Kinta Valley Homeguard as related by Colonel Peter Hall DSO of the Worcestershire Regiment.
Friday, April 21, 2006
I assumed my new responsibilities as the Commander of the Kinta Valley (Perak State) Home Guard Training Centre in Ipoh. My remit was to train 100 selected volunteers from all ethnic groups to become officers and senior NCO’s. They would form, after training, a cadre that would equip, motivate and give instruction to the raising of an indigenous force of about 2000 men.This force would provide protection for the urban and rural areas of the State of Perak (about the size of Somerset).
This would release regular troops from this duty and they could, then,perform deep penetration jungle operations. I should, now, explain the term ‘Home Guard’. Unlike the Home Guard of wartime Britain, this was NOT to be a force of volunteer civilians who pursued normal profession/trades by day and operated as a back-up military force by night and at weekends. (Theirs had been a magnificent, patriotic effort.) The State Home Guard of Perak was a full- time, professional force. Members were on a three year contract and paid by the State. Their injection into General Templer’s ‘order of battle’ released about 10 battalions of regular troops from rural and urban duties. This made available around 10,000 additional men to squeeze Chin Peng and his Communist Army from their jungle strongholds.
I was shown my new training centre on the outskirts of Ipoh. I could hardly believe my luck! Ihad inherited a brand new barracks of atap construction. It was capable of accommodating 100 students - plus a mess-hall and cookhouse, an administrative block, a canteen. There was also good ablution and latrine facilities (all on main drainage) a parade ground and a 50 yard firing range (* Beside Ipoh garden, not used any more). All this had been created in 6 months due to the driving force and iron will of General
Temper. I was, also, introduced to my newly appointed administrative staff. These gentlemen were all accorded military ranks; although on contract basis. They were:- Captain da Silva a middle-aged man from Malacca and of Portuguese extraction. He was an excellent administrator although he had no previous military experience. He was invaluable because he knew the Oriental ways of ‘wheeling and dealing’ - which I did not. He had a very musical tenor vo ice and, at a camp concert, sang the beautiful melodies from Franz Lehar’s Merry Widow.
The Company Sergeant Major was a man whom I will never forget. He was a magnificently built Pathan, at least 6’ 3” tall and very muscular. He had served as a regular soldier in the old Imperial Indian Army. He was an exacting, but fair, disciplinarian and a very loyal person upon whom I could utterly rely. From my introduction to the job until the arrival of the first intake of trainees, was just three weeks. My preparation included drawing up a training syllabus for approval by the Commander in- Chief and a ‘grocer’s bill’ for whatever else I would need in the way of training and technical expenses and expertise.
I was very busy. As usual I went to Colonel Philip for advice. He gave me great help and support - both in an advisory capacity and with practical help. More of that later. In addition, I had a new ‘boss’ to whom I was accountable. He was a retired regular British Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Rose. He was also on contract to the Malay Government. He was very supportive and co-operative and I owe him a great debt of gratitude. I, flatter myself in the belief that we became good friends. My first priority was to work out a training syllabus. This, after much deliberation, was my list.
1. To introduce an esprit de corps to the cadre.
2. To introduce a healthy competitive spirit.
3. To promote musketry skill at arms on an individual and collective basis.
4. To promote physical and endurance training.
5. To inculcate and encourage qualities of leadership - tactical and personal.
6. To teach training techniques so that my cadre would, not only, be masters of military skills, but that they would be able to pass on this knowledge to those who would be under their instruction and command.
7. To teach map and navigational skills.
Within a week I submitted, through Colonel Rose, my proposed training timetable to the Commander- in-Chief. It was accepted. Having got this agreed, the next step was to secure the means to carry it out. Colonel Rose and I went to Colonel Philip. He promised me, on 48 hours notice, the use of the Sergeant in charge of musketry. He, also, allocated to me, on a permanent basis, 10 corporals. I had planned to split my intake into teams of 10 for competitive purposes. Each Worcestershire corporal would be a team-leader. This would encourage the team-spirit because each leader would be keen that his team would beat the other nine in the various competitions which I had scheduled.
b) Speed marches and other endurance tests.
d) Tactical exercises - minor tactics on section level, - inevitably, "Fire and Movement".
e) Smartness, turn-out and care of arms and equipment.
f) Man management and general leadership qualities.
g) Navigational skills - particularly at night.
I knew all the corporals allocated to me. They were a splendid bunch and entered into the enterprise with great enthusiasm. Colonel Rose held the allocated budget. I was very relieved because I was never a good accountant. I was, thus, able to concentrate on the training job which was a task to which, I felt, I was far better suited! I had three months in which to train this cadre of future leaders. With some minor hiccups, the result was most successful.
The 100-men intake was multi- national, as befitted a State such as Malaya. There were Malays (mostly Moslems), Sikhs (Hindus), Chinese (varying religious beliefs) and Portuguese (Roman Catholic). This presented some dietary problems. The devout Moslem will not eat pork – the Chinese love it; the Hindus will not eat beef, the Portuguese will eat only fish on Fridays. Captain da Silva worked out a brilliant solution.
