Blood Money by Colonel Peter Hall DSO of the Worcestershire Regiment
Saturday, May 06, 2006
Our lucky break occurred when we received a coded message from the Intelligence Officer, John Parry. When decoded, the message read that John, with a police interpreter, would be arriving in my Headquarters at 11.00 the following day. The purpose of the visit was to bring with them an SEP who claimed that he had information about a CT courier party, which could lead to a successful ambush.
What was an SEP? The initials stood for Surrendered Enemy Personnel - an ex-CT who had surrendered himself to the Security Forces. For some time the psychological warfare unit of the security forces had been printing leaflets in Cantonese, Malay and Tamil. These urged CT’s to surrender. The pamphlet offered the promise of amnesty to a surrendered enemy; transportation to another district (to minimise the risk of reprisal) and, a considerable amount of cash - if the information given resulted in a successful operation by the security forces. In fact, we were offering ‘blood money’ to someone who was willing to betray his ex-comrades.
The propaganda leaflets were distributed by the following means:
1. The RAF dropped them in selected jungle areas. This was not very successful because most of the leaflets lodged in the jungle canopy. They only descended to the ground when they had become rain-sodden and unreadable.
2. Foot patrols left them on jungle tracks, which had given signs of recent use.
3. Foot patrols also left them in the rubber estates - in the hope that they would either be picked up, directly by CT’s, or handed to them by sympathetic members of the labour force.
A good deal of money, time and effort was involved in this exercise and, rarely, did the effort justify the results. BUT - this time it DID! At the appropriate time, John arrived in a 13/18 Hussars armoured car. Hidden in its bowels were the police interpreter and the SEP. They were well concealed from any prying eyes! John Parry and I, through the excellent services of the interpreter, questioned the SEP for about two hours. To coin a phrase from the modern TV detective ‘soaps’, he sang like a bird! He described:-
a) The approximate time that the CT party would pass through a jungle clearing and the sort of undergrowth that existed there. I became excited. It was an excellent ambush position.
b) He told us that we could expect to encounter between 2 and 5 CT’s. Their task would be to collect supplies from certain food dumps where local, indigenes had laid in supplies for their collection.
c) VERY UNFORTUNATELY, his description of the area could not be identified on our operational maps because he could not read a map. I, suddenly, thought of Striv. Not only did he know his own estate like the back of his hand - but, also, a great deal of the jungle areas adjacent to it. I phoned the estate manager’s bungalow. My call was answered by Helen. “Please may I speak to Striv.” “I’m afraid he isn’t here but I expect him back soon. That’s Peter I think?” “Yes. It’s Peter here. Would you, please, ask Striv to call me back urgently. I have a crate of beer for him and there is no room in our fridge!”
This was a code phrase that we had agreed upon if I needed Striv to call back. I could not give details over the open line. Helen nearly gave the game away. She gave a short gasp and recovered herself. “I’ll tell him, Peter. Thanks for the beer!” Within half an hour, Striv was in our operations room. Not only was he a fluent Malay and Tamil speaker, but he could read a map and, as I have indicated, knew the terrain. Eventually, after detailed questioning of the SEP and drawing various sketches on bits of paper, Striv got up, took a pencil and pointed to a particular spot on the map.
“Peter,” he said, “I am 75% confident that this is your ambush area!” He was dead right! I held my orders group 15 minutes later. Striv asked to sit in. John Parry sat in as well, with instructions to take the plan back to the Colonel.
Briefly, my plan was as follows:-
1. Ambush Party - Mike’s platoon - with me in command.
2. Diversion Party - Derek and Roger’s platoons - to patrol the rubber estate and distribute propaganda leaflets. I hoped to convince any of the CT inclined labour force to believe that the Company was engaged, totally, in routine patrolling that day. This was under the command of Derek.
3. Timings - ambush party to move out from camp at 05.00 and be in position by 06.30. Diversion party out at 07.00 through rubber estate areas recommended by Striv – where labour forces would be most likely to see them.
