British Empire Article

by David Brent
(Asst Superintendent of Police, Malaya 1952-58)
Jungle Patrols
On Patrol
"It's March 1953. Four months earlier I was in charge of the burial detail for a gallant police lieutenant, a superb jungle fighter who was ambushed and killed with two of his squad while on a deep jungle mission at my previous district. I am now the OCPD [Officer Commanding Police District] of this district in Malaya's largest jungle area, Pahang State in Malaya. The district is typical of front-line units interfacing Malaya's jungles and the enemy, the armed terrorists of the CPM, the Communist Party of Malaya. The Communist terrorists [CTs] are organized into a military hierarchy and a political hierarchy at national, state and district levels. The district's large area of hilly jungle is interspersed with small villages and rubber estates. At the centre is a small one-street town. My main responsibilities are maintenance of law and order in a complex multi-cultural community, general security, counter-insurgency jungle operations, counter-insurgency intelligence and counter-espionage.

Jungle Patrols
Malay Regiment
The district strength is about 500 personnel, police, para-military police and fully operational military units. We are supported by a company of the Malay Regiment and a Police Field Force of about 150 operational personnel. The district organization and duties include - criminal investigations, court prosecutions, maintenance and inspections of police stations and posts, bachelor barracks, married barracks, administration, finance, transport, armoury, signals, Special Branch operations, combined operations centre with the military [plotting large-scale maps with all events, contacts and evidence of enemy presence and movements, aerial photographs, preparation of regular situation reports]. There are two crime inspectors, one Special Branch inspector and five police lieutenants. There is no domestic electricity throughout the district except for rubber estates where the managers have generators.

Jungle Patrols
Triang Armoured Train
All movement is by unsealed tracks and armoured transport in the northern part of the district. A railway runs south to north servicing the population and the rubber estates to get their rubber to local and overseas markets. The jungle south is virgin with no roads. The only way to get to southern police posts and new villages is via rail and an armoured train. The armoured train is a large steam locomotive with a steel box car with weapon slits at each end, front and rear of the train. At each end of the two box cars are two flat wagons piled with sandbags to take the force of explosion should the CTs mine the rail track to try to blow us up. Travel in the steel armoured box cars is hellish, like an oven under the hot tropical sun with perspiration streaming down bodies soaking our uniforms. But better than the alternative!

There are not enough hours in the day to handle all the very varied, urgent and sometimes extraordinary problems that occur daily at all hours. The pressure is relentless.

Jungle Patrols
Today, while jungle patrols are usually delegated to the police units commanded by police lieutenants or to the military units, I have taken this three-day ten man police patrol on a particular mission myself. When I was a platoon commander with NATO the standard infantry weapon was the bolt-action Lee Enfield No 4 rifle. However, I found the American M1 carbine a much better weapon, lighter with a very rapid fire-power and accuracy for close combat. More suited to jungle warfare. Jungle patrols are the very toughest, most testing aspect of police responsibilities. Contrary to some myths the jungle is very unwelcoming, totally exhausting, unbearably hot, wet, steamy, uncomfortable, dangerous and sometimes completely demoralizing. There is a pervasive jungle odour of rotting vegetation and the climate alternates between extreme hot sunlight, dark clouds and drenching rain. Trying to stay dry is a completely futile effort. The vegetation is prolific and extremely varied from very tall trees and high canopies with light vegetation and growth at ground level to the other extremes of 'belukar', areas open to sunlight where vegetation growth is incredibly rapid and intense making progress very slow, tiring and frustrating. Massive bamboos grow high with bases as thick as a man's thigh, vines with thorns catch on uniforms and flesh, unstable ground can give way causing falls, and upon undulating ground steep-sided ravines make progress slippery and precarious and time-consuming. In 'belukar areas an indispensable item of equipment is the parang, a long bladed machete for cutting through particularly tough, difficult foliage. However, experience in its use is necessary. One past instance occurred when a young army officer grabbed a thick bamboo with one hand and hacked at it with a parang in the other hand. He got the angle wrong and the sharp parang blade bounced off the hard bamboo and severed the sinews and arteries in his wrist. With such heavy rainfall, streams are common and often need to be crossed at varying depths.
Jungle Patrols
Malayan Police
A common practice is to sew up the neck aperture of the issue poncho cape to make it waterproof so that weapons, ammunition, webbing, packs, etc can be safely wrapped and bagged in the poncho to float across streams. Poncho capes for rain protection are of little use in steamy hot jungles. Streaming with perspiration under the heat of a poncho cape in rainy weather is no better than getting soaking wet in the rain!