There were no food complaints on religious grounds and, only minor ones on the quality of the cooking and presentation. Because of his ‘streetwise’ knowledge of local market practices, there was no additional expense in providing a daily diet sheet that was acceptable to all. If, from time to time, a few ‘backhanders’ went to the local tradesmen, Colonel Rose and I did not enquire too deeply into any unauthorised expenditure.
Near to the time of the completion of the training, with which we were very satisfied, Colonel Rose received a letter from General Templer’s office. It stated that His Highness the Sultan of Perak would like to take the salute at the passing-out parade. Once again, we went to Colonel Philip - a busy Commanding Officer! Again he went the extra mile. He offered me the Band of the 1st Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment (under the direction of Bandmaster Warrant Officer Grade 1, Hayes, ARCM). He, also, offered the advice and services of the Regimental Sergeant Major, 1st Worcestershires, H Knox (later Major (QM) Knox, MBE). Although extremely grateful for this expert help with the choreography, I did not want to put my own splendid Sergeant Major’s nose out of joint.
I explained my reservations to Colonel Philip - he agreed with me. We decided that, on an appointed day, Regimental Sergeant Major Knox would come to the camp in civilian clothes and watch the rehearsals. Whatever shortfalls he felt there were, he would pass on to me in private. I could then relay ‘my own impressions’ to the Pathan Sergeant Major.
On the appointed day, a battered, old car entered the barracks. From it stepped a jaunty figure wearing a lightweight suit, a flamboyant bow-tie and a panama hat. He slouched towards me. I was amazed! I had never seen the Regimental Sergeant Major in plain clothes. Until now, he had always appeared in immaculately pressed uniform with highly polished Sam Browne and boots and with a pace-stick under his arm. And, never slouching! Always backbone straight with regulation steps.
He approached me. “Boo!” he said and raised his hat. “It’s me, Sir.” Side by side, we watched the Home Guard Sergeant Major conduct the parade. Upon completion of the rehearsal, I took Mr Knox into the administration block. “Well, Mr Knox, what do you think?” “You have a fine drill instructor, Sir. He could have done a Guards course at Caterham.” “And the men?” I asked. “They’ll do you proud!” “Thanks, Mr Knox. Have a drink?” “Well, it is rather a hot day so a can of beer, Sir, if you please.” He then mentioned the sizing of the men on parade. If one has the tallest men on the flanks and the shortest in the centre, it gives a better overall impression of uniform height. This is much better than if one has a tall man next to a short man, then another tall man, etc.
I thanked him and escorted him to his battered old car. He raised his hat, gave a roguish grin and a twist to his bow-tie. Then he was off. This little incident gave me an insight into the private life of a Regimental Sergeant Major. Before then, I had rather assumed they didn’t have one!
Shortly afterwards, the great day arrived - the passing out parade of the cadre of the Kinta Valley Home Guard, in the presence of the Sultan of Perak. The parade had been drawn up in two ranks, each of 50 men. The Home Guard Sergeant Major on the right flank and the ten Worcestershire corporals, a supernumery rank, at the rear.
I, as Parade Commander, was ten paces in front of the front rank and in the centre. The band was in rear and at the back of the parade ground. I had, naturally, previously inspected the men and was delighted with their turn-out. Bang on time, two black Rolls Royces swept into the barracks and up to the saluting base. I brought the parade to attention and, then, to the slope arms position. I was gratified to hear the unified crash-crash-crash of arms as these orders were obeyed. The cars stopped at the saluting base and the Sultan emerged and mounted the dais. He was accompanied by Colonel Rose and the British adviser to the State of Perak. He was a senior Colonial civil servant representing the British High Commissioner - TempIer.
From the second car leapt a Malay palace servant who erected an enormous, yellow, silk parasol which he held over the Sultan’s head. For the first time (but not the last) I yelled the order, “Royal Salute; PREEESENT ARMS !” Another satisfying crash-crash-crash behind me. At the third crash I came to the salute and the band broke into the first bars of the Perak State Anthem - Teran Bulan (Full Moon). It was exhilarating stuff and I was enjoying myself At the appropriate time I marched forward and reported to the Sultan. In carefully rehearsed Malay I said, “Your Highness, the cadre of the Kinta Valley Home Guard is present and ready for your inspection.” The Sultan replied in "Oxbridge" English. “Thank you, Major Hall. Do you mind if we converse in English? Mine is a little rusty and I would welcome the opportunity to practice it?”
Perhaps he thought my Malay was so awful that he would rather hear no more of it! He was a very courteous man. He demonstrated his own linguistic ability during inspection. Hehad a few words to say to each individual. To each soldier he spoke in their own language - Malay, Hindi, Cantonese and impeccable English. Formalities were completed. The Sultan gave a short, congratulatory speech. He and his entourage then departed, leaving Colonel Rose. I dismissed the parade after adding my own pride and congratulations for their performance. Colonel Rose came up and grasped my hand. “Well done, Peter. A fine show! Have you got a drink so that we can celebrate?” “Yes I have,” I replied. “But - why don’t we go over to the canteen and celebrate with the guys who have just passed out?”