4. I would spring the ambush with first shot. Then the whole party would fire. NO FIRING BEFORE ME!
5. The SEP would accompany the ambush party to confirm that the area of ambush was correct. It was made very clear (a phrase that politicians use constantly) that, if there was any treachery, the first dead man would be him! For once, the whole operation went according to plan. I had 15 minutes of anxious waiting. Was this going to be another ‘busted flush’? Had I been bamboozled into leading my men into a wellconceived counter-ambush trap? The wait before action is an intense strain on one’s nerves. Almost on cue, a short, squat figure appeared in our selected killing zone. About five yards behind him, a second figure came into view. I sprung the ambush by firing the first shot. Immediately there was a fussilade from three light machine gums and approximately 30 riflemen. Both CT’s spun over as if they had been hit by a bus. I have no idea if my personal shot registered a hit. Knowing my own inaccuracy as a ‘deadeyed dick’, probably it did not! Nevertheless, there were two enemy dead, riddled with bullets. At last, we had managed to contact a very elusive enemy who, now, lay literally, like a couple of ghosts.
I told Mike to take a section forward to investigate the possibility of a follow-up of a third CT. Mike moved off with one light machine gun, seven soldiers and the Eban tracker. Later, Mike reported to me that there had been a blood trail going through the bush. At about 100 yards from the killing zone into the jungle, they found a large, bloodstained pack which they brought back. - So there had been a third CT, and he/she had been wounded! Mike continued the search. They came to a shallow river where the trail petered out. Mike assessed that the wounded CT had, probably, taken advantage of the river to obliterate his spoor.
For another hour they searched - but the trail was dead. Mike called off the search and they returned to base. I would have done the same in his 'jungle boots’! Meanwhile, I, with the two remaining sections of the ambush group, had improvised two stretchers. We started to move our ‘kills’ back to ‘A’ Company encampment. Ahead of us the SEP started to caper about. I felt a sudden spurt of loathing for the despicable little creature. He was celebrating the fact that he would receive ‘blood money’ for his betrayal of his erstwhile companions. I moved up behind him. In a rage I broke his nose with the back of my hand. I was well out of order - but I felt better for it.
One of the corporals moved up behind me. “If you hadn’t done that, Sir, then I would have shot the little shit!” His face looked as disgusted and as angry as I felt that mine did. The SEP did not enjoy courteous treatment or any sympathy from the soldiers of the ambush party on our way back to base. We arrived back at about 13.00. Mike and his party returned about two hours later. The Colonel had been in contact with my Headquarters and ordered me to get in touch as soon as I arrived back. He, obviously, needed a report. I was astonished at the tremendous fuss that this minor skirmish incurred. I had, after all, employed 75 armed men, expended a good deal of ammunition and we had succeeded in killing only two of the enemy. Congratulations flowed out of all proportion, I believed, to the success of the operation. Undoubtedly, this was brought about by the enormous amount of effort that was generated - and the limited success that it achieved!
Following the events which I have just described, there were a number of follow-up procedures that were necessary. The information that Special Branch had extracted from the documents in the packs, contained various locations of medical supplies and food and ammunition dumps in my parish. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there were no map references, which pinpointed their exact areas. We had a broad idea (within a map square) where they were. But -we had to search for them. Within a week we had located and removed most of these dumps. We, thus, deprived the CT’s of vital supplies to support their operations in this area.
Although the Company worked hard by day, this short phase in operations did give me the opportunity to bring them all back to the encampment every night. They were able to enjoy a good meal and an uninterrupted night’s sleep. This, also, applied to the three subalterns - and me! One particular evening, after a hard day followed by a welcome whisky, I stripped off and, with my soap and towel, wandered into the officers’ bathroom. I needed to pick off the daily crop of leeches and to spruce up my scruffy, smelly self.
