Times of the Federation Regiment by Colonel Peter Hall DSO of the Worcestershire Regiment
Saturday, April 29, 2006
1. The successful termination of the Malayan Emergency was anticipated to be within the next 18 months.
2. Following the termination, the British Government would hand over power and independent status to the newly created Federation of Malaysia. This new federation would embrace Singapore. It would also embrace British North Borneo, which would be re-named Eastern Malaysia.
3. There was general concern that the two major ethnic groups within this new federation might come into open conflict. This would create an even worse situation than the Emergency. The major ethnic groups were:-
a. The Malays - who held the rifles and had the military know-how.
b. The Chinese - who controlled the economy and had the business acumen.
4. In an attempt to avert this undesirable outcome, General Templer had decided to create a third indigenous armed force as a sort of cushion. Remember that there were already 5 trained Battalions of the Malay Regiment - plus a number of Paramilitary Police Units (predominantly Malays).
5. This third force was to be called the Federation Regiment. It would comprise all ethnic groups indigenous to Malaya, both in officers and other ranks. Initially senior officers would be seconded ‘scallywags’ from the British Army. An Infantry Battalion would be formed as a first step. This to be followed by an Armoured Car Regiment and, perhaps, an Artillery Regiment. All very high-powered stuff! But, where did I, Peter Hall, come into all this?
The Regiment was to receive its operational ‘blooding’ on emergency jungle operations. I was to train, and then command, its first operational Company. I hoped that the term ‘blooding’ was not going to be too literal! So, there I was. On the move again. I have attempted to explain, albeit very superficially, the reason General Templer conceived the idea of a multi- national Armed Force. A logical concept to serve a multi- national Sovereign State! It is now time to describe my own humble contribution to this imaginative enterprise.
I was transferred from 2nd Battalion The Malay Regiment to 1st Battalion The Federation Regiment. My remit was:-
1. To train the first operational Company of the Federation Regiment to a standard whereby it could take its place in Templer’s Order of Battle. This would be alongside the experienced British, Ghurkha and Malay Battalions.
2. To head that Company into jungle warfare operations. If I was judged overcautious before committing them, I would have some explaining to do!
As can be imagined, this put my new Commanding Officer and myself under a stress situation. If we committed them too early and we had a disaster (which could so easily occur) we would be pilloried for this judgement. If we played it safe, however, we could be accused of draggingour heels’ and not reacting to the urgency of the situation. Many young executives in industry and commerce experience similar stresses. Also, members of the medical profession and young entrepreneurs. Now, I think that I should explain the situation as I found it on my arrival at my new assignment.
The 1st Battalion The Federation Regiment had been recruited under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel ‘Tom’ Trevor, OBE. He was a regular British officer whose parent unit was the WELCH Regiment. He had had considerable experience as an administrator and with Colonial troops. He had not, in my view, had great experience in battle - and none in jungle warfare. I believe, however, that he was an excellent choice to form, from scratch, an entirely new Battalion. He did it with great efficiency. Although I admired his administrative ability, I did not like him. I’m quite sure that he did not consider me the flavour of the month, either!
When I arrived, I found:-
1. The Battalion was recruited to full strength (about 800 men). The more senior officers, down to and including the rank of Captain, were all British. The subaltern officers were all indigenous Malaysians - Malay, Chinese, Malaccan/Portuguese. The same for the Warrant Officers and Sergeants - with the exception of the Regimental Sergeant Major, who was British.
2. With the exception of ‘A’ Company (my command), the Battalion was concentrated in barracks in Taiping. It was, later, moved to Port Dickson where it concentrated on basic training.
3.‘A’ Company, destined to be the first operational Company of the newly formed Battalion, was located in rubber estate labour lines at Tanjong Rambutan. This was about 20 miles south of Taiping. Having reported to the Commanding Officer and me the Adjutant (Major Peter Taylor), I repaired to Tanjong Rambutan to take up my new duties. My brief was rather similar to the one which I received when I was appointed to train the Kinta Valley Home Guard. Perhaps that was why Iwas selected. It was:-
1. To train the Company to acceptable standards for deep penetration jungle activities.
2. To select and train potential NCO’s who, after jungle experience, would be posted to other Rifle Companies in the Battalion when the whole unit would be committed to a full operational role.
On arrival at Tanjong Rambutan, I was delighted to find that I had excellent human material upon which to work. My officer team comprised:-
1. Captain Paul Samson as Second in Command. He had served with me in 2nd Malay.
2. Lieutenant Rajpan Gill Singh who was a beautifully built young Sikh. He was bearded and turbaned and looked like a young Jesus Christ. He was an excellent platoon commander and a great friend.
3. Lieutenant Lee Yong Swee who was a young Chinese and a most excellent officer. He, also, became a great friend.
4. Finally, there was Company Sergeant Major Angelino Zuzartie (a Malaccan Portuguese). I have been blessed with many wonderful Sergeant Majors during my 30 years military service. CSM Zuzartie was one of the best. I cannot award a higher accolade!
