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Chapter 11 – The Malayan Emergency




Our Cdo troop moved from Singapore by train to Kuala Lumpur and then on to our main base at Tapah.

We walked into dining room in the Malay barracks and there was a large Christmas cake with the Royal Marine gold crest on it. On Christmas morning we went in for breakfast and the cake was still sitting out but this time it was covered in maggots. The cooks had forgotten to cover it up and put it in the cool room that night.  Needless to say no one had any Christmas cake that year.


3 Cdo Brigade was based at Ipoh and 45 Cdo Headquarters was based at Tapah. My section was based at a former planters house in the Kampar district where I was a Humber scout car driver. The planter probably had to leave the area when the terrorist campaign started.  




The Scout Car


The first thing we did when we were posted there was to clean out the swimming pool and fill it with clean water. We were probably the only British army unit in Malaya with their own private swimming pool. The Royal West Kent’s were operating in an area adjacent to our patrol area.


Our Commanding Officer at that time was Lieutenant Colonel Deleaths, a man who led from the front who had a habit of falling out with the Brigadier. He also believed in the necessity of good radio communications and woe-betide any officer or radio operator who failed to share that enthusiasm.  Just before I left Malaya he was posted as a Training Officer and replaced by Colonel Ustace. Colonel Deleaths finished his time as Commandant General of the Royal Marines.


While Lieutenant Colonel Deleaths was our CO selected the nickname of my scout car. Some drivers wanted to put their girlfriends name on their vehicle but that was ruled out straight away. They had to settle for their local county names.

There were quite a few Ulstermen in 45 Cdo at that time. When I was issued with my Humber scout car I was in a quandary about what to call it without offending someone. Colonel Deleaths came to the rescue and told me to call it after all the counties, ‘Ulster.’  






The REME Captain


There was a REME Captain seconded to our troop in Kampar. He was a qualified commando but he only wore his green beret when he was with us. Any other time he wore the black beret. He was the only man in Kampar who engaged and shot a terrorist.

On one particular day he travelled in his Jeep to a meeting in Ipoh. He ignored all the warnings and took the shortest route without regard for his personal security. As he negotiated a very dangerous bend in the road he spotted two terrorists running towards him. They opened fire on him and he stopped his Jeep, dismounted and returned fire, killing one of the terrorists.

He then ran to a nearby farmhouse and reported the incident to Ipoh and Kampar and waited there until the support teams arrived.


The Mortar Troop


One day near Kampar I was driving the Mortar Troop out for a live firing practice in our patrol area at Kampar. At dusk we were returning to our base and I observed some lights glowing in the area of a cave complex. I knew that there were no locals in the area and bandits had used the caves in the past. The Mortar troop dismounted set up their mortars and put a salvo of bombs into the cave complex. When we stormed the location there were no bodies but there was a trail of blood. That way we knew that we had successfully engaged the bandits because they had not stayed around.  





The Mortar Troop - Kampar - 1953








Patrol Tactics


Before a patrol left the base camp it was checked out to ensure that none of the equipment rattled, no one carried any cigarettes or scented items. The terrorists were good in the jungle and we had to be better. Our chief scout lived with the native tribesmen but in the end we had to take him out of the jungle and return him to England. Initially he had asked to live with the tribesmen and the CO gave his permission. He learned their language, customs and ate the same food as them. But one day he went too far and he was returned to England.


Our patrols operated in the jungle along with native trackers who dressed the same as us except they did not wear boots or shoes. One day the patrols killed three terrorists and because of the difficult terrain they were operating in the patrol photographed the bodies for identification purposes and then cut the heads off the bodies. In some areas it was a lot easier to carry a head in a bag rather than a whole body. There was a risk to the patrol if they had to detail four men to carry one body over difficult terrain. If we walked into an ambush under those conditions we had weakened our firepower.


The Cameron Highlands


I do not know if I was lucky or unlucky but the gunner and myself had just finished getting the Humber Scout car ready for a patrol that evening. The Motor Transport Officer came to us and said, ‘Get into that Scout car and head out for the crossroads and wait for a convoy to come along’.  We replied that we needed to take some kit with us if we were going on duty. But there was no time to pick up any food or clothing before we were ordered out. We were told that any gear we might need would be sent up the following day.


A series of convoys were running that month to set up a hospital in the Cameron Highlands, central Malaya.

We joined the convoy just behind an RAF truckload of WAAFs. It was a very stiff climb up the winding roads to the Cameron Highlands. The higher we climbed the colder it became and we were still dressed in was our light jungle greens.


The convoy stopped for a break at the Halfway House en route and spread out to stretch our legs, have a meal break and change into heavier clothing.

All we could do was stretch our legs. But the WAAFs came to our rescue with cups of coffee. One of the girls even managed to find us two greatcoats. We continued the journey in more comfort than expected.


Our personal kit arrived two days later. Until then we had to scrounge or buy kit. We were there for over fourteen days. The Scout car was an attractive item. Everyone in the Cameron Highlands expected us to ferry them around. We took officers to meetings, acted as a sentry post or escorted patrols into the jungle.


One day we escorted a patrol back to their base in the Cameron Highlands near the Hospital. One of the nurses wanted to know what the patrol was carrying in a sack and were horrified when three human heads rolled across the ground. That was the first time I had seen such a sight and I was equally horrified.