I will attempt to describe the bathroom. The floor was concrete and slightly sloped towards the centre. This allowed a central drain (approximately 3” wide by 4” deep) to carry away the used water to an external drain. This, then, gave access to the septic tank which, also, accommodated the waste from the loo. The bath itself was a large, stone jar. It was 3½ feet high and about 3 feet in circumference. When one climbed into it, one felt like one of Ali Baba’s forty thieves!
At the foot of the bath was a large, cork bung. When ablutions were completed, the bung was pulled out and water flowed away into the open drain. There were two cold taps. To get hot water it was necessary to organise assistance from the cookhouse. Hardly 4-star (or even 1-star) luxury. But, it sufficed. I was enjoying my bath when, I saw, slithering sinuously along the open drain, a 6- foot long snake. Although its hood was not extended, I recognised, from the markings at the back of its head, that I was sharing my bath with a cobra!
The snake stopped. For seconds we stared at each other. Then, it turned and disappeared through the drain hole which had provided it entrance. I leapt out of the bath and, regardless of modesty, dashed into the room where the others were relaxing with a drink. “I’ve just seen a bloody cobra in the bathroom!” I shouted. “Oh, yes!” replied one of them, “I expect that that was Charlie. He’s been here before!” I went to the fridge and poured myself a large Scotch. Then I thought that it was about time to put some clothes on.
Later that evening, Roger mildly complained that I had forgotten to take the bung out of the bath. I told him rather briskly, to go and do it himself. I added that, if he was contemplating a bath, I hoped that he, also, would be sharing it with Charlie! Perhaps I scared Charlie as much as he scared me. At any rate, he was never seen again. For my part - I NEVER went to the bathroom again without soap, towel - and a loaded pistol!
The Assassination of Sir Henry Gurney.
Shortly after Colonel Graves-Morris had assumed command of the Battalion, an event took place which had far-reaching consequences on the final outcome of the Emergency. The British High Commissioner for Malaya was ambushed and murdered by the CT’s. The incident took place on the only road from Kuala Lumpur to a hill station in the Cameron Highlands. This was called Fraser’s Hill. Sir Henry and Lady Gurney had an armoured car escort but the ambush was expertly sited. The car in which they were travelling was riddled with bullets. The last act of Sir Henry’s life was one of great courage. He leaped from the car and walked towards the firing. Thus, sacrificing his own life to protect his wife. Lady Gurney, escaped with her life because the ambushers’ fire was concentrated on her husband.
General Sir Geoffrey Howlett (then a Lieutenant), told me in a recent meeting that he had been on the spot soon after the ambush. He said that the car in which Sir Henry and Lady Gurney had travelled was riddled with bullet holes. It was miraculous that Lady Gurney escaped un-hit! The reaction of the Security Forces can be imagined! Practically every infantryman in the country was turned out in a massive search and destroy operation. It was too late! We slammed the stable door after the horse had bolted. The CT’s had disappeared into their protective jungle fastness.
Chin Peng and his guerillas had achieved a great propaganda success - but it rebounded on them. In fact it could be marked as the turning point of the campaign. The new High Commissioner was General Sir Gerald Templer. In no way would I wish to denigrate a very gallant gentleman, Sir Henry. He was a highly respected and very senior Colonial Civil Servant and skilled in the arts of diplomacy. Templer was a different kettle of fish. An Irishman with a strong streak of ruthless determination and a professional soldier with an impressive track record. All of us - security forces, civil servants, the civil population and, most of all, the CT’s soon felt the full weight of Templer’s hand on the operational tiller.
Gerald Templer, on his arrival in Malaya, immediately set about a fact- finding tour of the area. He visited practically every military and civil unit in the Malay Peninsular. He was not interested in the delicate diplomatic niceties. He was, totally, preoccupied with the problems of bringing the Emergency to a satisfactory conclusion. If he trod, in the process, on some sensitive senior toes - well, hard luck to the owners! He was accorded great powers by the British government of the day. Not only was he the British High Commissioner (the Monarch's representative in Malaya) but he was, also, Director of Operations of the Security Forces. This was a position that his predecessor, Sir Henry, had had to delegate to General Briggs.
