Malaya and the Emergency (1950-53)
Chapter   9 - Perak—Ipoh
Ipoh, the capital of the State of Perak, lies at the confluence of the Rivers Pan and Kinta, near the Northern end of the Kinta valley, a prolific source of tin and rubber and probably the richest part of Malaya. The main part of the town is pleasantly built and spaciously laid out, and compared with most Malayan towns it is remarkably clean. In the centre of the town there is at fine Padang, overlooked by the famous Ipoh Club. There are several European-style shops, banks, commercial houses and cinemas.

The Battalion Headquarters was at Columbo Camp on the Eastern outskirts of the town and adjacent to the Headquarters of 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, and 12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s).

The Battalion operational area roughly comprised the Kinta Valley between Ipoh in the South, and Sungei Siput in the North. The centre of the Valley was a mixture of tin mines and rubber estates. To the East rose the steep mountains of the Central Range, dominated by Gunong Korbu (7,160 feet), the second highest mountain in Malaya. The Western side of the Valley was marked by a smaller mountain range, which ran from Sungei Siput to Batu Gajah.

The move of the Battalion from Penang took place between 13th February and 15th February and on arrival it was learnt that “C” and “D” Companies were to go immediately on Operation “Broderick,” which was being conducted by 3 Commando Brigade in the Tapah area and was directed against a particularly notorious and unusually well-led terrorist gang. The operation continued until the end of the month, and although a number of terrorists were killed, our Companies did not make contact with the enemy.

Meanwhile, the Battalion was busy settling down in the new area. The Company bases were much more pleasant than many which the Battalion had known. They followed the usual pattern of a small tested camp surrounding a wooden house and bungalow. Company bases were generally situated on rubber estates, although in this instance “A” Company was on the edge of Sungei Siput town alongside the railway line. Operationally the new area seemed comparatively quiet; there were few incidents and it was six weeks before a contact was made.

On 14th March, 3 Platoon, “A” Company (2nd/Lt. J. A. W. Holmes) was patrolling in area North of Sungei Siput. With the aid of a Malay guide, the Platoon had crossed the River Plus and moved on to a Malay village where the headman showed the Platoon Commander a place where the terrorists were known to cross the river. An ambush was laid and later that night a Chinese terrorist walked down the track used by the Platoon. 2nd/Lt. Holmes fired and hit the terrorist who tried to get away, but in doing so he ran into the fire of the Bren gun and was killed.

Cameron Highlands

On 26th March, “C” Company (Major P. G. B. Hall, D.S.O.) was ordered to the Cameron Highlands to take over from a Company of the 1st Battalion the Gordon Highlanders, whose headquarters was then at Tapah. The Cameron Highlands was the main hill station in Malaya, but because of the Emergency it was little used as such by the civilians. There was a Military Hospital and a Change of Air Station there. The Cameron Highlands is about five thousand feet high and the station itself in a small and widely scattered town. The climate is healthy and comparatively cool, and for those who were stationed their it provided a welcome respite from the sticky heat of the plain. The road up from Tapah is nearly forty miles of twists and bends flanked by cliffs and precipices and bordered with thick jungle. Each day there was one convoy up, and one convoy down.

“C” Company’s stay in the Cameron Highlands was enjoyable, but brief, and after three weeks they handed over to a company of the 1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment who had come to Tapah to relieve the 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders. It was decided that 7 and 8 Platoons should march through the jungle direct to Ipoh. They were to be met by the Machine Gun Platoon at a pre-arranged dropping zone where they would receive an airdrop of rations for the final stage of the journey. The object of the patrol was to investigate certain clearings in the jungle reported by the R.A.F., and to search for suspected terrorist camps. The operation was commanded by Major A. H. Nott (Battalion Second-in-Command) who travelled with 7 and 8 Platoons.

“B” Company men relaxing at camp on Cameron Highlands

Although the map shows the direct distance from the Cameron Highlands to Ipoh to be only about fifteen miles, the jungle is so thick and the mountains so steep and precipitous that it took 7 and 8 Platoons eight days to cover the distance. The going was extremely bad and the platoons made slow progress through the jungle where they were continually climbing and descending almost sheer slopes at varying heights up to four thousand feet. The rendezvous with the Machine Gun Platoon was successfully made, but 7 and 8 Platoons were late arriving and had to go one day virtually without food.

