stopped by Parit town to buy some good old char siew meat!

Chadel checking the map and GPS

Goofy us having fun before the start of the paddle

We were a much stronger paddlers after lunch

About 5 pm, after a couple of island hopping to look for a camp site, we decided to stick to the original plan and camp at an island near Bota Kanan. Its was a good campsite, with plenty of dry wood for camp fire, and a small enough space for us to set camp. We both made our own meals, which was mainly pasta. For sauce, Keong had some sambal from a can, while I had some Punjabi lentil curry. We both sweat through that awesome meal.

Our short term campsite set up

Chadel's dinner of pasta and lentil curry

Fishing was fun but was kind of a disaster as we didn’t have much luck. I did however learn to set up a line on the rod. Thanks Keong!

Digging for worms

After much discussion on ‘how great life would be, if we could do this everyday’, we went off to bed early. Well, at least that’s what we thought. The mosquitoes were having a feast that night! While Keong was in the hammock with thicker protection, I was on the ground with a sleeping liner. Even with mosquito coils, they attacked hard. Having surrendered to them, I hid in the sack, sweating through those torturous hours till about 2 am, when the attacked simultaneously ceased. Puzzled, but not complaining!

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