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Tony Hermon dies at 71

Mon 2011-Nov-14 @ +08 22:51:34 pm

Two of Tony Hermon’s front-page stories on security and defence

Tony Hermon, once defence correspondent of The Straits Times, and later a news editor at Balai Berita, died peacefully at the age of 71 at his home in Subang Jaya, Selangor, on Saturday.

A family friend said Tony had received treatment for his heart condition on Thursday after complaining of breathing difficulties. He died while resting in his chair on Saturday. He is survived by his wife and four children, Andrew, Gordon, Sandra and Jennifer.

Funeral services will be held at 10am today at his home, No. 44 Jalan USJ 2/5K, Subang Jaya. (Details: 03-5632-8295)

Tony’s Mirages

A personal memoir
By Gobind Rudra

Tony Hermon was defence and political correspondent of The Straits Times in the 1960 and 1970s before he became a desk man, first with the New Straits Times and then as news editor of the Malay Mail.

As a desk man, he suffered from the intense knife-in-your-back politicking of the times, being posted to the wilderness in Penang for a spell before returning to Balai Berita on the NST news desk, as metropolitan news editor with the City Desk, and then back to the Malay Mail as news editor, from which post he retired in the late 1980s.

As political and defence correspondent, Tony covered the discussions leading to the creation in 1971 of the Five-Power Defence Arrangement, the alliance responsible for the joint air defence of Malaysia and Singapore.

Security matters in those times largely involved Commonwealth forces, meaning the military services of Britain, Australia and New Zealand (or ANZUK) and Hermon covered the many meetings resulting from Britain’s military pullout from the Far East.

Among the other major stories which rolled smoothly out of Hermon’s Remington was a front-page lead in 1970 on the Air Force wanting to buy a derivative of the supersonic Mirage III fighter jets by Dassault of France, to replace the subsonic Sabre jets of Korean War vintage donated by Australia.

The Mach 2.2 Mirage III, also flown by the RAAF, made its reputation for having destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground and in the air during the Six-Day War of 1967, the Sinai campaign, and over the Golan Heights.

Malaysia’s air force led by fighter jock Sulaiman Sujak wanted a hotshot fighter, and the hottest fighter then was the Mirage. They had to settle instead for the Northrop F-5E, the “Freedom Fighter”, a supersonic light fighter favoured by the US government for export purposes because of its comparatively unlethal capabilities.

Though Tony’s Mirage story was denied (by Tun Abdul Razak, recorded in a one-paragraph filler in 1971), he would always insist in private conversation that his story had been accurate and that political pressure had resulted in the decision being changed.

The Northrop purchase was later to figure in US Congressional hearings on corruption and bribery of foreign governments in US military export sales, and to legislation outlawing the payment of bribes overseas to secure arms deals. The F-5E deal also figured in a Malaysian court case involving low-level air force personnel, at which Sulaiman Sujak was a witness for the prosecution.

Tony Hermon’s defence and security stories were written before the Official Secrets Act came into being in 1972.

Given the way it has been used since, you might think it was actually the Official (Protection of Defence Contracts and Sales Commissions) Secrets Act, and you wouldn’t be too far wrong at that.

Last month, defence ministers of “South-East Asia Command” (if I may call it so) marked the 40th anniversary of the quiet alliance, the one for which Tony Hermon had helped to play nursemaid. It came at the end of Bersama
Lima 2011, a five-month-long exercise over Malaysia, the South China Sea, and Singapore, involving the three armed services of the five countries in their annual training war games.

Though he had since gone on to ploughshares and spreading the good word, Tony Hermon would have loved to have been there at BS11, with a borrowed portable typewriter in place of his bulky desktop Remington (or was it a Royal?), a wide grin creasing his face at familiar sights and faces, and many a quiet word over a quiet whisky or two.

Farewell, Herm


  1. Mon 2011-Nov-14 @ +08 23:19:25 pm 23:19

    You are right about the man I know as TonyH which was his Atex logon.

    Also, about the OSA being an Act to protect defence folks. Ask Sabry Sharif who has the dubious honour of being the first journo to be charged and convicted under OSA. Lucky for him, it was not mandatory jail term at that time.

  2. casper permalink
    Tue 2011-Nov-15 @ +08 10:04:34 am 10:04

    Scribes of a different era when the profession was deemed noble. Fast forward to present, we have no such talent nor conviction but synchopantic reporters whose main function, to report and regurgitate without questioning the lies thrown to them as a bone.

  3. Jane doe permalink
    Tue 2011-Nov-15 @ +08 12:52:24 pm 12:52

    What a great article about a great man

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