Templer’s main problem was that the CTs had a great stranglehold on the indigenous rural and, to some extent, urban population. This enabled the communist guerrillas, operating from the comparative safety of their jungle bases, to collect money for arms, food supplies and information about the movement and deployment of security forces. These collections were often done by brutal means - “You give us, or else!” Chin Peng was one of the most successful ‘protection racketeers’ since Al Capone in Chicago in the 1920’s. Templer knew that if he could reduce the monetary ‘tithing’ imposed on the rural population (smallholders and rubber estate field forces) he could, dramatically, reduce the influx of guns and ammunition from gunrunners. If these people did not get paid then they would not run the delivery risks. Deprived of a steady flow of armaments the CT’s could not operate indefinitely. Neither could they do so if deprived of an adequate food, medical and equipment source of replenishment.
These facts were obvious to Templer’s predecessors. The problem was how to achieve results? Templer found the answer. Typical of the man, it was ruthless and pursued with determination against considerable political opposition. The solution was, briefly, this.
The creation of New Villages. Small townships were built into which the rural population was concentrated. A typical New Village accommodated about 600 people who, before, had lived in rubber estate labour lines, or small huts adjacent to their smallholdings. These townships created some minor inconvenience because people no longer lived next to their place of work. This was offset because they were no longer visited at night by CT’s demanding protection money or goods. The original new village concept was not Templers’ idea but that of his military predecessor General Briggs. Briggs, however did not have the political muscle to implement it, Templer did.
An unattractive feature of the New Villages was that they were enclosed by wire fencing. Also, a curfew was imposed from after dark until first light. Each village was guarded by a detachment of Malay paramilitary police. I have been told that it was for this reason that Sir Henry Gurney had resisted the idea. He was persuaded that such a concept would smack of British Imperialism and the resurrection of concentration camps. Templer had no such inhibitions. By and large the New Village idea was a great success. Chinese traders were offered financial encouragement to set up shops. The villages were landscaped; schools and medical facilities were established; sanitation and washing facilities were provided and adequately maintained. In short, the majority of the New Villagers enjoyed a higher standard of living than they had ever experienced before.
The cost of this enterprise was surprisingly small. Most Malayan houses are built of wood and atap (the plaited leaf of the palm tree). Labour costs were cheap and the Royal Engineers welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate their sanitation, road construction, plumbing and other skills. Of course, there was some opposition. Certain politicians, Malay and British, bleated about ‘concentration camps and restriction of the individual to live where he wished’. The average New Villager, with the instinctive good sense of the peasant population anywhere in the world, dismissed these bleatings with the contempt they deserved. Not surprisingly, so did Gerald Templer. Another admirable innovation was the introduction of New Village Councils. These gave the inhabitants a sense of corporate identity in the resolution of community problems. How did this dramatic social upheaval affect the guys with the guns?
1. The CTs
a) They found that their supply of monetary contributions for the purchase of arms changed from a flood to a trickle.
b) Similarly, their supply of clothing, medication and food was dramatically reduced.
c) They were no longer able to extract, by threats, contributions to their cause.
d) The information they gained about security forces movements and deployment was considerably lessened.
2. The Security Forces -
In brief, the CT’s loss was our gain. For the first time inthe Emergency,we- not the enemy - had gained the initiative. Also, for the first time, we could move into Chin Peng’s territory and, gradually, choke his jungle chickens to death.
The transition from Stage 1 to Stage 2 of our operations required some tactical re- thinking. As described in a previous chapter, our Stage I task was the protection of the Malay-an economy by denying the enemy’s efforts to destroy it. Basically, a defensive operation. Stage 2 was to move onto the offensive and to eliminate him This meant deep jungle penetrations; at least in Company strength with the increased logistical problems that this would involve. But enough of tactical and strategic worries. Remember, too, that I only saw them from a comparatively junior commander’s viewpoint. I think that it is time to call ‘half- time’!