British Malaya and the Malayan Emergency

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Ronnie Liu’s ‘dispute’ with Professor Khoo Kay Kim (British Colonial Days began in 1947 and ended in 1948?) reminds me of some interesting stories of British Malaya during the days of the Emergency, which certainly shows that the British were very much in control of the country and Malaya was far from ‘independent’.

Gerald Templer
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, KG (1898 – 1979) was a British military commander. He is best known for his defeat of the guerrilla rebels in Malaya between 1952 and 1954. “The jungle has been neutralised”, he declared in a Time Magazine cover article in 1952.

Templer was commissioned into the Royal Irish Fusiliers and fought in World War I where he developed a reputation for being somewhat hapless after accidentally being shot by friendly Belgian forces. During World War II, he commanded the British 56th Infantry Division during the Italian campaign, and briefly commanded the 6th Armoured Division before being severely injured by a land mine in mid-1944. He served as Director of Military Government in Germany during the Allied occupation after World War II.

Winston Churchill then appointed him High Commissioner in Malaya after the assassination of Henry Gurney in October 1951. The Malayan Emergency – a struggle for independence by Communist Malayan forces – had been declared in 1948. Working closely with Robert Thompson, the Permanent Secretary of Defence for Malaya, Templer’s tactics against the communists were held up as a model for counter-insurgency and were often juxtaposed with later American responses in Vietnam, particularly as Thompson headed the BRIAM (British Advisory Mission) to South Vietnam in the early 60’s, where the American military chose to ignore much of the advice given by the BRIAM.

In Malaya Templer instituted incentive schemes for rewarding surrendering rebels and those who encouraged them to surrender. He was helped by the often brutal attacks on Malay civilians by the Communists which helped mobilise popular opinion against them. Templer also used strict curfews and tight control of food supplies to force compliance from rebellious areas and flush out guerrillas. Crops grown by the Communists in response to these measures were sprayed with herbicide. These restrictions would be lifted on so-called ‘White Areas’ which had been found to be free of Communist incursion, yet another incentive for the population to turn in the rebels. Templer in fact coined the phrase “winning the hearts and minds”, to imply a conflict beyond the merely military.

In military terms Templer concentrated his efforts on intelligence and on training and tactics suitable for the jungle environment. Morale among his own troops remained good and Templer was a popular commander. When he left Malaya in 1954 the situation was dramatically improved though the rebels remained a force. Templer denied that the situation had stabilised, declaring “I’ll shoot the bastard who says that this Emergency is over”. In fact the Malay government declared it over in 1960, three years after independence.

As what Wikipedia said above, “the Malayan Emergency – a struggle for independence by Communist Malayan forces – had been declared in 1948.” It is evident the British considered the Malayan Emergency a ‘struggle for independence’ by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). Their aspirations may have been noble but their methods were certainly wanting.

The MCP may have been misguided in their ways, but we cannot discount the fact that their motives were to kick the British out and get Malaya declared an independent nation. If only they had not resorted to terrorism but had instead tried it through negotiations and diplomacy. But then, at that time, the British were above talking, so terrorism seemed to be the only avenue open to those aspiring for independence.

Anyway, that is not what we want to talk about today.

One day, the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Hisamuddin Alam Shah, the Sixth Sultan of Selangor, was invited to the Lake Club at the Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur. In spite of his English education at Malaysia’s premier school for the elite, his command of English was rather poor, so he brought along his cousin who was also his brother-in-law, Raja Sir Tun Uda Al Haj bin Raja Muhamad.

Raja Sir Tun Uda’s English was not only superb, but when he spoke you would have thought that Sir Winston Churchill had entered the room; if you know what I mean.

But the security guards would not let the Sultan and his cousin enter the Lake Club. You see, then, the Club was only for white skins and in spite of the Sultan being regally dressed as if it was his coronation and even with Raja Sir Tun Uda’s Winston Churchill twang, they were clearly brown skins and therefore not eligible to set foot in a pure white skin club.

Raja Sir Tun Uda tried to explain that this was the Sultan of Selangor they were denying entry and they were there as guests of honour at the invitation of the club. Nevertheless, they were still brown skins and the answer was still ‘no!’

So the Sultan and Raja Sir Tun Uda left the club and headed for home. When Sir Gerald Templer found out about the incident he was fuming mad. He demanded the resignation of the entire committee and decreed that, from that day on, locals would be allowed access to the Lake Club.

In another incident, some government surveyors were shot dead in the jungles surrounding Tanjong Malim on the Selangor-Perak border and Sir Gerald Templer ordered a curfew of the entire area. He knew that the Communist Terrorists (CTs) lived amongst the townspeople and he said he would not lift the curfew until they identified who the perpetrators of the massacre were.

After one week, still no one came forward to finger the CTs. Sir Gerald Templer then called all the elders and Chinese community leaders to the town hall for a meeting and said that he knew they know who these people are and he wanted them to name names. There was total silence. No one dared open their mouths and this made Sir Gerald Templer hoping mad.

He will not lift the curfew until the CTs are arrested, he said. Still silence. Of course, the Chinese he was addressing spoke no English and he spoke no Chinese, so Sir Gerald Templer had to communicate with them through an interpreter.

“Look,” said Sir Gerald Templer, “You can be bastards…” And the interpreter translated. “The Tuan accuses your father and mother of not being married when you were born.”

The shocked Chinese could not believe their ears. They were being accused by the British Tuan of being illegitimate children.

“…but, you will find,” Sir Gerald Templer went on, “That I can be a bigger bastard.”

“However,” translated the beaming interpreter, “The Tuan admits that his father and mother were also not married when he was born.”