In World War II, in the retreat to Dunkirk, he was operational commander of "Mac Force," the improvised formation covering the British right flank, and was mentioned in dispatches. Back in England he shot up to be the youngest lieutenant general in the British army. Believing he had risen too quickly, he asked for and got a combat command.
Wounded by a Piano. In Italy he soon won a reputation for restless energy, drive and impetuosity. When patrols went out, he sat up and waited for their return, so that he could interrogate the patrol commander himself. At a critical moment on the Anzio beachhead he ordered every man available—sappers, cooks, clerks—into the firing line. "He acted like a red-hot poker," says one of his officers. "He always impressed you as a man who was inevitably heading for a tremendous crackup," says another.
Speeding along the road toward Flor ence one day, he met a truck coming from the front with a looted baby grand piano. Seeing the general's stars, the truck driver pulled aside to let him pass—and hit a land mine in the ditch. Part of the piano came hurtling down on Templer's back, seriously injuring his spine. When he recovered, the war was almost over. ("Only general ever wounded by a piano," he says savagely.) Appointed first military governor of the British zone in Germany, he announced that he intended to be "firm to the point of ruthlessness ... I have still to meet a German who says he's sorry. But that's the nature of the beast."
Claret & Crystal. War's end brought Templer full generalship, knighthood, and elevation to the Imperial General Staff. But his proudest preferment is his colonelcy of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Templer's father had started a collection of regimental trophies, flags, uniforms and weapons at Loughgall Manor, Armagh. Templer set up a regimental museum, restored to the regiment its original war trophy: Napoleon's eagle-headed standard, which an Irish rifleman had captured in the Peninsular War.
Templer is the perfect picture of a British regular soldier: an austere, stiff-backed autocrat in uniform—and in mufti a bit of a dandy. He lived elegantly in London's Belgravia and became a connoisseur of claret, crystal and ijth century books. But in the company of his old war comrades he could relax. Says one: "He'll bring along an elderly fellow in civilian attire and introduce him to the officers as 'You remember Sergeant So-and-So. He and I fought together at So-and-So.' Sometimes if you happen to mention the name of a ranker he'll slap his thigh and declare: T knew him before his mother's milk was dry on his lips.' "
It was not surprising that such a man should say to Churchill: "If I make a mess of it I want to go back to the army. If I don't make a mess of it I -want to go back to the army." In the Malayan jungle, fighting a cruel war, there were moments when many thought he was making a mess of it.
The Neutral Jungle. The basic fact about the war in Malaya is the jungle. "The 'thing that astonished me most," writes Colonel F. Spencer . Chapman, an Englishman who spent three years there in World War II behind the Japanese lines, "was the absolute straightness, the perfect symmetry of the tree trunks, like the pillars of a dark and limitless cathedral. The ground itself was covered with a thick carpet of dead leaves and seedling trees. There was practically no earth visible, and certainly no grass or flowers. Up to a height of ten feet or so, a dense undergrowth of young trees and palms, but out of this wavy green sea of undergrowth a myriad tree trunks rose straight upward ... for 150 feet before they burgeoned into a solid canopy of green which almost entirely shut out the sky."
Four-fifths of Malaya—a country about the size of Florida—is tropical forest covering mountains up to 7,000 feet high. In this jungle, inhabited by tigers, elephants, bison, monkeys, gibbons, deer and bear, alive with all manner of insects, including malaria-bearing mosquitoes, bloodsucking leeches, pythons and multicolored birds, where orchids and rhododendron flourish, there is hidden an army of about 5,000 Communist guerrillas.
In World War II the Communists, known then as the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army, were accepted as allies. Colonel Chapman, the survivor of a British "stay-behind" party after the fall of Singapore, describes a Communist camp: "A roughly leveled parade ground, about the size of a tennis court ... A motley guard of honor consisting of about 20 Chinese, including two girls, armed with service rifles or shotguns . . . The majority of them were under 20, and there was one boy who could not have been more than twelve . . ."
All the methods of Communist propaganda were employed at this rude camp: wall newspapers, political plays, tireless singing of Communist songs. When an informer was brought in, "after being burned with brands and beaten almost to death with rattans, [he was] finished off with a bayonet in the grave that had been prepared for [him]." Out of these surroundings came Chin Peng, slight, 31, pimply-faced, fanatical leader of the Malayan Communists, for whose capture the British will pay $26,000.