To add to all these delights, the animal world provides its own style of treatment - leeches, mosquitoes, scorpions, centipedes, voracious ants, massive spiders, wasps, various bugs and many kinds of snakes - all likely to surprise the human trespasser at any unlikely moment. Other larger animals might suddenly be seen but for the most part are very wary of humans and disappear quickly.

Jungle patrolling calls for extreme fitness and a resilience and determination to be able to cope with the constant physical and mental stresses day in and day out. Mindset is critical against a battle hardened enemy - think animal, act animal - forget human values. Paramount above all these problems is the life and death need to move quietly as a well-organized team with sensitive observation and listening. If your patrol suddenly confronts the enemy, he who sees the other first, shoots first and scores the first casualty.

Breaks for rest and meals with sentries mounted are welcomed. Army 'compo' rations are convenient and filling, supplemented with curry and rice, chocolate bars, and a tin cup of tea boiled on a solid fuel "Tommy cooker" has a soothing quality. Night camps are a time for a little rest and recovery, and careful preparation. Each man prepares a 'basha', stakes in the ground with tree branches or bamboos stretched between to form a platform elevated off the ground. A poncho cape is spread and secured over the top providing protection from the inevitable downpour most nights. Soaking wet jungle green uniforms are discarded, hung on bushes and changed for a dry set of clothes for sleeping. Jungle boots are exchanged for police black sneakers and are up-ended onto two stakes in the ground to help them to dry out but also importantly to prevent scorpions, centipedes or spiders from crawling into the boots during the night. In the morning the uncomfortable wet uniforms are donned and the dry uniform returned to the back pack ready for the next night. De-leeching is a routine with a hot fire ash, or salt or a dab of antiseptic to cause them to drop off. Leeches drop off leaves when brushed against and find any gap or crevasse to squeeze through and get at flesh. A routine check is made of any scratches, grazes or wounds sustained during patrol for treatment from the first-aid kit to prevent infection and later problems. And a daily dose of Paludrine is an insurance against contracting malaria.

Jungle Patrols
Malay Police Field Force
By the third day we had achieved our intelligence objective for a planned later operation in the area. By the fourth day, jungle green uniforms are not just wet. They're stinking! Sweat and wet mould combined are an unsociably smelly combination. We're tired and aching on the last home stretch. I take a look at my watch kept in my breast pocket as we move along through another downpour. It's 12.45 pm. I note that just now Singaporeans, expats and locals in crisply laundered business shirts and ties, will be ambling their way casually from air-conditioned offices at Raffles Place and nearby locales to the Cricket Club or various other restaurant venues where they'll enjoy a cooling few beers and chat casually about the far away wretched Emergency in Malaya, the price of rubber, the 'Tankards' team and the last rugby match, the latest flic' at the Cathay Cinema and the floor show at the Princes Garni on Orchard Rd. At luncheon they'll probably grumble about the too few pork pieces in the mee goreng or the flavour of the sauce tartar and regret the bad luck on the bet at the last week-end horse races. But all will agree that in spite of everything, it's not such a bad life in Singapore!"

The final victory over the Communist Party of Malaya led ultimately to the independence of Malaysia and of Singapore. Police took the brunt of casualties, over double the combined casualties of the military. In the finality, while in Malaya there was a deep community awareness of the horrors, devastation and atrocities by the ruthless Communist terrorists in the jungles and the assassins in the underground Communist Min Yuen espionage organization, Singaporean residents remained notoriously insulated and relatively unconcerned about these threats so far away 'across the causeway' to the north.

British Colony Map
1965 Map of Singapore and Southern Malaya
Colony Profile
The Author
[David Brent was an assistant superintendent in the para-military Malayan Police Force. He served as a police commander of several large districts in the hinterlands of Malaya and was also an intelligence specialist during the Malayan Emergency. He participated in the BBC 2004 TV documentary, Empire Warriors: 'The Intelligence War', with views and recollection of the Emergency and also contributed to several publications on Malaya and the Emergency.]
Also by the Author
Encounters In Malayan Police Work
Malayan Emergency
Malayan Tales
Malaya - A Magical Experience
Colonialism and Empires: A natural evolution of civilizations
The Story of Singapore to 1959 and Beyond: Real Truths, Hidden Truths and Forgotten Truths


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