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Category: Conflicts/Malaya

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The Malayan Emergency. 2RAR 1956/57

by Graeme Hardiman

Click to enlarge On 16th June 1948 the Malayan Communist Party killed two Rubber Plantation Managers and an Assistant, in the same month the party ordered the mobilization of former members that had previously served as guerrillas  against the Japanese during WWII as the MPAJA (Malayan Peoples Anti Japanese Army). 

This was an estimated 8 regiments and the supporting Minh Yuen, (their RAASC).  They had supposedly handed in all their weapons and ammunition but had in fact hidden them securely in the jungle.  

This was evident from captured weapons that were of that era. 

The High Commissioner immediately proclaimed a State of Emergency and thus the Emergency started. There exists a theory that due to the massive damage expected to the rubber trees and tin mines, insurance claims would be excessive if it was declared a war. 

Like Korea was sometimes called a Police Action so was Malaya.  During the first six months the MCP mounted operations with teams of 400  guerrillas and there were  an average of 200 attacks a month.

During the 12 year period 10,940 people were killed and 3,935 were wounded, 57 of these were Australians. There were 134 Regiments, Units and Squadrons that served in Malaya including naval contingents. In 1948, 30,000 Special Constables and 100,000 part time home guards were recruited. By 1952  the regular police reached  a strength of 25,000, 39,000 Special Constable's  and 41,000 home guards, these figure increased to 41,000 and 250,000 respectively in 1953 . 

The author, Graeme Hardiman

On 2nd April 1955 the Prime Minister announced that  3,500 servicemen would be sent to Malaya. The 2nd Battalion main body of 800 men arrived in Malaya on MV Georgic on 19th October 1955  just one of 134 different units  from the Commonwealth that served in the 12 year period, not including naval contingents.

About the author

I served with Assault Pioneer Platoon 2RAR 1955- 57 Malaya. When we arrived in Malaya at Minden Barracks they called for diggers to volunteer to become riflemen/medics, (Don't tell me I should have known better than to volunteer, I know it). I had 3 weeks solid training and become the platoon medic. It didn't take the pressure off, still did my stint as forward scout and at dusk when everyone stood down I had sick parade in the bush. The part I hated was having to carry the extra weight of the medical kit as the song says "He was only nineteen".  When we came back from Malaya we went to Holsworthy and In 1958 I was transferred to RAAMC, Field Ambulance, the RAP at 1st Armoured Regt. at Puckapunyal, left the Army in 1960 and joined the RAAF in 62, went back to Malaysia in 68 for 2 years with my wife and kids, left the RAAF in 1979 after 23 years service in the both services  and joined the Prison Service for 9 years at Pentridge. Retired a Governor in 1989 after a series of heart attacks.

At this stage  an estimated 1000 guerrillas remained in the jungle from a 1950 total of 11,000. The second Battalion became part of the 28th British Commonwealth Brigade along  with the 3rd Malay Regiment and 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers.  In the early years the MCP leaders ordered atrocities against the Malay population, atrocities  that were apparently the same as those  carried out by the Vietcong in the Vietnam War.  It is believed this violent approach was one aspect that contributed to a British/Malay victory. Other aspects were the lack of communications for the MCP, the various Regiments had to utilize couriers that travelled the length of Malaya along jungle tracks, many of whom were killed by security force forward scouts. 

Typical accommodation (commonly referred to as a hoochie).

There is no doubt that the most significant effect on the MCP was the  moving and isolation of villages. They were fortified by barbed wire fences and supported by home guards, this made the efforts of the MCP to maintain food supplies difficulty and dangerous forcing them to leave the safety of the jungle and pick up food parcels in the rubber  plantations where may were ambushed.  These ambushes generally initiated by intelligence reports  were at night, long, arduous and with very few successes in later years. 

