Monday

Recollections
1957-58
from
1 Troop Commander
Richard Middleton.

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Operation Rubber legs
 
Once back at our base we had to prepare for “Operation Rubber legs”, which was intended to be a very secret operation:  ferrying Australian troops across a river some way to our south (I think the Sungei Perak) to surround an area where CTs were thought to be assembling.  This was to be done using boats that we would paddle (to avoid engine noise), and so we spent quite some time on our local river, the Sungei Muda, learning how to handle them.  They were the type of boat shown in "A Bridge Too Far":  canvas-sided, folding flat for transport, and when unfolded held in shape by wooden battens along the sides.  Flat-bottomed, unwieldy, prone to go sailing off in any direction if it was windy, and of course totally vulnerable to any opponent with anything more lethal than a popgun!  We crewed them with 4 paddlers and a helmsman, and the men loved posing as the helmsmen, calling out orders and generally trying to look like Vikings.
L/Cpl. Cotton, PT instructor




 
 
The operation itself was to take place at night (again, for secrecy), so we spent the day before loading up and driving a few hours south, then set up the boats and awaited the Aussies.  Bill Cooper had come down with us (either to enjoy the fun or to make sure that I didn't screw it up;  I'm not sure which.  Possibly both), and for some reason I left him in charge on the near bank while I positioned myself on a sandbank in midstream (up to my waist in water) and directed traffic.  This was good for morale, as the crews could see my flashlight and exchange greetings as they passed, but ridiculous from a military point of view, as I did not have a radio and so could only communicate by flashes, could not have done anything effective if we had been attacked, and, if I had stepped in quicksand or lost my balance, could have been drowned without anyone noticing! However, it was all going according to plan until an Australian film crew arrived, to film their heroic boys going into action.  Suddenly the near bank was lit up with flood lights, the peaceful night was full of the sound of diesel generators, and any pretence of secrecy was totally lost!
 
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Japanese smoke shell disposal

 
While we were still in Butterworth a call came in from the Penang police:  someone had discovered an artillery shell in one of the Chinese cemeteries and would we please do something about it?  It was fortunate that we had Chief Macdonald with us, as he could help us identify what it was and advise on the best means of disposing of it (all shells used in WWII had color identifying bands, and he had a handbook covering both Allied and Axis armaments).  So Sergeant Woods and I drove to the cemetery, told the policeman guarding the shell that we were totally in control, and inspected it:  Japanese, a shell for a 3-inch mortar   -  but no colour bands, of course!  In any case there was only one sensible thing to do:  detonate it where it lay.  For all we knew it might have been booby-trapped (it had obviously been left there by CTs;  no one else would be daft enough to move old munitions), or have deteriorated to the point where, like the bombs, any movement might set it off.  So we delicately placed some plastic explosive on top, added a primer (a small cylinder of explosive used to set off the main charge), put what I thought would be a sufficient length of fuse into a detonator, inserted the detonator into the primer, and lit the fuse (not very sophisticated technology, I admit, but it was all we had).  We then retired behind a massive Chinese tombstone, which seemed enough to shelter us from anything.  We waited.  And waited.  And nothing happened…! 


Sgt Woods 



Now it was up to me (remember that I had read about this in “Service Most Silent”, the book about WWII bomb disposal, which included stories about one of my teachers at Winchester, Geoff Hodges, GM).  Crawling back out to the shell to find out what had gone wrong wrong  -  or whether it was going to change its mind and suddenly detonate  -  seemed to take an eternity.  I couldn’t see any signs of problems, but wasn’t in the mood to poke around, so I just repeated the procedure and took cover once more.  This time there was quite a satisfying explosion, but relatively small, so it was clearly my two charges that had gone off, not a high explosive shell.  Raising our heads cautiously above the tombstone, we saw a huge cloud of phosphorus smoke:  it had been a smoke shell (not all that dangerous, but definitely lethal if it detonated while one was working on it).  Mightily relieved, we left  -  I let Sergeant Woods drive, as I was feeling rather wobbly!  The problem with the original charge was probably a faulty detonator, which I gathered was not too uncommon under tropical conditions.



