British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by R. R. H. Horsley, MBE (Mil)
Emergency Days, Malaya 1948 - 50
King George V Dock
In June '48, I was due to sail for Malaya from King George V Dock - nowadays, I gather, "East Enders" country - and was to be seen off by a man who had been with me at a mine on the Gold Coast. I found him in our appointed bar with an Evening Standard spread out. He waited for me to read its banner headline; TWO BRITONS MURDERED IN MALAYA; then he smiled, saying, "Are you still going?" The communists, nearly all Chinese, who as the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army had co-operated with our Force 136 as guerrillas throughout the Occupation, had begun their attempt to take-over the country which they'd hoped to complete by 3rd of August that year.

Posted to Kuala Lumpur for training in the Department of Mines, I followed the fashion by enrolling as a Special Constable, and on evening parades went on patrols by jeep and truck to outlying rubber estates. I suppose we kept the roads open, warned the terrorists - Communist Terrorists, C.Ts., also known as bandits - that there was opposition, and gave fleeting encouragement to the planters and their staff and families in their barbed perimeters. But when we went back to our secure town, they stayed, enisled in estate and jungle through night and day, answering from time to time the police radio contacts to show that they'd not been over-run.

Emergency Days, Malaya 1948 - 50
Kuala Lumpur from Air
I showed my rawness one morning, when I visited a patch of land some ten miles from town to assess the potential for tin prospecting. I drove off the road along a rough track as far as I could go by car, then walked on. It was wild and deserted, mainly neglected rubber estate that was over-growing with weeds and untapped because the CTs would hack and ruin the trees if it were operated without payment of protection money. After half an hour without sight or sound of a person, I got back to the road and sat there in my car to make my notes. Traffic was negligible, but a large saloon, ponderous from its armoured lining, its driver peering through the slit in the steel windscreen, passed me and drew up fifty yards ahead. A head observed me from a half-opened door, then a burly planter with pistol on belt and tommy-gun in hand plodded back to me with one of his Malay S.C.s. He was scowling. When I'd explained who I was and what I'd been doing, he made some rather emphatic remarks, ending with "You don't stop here! This is bandit country!!" So I set off back to civilization.

Emergency Days, Malaya 1948 - 50
Royal Lake Club
After four months of city life, my posting to my first Inspectorate sent me a hundred miles north to Tapah, and as I set off from the Lake Club where I'd been staying, a wit asked if there were any special points I'd like mentioned in my obituary. Tapah was a small town astride the Federation's main road, nestling against the jungled range of hills. Through the Occupation, the M.P.A.J.A. and Force 136 has been very active in the area, as admirably described by Spencer Chapman in The Jungle is Neutral. The CTs still thrived there; had recently raided and temporarily occupied the police station at Bidor about four miles south; and one of their main westward tracks, along which they'd shepherded Spencer Chapman to a submarine rendezvous off Pangkor Island, ran through a group of 'my' mines. My work was to include the inspection of mines distributed mainly within a fifteen-mile radius, including five European-owned dredges and some sixty opencast alluvial mines nearly all Chinese-owned. The handing-over report from my predecessor, who was glad to be going, said that because of the Emergency only half the mines could be visited. I ignored that.

Emergency Days, Malaya 1948 - 50
Tapah Map
Liaison with the police was easy: we were a small community of government officers in Tapah. I could give them information about the mines and miners of the area; they stored explosives belonging to 'my' miners; they advised and provided escorts for me when I wished to visit outlying areas. But such occasions, when my Hillman coupe bristled with the rifles of constables, produced nothing more exciting than the odd pile of steaming elephant-dung or a fresh tiger pug.

Once I was more heavily guarded. Apparently the CTs had sabotaged a water conduit that brought water for several mines down from the hills behind Bidor; the mines were idle; I had to assess the damage and the potential for repair. The police insisted on an escort, and I was provided with a platoon of the Coldstream Guards who were stationed in Tapah. Their patrol drill was impeccable; we moved through the jungle, climbing alongside the water-conduit silent and alert, for four to five miles; found and inspected the damage, safely returned. We had no alarm except a momentary one during a halt; a rustle of vegetation above us on a bank; we tensed; a monitor lizard apparently four feet from head to tail and about eighteen inches high at the shoulders, a veritable baby dragon, looked us over and with a flick of its head withdrew, disgusted. I thought it a pity that the halt had been for a brew of cha; my Madras Sappers in Burma five years earlier would have gone the five hours on water-bottles.

In my routine visiting of mines, I went alone or with a Malay or Chinese assistant, 9mm pistol at hip, unannounced, where possible returning by alternative route. Such was easy; but at an opencast mine five miles out of Tapah up a valley towards the hills, the English manager (a rarity at such mines) showed me how far the CTs had got on a night raid at his bungalow before he and his special constables had driven them off; it was into his kitchen.

A new District Officer, perhaps zealously acquainting himself with the duties of his fellows at Tapah, asked if he could do a morning round with me. We drew off the main road near Temoh, three or four miles out of Tapah, to walk the hundred yards to the Chinese owned and managed gravel-pump mine. It was a shallow dish, a hundred yards across and up to fifty feet deep to irregular limestone bedrock, the far side reaching to the foot of a slope with scrubby jungle. We'd gone only yards; there was a crack, then the whining of a ricochet; we ducked and halted, looked at one another. "Was that what I thought it was, a shot?" said Dodwell, and I nodded. But there were no more; we went on and I showed him that representative mine, and he left me to carry on with my morning. He may have got the impression that I lived a risky life! But I shouldn't have remembered that incident without another at that mine a week or two later.