British (24 hour-1 man) Ration Packs

L to R: Mars bar, Small block of milk chocolate (generally white with age and climate. Small bag of boiled lollies, tea and Sugar (for 3 mugs), Three  five and a quarter oz. tins, Sausages and beans, Liver & bacon and Beans (other packs had Sausages and egg, steak and egg, (looked like egg) and so on. Toilet paper, Small tin of Jam and Small tin of cheese, tin of "Dutch Maid" milk, tube of condensed milk, packet of rice and hard biscuits and salt tablets. I remember the spoon come tin opener that was in later years nicknamed "Fred" (F***ing ridiculous eating device) and the Hexamine tablets and stove. In late 1956 Australia came up with a 24 hour ration pack which improved the situation somewhat.
There is no doubt that in the early years, the British Forces broke the back of the MCP by their jungle skills  so quickly learned by the regular soldiers and a great proportion of National Service men.  

One member of the MCP when captured stated that the Lincolnshire Regiment were the most silent and thus feared in the jungle than any other soldiers. There is no doubt that the British developed a high level of expertise in jungle warfare which begged the question why did the OC of 2 RAR, LtCol. J.G. Ochiltree  and his men did not have the benefit of ATOM, the British manual, the Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya.  

There was even criticism the each Platoons of 2 RARís two weeks training at the JTC Canungra was insufficient due to the vast amount of time training at Enoggera for the Trooping of the Colours.

Jungle Brew-Up; Cpl Max Stack & Private Vanderloop.

After a short acclimatization period at Minden Barracks and a 2 day patrol in the jungle of Penang to sharpen the troops skills, in January 1956 2 RAR proceeded to the mainland and commenced operations in Kedah for a short time and then to Perak where the MCP were most active.  The patrols can only be described as frustrating, debilitating.   The Malayan jungle was some of the most formidable in the world, completely shutting out the sun and sky creating a stifling humid heat.  
In some places  a patrol would cover a mile in about four hours, in some cases where thick bamboo was encountered, longer and each soldier had to take turns chopping away with a machete.  

Fallen huge tree needed to be climbed over and fast running streams forded, every effort taxed the overheated  body to the limit which was only eased by small sips of water from a small water bottle.

"Medevac", Malayan style. Private Tom Hogg wounded in Eagleswoop carried by RAF Pilot and Cpl Max Stack.

Leeches that sucked the blood and covered the body were so prevalent one eventually ignored them, it was not unusual to find 50 or more in all parts of the body.   

Vicious red ants, scorpions and ticks big enough to put a pull through, through a .303 although apart from green harmless tree snakes I saw only two, a Cobra in a base hut at Kuala Kangsar where every one left by the same door and windows at the same time and a python that crawled over Private Jack Tolliday in the night when he was asleep in the jungle mud hole, he thought he had dreamed it but in the morning I confirmed that it actually happened.

This was the only time the patrol had ever camped in the dark.  It was on the side of a hill on a depressed track down by tappers.  Exhaustive sleep ignored the torrent of rain that poured down the hill  settling where we slept. I recall awaking and seeing my mate with only his nose above the water level, still asleep. 

Every effort was made to conserve energy, using your weapon to push yourself up a slope or grab a branch and pull yourself forward.  One vine was the Lantana, or called Chute mate, Japanese for Wait a while so called by a Korean veteran. The barbs on the vine grabbed you and pierced and tore at your skin.

Private Jack Hewitt with his holed tobacco tin. The press stated it was over his heart, he said it was in front of his family jewels.

The weight you carried  your pack and the ammunition varied but was always exhausting, In a secondary role as platoon medic, I carried the first aid kit, the radio man his own pack and spare batteries were shared with other members

Late afternoon, most times on top of a mountain or hill you set up camp, in a circle, each half tent was combined with another digger to form a tent, a trench was hastily dug with  a trenching tool to keep out the inevitable down pour and you slept wrapped in your poncho with you pack for a pillow. The medics conducted  sick parades  and treated everything from cuts, abrasions, lancing boils, tinea, blisters and bullet wounds. There were additional hazards such as malaria, scrub-typhus, jaundice, dysentery, jungle ulcers, prickly heat, foot rot and ringworm and then there was the enemy. Medical equipment was basic,  with some supplies like sutures and needles, scalpels and other instruments.