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Work we did between Chabai and the Penang bomb disposal.  I suspect that the pictures are of more interest to other people than the narrative!

"I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I was lucky in being given two minor bridging assignments during June 1957, before having to do more complicated work later.  One of the operations was strengthening the foundations of a small local road bridge at a place called Tanjong Rambutan, presumably in order to let guns or armoured cars pass over safely.  It only involved jacking it up, laying some timbers, and lowering it again, but it got everyone used to working together.  The second was a little more complicated, as it required “doubling up” an existing Bailey bridge by attaching an extra set of panels to the outside.  This was near a place called Pokok Sena, near Alor Star, and I realized later that it was probably needed because we were going to be bringing heavy equipment that way to build the Naka road.  It was of course all done by hand  -  these days one would just use a small hydraulic loader and dangle the additional panels over the side!  -  but it gave us a lot of confidence.  (I also visited the Aussies where they were building a timber-pile bridge, and was enormously impressed by their competence  -  I was acutely aware that I didn’t have the skills for such a job.)"

The attached photos show:
1.  The RAE troop at work on their bridge (in colour  -  sorry about the awful quality; commercial scanning of slides...)
2.  The Tanjong Rambutan bridge;  it's a 2-photo montage, one with Corporal Walker under the bridge checking the foundations.
3.  The Pokok Sena bridge.  Sergeant Woods is in the center (in beret), L/Cpl Cotton is on the left side (the first person whose face you can see), and I think the person on the extreme left is

Sapper Ryan.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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"Relocating Brigade HQ bridge at Taiping (February 1957)

Shortly after this I was summoned to take my troop down to Taiping for an urgent assignment:  the reinforced concrete bridge giving access to 2nd Infantry Workshops Brigade HQ had foundation trouble, and the bridge had to be replaced as soon as possible to keep the unit operational.  We were to go there and work continuously until we finished.  Meals and floodlights would be provided.  The efficient functioning of the brigade depended on us.   Etc..  This looked like a relatively easy task, although I could have done without the close proximity to HQ.

The bridge turned out to be almost ludicrously small, over an equally tiny gulley (fortunately bone dry), and was relatively easy to demolish using jackhammers.  I then set about replacing it with a Bailey bridge, strictly according to the manual (the Royal Engineers Reconnaissance Pocket Book, 1944).  We assembled the side panels, and stared preparing to push these out on rollers.  At this point I lost control of my troop!  (I should mention that Sergeant Woods was off on another assignment, otherwise this would never have happened.)  I had attached to me, for orientation, a sergeant-major from the Gurkha Engineers.  We didn’t have a language in common, which made things a little awkward, but he gestured for me to get out of the way and took over (Gurkhas are determined little people).  The skeleton of the bridge was so light that, by arranging my troop strategically and encouraging them in Gurkhali, he managed to have them lift it and move it bodily to the new location!  We forgot all about rollers and suchlike, just built a sound foundation and moved the bridge onto it.  Replaced the decking, and then it was all over and time for a tea break (it was 4 in the afternoon). When someone emerged from HQ to ask why we weren’t working, and where did we want the floodlights, I was able to tell him that we were on our way home just as soon as we had finished our tea…!"

The attached pictures show, at the top, our demolition of the old bridge (the person standing nearest to the jackhammers is, I think, Corporal Cartwright. The person in full uniform with his back to the camera is, I think, the Gurkha who took charge).  The lower picture shows the completed Bailey (you can see how tiny it is), with local contractors placing gravel fill at the ramps.






 

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Sungei Siput free-fire zone and Kroh ranges

There followed the nastiest assignment we had by far.  This was to establish a free-fire zone along a valley running north-south near the town of Sungei Siput[1] (in the area where the Emergency had started, which was said to still be a hotbed of CT activity  -  see below for my meeting with Doctor Tweedie).  Some genius in Singapore decided that the way to put terror into the hearts of the CTs was to erect a chain of signs along the sides of the valley, saying “This is a free-fire zone.  If you pass this sign you will be shot”.  After years of armed combat you would have thought that the CTs would probably have worked this out for themselves, but still…  Anyway, we were required first to clear a strip along each side of the valley, and then erect the signs. 