That is exactly what we did. It was a memorable morning. One or two of the cadre passed out - for the second time that day! Naturally, one felt a bit of an anti-climax after the passing-out parade. But - there was still plenty of work to do.
1. All members of the cadre were granted 14 days leave. They were advised that, during this period, they would be allocated the future roles that they would fill within the Home Guard. They would also receive job descriptions of their duties. These had to be worked out and individuals allocated to their appointed tasks.
2. The training centre would be required to service a different type of training from the original cadre. It was to become a centre for short courses to train Home Guard recruits in specific military skills. In other words, it was downgraded from ‘Sandhurst’ status to a recruit-training barracks. Furthermore, it had to be staffed from its own Home Guard resources selected from members of the recently passed-out cadre. They would form the instruction team.
3. Colonel Rose and I had known about this for some time and we had done some preliminary ‘brainstorming’. There was still, however, much work to be done before our plans were complete.
4. A final problem was that I was within 5 weeks of finishing my tour with the Battalion at Regimental duty in Malaya. After this time I could expect a posting on the Staff, or some other non-Regimental employment. So, a new Commandant had to be found. We formed a small working party to find solutions to these problems. Basically, the working party was Hugh Rose and me and we co-opted members for specific discussions. These included Da Silva, the Home Guard Sergeant-Major, and the ten Worcestershire corporals.
a. Who would be the five permanent staff of the recruit training centre from the recent cadre. These would be given the honorary rank of Lieutenant.
b. What short courses should be taught. The Home Guard Sergeant-Major and the Worcestershire corporals were involved in this.
c. Administrative arrangements - this heavily involved Da Silva.
d. A proposed chain of command. This was the greatest single problem that Hugh Rose and I had to resolve.
On the operation level, this was decided for us. Rose would report directly to the Senior British Officer in the area, Brigadier de Burgh Morris. Under the tactical direction of the Brigadier, Rose would be responsible for the deployment of the Home Guard on the ground. This would be when sufficient had been trained and adjudged as competent to perform satisfactorily. We agreed that Hugh Rose, himself, would move into the training camp and oversee the general training that went on there. This could be done without undue strain on his time and without adversely affecting the administrative duties that he was, already, performing. The selected instructors who were to supervise the basic training courses were, we considered, competent to do the actual training.
I have only attempted to give an outline of the problems which we faced. Sufficient to say that they were all satisfactorily resolved. Six months later, the Kinta Valley Home Guard was fully operational and much respected by professional soldiers and the civilian population. ‘From tiny acorns, mighty oaks do grow!’ Meanwhile, I bad a short-term career problem of my own. As I have said, I was nearing the completion of my tour of Regimental duty in Malaya. I had fallen in love with the country, its citizens, its climate and, even, the jungle! This, of course, included leeches, ‘wait-a-while’ and creepie-crawlies which had repelled me initially. They were now accepted as the way of life. I talked this over with my family. They, too, were not looking forward to a return to England or Germany. Neither were they anticipating, with much enthusiasm, the prospect of an irritable me being desk-bound in some headquarters for the next 30 months.
The solution came out of the blue! One evening, about three weeks before our intended departure, I bumped into Lieutenant Colonel John Atkinson. He was the British Officer commanding the 2nd Battalion the Malay Regiment. This Battalion had been stationed at Kampar at the foothills of the road which led to Tana Rata. Colonel John and I were no strangers. We had co-operated in a number of operations. I liked and respected him and he commanded a fine Battalion of Malay troops. He offered me a most attractive package.
Briefly, it was:-
1. That I should volunteer for three years ‘Scallywag’ soldiering. A Scallywag was a British Officer who volunteered to serve with, and command, what used to be called Colonial troops. Colonel John was, himself, a Scallywag.
2. Colonel John further guaranteed me a Rifle Company in 2nd Malay. The Battalion was stationed in Perak, a most attractive State and one in which we all felt at home. I could also see how my ‘baby’ the Kinta Valley Home Guard was growing up.
3. There were, also, financial incentives and other fringe benefits. These were:-
a) Although I would receive the British Army pay for my rank and service, I would pay Malay income tax and not British. Effectively, this would give me an extra £1,000 per annum.
b) On passing the Malay language qualifying exam, I would receive for the duration of my scallywag service an additional £360 per annum. Again subject to Malay taxation rates. This might not seem much in 1995- but, remember this was 1952!
c) On completion of my tour of duty with the Worcestershires, I would be granted three months paid leave in the UK with my family. Transportation would be paid by the Malayan Government, and during my leave I would still pay Malay income tax.
My alternative would have been three weeks disembarkation leave followed by a dreary office job. I appreciate that, in 1995, the pay inducements for a Scallywag may seem, mildly, derisory but, in 1952, they offered a considerable attraction. We, the Hall family, entered the contract with mutual enthusiasm.