The British Empire Library

Tock Tock Birds - a Spider in the Web of International Terrorism

by Tim Hatton OBE

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by a former Malaysian Policeman
Dominating the insect chorus of the Malayan night is the sound made by the longtailed nightjar - a regular tock - tock - tock, like the beat of a magnified and maddening metronome. Vast sums of money have been lost and won by people betting on how many times the bird will 'tock' before falling silent for a while prior to beginning a new longer or shorter series of tocks. Its tocking forms a leitmotiv to Tim Hatton's fascinating story; now consoling, now warning, now encouraging him in his Malayan days.

Few authors are gifted with such total recall as this one and few colonial policemen have enjoyed such a varied career. His most obvious characteristic is an intense interest in whatever he experiences, be it unusual (being given a lift as a war time schoolboy by Queen Mary in a car whose splendours included a large box of chocolates); important (planning and directing prolonged operations which broke the back of the Communist guerrilla organisation in Central Malaya); exotic (qualifying with his wife as an exhibition dancer of traditional Malay rongeng and modern Turkish Zappin dances); or complex ('incorporating the Rural Industries Bureau, the Rural Industries Loan Fund and the forty five largely independent County Rural Industries Committees into a new unified service'). Nothing is too insignificant to escape his notice and every task that comes his way is tackled with equal enthusiasm and interest. These are certainly qualities that go to make a good policeman - though an author should perhaps be more selective when looking back over an active life.

As a soldier during and immediately after the war he saw active service in the virtually forgotten operations in Java and Sumatra in 1945-46 and discovered Communist preparations for a jungle based guerrilla war in Malaya in 1946-47. The highlight of his Indian Army service was commanding the escort and organising the transfer of 100,000 Muslims through decidedly hostile territory from India to Pakistan during the ugly time of the partition of India in 1947. This was the sort of task that a 22 year old subaltern in the 9th Gurkha Rifles was expected to do without fuss or any particular need for assistance. He describes it in detail and with becoming modesty.

His service in the Malayan Police from 1948-1967 is certainly the most important part of the book and makes it essential reading for anyone studying the Malayan Emergency of 1948-60. Many books have been written on that campaign but very few of them have done justice to the vital role of the police - in particular its Special Branch. It is seldom realised that all concerned in the campaign - politicians, administrators, generals, soldiers and the greater part of the police service itself were almost entirely dependent on the Special Branch for intelligence on the enemy. Thus all operations intended to kill, capture, or arrest Communist guerrillas and their support organisation or persuade guerrillas to surrender were controlled and often actually organised by the Special Branch of the police. Starting as a junior officer operating in the field Tim Hatton rose steadily practically to the top of his profession where as Acting Director of Special Branch for the whole of Malaysia he advised and regularly met the country's political leadership. But to this reviewer the most interesting part of the book describes his work in central Malaya in 1953-56. Here one learns in detail how Special Branch strategy and tactics actually worked and begins to appreciate the immense amount of preparatory work that took place before the Communist infrastructure there was systematically penetrated and destroyed, district by district, over a period of two years. This book at last does justice to the police effort in a model counter-insurgency campaign.

Hatton's return to England in 1967 was an inevitable anti-climax; but he retained his zest for life and work during a series of very different occupations, including the administrative class of the Civil Service, commerce, and ultimately for many years administrative work in state and independent education. Not a man to rest on his laurels this remarkable polymath is, or has been, the Chairman of an independent school governing body, governor of the Hellenic College of London, has received the Freedom of the City of London, and is a steward of the Chapter House of Salisbury Cathedral and an official guide to the Cathedral, capable of introducing himself to tourists in oldfashioned French, Urdu-Hindustani, Malay/Indonesian, Hokkien and Modern Greek.

Good author too: but that you must discover for yourselves.

British Empire Book
Tim Hatton OBE
The Book Guild Ltd
1 85776 851 5


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