 Cutting the strip proved altogether too much for us.  Because of the CT threats and extortion the local farmers had reduced the area they cultivated, and the abandoned areas had been colonized by lalang, a tall dense grass that had razor edges but which had to be grasped firmly so that our machetes could cut it.  There was absolutely no tree cover, so it was blazing hot and very humid.  Our machetes had two-piece plastic handles riveted on, that seemed designed to raise blisters even on tough palms.  By the end of the second day morale was close to rock bottom.  Bill Cooper then had a brilliant idea (I’m not quite sure why he was there.  He didn’t play an active role in the troop’s activities, and his only contribution that I recall was leaving his Browning automatic in the office, with a loaded clip;  some idiot started fiddling with it and shot the filing cabinet.  This wasn’t the only incident of the kind:  when we were cleaning weapons at the end of the day someone managed to fire a flare gun.  Luckily the tent sides were all rolled up, and so, to everyone’s amazement and relief, a bright red  -  and highly incendiary  -  flare passed harmlessly horizontally through the camp).  Anyway, Bill enlisted Chinese labor, who brought their own far superior machetes and went through the lalang like a horde of ravenous locusts, leaving a wide swathe of perfectly cleared territory (of course it would all grow back very rapidly, but that wasn’t our problem).  They did all this on what western nutritionists would call a grossly inadequate diet:  lots of rice and a few salted fish on top.  The rice was cooked in a sort of giant wok, called a kwali, and there was a lot of competition to see who could get the layer nearest the metal, which was deliciously crispy. 

 
I wondered where this sudden influx of labor (which saved our skins) originated, and asked them (through an interpreter) what they had been doing before.  It turned out that they were all CT guerillas who had surrendered!  However, we never had any hint of problems with them.  We sent them out with armed sappers (armed against attacks from the jungle, not to control the workers), who they could have overpowered, but no one tried to run away and they all worked incredibly hard.  Perhaps they were just relieved to be out of danger and getting adequate food.

 
Perhaps this is the place to say that I never felt in any danger from terrorists in Sungei Siput (or pretty much anywhere else).  This wasn’t because of a conscious “hearts and minds” campaign;  indeed the phrase hadn’t yet been invented.  But we did try to become part of the local population, at least temporarily.  We shopped locally, didn’t carry arms in the town (mainly because there would be hell to pay if they got stolen), and played football against the local youth (in Naka I put together a serious field hockey team, and we had great fun playing against people who had grown up playing on beaten laterite surfaces, which were incredibly fast but not very even, so that one’s reactions had to be lightning-swift;  I’m sure that this stood me in good stead when I later played for my college team).  It is telling that, even in Naka when we were strung out along miles of road and far too busy to mount strong security patrols, we were never troubled, whereas the Malay engineering regiments on similar projects in other areas lost a number of men.  Perhaps they were seen as traitors to the freedom movement, while we were seen as doing things that were useful for the country  -  building roads, clearing explosives, etc..  Our approach


[1] In modern spelling it is Sungai, but I have kept the spelling I knew (and which Dr. Tweedie used!).  Articles about it in Wikipedia use the current spelling, of course.