The Green Beret Story


In 1954 I was a Humber Scout car driver in Malaya with 45 Cdo when we had our only fatal casualty. One night I was preparing the Humber for an inspection by a Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) team and the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) the following morning at 9am. I had taken everything out of the Humber and cleaned the interior as well as the twin K guns and ammunition. The petrol, oil and water were all filled to the correct level and that car was not for moving until the inspection was over.

That evening a Medical Orderly came along and informed me that I was to take the Humber out on an escort run because he required fresh medical supplies from the village of Ipoh.

The gunner with me said, ‘You were in Ipoh this morning, why do you still need to go back there for supplies?’ ‘I forgot and I still need an escort’, was the Medics reply. ‘Well in that case it won’t be me and you may go and ask someone else’, I said. The Medic went to the Regulating Office and the Corporal on duty ordered me to do escort duties for the Medic. I refused on the grounds that I had an important inspection in the morning and if I went out there was no way I could prepare the Humber for inspection again.


The Regulating Corporal managed to coax a TCV driver to do the journey and ignored my warning that the road to Ipoh was a category Red route and no single vehicle was allowed to use it at night. Eventually the pair of individuals left the camp and made their way to Ipoh. Halfway between Kampar and Ipoh they had to pass through a small village noted for guerrilla activity. A terrorist group operating in the area used the village as a supply point for rice, water and ammunition.


The pair were ambushed and their vehicle ran into a monsoon ditch. The Medic was carrying a machine gun and a pistol and he ran from the killing zone, leaving the driver to his fate. Later on the villagers told us that the driver held off the terrorists until he ran out of ammunition. If he had had the pistol and the machine gun as back up he would have stood a better chance of surviving the ambush. The terrorists stripped the body naked, mutilated it and left the scene with all his equipment including the Green Beret. None of the Royal Marines were allowed to view the body.




I was on duty one day and the 2i/c was a Major Smith from Belfast. The CO was in Singapore that day on duty. Major Smith called for my scout car and when I reported to him he informed me that we were going out. A Malay Police Landrover had been ambushed and two Malay police officers had been killed at 10am that morning. The Gordon Highlanders had not put a patrol out on the ground as yet. The Malay police HQ wanted to know what the problem was and why was there a delay. Major Smith dropped off the patrol close to the scene of the murders and I took him into the Gordon Highlanders base camp.

The patrol commander had got as far as lining up a patrol to inspect their fingernails and boots. When Major Smith asked them why they were still in the base camp at 2pm when there had been an ambush at 10am they informed him that they had to wait for the order from their CO before moving out. Major Smith picked up the radio handset and said ’Go!’ That was the order for the Royal Marines on the ground to move in on the most likely areas that harboured the terrorists.

About one hour later the Royal Marine patrol reported that they had caught the terrorist responsible for killing their comrade. The scout had emptied a full magazine from a Bren into him and the patrol recovered their comrades’ rifle and Green Beret. That particular gang of terrorists left the area after that.

Near the end of my tour of duty in Malaya I was granted one-month compassionate leave because my father was terminally ill.


Changi Prison


When I was at Singapore waiting for a flight home I found enough time to go and visit the former POW Camp operated by the Japanese at Changi Prison.

Despite the horrors I had to endure as a POW of the Germans, I appreciate that our problems were of a minor nature compared to the POWs held by the Japanese.


We only had twenty minutes at Changi, but that was enough. The area was empty but you could sense the atmosphere and imagine all the atrocities suffered by the Allied servicemen in Japanese hands.

After my father died I rejoined 45 Cdo in Malta. The whole of 3 Cdo Brigade had moved there while I was on compassionate leave. At that time 3 Cdo Brigade consisted of 40, 42 and 45 Cdo as well as all the support units.


Malta - The Duke of Edinburgh


In 1952 our Royal Marine Commando were ‘Trooping the Colours’ in Malta. This was a regular occurrence on the island; each of the commandos would troop their colours. I was a driver and that morning after many delays for the wet weather I took a squad of troops to the parade area and then got ready to line the route alongside the Maltese Artillery.


We decided not to attend the route lining and went to the nearest restaurant/bar for a few drinks. The Duke had seen us going into the bar and after the parade was over he mingled with the troops and came over to talk to us. I did not speak to him personally. He told us how he sat out the parade feeling like a stuffed dummy and would have preferred to be with us in the bar.


After he finished talking to us he said, ‘Make sure you ‘Splice the Main Brace’ when you return to your quarters.’ It was normal practice to be issued with a tot of rum at dinnertime. To ‘Splice the Main Brace’ was an old royal Navy tradition. One of the most hazardous duties in the old navy was where you had to repair the main mast to keep your ship under sail. On completion of that duty you were rewarded with an extra rum ration.

We told him that would be unlikely but he turned up at the camp later and ensured that there was an extra rum ration in the Sergeants Mess. We went to the NAAFI instead and had an extra beer or two. 


The Suez Crisis


The area covered by 3 Cdo Brigade included North Africa including Tripoli. I was there for four months in 1953. It was generally believed that the Brigade was being made ready to enter into the Suez Crisis and we trained constantly but that never happened.