Perak - Ipoh

No sign of the enemy was seen, and the three platoons eventually arrived, tired, very footsore, with some injuries due to falls, but nevertheless very cheerful. It was generally agreed that this was the hardest march which the Battalion had to do whilst they were in Malaya.

It was next the turn of “D“ Company (Major B. Y. Watson) to meet the enemy. On 20th May, 11 Platoon (2nd/Lt. R. A. U. Richards) left their base at Tanjong Rambutan to carry out an ambush near a tin mine in the Chemor area. The information on which the ambush was laid proved to be false and the Platoon was ordered to make it’s way Southward towards the Company base searching the area as they came.

At 1600 hours on the 22nd, they discovered a terrorist food dump containing some partly consumed rations, and food for about ten men for seven days. The Platoon Commander decided to ambush the place, which appeared to be a terrorist camp under construction. At 1800 hours the same evening, about six terrorists were seen by a sentry moving along the bottom of the valley below. A section was sent in pursuit but it did not make contact. It was now raining heavily and the sky was dark and overcast. Camp was made for the night and sentries posted. At 1940 hours a party of terrorists stumbled on the camp and fire was opened. By now it was very dark and still raining hard, and this resulted in some confusion before the terrorists were identified. The first two were mistaken for sentries changing. There was a sharp exchange of fire in which one terrorist was killed, and 2nd/Lt. Richards received a severe wound in the leg. The remaining terrorists then withdrew.
Early on the following morning 11 Platoon was relieved by 12 Platoon, who had orders to patrol the area looking for tracks and blood trails. One patrol found the rifle and ammunition believed to belong to the dead terrorist. A Second patrol wounded two more terrorists in a brief encounter and some food and medical stores were recovered.
The one-hundred-and-fifty-eighth anniversary of the Glorious First of June was celebrated as was customary with a holiday for all those not on operations, and a small parade was held in Ipoh. The 1st June also marked the end of mourning for His late Majesty, King George VI.

On the 11th June the Machine Gun Platoon (2/Lt. T. E. J. Mound) guarded by a surrendered terrorist courier moved out to the Sungei Raia, to the east of Tambun. After a march of three days up the river, they laid an ambush by a dam, which supplied water to the tin mines in the valley. On the same afternoon a terrorist, armed with a Sten gun and dressed in khaki drill, crossed the dam. The ambush party opened fire. The terrorist was killed and fell into the river, but fortunately his body together with his weapon and ammunition were recovered.

On the 26th June “B” Company secured another success. 4 Platoon (2/Lt. L. N. Barron) were patrolling in the Western Range when they found a milk churn full of rice, which had apparently been there for some days. One Section of six men, under Cpl. Nolan, were left to ambush the churn. The ambush consisted of a 2 men position on a rock commanding a view of the track for about 30 yards. The Section base camp was established 150 yards to the rear. At 1410 hours on the 26th June, after 3 days of waiting, the ambush No. 1 saw three terrorists approaching. They stopped about 25 yards away, apparently suspicious. The Bren gunner decided to open fire before the terrorists could get away, and hit the leader with a burst that struck his thigh. He then quickly switched to the terrorist travelling last and put a burst through his head. By this time the middle terrorist had gone to cover and the wounded one had also disappeared. The No. 2 in the ambush position had been unsighted and had only time to throw a grenade at the fleeting target. The Section followed the track of the wounded man until it was lost in some long grass. No. 6 Platoon using tracking dogs managed to follow the track a little further on the next day, but the dogs lost the scent and the search was abandoned.
At the Malaya Rifle Meeting at Sagintin at the end of June, the Battalion was maintaining its reputation in another sphere. After winning the 18th Infantry Brigade Shoot they were narrowly beaten by the 1st Battalion The Queen’s Own Rifle West Kent Regiment, whom they had only just beaten in the Brigade Competition. In this Rifle Meeting Major (Q.M.) C. E. Shrimpton led the Battalion team for the last time. He retired a few weeks later, having served in the Regiment since 1919. He was one of the most consistently successful shots the Regiment had had in recent years, and the Regiment owed a great deal, not only to his personal skill, but to his experience as a coach.