(which I was interested to see was also how the British are reported to have conducted themselves in Basra during the Iraq war) was certainly in total contrast to the US troops in Vietnam or, especially, in Iraq, moving around in Star Wars combat gear and breaking into women’s quarters in the dead of night…

 
As part of establishing this perimeter we had to pass through a number of rubber estates.  It had been decided that the signs would not be suitable in these areas, because of limited visibility;  instead, we were to paint a yellow band around each tree at about 4 or 5 feet off the ground.  So one morning we set off carrying the signs (which were damnably heavy), sledgehammers, pots of plaint and paintbrushes.  In addition I was carrying a prismatic compass, which I’d not had a chance to use before (but which I was very familiar with from my Outward Bound course), so that I could make sure we maintained the correct direction.  Once we entered the plantation we painted away merrily (it was much cooler than out in the open), with me in front with my compass, leading the way.  And then we came upon rubber trees with fresh yellow paint on the trunks…  (Shades of Winnie-the-Pooh and the Heffalump!).  I worked out later what must have happened:  the hill we were on must have had iron ore deposits which affected the compass needle, so we were tracing a circle around the hill.  Acutely embarrassing!  Luckily it was a small hill, so we didn’t waste too much time and energy.  (Oddly enough, something similar had happened to me at Outward Bound, so I should have thought of it:  I was leading my patrol high above Wastwater in thick cloud, navigating by compass, when we came on a cliff edge  -  which in that area drops a thousand feet of so down to the lake!  I was navigating east but the compass was taking me north…).

 
While we were doing these patrols we saw our one and only glimpse of what may have been CTs:  a small group of men in khaki clothing on the other side of the valley, using a water pipeline as an easy route through the jungle.  They were way out of rifle range, I had no evidence that they actually were CTs, and we didn’t carry radios, so I just reported the incident when we got back to camp. 

 
The camp itself was the usual assembly of EPIP tents (although this time we did not have the luxury of a regular building as an officers’ mess).  It served as a base for several operations in the Sungei Siput area:  a small airstrip was used by artillery spotter planes, and we also had a visiting cavalry unit (I thought it was the 17th/21st Lancers, but Wikipedia doesn’t agree!), which had armored cars patrolling the main road, ready to fire into the jungle if called upon by the planes.  The cavalry officers all seemed to me to be tremendous snobs, and I am sure they regarded us as primitive coolie labor, so the atmosphere wasn’t very cordial!

 
The location would have been tolerable, except for one thing:  someone had sited the camp on a small dry sandy area in the middle of swampy reed and grass beds (probably the relics of tin mining or prospecting), which harbored swarms of mosquitoes.  I used to joke that they dragged unwary sappers into the swamp at night and devoured them whole  -  but this wasn’t entirely an exaggeration!  It made life very tiresome, and there really wasn’t any remedy.  Luckily there were also some very large lakes which had been left behind by tin miners (they used high-pressure jets  - “monitors”  -  to wash material into flumes where the heavier ore settled out and the other materials were carried away).  These were a beautiful opalescent blue, and very refreshing to swim in after a hard day in the field.

 The only redeeming parts of my stay at Sungei Siput were two invitations from people to whom Uncle Harry had sent letters of introduction.  The first was definitely an uncommon experience.  I was asked to dinner by a Doctor David Tweedie[1].  The website referenced in the footnote gives details of his account of the outbreak of the Emergency, and it’s so graphic I think it’s worth including:


“In 1948 an appalling upheaval took place in Malaya, as it was still called, and it started in my practice in Sungei Siput. I was told by the Manager of Kamuning Estate when I made my routine visit that the Manager of Elphil Estate had been shot. I rushed to the estate and as I passed the entrance to Phin Soon Estate, now Sungei Siput Estate, I saw a policeman guarding the entrance. Also in the distance was a column of black smoke rising to the sky as in the days when smoke houses and stores were burned to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Japanese. I stopped and asked the policeman what was the matter. He said that the European Manager, Mr Allison and the Assistant, Mr Christian, had been shot and the store set on fire.

By the time I reached Elphil Estate a huge crowd including senior Police Officers and police had arrived. The Manager, Mr Walker, had been shot as he sat in his office by two Chinese pretending to be making a business call. He was a very popular Manager with his staff and labour force. At that moment a car drove up. It was Mrs Walker returning from a shopping trip to Ipoh.”