We had to fight for morphine which we eventually received,  calamine lotion was a cure all as was iodine and antibiotics.

A water party moving without any gear would scramble down the mountain to a stream at the bottom and fill all the water bottles  along with one or two large water bags.  An armed guard led the front, centre and rear.   

Just before dark the platoon stood to, eyes front weapons pointing outward until dark and it was stand down and a sentry was posted in the camp centre, generally a 30 minute shift or 1 hour depending on whether it was a section or platoon patrol.


The sentry had the Platoon Commander or Sergeants watch which was luminous and he sat in the black night with a Light Machine Gun, the minutes went by so slow as you fought to keep your eyes open, listening to the snoring, farting and so on of the exhausted.  The worst shift were of course the late morning about 4 onwards as you were relived and went into a deep sleep only to be woken for stand to.  We were never attacked during the night in the 2 years, except for one night in the pouring rain when I heard a guerrilla coming toward us in the pouring rain.  

The CT fell onto me as I fired a burst of 9 mm into him he screamed out and disappeared into the night.  Everyone awoke and the Lieutenant  said we will wait until morning then search.  In the morning the Sgt found the terrorist about 100 yards from the camp, he was a Chinese Malay about 150 pounds, stark naked with pink skin and big tusks, four legs and a curly tail, a real mean son of a bitch.  The Lieutenant said "You really wanted to take home the bacon Doc, we won't put this in the report".

There were some humorous incidents, the Australian digger larrikinism is probably alive to this day. I remember an incident involving the local barber at Minden Barracks named Hajji Baba by the platoon.  

Prior to a Battalion parade conducted by the RSM Wally Mills, three members of the Platoon, Private Tolliday, Hokins and Fitch advised Hajji what the protocol was when the RSM called the parade to attention.  

As he did Hajji yelled out at the top of his voice "God bless Sergeant Major fat Guts you old bastard".  With that the whole parade broke up.

Some of Australia's Finest in front of a Nissen Hut

There are some things that you remember vaguely, some things that never leave you, some things you never discuss. I do remember to this day when platoon blindly panicked. We were patrolling  in a rubber plantation, not attacked by a hoard of guerrillas but the sky went instantly black and dark and was filled with huge mosquitoes, they got into your eyes, ears and nose breathed in through the mouth.  Too dense to brush away, couldnít find the repellent the only option was to run like hell, which we did, blindly, everyone in sheer panic.  That was the only time I felt fear, and I still believe  they were Communist Mosquitoes.

Of all the patrols and ambushes and gate searches that were carried out three remain prominent in my memory.  The Pipeline Ambush occurred on 14 June 1956 Support Company based at Kuala Kangsar was relieved by A Company. Support Coy returned to Minden Barracks and a week later 1 Platoon ran into a major CT ambush.

A surrendered  insurgent later stated  the ambush had bee ordered to boost lagging morale in the 13/15 Platoon.  It was believed at the time that the Malay Regiment had been using the pipeline track on a regular basis. Between 23 and 25 guerrillas were dug in along the pipeline in thick undergrowth on a hilly slope over a distance of 100 yards. 

Along the track 3 mines and 2 mortars had been planted to be fired electrically. Three killed and three wounded in the ambush and the  side attack from the second A Company  Patrol.

"Operation Rubber Legs" from 23rd February until 3rd March the Brigade proceeded deep into the jungle over huge mountains, the only saving grace was that the whole of HQ Staff went too. It was described as  "encountered unusually difficult conditions", movement only at night carrying out "extremely arduous marches".

Damage from falling tree while blowing an LZ in the jungle.

rom the base camp day patrols and ambushes were carried out with absolutely no success whatsoever. We were visited by the OC, via helicopter after we made a LZ and after he left the Company departed back to camp.  To ensure that no CTís dug up our trash pit and found any food a platoon was left in ambush for 10 days.  

