The estate manager’s bungalow was approximately 1200 yards, due east, along a continuation of the bumpy, laterite road from ‘A’ Company’s encampment. I travelled in the scout car with driver. I acted as machine-gunner. We arrived at Striv’s compound without incident. Externally, the area covered a slightly smaller area than did ‘A’ Company. There was the usual barbed-wire fence with searchlights. Bren light machine gun positions were sited in very similar manner to those of the Company. Inside the fence, however, the picture was very different from ‘A’ Company’s.
At the centre of the conclave was a charming and capacious colonial-style bunga low. It was of a wooden construction and mounted on brick piles that were about 10 feet high - this allowed ventilation below the living accommodation. The whole was set on a concrete base with pipes sunk from the bungalow through the concrete to allow for the discharge of sewage and other liquid waste. All of which flowed into a well-sited septic tank. The bungalow had its own water tank and, thanks to the heavy volume of rain, provided satisfactory water supply for all requirements.
There was, also, a generator, which gave adequate lighting and other electrical facilities. Surrounding the bungalow were neatly cut lawns and well-kept flowerbeds containing a profusion of colourful tropical plants. In short, the enclave, apart from the fence, searchlights and light machine gun position, was a little island of beauty in a sea of forbidding rubber plants. I thought that, in normal circumstances, it would be a delightful place in which to live. BUT - these were not normal times!
Inside the bunga low it was just as attractive. The polished, wooden floors were covered with colourful Indian carpets. Furniture throughout was cane, which Helen had tastefully decorated with chintzy cushions. Standard lamps enhanced the rooms. The air was cooled by large electric fans suspended from the ceiling. On the ceiling, supported by suckers on their feet, scuttled numerous geckoes (cheechas in Malay). These little creatures are lizards. From nose to tail they measure about 3½ inches. They are a great asset because they keep the insects under control. Cheechas were regarded with great affection by indigenous and expatriates alike. There is a Malay saying - ‘A house without cheechas is an unhappy home!’
One incongruous note. Behind the sofa was a Bren light machine gun with a box of full magazines. Helen was a charming and attractive Scottish lady of about my own age. She wore a lovely kaftan of embroidered Chinese silk which did not conceal the fact that she was pregnant. I made a mental note that this might present future problems either in quick evacuation or ferrying in medical help. Both she and Striv made me feel very welcome. I felt great sympathy for Helen.
She was living under a condition of siege with the extra difficulties of being pregnant. Fur thermore, there were no other European women living near. However, there was an obvious great affection between her and Striv, which seemed to be sufficient for her. She was a very gallant lady. Striv poured himself a large whisky, poured one for me and a gin for Helen. He asked if I would object to him giving my scout car driver a couple of beers. As the breatha lyser had not yet been invented (anyway, was it likely that there would be a police trap on the way home?), I thanked him for his thoughtfulness. I was sure that the driver would be delighted. BUT - pleasant though all this was, it was not just to socialise that I was here. Striv and I soon got down to business. Helen wandered away and did the things that tactful hostesses do under these circumstances. In an attempt to clarify a complicated conversation, I will itemise the subjects covered :
1. Protection of the Strivs’ Enclave.
a) Protection was provided by a dozen Malay Para-Military Police. They manned and maintained the light machine guns and provided Striv and his assistant expatriate manager with armed escort when on ‘walk around’ in the estate.
b) They were under the command of a Malay police sergeant who was an impressive and courteous man who spoke good English. Not that this was strictly necessary as both Helen and Striv spoke fluent Malay. But - it was a great help to me!
c) The detachment lived in a small marquee within the wire perimeter and had their own cooking, ablution and latrine facilities.
d) The payand administrative costs of this force were funded jointly by the Johore State Police and. Sime Darby, the powerful rubber conglomerate that, employed Striv and his labour force.
e) This police sub-unit was under the command of a British Colonial Police Lieutenant. He had his headquarters in Ktuang police station and was, also, responsible for administration and discipline of two other similar sub-units with identical responsibilities.
2. The Estate Labour Force.
a) As far as I can recall, Striv’s labour force consisted of about 150 working people – plus families who lived in labour lines (similar to the One that was converted into ‘A’ Company’s encampment) dotted about the estate.
b) Ethnically, the labour force was predominantly Tamil .but there was a sprinkling of Malays and Chinese amongst them.
c) The labour force was subdivided into gangs of between 10 - 12 workers under the jurisdiction of gang supervisors. As a distinction of rank, a Gang Supervisor wore a pith helmet!
d) The broad functions of the field labour force were –
i. To tap trees designated by Striv for a latex yield - and attach the cups which would collect the valuable sap.
ii. To collect the yield, pour the latex into containers that looked like small milk churns. Then to carry these containers to pre-selected collecting points where they were taken to the coagulating shed for processing. This was done by the estate’s own transport.
iii. To clear the ever-persistent undergrowth between the lines of rubber trees. If this was not under constant attention, the vegetation would take over and the labour force would be severely handicapped.
e) In addition to the field labour force, there were the following group of specialistsi. The workers responsible for processing the latex.
ii. Two clerks and two telephonists for the estate office - this was situated within Striv’s compound.
iii. A Chinese cook boy and his wife for domestic service in Striv and Helen’s bungalow.
NOTE:- Striv told me that, although he had no positive proof and, could not identify individuals, he was convinced that, at least, 15% of his labour force were under the influence of the CT’s. This was not good news!