I wasn’t aware of this bit of history, and he never mentioned it apart from saying that he had been involved from the start.  He lived in an old single-storey wooden house on the Kamuning rubber estate, high on a hill up a long gravel drive, buried in the trees, obviously an extremely vulnerable target (and not a road I felt particularly safe on, particularly driving the Land Rover back to the camp after dark!).  I asked him how he could face living in such a remote spot, and he made it clear, without being overly specific, that he was a just a doctor who treated anyone who arrived at his clinic or knocked on his door  -  from which I assumed that he didn’t ask too many questions about how people got gunshot wounds rather than cuts from tapping knives, and that he probably treated a number of CTs if they came asking for help.  This was confirmed in his obituary[1].  When I found his obituary I realized that he probably knew Uncle Harry not from the rubber business, as I had assumed, but because they were both interned in Changi by the Japanese.

The other invitation was for a weekend at an actual rubber plantation.  I cannot remember the name of the family now, but they were also linked to the Sandilands Buttery operation.  It was fascinating to go through all the stages of producing crude rubber:  the Tamil tappers going out each day to collect the latex which had dripped down the cuts in the tree bark, then making fresh cuts for the next day’s yield;  the processing where it was diluted and then treated with acetic acid to make it coagulate;  squeezing the coagulated material between rollers to remove excess water;  smoking or air drying;  then finally baling the crude rubber ready for shipment.  It was incredible to think that, until synthetic rubber was invented during WWII, all the car tyres in the world started out as single drips of latex running down spiral cuts in tree bark somewhere in the tropics!  I also saw where exhausted trees were being killed off ready for eventual replanting  -  not by cutting them down, but by using a defoliant which killed them (which I suspect later became infamous as Agent Orange in Vietnam).

 The family lived a pleasant domestic life;  no hint of the tension that I am sure they felt, being the only Europeans for a long way around.  Perhaps this was a façade put on for the benefit of their son, who must have been about 10.  The thing I remember about him was his extraordinary command of languages:  English, obviously, with his parents, but then Malay to the villagers, Tamil to the tappers, some form of Chinese to the village shopkeepers, and probably Urdu or some other Indian language to the Sikh guard at the bank!  And he switched between them without hesitation, depending on who he was addressing.

 Without doing some more research I cannot now recall the exact sequence of the various operations in Malaya, but I don’t think that’s very important.  One of the minor ones was taking the squadron up north, to a base in the jungle called Kroh, where we had to shoot our annual rifle practice.  I might add that even at the time this seemed a little ridiculous to me, but I know that the British Army has always prided itself

on its marksmanship.  The point is that in the jungle a single-shot rifle is pretty useless  -  visibility on many of the paths is a matter of a few yards, and in the event of an ambush one needs a weapon that puts out a very large number of rounds regardless of accuracy.  Just as I discarded my revolver and carried a Luger, so we tended to carry Stens (if we could lay our hands on them) and, for the point man on any patrol, a Winchester pump shotgun, which made an extremely large hole in the jungle, no matter how poorly it was aimed. 

 
Fortunately we never had to use our weapons, as our jungle warfare training was rudimentary at best.  One of our corporals, a comfortably married man called Elderkin (invented by Tolkein?) had gone to the jungle warfare course in Johore and was given the task of training us.  It was all about as synthetic as the WWI infantry training I had had at Winchester:  we jumped out of “ambushed” vehicles, outflanked the “CTs”, and annihilated them, or outwitted them when they surprised us along jungle paths.  Looking back now, I am sure that in real life the CTS, who had been doing this for 10 years or so with considerable success, would have chosen their ambush sites in such a way that we would not have survived.  (Uncle David can probably give you a much more vivid description of what it takes to make a competent jungle fighter out of a normal infantryman  -  he was in the Greenjackets and got his MC in an action in the jungle ).

 
Anyway, all was going well until Sergeant-Major Gibbs asked if I wanted to shoot and qualify.  Now I used to be quite a good shot  -  at close range:  at Winchester I was a marksman with a 0.22 rifle on a 25-yard indoor range.  However, my distance vision was dreadful (not helped by my army-issue spectacles), and I could barely make out the targets at 300 yards.  I was mightily relieved when the Sergeant-Major said “I’ll put you down for a pass then, shall I, sir?”!