I was in the Temoh area when a message reached me; something had happened at that mine. As I reached it, three mine labourers were lifting a strange body onto the back of a truck, and they put a tommy-gun alongside it. The dead man looked rather larger than the average Chinese, and he apparently had tried to dress militarily; a sort of smock jacket with a cartridge-belt around it, a crash-helmet on the head with string under chin. From a small hole in the left temple, blood was trickling down ear and neck. I found the mine-owner, who was somewhat excited, and got the story from him in reasonable English. He'd been in the mine and heard a shout and looked up to see a line of four or five terrorists striding towards the edge of the mine, all with weapons and looking his way. There was no exit for him. He hurried down to the thatched shelter that housed the gravel-pump in the deepest area of the mine. He scrambled down below the pump; crouched there with revolver in hand. The leader of the CTs, it seems, had watched and followed him, with another of the gang close. As he went into the shelter from the bright sunlight, tommy-gun at the ready, he couldn't see his quarry; but the miner from his crouch could see his pursuer. He aimed upwards an astonishingly-lucky shot into that head; the CT leader crashed down onto the pump, tommy-gun clattering unfired; the following terrorist possibly had seen and heard enough; the rest of them ran for the hills.

Emergency Days, Malaya 1948 - 50
This was a rare event! The miner was feted at a banquet for all similar miners and local bigwigs and government officers; senior police officers presented him with a medal and spoke proudly of the example he had set. And I daresay they gave him escorts as often as he asked; for he certainly would need them! (Now it is possible that the odd shot when the D.O. and I were reaching the mine those few days earlier was accidentally let off by the CTs who might have been watching for the miner on that day.)

My most distant visits were to a dredge property about thirty miles south of Tapah on the main road and then four miles up the narrow valley of the Slim River that drained off the main range. The company were deviating the river section by section, and dredging the old channel for its wealth of tin ore. Their staff existed in a close assembly of wooden houses with offices and stores etc. enclosed in a high barbed-wire perimeter fence, from which through the eleven hours of darkness lamps blazed from tall poles out to the jungle and anybody who might be watching from it. The track up the valley wound between the river and patches of jungle and stretches of idle rubber estate, to serve for the company vehicles and a small bus to the company's kampong and for a few local Malays.

On my last visit, I was invited for coffee to the manager's house. They were living on the upper floor, with a verandah around the house; outside each doorway from interior to verandah was a sand-bagged breastwork, in addition to extensive breastworks around the ground-floor that were manned by their Malay guards. Most evenings they endured some sniping, and could never know whether this was merely routine annoyance or the prelude to a major attack on the perimeter. About fortnightly, the manager's wife took a trip in their armoured saloon with escorting constables in jeeps, down the valley and fifty or sixty miles to Kuala Lumpur for her shopping and a hair-do. Perhaps she always had been tall and rather thin, but I felt that the frequent sideways spasm of neck and the tic at a side of the mouth might have recent origins.

Going away down the valley, at the last bend, and the track only one and a half cars' width, I came up against the local bus; a meeting of radiator and offside front wheel, due to wet and muddy canvas-and-rubber boots slipping off pedals suddenly pressed. I got the car the last furlong to the main road and the police station there; reported the accident and telephoned my car service firm sixty-odd miles north in Ipoh; sat disconsolately in the car to await their arrival.

A car drew up alongside, its occupants staring concernedly at me and my car damage: it was Mr. Liew, one of 'my' miners from Bidor, and his son, who always acted as aide and interpreter. I was swept into his car and along to a nearby hamlet, where in a Chinese eating-house I was required to consume several lightly-poached eggs with a glass of brandy, to correct what they regarded as my poor physical condition; then, after a convivial brandy and ginger-ale, they ran me back to Tapah. A week or two later, a message sped me from my office to Mr. Liew's shop/house in Bidor, where we sat in the empty open-fronted room while he told his story through his son. He'd had a message that he was wanted at the 42nd milestone, which was just outside Bidor in Tapah direction, at a set time; and he went there, fairly sure that this was a terrorist demand. There was a Chinese youth watching him from the edge of a copse. He went towards him, with a shout demanding what he wanted; and just then came a police truck with a Chinese detective at its window. Mr. Liew called to the detective and pointed to the youth; the truck stopped, and detective and police constables leapt out to chase the youth who had set out across country.

Mr. Liew was short and wiry and proud. Gesticulating and fierce of mouth, he told me that this was the way to treat these bandits; we must not pay them protection money; we must help the government to rid the country of these pests! Oh, he ranted magnificently, and I wondered what were the sympathies of the two or three young men who watched and listened from the arcaded sidewalk. I congratulated Mr. Liew most heartily, and went back to my office.

It was only a matter of a week or two before I had another message about Mr. Liew. His little mine was a couple of miles outside Bidor and half a mile off the road; a slow half mile along an earthen track over open ground that had ruts and corrugations which threatened one's springs and differential casing. That morning in his jeep, he'd got most of the way along the track, when from behind a patch of tall lallang grass at his side of the track, two bandits stood up ten yards ahead of him and levelled Sten guns at him and shot him dead. He was a brave man. He had had his hour of glory, and they had killed him.

At the end of my sixteen months' duty at Tapah, my hand-over report told that I had been in the habit of visiting all mines without escorts. But of course I hadn't had to visit them daily or live at them.

Colonial Map
Malaya Map
Colony Profiles
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 63: April 1992


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