Malaya and the Emergency (1950-53)
Chapter   5 - Johore — Segamat
Segamat is one of the larger towns of North Johore, and lies on the main North-South road about one hundred and twenty miles North of Johore Bahru. The chief local industry is rubber, and in the jungle to the South there are extensive logging areas. The inhabitants are mainly Chinese, with a few Malay villagers in the outlying areas, and the district had always been the scene of considerable Communist activity.

The main body of the Battalion arrived by train on October 3rd. “C” Company was based in the North of the area at Batu Anam, eight miles from Segamat. “D“ Company was at Tenang, ten miles South of Segamat, and “B” Company was at Labis twenty miles to the South. The newly-formed “A” Company was with Battalion Headquarters as they had yet to complete their jungle training. Whilst the Battalion was settling in at Segamat the Shooting team was competing in the Malayan Rifle Meeting, in which the Battalion was placed fifth and Major (Q.M.) C. E. Shrimpton was second in the individual championship, a very creditable performance considering the little time available for practice. The Battalion’s first operation in the new area was Operation Prelude, which was carried out by platoons of ” B “ and ”D“ Companies and was directed against terrorists in the jungle to the East of the main road. It was, unfortunately, an ill-fated operation, for not only was there no contact made with the enemy but, whilst searching an area of thick jungle, a platoon of “B” Company and a platoon of “D” Company met and opened fire on each other, and before identity was established four men had been wounded (L/Cpl. Sale, Pte. Wood, Pte. Falkner and Pte. Harper). The accident was due to the Battalion’s comparative inexperience of these conditions, as it was extremely difficult in the thick jungle to recognise friend from foe, even at very short distances. A helicopter was sent for immediately to evacuate the casualties. The evacuation itself, carried out by Flight-Lieutenants Fry and Dowling, was an outstanding achievement as the landing site was in an unusually awkward position and the vegetation only allowed one-foot clearance for the helicopter blades.


At the beginning of November the Commanding Officer was called to a conference at Brigade Headquarters (26th Gurkha Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brig. L. H. O. Pugh, D.S.O.. Although nominally still in the 18th Infantry Brigade the Battalion was attached to 26th Brigade), in Johore Bahru, to discuss a new operational policy. This policy was part of what was known as the “Briggs Plan” after the then Director of Operations, Lieut.-General Sir Harold Briggs. On the one hand it was intended to resettle all the isolated Chinese squatter huts and villages, which were an ideal source of food, money and information. These huts and villages were to be destroyed and their inhabitants sent to resettlement villages, which were to have wired-in perimeters and a twenty-four hour police guard. Thus it was hoped to deny the terrorists access to the native population, and especially the Chinese. On the military side the operational platoons were to be placed in ambush positions on or near the jungle fringe for a month at a time. The police were to concentrate on the populated areas and rubber estates. A platoon was to spend a month in the jungle and a fortnight in base as a reserve, and in a rifle company at any one time there would be two platoons in the jungle and one in base. Theoretically the idea was good, the principle being to ambush the terrorists on their lines of communication as they came out of the jungle for supplies; the ambush was also by far the most efficient way of killing terrorists. However, the plan did not allow for local variations in conditions, and a restrictive pattern of operations was forced on the junior commanders, whereas in fact the success of the anti-terrorist campaign depended on the initiative, knowledge and ingenuity of the company and platoon commanders. In addition to which it was fair to assume that the really important “hard-core” terrorists would not be risked on such things as collecting supplies. The new system of operating started in November, but was discarded as impracticable after about six months.

Whilst flying over the jungle some fifteen miles to the North-East of Segamat, a helicopter had spotted a clearing, which appeared to be a fairly new patch of cultivation. It was known that the terrorists were trying to ease their difficult supply situation by starting cultivation areas deep in the jungle, and it seemed that this clearing might be one such an attempt at self-sufficiency, It was therefore decided to send 8 Platoon (Lt. R. F. Ellis, R.A. att. 1 Worc. R.) and 11 Platoon (2/Lt. W. D. Morris, R.A.O.C. att. 1 Worc. R.) to investigate the clearing. 8 Platoon found the clearing and it proved to be a cultivation area of some sixteen and a half acres, planted with tapioca and sweet potatoes. A considerable amount of work had been put into the cultivation; the clearing alone of such a large area of jungle would have taken several months. 8 Platoon surprised two terrorists at the cultivation, killing one and wounding the other; they also captured three Sakai women who were working on the crops. After the platoons had withdrawn, an oil bomb was dropped in the hope of destroying the crops. About a fortnight later 10 Platoon (2/Lt. M. H. Bury) was sent to see the effect of the oil bomb. On arrival they found that the terrorists were still working the area. Two armed terrorists were surprised on the edge of the clearing, one was killed and the other severely wounded. It appeared that the oil bomb had done very little damage. The platoon uprooted and destroyed the tapioca, but due to lack of time they had to leave the rest of the crops. On this operation experimental use was made of two tracking dogs, and the results were sufficiently encouraging to justify further trials.

Due to operational commitments, the Battalion’s Christmas celebrations had to be staggered, each Company having their “Christmas” on a different day, thus ensuring the maximum number of troops were available for operations. But, in spite of the difficult conditions, the celebrations lost none of their customary vigour; the Commanding Officer visited the Companies on their respective Christmas Days and found the men in high spirits.