By Any Means. The Communists had expected to take over Malaya after World War II, but the British beat them to it. In 1948 the Malayan Communist Party passed a resolution advocating "the capture of power by the peasants and workers by any means." This meant going back to their hidden jungle camps and attempting to paralyze the country's life by terrorism and sabotage. Soon they were derailing trains, cutting telephone wires, ambushing police, murdering planters and holding up schools. Unwilling to call them "Communists," the British (who had recognized Communist China) labeled them "bandits"; afraid of skyrocketing insurance rates, they proclaimed the war "a state of emergency." But a captured Communist woman guerrilla put the situation more simply to an Ipoh judge: "You win we die; we win you die."
The Malay Communists had no direct land connection with the Communists of Red China or Russia; they had British arms, parachuted to them during World War II, and some of their leaders had been trained in British guerrilla schools. Themselves Chinese, they raised money by extorting it from Chinese businessmen. Their firmest support came from tens of thousands of Communist sympathizers at the jungle's edge, mostly poor Chinese squatters. From them the Communists got food and information.
The British saw what had to be done. Said Operations Director General Sir Harold Briggs: "You can't deal with a plague of mosquitoes by swatting each individual insect. You find and disinfect their breeding grounds. Then the mosquitoes are finished." To separate the Communists from their supplies, Briggs planned to resettle the Chinese villagers in large new settlements beyond the danger areas. Special police were recruited, the army reinforced, planters armed. But somehow the plans did not work. In the villages the Communists continued to spread propaganda and collect food. More than 2,600 bandits were killed, another 1,300 wounded, and 1,500 captured or surrendered, but still the Communist forces seemed to stay about the same. For one thing, army and police efforts were poorly coordinated. Said one police officer: "This is a dirty little war, and we never really know what is going on in time to take proper action."
That was the situation General Templer inherited last January.
Winning the People. Templer took a hard look at Malaya, and said: "I could win this war in three months if I could get two-thirds of the people on my side." He had a directive read, promising that "Malaya should in due course become a fully self-governing nation . . . within the British Commonwealth." At Kuala Lumpur, Templer took over the hilltop King's House which is the traditional home of the High Commissioner. This was where he, his wife and two children (Jane, 18, and Miles, 6) would be spending many months. A practical soldier, he ordered barbed wire to be set up around the house. Returning later and finding the wire unlaid, Templer picked up the telephone and called the Public Works Department.
"P.W.D.?" said Templer.
"This is H.E. Can you hear me?"
"Are you certain you can hear me?"
"Yes, sir, very clearly, sir."
"Well then, where the hell is that bloody wire?"
Templer told the Malayan Civil Service : "If you don't make a decision and it's a mistake, you'll be put on the next boat; if you make a decision and it happens to be a mistake, you'll be put on the next boat, but somebody'll be there to see you off." Templer began touring the country in an armored car—instead of the Rolls-Royce used by his predecessor. At one stop Templer listened for the second time to a planter angrily complain about inadequate police and army protection.
"Do you ever go down and talk to the troops?" asked Templer.
"Of course not."
"Do you ever visit the special police?"
"It's not my job."
"Well, it's true that we've got some bloody bad soldiers and some bad police in Malaya, but we've also got some bloody bad planters and you're the worst of the bloody lot! Now get the hell out of here!"
Wake for the Dead. Conservative civil servants learned to fear Templer's thin-lipped, tigerish sneer. Asians loved it when he looked a prevaricating Asian politician in the eye and said: "You're a stinker." Everywhere he went he was appalled by the indolent attitude of the Europeans. He told a Rotarian audience: "You see today how the Communists work . . . They seldom go to the races. They seldom go to dinner parties or cocktail parties. And they do not play golf." Even as he spoke, the Perak Derby was being run on the track at Ipoh, tin-mining capital of the worst-terrorized state in the Federation, and golf balls were zinging around Kuala Lumpur course.
Though the local British were unwilling to face it, the fact was that old-style colonialism in Asia was dead: its wake was in progress, even if its will was not yet read.