August brought only one solitary kill, and that by 2 Platoon, when they killed a terrorist and found another on patrol. Early in September, however, there was a sudden change in fortune. Firstly, 12 Platoon “D” Company (Sjt. A. Sellwood) were moving into the jungle north of Chemor on the 3rd September when the leading scout saw a tapioca bush being shaken by someone who had evidently mistaken the patrol for some terrorists, but who realized his mistake quickly and disappeared into the undergrowth. The area was searched but there was no sign of the suspect. An ambush was laid at the scene of the contact. The ambush party had not long to wait, for at 2230 hours that night a terrorist broke into the ambush position and was killed by a burst of fire from a Bren gun at a range of 4 yards.

Two days later, information was received at Sungei Siput that the terrorists were planning to ambush a Police explosives escort coming from Kuala Kangsar. A combined party of Police and “A” Company went to the area where the terrorists had been reported, and on arrival they were fired on by a terrorist sentry. The fire was returned and the sentry fled. Eleven slit trenches, freshly dug, were found near the sentry post. About two hours later, a Section of “A” Company (Cpl. Pearson) was watching a patch of thick “belukar” when out broke a terrorist armed with a Sten gun. He happened to come out into the open opposite two of the ambush, who opened fire and the terrorist was killed instantly.
Sjt. Nolan, then Platoon Serjeant of 6 Platoon, “B” Company, was the leader in another successful encounter, on September 5th. Having found what appeared to be a recent footprint on the suspected terrorist track, he took a small party to investigate. They had only gone about 600 yards down the track when they spotted two terrorists who simultaneously saw the patrol. The terrorists reached for their weapons but, before they could open fire, Sjt. Nolan killed one outright with a burst from his carbine, whilst the Iban tracker had wounded the other, who was then killed by a burst from the Bren gunner, as he tried to escape into the undergrowth. Two rifles and some ammunition were recovered.

At the beginning of October there was a change of Company bases. Support Company, re-formed at the end of August for the first time since early 1950, now moved out from Battalion Headquarters and, acting as a Rifle Company, took over the Jelapang base from “B” Company, who moved to the Cameron Highlands to take over the Company base there from 1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment.

In the Operational Honours and Awards List announced on the 21st October, the following members of the 1st Battalion were Mentioned in Despatches :- Captain St. J. C. Brooke-Johnson, M.B.E., Corporal A. A. Stredder, Private J. A. Dodd.

At the end of the month “C” Company achieved the Battalion’s most successful action in the Ipoh area. Information was received that a party of terrorists would visit New Kopisan village on the night of the 25th October between 2000 and 2100 hours. The Company Commander (Major J. D. Ricketts, D.S.O.) was able to carry out a full-dress rehearsal of an ambush plan using ground similar to that at New Kopisan. A civilian lorry with changed number plates was used to take the ambush party to the area of their position. They were accompanied by Inspector Ko Kim Cheng of Kampar Police District. One half of the force which was commanded by the Inspector was stationed by a village perimeter fence where the terrorists were expected to come. Major Ricketts commanded the other half of the force, whose job it was to cover a likely crossing place of the river, which ran about 100 yards from the village fence.
The terrorists were punctual. At about 2020 hours they crossed the river some distance below Major Ricketts’ ambush and moved to the perimeter fence about 40 yards from Inspector Ko, who gave the order to open fire. The terrorists fired back, using shot guns, Sten guns, and grenades. The firing gradually died down, and shortly afterwards two female terrorists entered the river opposite Major Ricketts’ ambush and were killed. After the action was over, a thorough search discovered the body of a third terrorist, who had been killed in front of the Inspector’s ambush position. The operation had been planned and rehearsed with the greatest care and attention to detail and its success was justly deserved.