I was extremely lucky with the ingredients with which I had to form an outstanding Company. My problem was that, initially, the different flavours had to blend - and they were a bit raw! With our joint efforts I think that we turned out an end product of which we could be justifiably proud!
The Battalion in Butterworth
Within three months, I was confident that ‘A’ Company was an efficient, well-knit and wellmotivated unit. Fit to take its operational place in the final stages in the war against Chin Peng and his CT’s. I notified the Colonel. The whole Battalion was placed under the command of Brigadier ‘Tommy’ Harris, DSO – commanding 1st Malay Infantry Brigade (later Lieutenant General). This necessitated the concentration of the Battalion at Butterworth in the State of Kedah as this was to be our new operational area.
The tattered remnants of Chin Peng’s ‘army’ were being driven slowly but surely northwards towards the Thai border. As a result, ‘A’ Company and I bade a reluctant farewell to Tanjong Rambutan. We moved to join our parent Battalion in a well-designed hutted (atap) constructed base at Butterworth. The rest of 1st Battalion The Federation Regiment had recently moved north from Port Dickson. The Regiment was now a fully fledged operational battalion in General Templer’s Order of Battle! The Infantry Battalions in 1st Malay Infantry Brigade were:-
1. 1st Battalion the Royal Scots Fusiliers commanded, would one believe, by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Hope-Thomson. He had brilliantly commanded 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment in the latter stages of the NW Europe Campaign.
2. 2nd Battalion Malay Regiment with, as Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Atkinson.
3. 1st Federation Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Trevor.
Therefore, I knew all three senior commanders in the Brigade. This will have significance later in the narrative when I became the Brigade Major of 1st Malay Infantry Brigade. During our initial period of deep penetration operations in Kedah, ‘A’ Company achieved a notable success. This was, I firmly believe, a combination of jungle skill and incredible luck. We were on a three week deep penetration patrol. After about five days we found a number of fairly fresh tracks, which appeared to converge on one point. We knew it would be worth investigating.
Would we find a CT jungle camp? Would it be something else? We closed in on the focal area with caution. We found nothing. No CT camp. Yet, all the tracks led to this place. Why? We moved again in this puzzling vortex of recent activity. Suddenly, one of my Chinese corporals disappeared up to his neck into the ground! We quickly pulled him out and discovered that he had trodden on a camouflaged covering for, what proved to be, the largest underground arsenal the CT’s had ever planted! We captured at least 100 automatic rifles, numerous grenades and a great deal of belted ammunition. All of this armament was surely going to be used in a major CT offensive. Some last despairing display of defiance? Thankfully, it never happened. Another nail had been driven into Chin Pengs coffin.
Apart from the vivid memory of Corporal Chin’s disappearance and the expression on his face (who said that Orientals are inscrutable?). I have some other memories of this operation. For example, Lieutenant Rajban Gill Singh. Ferocious and determined warrior that he was, he insisted on wearing a lady’s bath hat over his turban to protect it from the tropical rain. He had bought it in a local shop. Thinking about camouflage, he had purchased a green one. Unfortunately, it was also ornamented with large yellow daisies! It made him look like Kenny Everett, in one of his more outrageous TV sketches.
I received a scorpion sting on my heel during this time. Unlike the gunshot wounds that I had experienced, when there was no immediate pain, this was instant agony! I felt as if a red hot poker had been placed on my leg. Fortunately, there was no lasting repercussions although I limped a bit - and swore a lot. Upon our return to Butterworth, there was a bevy of Malaysian press reporters and photographers awaiting us. To recover such a huge amount of CT weaponry made good propaganda and the Battalion had a front page spread in the Malaysian papers. Colonel Trevor was rather upset that the Press were far more interested in the patrol commanders who had located the tracks, the Corporal who had inadvertently discovered the cache and in me – who had commanded the operation - than they were in him. In fact, that evening, he called me ‘a bloody publicity seeker!’ I bade him goodnight and went to bed.
As I have said before, I did not like Trevor - but I freely acknowledge that I could not have done his job; any more than he could have done mine. To raise a multi- racial, multi-religious battalion in six months, from nothing, to operational efficiency was a remarkable achievement. I pay tribute to his outstanding administrative ability. It is strange that the two senior officers with whom I could not get on were General Thomas (our wartime Divisional Commander) and Colonel Trevor. It must be just coincidence that both of these gentlemen were Welsh.
I have a great affection for my fellow Celts from the Principality. Indeed, one of my heroes was Lieutenant General Sir Hugh Stockwell, also a Welshman, who was an officer with a charisma to equal that of General Horrocks. That is a true accolade. Because of my inability to ‘gel’ with Colonel Trevor, it was something of a relief to both of us when I was on the move. AGAIN!