There were direct telephone communications from the bungalow and the estate office to my headquarters, Kluang police station and the outside world - including Striv’s administrative masters m Singapore However, telephone lines could be cut Wireless communications were in the hands of the police sergeant who was on link to my headquarters, the Kluang police station and the 13/18 Hussars at main base.
4. Other Administrative Arrangements.
a) Pay, medical cover and rations were all Striv’s personal responsibility. Although he gave me a general outline of these operations, it is difficult to be specific with regard to details. The pay was escorted to the estate by the 13/18 Hussars.
b) Services provided by the Johore Public Works Department (PWD). Such services include:- Emptying the septic tank. Collection and disposal of other waste material. Periodic inspection of the generator and water tank.
NOTE:- The PWD provided similar services to ‘A’ Company.
I had learned a great deal from Striv. At approximately 20.00 hours I climbed back into the scout car and headed for home, supper and an early night. In the morning I was to rise at 05.00 hours to experience my first jungle bash’!
I was woken up at 05.00 the following morning and prepared myself for my introduction to the jungle with Mike Bury. Muster parade was at 05.30 and I fell in with the platoon. Mike checked weapons, ammunition and equipment. We, then, under Mike’s supervision, swallowed our daily paladrin tablet. This was a precaution against malaria. Everybody, but EVERYBODY - soldiers and civilians, adults and children - who lived in a malarial area had to do this. It was an excellent precaution. Unlike its predecessor, quinine, it did not turn one’s skin into a nasty jaundiced colour.
At approximately 06.00 we moved out of the camp. I had arranged, with Mike, that I would be supernumary to his command group. We left the encampment in single file and, immediately, on a wave of the hand from Mike, the patrol fanned out into ‘Arrowhead’ to move through the rubber estate (see fig. 2). 1 was most impressed and heartened by this manoeuvre and the smoothness of its execution. Everybody, with the exception of me, knew exactly what he was doing - and why.
We moved for about half a mile through the estate and then, the point section commander (a Corporal) gave the hand signal to halt. He followed that by the signal to call the Commander forward. I followed Mike to see what was going on. His patrol had come to the edge of the estate. Ahead of us there was about 100 yards of open ground with undergrowth rising waist high. Behind was the primary jungle. From the jungle emulated incredible noise.
It was a high-pitched humming of incredible intensity. It sounded to me as if hundreds of electrical appliances were all working flat out. Mike whispered to me, “That’s a good, sign. It means that no humans are in the area. So – we won’t be ambushed in the open. You’ll find that when we enter the jungle, there will be no insect noise at all!” Mike then gave another hand signal and, without a spoken word, the whole patrol moved into single file formation. I felt rather like a novice dancer introduced into an experienced corps de ballet .
As the leading scout entered the jungle the insect noise switched off As if someone had thrown an electric switch. For the first time in my life, but not the last, I entered the twilight world of primary jungle. Within the jungle we followed a very ill-defined but, apparently, recently made track. Progress was very slow. We were hampered by a particularly pugnacious thorn bush which extended vicious brambles across our axis of advance.
These bushes were known throughout the infantry in the Emergency as ‘Wait a While’. This pernicious vegetation was aptly named. If one attempted to force one’s way forward by brute force, the enormous thorns stuck in ones clothing and equipment and lacerated the skin. The only remedy was to wait a while and to, carefully, pick off the thorns individually. ‘Wait a While’ also provided a convenient high road for leeches, who, smelling warm-blooded creatures, came looping along the branches to enjoy a good gorge - on us!
Although we were sheltered from the direct rays of the sun, the humidity was horrendous. To add to my jungle initiation, after about half an hour moving through the jungle, it began to rain; and rain; and rain. The canopy, about 100 feet above us, sheltered us somewhat - but we were soon all soaked to the skin. Furthermore, the whole area through which the patrol was moving began to steam. It was like moving through the hot room in a Turkish bath. To cut a long story short - the patrol’s efforts resulted in no spectacular military success. We made no contact with CT’s. We did discover a trail some three days old (so estimated our Dyak tracker) but, attempts to follow it up were thwarted by the rain, which had blotted it out.
By 18.00 we returned to base. When I stripped off I discovered a dozen leeches, bloated with blood, on various parts of my body. I screwed the disgusting creatures off between thumb and finger. (If one brushes them off with the hand, it is possible to leave their heads in the skin which could, then, fester and cause problems). Within the next ten days, I went out, again under instruction. First with Derek on a night ambush. Then, with Roger, on a patrol through a mangrove swamp. Neither of these operations resulted in contact with the enemy; but they were valuable environmental experiences for me. I learned, for example, about the discomfort of a night spent in ambush harassed by the attention of red ants and mosquitoes!
At the end of these ten days I collected the three subaltern officers together. We had an informal beer in our so called Officer’s Mess. I said something like this, “Thanks, you guys, for having me under instruction. But - from now on, I’ll call the shots!” With a broad grin, Derek raised his glass and said, “Welcome aboard, skipper!” I felt proud and privileged to be serving with these three admirable, young men; and, with the equally admirable, and even younger men, whom they commanded. Very soon after this, we DID make contact with the CT’s and had some success. To be honest, I cannot claim that this success was as a result of a tactical decision on my part- or meticulous planning. It was, just, a lucky break. BUT, it did cement ‘A’ Company, with me controlling it, into a team with ,a real purpose. On such lucky breaks are professional reputations made. Lieut.-Colonel P. G. B. Hall, DSO