In November “C” Company started a new kind of operation. It had been discovered that the Sakai (Malayan aborigines) living in the jungle in the Sungei Raia area were in league with the terrorists, and were giving warning of the approach of “C” Company patrols. It was therefore decided that the Sakai must be won over before “C” Company could really get to grips with the terrorists. Accordingly, Operation “Flag” was started. Its object was to establish a firm base in the valley of the Sungei Raia with a view to winning over the Sakai and getting them to assist the Government. 7 Platoon established a firm base near two Sakai villages, the inhabitants of which were regularly visited and given small presents. At first, the Sakai were extremely frightened by the presence of troops, but they were gradually won over and eventually they accepted the soldiers as friends. The new operation was immediately a success. In less than a month it led to the surrender of a terrorist who was bodyguard to the Political Commissar of 28th Independent Platoon, 5th Regiment, and to the killing of two more terrorists on the 28th and 29th November. The first was killed by a Section of 7 Platoon (Cpl. Hillditch), who sighted three terrorists approaching in the distance. An immediate ambush was laid, but unfortunately the Iban tracker, through over-eagerness, gave the position away, and the terrorists turned and fled, but before they could get away one was killed and another severely wounded. The second kill went to 8 Platoon (2/Lt. G. Smith). The Platoon was halted on the march and the Platoon Serjeant (Sjt. Lawrence) had gone forward some 30 yards in search of another jungle track, when suddenly there was a crashing in the undergrowth and a Sakai and a Chinese terrorist appeared on the track a short distance away. Sjt. Lawrence fired at the first terrorist and wounded him under the heart. He fell badly wounded and rolled down the side of a hill. The second terrorist disappeared but the rest of the Platoon coming up in support saw him, and the Bren gunner (Pte. Sherwood) firing from the shoulder hit the man, but he could not be found. The body of the first terrorist was recovered together with his equipment (A double-barrelled short gun, 9 rounds of ammunition, a bag of rice, a waterproof, a spare KD uniform, a cigarette case, a bottle of quinine tablets, and a Sarong. The equipment is listed here in full as it was typical of so many sets recovered from dead or wounded terrorists).
An action by a Platoon of “D” Company on the 4th December is a good illustration of the extraordinary toughness of the Chinese terrorists and their ability to keep going even when severely wounded. Cpl. Taylor and Pte. Edwards had just been relieved from duty on an ambush position when they heard some firing and saw a terrorist running away towards a swamp. Cpl. Taylor fired two shots and thought that he had hit the Chinese, who was seen to enter the swamp and to try and remove his pack. The Corporal took careful aim and fired one more shot, the terrorist collapsed and Cpl. Taylor fired another shot into his body. Together with some others Taylor rushed down the hill into the swamp, but the terrorist had gone, leaving only his pack. They followed the wounded man’s track through the swamp for about 40 yards where he was seen for a brief moment and wounded again. Cpl. Taylor was then able to get a better sight of the terrorist who was now trying to throw a grenade. Cpl. Taylor took one more good shot at his head and finally killed him.

At the beginning of December the Battalion had suffered a further dispersion. “A” Company were moved from Sungei Siput to Telok Panglima Garang, near Klang, in Selangar. The Battalion had already been near there at the end of 1951. “A” Company came under the command of 1st Battalion The Suffolk Regiment, for a prolonged operation in which it was hoped to isolate an area of jungle and clear it completely of terrorists. The Company stayed at Telok Panglima Garang until February, and during this time lst Battalion Suffolk Regiment were replaced by 1st Battalion The Somerset Light Infantry. Whilst at Klang “A” Company carried out the first operation in Malaya where troops were flown in by helicopter. In this case only a section was flown in, but later the technique was developed so that whole Battalions could be lifted.

On the 19th March the Battalion Coronation Party left for the United Kingdom. The party consisted of Major A. H. Nott, Lieutenant D. K. May, Lieutenant M. H. Bury, Company-Serjeant-Major Cuthbert, Colour-Serjeant Musgrove, Serjeant Stone, Serjeant Nelson, Corporal Hadley, and Lance-Corporals Kirk and Bannister. After the Coronation it was intended that they should remain in the United Kingdom to form the nucleus of the Battalion Advance Party, as the Battalion was due to complete its overseas tour in July.
Yet another Company move took place at the beginning of April, when “D” Company was moved from Tanjong Rambutan to Tapah, under the command of 1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment. They were to join in an operation designed to establish absolute control over the New Villages and to ensure that food and information did not leak out to the terrorists.

