British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by R. E. Pitt, CBE, (Director of Public Works, Malaya, 1957-59)
An Adventurous Trip
to Upper Perak, Malaya, in 1950
Escort Malaya
I reached Ipoh in the state of Perak, Malaya, in March 1926 on first appointment as Assistant Engineer, Public Works Department (PWD). By 1949, I had reached the senior position of State Engineer, Perak, with headquarters in Ipoh. This article, however, is about a trip I made to Upper Perak and Kedah in 1950.

A modern water supply was under construction in Grik and I had to inspect the work and other jobs in the area. All work in the area was under the direct control of the Senior Executive Engineer, Kuala Kangsar (SEEKK) and, as the road between Kuala Kangsar and Grik had a bad reputation for communist terrorists’ activities, I consulted him about the best means of undertaking the journey.

Stationed in Kuala Kangsar at the time was a unit of the Marine Commandos and the SEE had good relations with the Commanding Officer. The PWD often helped the security forces with their problems of accommodation so the SEE had no hesitation in approaching the CO about security for the trip. It was decided that he would provide an escort and that I should travel in a vehicle which had been converted by my predecessor for travel in dangerous areas, of which there were many in Perak at that time.

An Adventurous Trip
to Upper Perak, Malaya, in 1950
40 Commando, Grik, 1950
This vehicle basically was an old, ex-army, 15 cwt truck armoured all round with steel plates.

On the appointed day, our convoy was assembled in Kuala Kangsar consisting of an army scout car armed with a Bren gun in the lead, my 15 cwt with me and two armed Marines, then an open truck with a sergeant and five or six more Marines.

The distance from Kuala Kangsar to Grik, as far as I can recall, was some 50 miles and there was a fairly safe village about halfway along the road. Our speed was very slow, around 25 mph mainly because of my dangerously top-heavy vehicle.

We stopped at the village for a short break and the sergeant came to me and said “Sir the next section of the road passes through the worst bit of bandit country. Can your driver speed up a bit for, while you have some armour plate around you, I and my men are in an open truck!” I readily agreed and suggested that the scout car should set the pace; so this was arranged. Never had I made a more foolish decision!

We started off again and the road soon developed into a series of sharp bends. My wonderful vehicle, being very top heavy, swayed alarmingly causing me and my companions to feel distinctly queasy. Then we reached what was known to be an area where terrorist ambushes had taken place. The road passed through high double cuttings or steep sidelong ground, and, without warning, the Bren gun in the scout car opened up and sprayed the tops of the banks. It was so unexpected that I nearly jumped off my seat only to be informed by one of my companions not to worry for they always did that so that if any bandits were lying up top in ambush positions, it would make them keep their heads down! I suggested that it might have been better to forewarn me. Oh! we never thought of that. Guvnor, sorry!

Finally we reached the Government Rest House in Grik and I was thankful to be released from the 15 cwt truck and enjoy a reasonably comfortable Rest House chair. After lunch the SEE and I carried out our inspections of works in progress, the escort returned to Kuala Kangsar and the SEE, who had brought his own transport, went home leaving me and the 15 cwt truck to spend the night at the Rest House.

The next morning I started off on a very narrow gravel road for Kroh and Kedah due north only to find that, in places, the road, barely 8 feet wide, ran beside steep side cuttings and was located about 25 feet above a deep swiftly flowing river. At times my wide, high-sided vehicle got jammed against the earth bank. By the time I reached Kroh I was a nervous wreck and thankful to find my own car with fat, cheerful Mat, my driver, waiting for me as arranged.

I completed my long inspection trip by passing through Kedah and Province Wellesley to Perak; then back along the main North-South road to Ipoh having made a firm decision to avoid armoured 15 cwt trucks for all future inspections, bandits or not!

British Colony Map
1962 Map of Northern Malaya
Colony Profile
Malaya Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 61: April 1991


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