 
This would just have been a week spent in a different location but for one tragic incident.  One day a spotter plane flew over us, obviously having had a successful mission, as he gave us an impressive aerobatic display.  Then, in the middle of a roll at low altitude, his engine cut out, and he crashed right in the middle of the camp.  Luckily he missed all the people and the buildings, but he had no chance of survival.  The aircraft didn’t catch fire, and for some reason (probably because it wasn’t a task I wanted to delegate) I thought it was my job to extricate him.  That seemed to take an awful long time, but I think he was still alive (but mercifully unconscious) when he was finally put on a stretcher.  Kroh was one of those places where radio contact was spotty at best, so all we could do was load him into a Land Rover and send him off to the nearest hospital, which was hours away.  I remember wrapping his patella in my shirt and sending it with him, in the forlorn hope that it might be of some use…  Bill Cooper seemed grateful to me for dealing with the situation, and poured a great deal of whisky down me when we got back to the mess.  I never learned what happened to the pilot.

 
This problem of engines cutting out was something we were always afraid of.  The very high humidity, coupled with quite large daily temperature variations, meant that aircraft fuel (“avgas”) could easily become contaminated with condensation.  We stored avgas in 5-gallon disposable cans (“flimsies”) rather than big tanks, used it in rotation so that it was never “stale”, and when in doubt strained it (through chamois leather, I seem to remember).  The fuel systems in our Pioneers were carefully checked before any operation, and any accumulated water drained off.  And we always flew them the right way up!  Even so, as I said earlier, we had one instance of a Pioneer losing its engine over the main range and having to be put into a power dive to jump start it again.  I suspect that the Auster pilot had bad luck with his mechanics  -  someone used stale avgas or didn’t check the fuel lines properly  -  and then when he inverted the plane some water that had accumulated in the carburettor bowl blocked the system.  Very sad.


Sungei Siput - after work



Sungei Siput - chopper landing



Sungei Siput - spotter plane taking off


Sungei Siput from a Pioneer
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Unfortunately we never did have a photograph of all the officers, but I took some during our free time.



James Polley


James Polley (not Polly) with his daughter Margaret at the Penang Swimming Club.  His wife was called Rosemary.  My favorite memories of James are of him playing on the squadron field hockey team that I ran at Naka. James had never played hockey before, but he was a serious golfer (I think he may have played for the Corps?), and I recruited him as right winger.  His job was to get the ball, run fast to the furthest right corner of the field, and then center it to the back of the circle.  That ball, travelling just above the ground at near-sonic velocity, was a winner!

Talking of golf:  while we were at Naka one of our officers (probably James) received an invitation to play golf with the Sultan of Kedah). Of course he accepted  -  we were guests in the state, after all. However, just before the game one of the Sultan's aides came up to him and mentioned that there would of course be a fairly substantial wager on the outcome of the game  -  and then added, confidentially, that of course it would be extremely impolite to beat the Sultan...!  I seem to remember that we all chipped in and called it a necessary mess expenditure.

We would probably have got off cheaper sending whisky...  There was a story going the rounds that the Sultan, attending a reception and sipping the obligatory orange juice (Kedah being a very Muslim state), said "I forgot  -  I'm among friends here", reached under his robes, and pulled out a flask from his hip pocket!  Apocryphal, I'm sure.



 
Major Bill Cooper

Major Bill (you already have a picture of him at the brigadier's inspection). This was taken on a launch he organized for a long family weekend on the island of Langkawei, to which I was invited. Nowadays Langkawei is an international tourist destination, but in those days it was virtually deserted, just a government rest house and one fishing village. In the centre of the island were wonderful clear karstic pools with opalescent water, where we all swam.  By the way, I never heard him called Swilly; certainly the officers all liked him far too much to use such a derogatory name.