Early in 1951 heavy rainstorms started and lasted almost continuously for nearly a fortnight. There was extensive flooding throughout Malaya, and the floods were reported to be the worst for sixty years. In the Battalion area the River Segamat and the River Muar broke their banks and flooded large areas to a considerable depth of water. Segamat was cut off by rail and road.

The lower part of the town was badly flooded and “H.Q.” and “A” Companies were used to help in the evacuation of Chinese civilians from the upper storeys of their marooned houses.

Several civilians were drowned. Some of the platoons who were out on patrol at the time had to make long detours in order to return to their base, and often had to make use of boats and canoes. “C” Company had to be supplied by air-drop, and an “Auster” light aeroplane flew up from Johore Bahru each day to drop the official mail. Operations were virtually at a standstill, and throughout the country many terrorists surrendered when the floods cut them off from their source of food. Three surrendered in the Segamat district.

Auster Aircraft

On January 21st, Private Marsden, a scout car driver, whilst trying to push his vehicle through a flooded patch of the main road, missed his footing at the side of the road and was carried away by the fast-running flood water. His body was recovered two days later. Marsden, who was a rare character and a great loss, was known throughout the Battalion as “Charlie.” He was remarkable for his unfailing sense of humour and devastating mimicry. For every occasion he had a joke and a funny remark. During the war, whilst serving with the 7th Battalion in Burma, he had been awarded a Commander-in-Chief’s Certificate for helping to maintain the morale of his comrades. His tragic death was mourned by all ranks of the Battalion; as a jester and as a most likeable character he was irreplaceable. Because of the floods his body could not be taken to the War Cemetery at Singapore, and he was buried at Segamat.

On February 7th a patrol of “C” Company captured a terrorist in an old camp North-East of Jementah. The man was a Chinese, who was suffering from starvation and an advanced stage of tuberculosis; he had to be carried out of the jungle and was sent straight to the hospital at Segamat.

In mid-February it was decided to change round some of the Companies. “A” Company moved from Segamat to Labis, “B” Company moved from Labis to Tenang, and “D” Company from Tenang to Segamat.

On February 22nd some terrorists burnt a lumber lorry on Melville Estate, a few miles to the West of Labis. The lorry driver reported to Labis police station and the police asked “A” Company for an escort to take the driver and a police inspector to the lorry to make a report on the damage. The escort was ten strong. When they arrived at Melville Estate the lorry driver then stated that the lorry was not on the estate but a little way inside the jungle down a logging track. The patrol moved down the track, the lorry driver was made to lead as a test of his loyalty. The patrol had moved some distance down the track when suddenly they came under extremely heavy automatic fire. The driver was wounded three times; the police inspector was wounded, as were four members of the patrol. It transpired later that there were about eighty-five terrorists armed with a large proportion of automatic weapons. The ambush covered approximately four hundred yards of the track on one side, the other side being jungle and waist-high swamp.

There were also some positions at the head of the ambush on both sides of the track and firing straight down the track. The fire was sustained, largely automatic, and coming from a semi-circle of about two hundred and seventy degrees. There were also two parties of terrorists moving on the flanks of the ambush, shouting, screaming and blowing bugles.

At this stage five of the patrol were missing; it was assumed that they were casualties and were lying in the undergrowth at the side of the track. The remaining five therefore decided to try and move round the flank of the terrorist position and dislodge them by an attack from the flank or rear. They did not at that time realise the extent of the ambush or the unusually large size of the terrorist force. They moved about a hundred and fifty yards through the swamp, parallel to the track. As they splashed through the swamp the noise attracted heavy fire. But when they came out on to the track again they found that instead of being behind the terrorists they were still within the ambush, and again they found themselves under heavy automatic fire. From the general direction of the firing it now appeared that the ring of the ambush was closing in, and that the original position had been overrun. There was a gap to the North-East from which no firing was coming, and it was towards that gap that the survivors made. The noise of their movement still attracted the enemy fire, but it gradually died away and about two hours later they reached the rubber estate. A large police and military force was sent immediately to the scene of the action. A search of the area revealed that of the five missing men, four were dead and the fifth was very seriously wounded. He died later that night. The men who were killed were Sjt. A. Rowley, Privates Banner, Harvey, Plant, and Walker. When Private Harvey had been wounded in the opening burst of fire Sjt. Rowley had gone to his aid, and whilst attending to Harvey’s wounds he was killed himself. Sjt. Rowley was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches. From documents captured at a later date it appeared that one terrorist was killed in the action.

The effects of the floods were still being felt. 8 Platoon, whilst looking for a terrorist camp some twenty miles North-East of Segamat, found that their way back to their base was barred by floods, The platoon had to make its own way back by crossing to the East Coast and to Batu Anam by road and rail. The patrol covered just over three hundred miles.

On March 8th the Battalion suffered another stroke of ill-luck. A section of 12 Platoon, while moving into an ambush position, made a surprise contact with a large terrorist force (This was almost certainly the same body which had attacked “A” Company), and in the rather confused encounter, which followed Privates Leedham and Davies, were killed. The section was almost surrounded, and Private Leedham, the Bren gunner, was separated from the remainder, but bravely stood his ground and continued firing until he was killed. Leedham was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches.

Towards the end of March the Battalion heard that it was to move again, this time to the Kluang area of central Johore, when, as it turned out, fortune changed in their favour.

Segamat – Troops in camp – centre Sgt. Coslett with watch


Patrol at Sagamat refilling water bottles at a stream