Plenty of rations, no clean clothes, plenty of drinking water, but no washing or soap or toothpaste, the ambush was just over the river, one pair of decent socks left that had been on for a week. A base camp was set up 100 yards from the river and each morning at light a 7 man squad moved up to observe the clearing and the rubbish dump.  When food was getting light on we were told to break camp and return to Base. So far 27 days. The Platoon Commander decided on the quickest way home, straight down the middle of the river. Days later at Base every one took of their socks and left the soles stuck to the tinea ridden feet.  The patrol although not a record, this was held by the SAS 122 days, it was our record, some 30 days.

Time heals all wounds except those of the soul, I remember the accidental shooting of a digger in the jungle where there was absolutely nothing I could do. I remember not shedding a tear when I spent the night beside the bodies of two diggers, I felt no attachment and no emotion 3 months late upon reading a magazine interview with on of their mothers, I cried when I read, "He was a milkman before he enlisted and every morning at 5 am I would hear him coming down the path, whistling, he would put down the milk and tap on the window, time to get up Mum, and off he went still whistling. I still hear him coming down the path whistling".

The second patrol "Operation Eagleswoop Part two",  Nothing significant comes to mind about Part one. On 23 June 1957, Support Company under the Command of Major I.A. Geddes with a strength of 84 was moved by helicopter to a jungle landing zone on the Thai border, two miles North of Bukit Perrengan.

At 3 pm on 24 of June two four man patrols of MG Platoon located a large occupied CT camp, after the scout spotted a sentry whom he killed with a grenade and the patrol followed up, attacking the camp, the enemy withdrew after a stoppage with their LMG.  

By this time the rest of Support Company had arrived and ran into a large force of CTís (about 30), the enemy fire killed two  diggers and wounded one. 

A Ferret Scout Car

The remaining digger with his LMG returned a withering fire from his LMG and the CT group retired. More reinforcements were brought in to set up ambushes on the border. Support supplied from 105 Battery, 5 Lincoln Bombers and 8 Venom Jet Fighters Shortly after midday on 25th June, the Assault Pioneer Platoon whilst having a break were  unexpectedly confronted by 3 CTís.  In the exchange of fire Private Jack Hewitt  was wounded in the arm and tobacco tin.  

He swears to this day that he got the bastard who dived into the jungle. On 26th June in a clash of two patrols another good soldier was accidentally killed. Although a camp and food supplies were found and the bandits set to flight it was too much of a price to pay.  

The Battalion was withdrawn from operations at the end of July. On 4th August Support Company less Assault Pioneer Platoon moved to the JTC at Kota Tinggi in Johore and Pioneers to Kluang Engineering School. 

I remember  a few incidents at Kluang that I can't reveal but one was a story told by Lt. Ken Houley our platoon commander.

 He told us that in the British Officers Mess he was approached by two one pippers (subaltern).  "Sir I must complain that two of your men failed to salute us yesterday"  Houley stared at them for a few seconds and replied. "Why should they, they donít even salute me". 

The two diggers responsible were Privates Hewitt and Hardiman.

The Battalion concentrated at Butterworth on 29th August for its return to Australia on 17th September.

Malayan rubber plantation

On 30 August it took part in the ĎMerdekaí ceremony in Georgetown. At midnight when the British flag was lowered and the flag of an independent Malaya was raised for the first time. Someone said  "No matter how far the initial hopes of the Battalion had not been fully realised, the achievement of independence against the protracted communist onslaught had surely made the tour worthwhile.  Measured on that scale , as a contribution to a worthy objective, 2 RAR had played a useful role. Circumstances in Malaya made any greater achievement almost impossible."  On reflection the loss of so many good men was a high price to pay for "a useful role and such a worthy objective?".  An indication that the digger humour of WWII was alive relates to our delayed trip home on the "New Australia" due to the ship colliding with another off Thursday Island. When it arrived at Port Swettenham, Penang during the night a white bed sheet with a large painted "L" had been attached to the bow of the ship much to the embarrassment of the Captain.

Lest We Forget


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