 
 
David Spedding

  David Spedding, who joined us for the Naka road project. He had worked for a contractor (Laings?) before being conscripted, and probably came from the Plant Troop (I was never quite clear, and never did ask, how we acquired David and another much more experienced officer, "Robbie" Robinson, who I think had previously worked for Gloucester County Council or some such organization). David and I became good friends, and went to Hong Kong together for Christmas 1957 (sailing there in the SS Nevasa).


Peter Sugar

  Peter Sugar, our motor transport officer.  A good example of military postings:  when he was conscripted he had never driven a car! However he learned well enough that the two of us went on a long road trip to Kuantan on the east coast, driving a Morris Minor.  Why we were permitted to do this, on largely dirt roads past Cameron Highlands and the Bentong Gap, previously the scene of intense CT activity, I don't know. Peter was an architect in civil life, a few years older, and married.

I can't now remember anything about Cedric Cooper, except the surname as a duplicate of the O/C's. This reminds me of my first site assignment after I graduated as a civil engineer;  the consulting firm where I was serving my articles managed to field a small team which included a Winder, a Wisdish and a Wimbush, to everyone's confusion!

The only other picture of an officer that I have come across so far is of a Phil McLaughlin, but unfortunately I can't recall anything about him. He is with "Chief" Macdonald, an RAF armaments specialist attached to us for the Penang bomb disposal operation, inspecting a leaky bomb. Definitely army, probably Commonwealth Brigade (the patch is partly obscured), lieutenant or captain (at least two pips).  My guess is that he might be a specialist sent up from HQ, as he's not wearing jungle boots.  If he's someone you're looking for, let me know and I'll scan the picture.

Definitely missing from my albums are pictures of Alec Jackson, the other British troop commander (except that I have a silhouette of him climbing a coconut palm) and Jack Kelly, a New Zealander who was 2 i/c of the Aussie troop (the troop commander is in the photo with the brigadier, which I've already sent you).

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CLICK ON LINK BELOW FOR HIS STORY

Fort Chabai airstrip
reconstruction
 
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FAMILY

My uncle George (Sir George Middleton, KCMG) was a career diplomat who the Foreign Office always seemed to send to places where there was serious trouble or where they anticipated it.  The family legend is that he went missing behind the German lines when the Germans launched their blitzkrieg attack on Poland in September 1939, thus attracting considerable attention in the Foreign Office, but this may have been confused with his brief time as a Romanian POW (referred to in an article about him after his death, but so far also largely legendary - I’m trying to research this).  There is no doubt that the Foreign Office used him in a number of positions where things were, as they would have said at the time, “distinctly sticky”:  Poland in 1939;  Italy immediately afterwards, as Mussolini was about to join the Axis;  Iran, as Mossadeq nationalized British oil interests;  Lebanon, during the first invasion by US Marines;  etc.[1]  (He also had postings to, for example, Aden (now part of Yemen), Argentina, Egypt (prior to the Suez debacle) and India (in time to host the successful 1953 Everest expedition), but I don’t think these were major hot spots at the time). 

However I did not learn until years later that one of Uncle George's diplomatic missions was to Malaya during the Emergency, to conduct a secret meeting with the CTs to try to negotiate a peace settlement.  He told me that he met in a hut deep in the jungle with the CT leader, Chin Peng (hence, given the British love of puns, the code name for the operation, "Pink Gin"!).  The hut was apparently set apart in a clearing, with no one recording what was said (presumably to give both sides what is now called “deniability” if things didn’t work out), with little or no military security (Chin Peng, reasonably, being afraid of being kidnapped). Unfortunately they could not reach an agreement.


[1] At the time the Foreign Office required excellent language fluency for each posting  -  not just verbal, but also written, and with sufficient knowledge of the country’s literature to be able to carry on a cultured conversation!  Fortunately he was an excellent linguist, and acquired (besides his native English and French) Polish, Italian, Farsi, Hindi, several varieties of Spanish and Arabic, and sufficient Russian to extract secrets from drunken Russians at diplomatic receptions.


 














 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 


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