A further Operational Honours and Awards List was published on May 2nd. Lieutenant (Q.M.) H. Knox was awarded the M.B.E. He had been promoted from Regimental-Serjeant-Major to Quartermaster in the previous September. The following were Mentioned in Despatches :- Major J. D. Ricketts, Major P. G. B. Hall, D.S.O., Lieutenant M. H. Bury, Serjeant Worsfold, Serjeant Nolan, Serjeant Nelson.

On the 14th May the Battalion relinquished operational responsibility for the Ipoh area. The whole Battalion was to be employed on Operation “Screw.” The object of this operation was the close control of New Villages, in which “D” Company was already engaged. It was also hoped that the stationing of Platoons in New Villages would help to win the goodwill of the inhabitants and persuade them to assist the Government. Advanced Company Headquarters were established in New Villages and each Village was supervised by a Platoon, which also undertook local short-range patrolling. “A,” “C,” and “D” Companies were all operating near Tapah. “A” Company to the west, “C” Company to the north-west, “D” Company to the south-west. “B” Company was still based on the Cameron Highlands but maintained one Platoon in a New Village just to the east of Tapah, as the Companies were now some distance from Battalion Headquarters at Ipoh, an advanced administrative base was established at Kampar, to supply the Companies and to provide a rest area for Platoons. Operation “Screw” virtually meant the end of active operations, and there was now very little likelihood of achieving real contact with the terrorists.

On June 2nd, the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II took place. A Battalion Detachment was sent to Kuala Lumpur for the main Malaya Parade. There was also a parade in Ipoh, and in each New Village the respective Platoons held their own small parades.
Coronation Medals were awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel P. H. Graves-Morris, D.S.O., M.C., Major A. H. Nott, Lieutenant D. K. May, Lieutenant H. Knox, M.B.E., Regimental-Serjeant-Major E. Compton, Company-Serjeant-Major L. Adams, Company-Serjeant-Major A. Petherbridge, and Serjeant E. Bridge who had received a Coronation Medal in 1937 when serving with the 2nd Battalion.

By the beginning of July the end of the Battalion’s tour was in sight. The Advance Party of 1st Battalion The West Yorkshire Regiment arrived on July 1st, and a few days later our own Advance Party left for Nee Soon, on Singapore Island where they were to stage before embarkation. The Battalion held a farewell Memorial Service in Ipoh on July 6th. An oak bookcase was presented to St. John’s Church as a memorial to those who had been killed in action. After the Service there was a March Past and the Salute was taken by Brigadier A. de Burgh-Morris, C.B.E., D.S.O., Commanding 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade.

As the main body of the West Yorkshires arrived in Ipoh on the 9th July, the Battalion moved by train to Singapore. When the train stopped in Kuala Lumpur, His Excellency The High Commissioner, General Sir Gerald Templer came to see the Battalion and to say goodbye. The Battalion had only 14 days in Singapore. During that time the Battalion stores, equipment, and weapons had to be checked and handed in. In addition a Ceremonial Parade was given for the Commander-in-Chief Far East Land Forces, General Sir Charles Keightley, who congratulated the Battalion on its fine work during its tour in Malaya.

H.M.T. Empire Windrush

On the 25th July, the Battalion rose at dawn, and by 7.0 o’clock a long convoy of lorries was making its way across Singapore Island to the docks where the “Empire Windrush” was waiting. During the morning the Battalion (see footnote) embarked, and the stores and baggage were loaded. At midday, as the Band of the 11th Hussars played “Royal Windsor” on the quayside, the “Empire Windrush” cast off, swung round in the harbour and made for the Straits of Malacca. Southampton was reached on August the 24th.

Footnote: Of those who arrived in Singapore with the Battalion in 1950, only Captain H. M. Ashton, Lieutenants B. A. Parker, M. H. Carden, H. Knox, and 30 Rank and File had served continuously with the Battalion.