Outside Singapore (a British Crown Colony), there are in Malaya roughly 2,600,000 Malays, 2,000,000 Chinese, and nearly 600,000 Indians. The Chinese are immigrants or the sons of immigrants, attracted to Malaya by the standard of living (highest in Asia), the high level of justice, the clean cities and good roads. Their industry had put them in control of the country's economic life, but the majority were without citizenship. Believing this to be a basic cause of the unrest, the British Colonial Office pressed for Chinese citizenship, against the opposition of the Malays and some local British. The "emergency" had brought top-level Malays and Chinese together, but had left their communities coldly self-segregated. Templer threw his whole weight into the drive for common citizenship.
Collective Punishment. But he also had a police job to do. He had been in Malaya only two months when Communist guerrillas ambushed and killed a British patrol of twelve men near the small town of Tanjong Malim. Templer arrived in his armored car, glared at the town elders over his spectacles, and said: "It doesn't amuse me to punish innocent people, but many among you are not innocent. You have information which you are too cowardly to give. Have some guts and shoulder the responsibility of citizenship."
There was no response. Templer slapped a 2 2-hour curfew on Tanjong Malim and cut the rice ration. Work stopped. Villagers had only two hours a day in which to buy food. British soldiers went from house to house, handing out a questionnaire. In Chinese, Malay and Tamil, Templer wrote: "If you are a Communist I don't expect you to reply. If you aren't, I want you to give ... as much information as you can to help my forces catch the Communist terrorists in your area ..." He itemized the questions, then added: "It's quite safe for you to give all the information, since every household must hand in a form like this and none will know which comes from which house."
His soldiers collected the questionnaires in sealed boxes, which Templer himself opened. Some of the letters contained only insults. But a few days later 28 people in Tanjong Malim and in a village near by were arrested. After 13 days the curfew was lifted, the rice ration restored, and the people of Tanjong Malim went back to work.
An Element of Morality? In London, Templer's action provoked a storm. "Lamentable," said the Observer. "Odious," said the Manchester Guardian. In the House of Lords, Lord Stansgate was reminded of the notorious Black & Tans, and said acidly: "It is not a bad idea to introduce an element of morality when you are trying to govern a country." Said Lord Listowel: "Collective punishment will turn many people, including the Chinese . . . into Communist sympathizers."
But Templer kept on being tough, regardless. Soon his toughness began to tell. At-Ipoh, three men in tattered uniforms, poor shoes and sugarbowl haircuts ran out of the jungle, crying: "We are bandits surrendering." Fed and allowed to go back, they brought out ten comrades, including a ig-year-old girl who said: "I want to forget all about the nightmare since I foolishly left home."
The British colonials began to surrender too. In Kuala Lumpur, the posh Lake Club had refused admission to the Sultan of Selangor on the grounds of his color. Said Templer, in cold fury: "For the security forces of this country, there is no such thing as a color bar . . . British boys, Rhodesians, sturdy Gurkhas, Africans and Fijiians . . . are all risking their lives side by side with Malays, Chinese and Indians . . . These men see their real enemy—Communism. They also see their real friends, and know that the things they are fighting for transcend any differences there might be of skin or color or custom." The club committee resigned in a body, and their successors endorsed a new policy of interracial friendship.
A few weeks later the Malay Federal Legislative Council passed a bill (which nine Sultan-controlled states had already ratified) laying down conditions of citizenship for the Chinese. To the surprise of the Malays, some 1,200,000 Chinese qualified. It was another triumph for Templer. But the long-range implications are tremendous: in the projected British Dominion of Malaya, which presumably will include predominantly Chinese Singapore, the balance of power will lie with the Chinese population. Thus Britain quietly envisages adding a Chinese country to the Commonwealth, a counterweight in troubled Asia. When they fully understand this, the Malays may be expected to complain. Templer is working on an answer to that one.
Turret Smiles. It is no longer surprising for anyone in Malaya to see Sir Gerald and Lady Templer rolling down the road with their smiling heads sticking up out of an armored car's turret. No soldier, policeman, home guardsman or public servant knew when Templer might appear, demanding accurate answers to sarcastic questions. In his air-conditioned office in King's House, he-plotted daring innovations in guerrilla warfare: planes which fly over the jungle broadcasting recorded messages from captured guerrillas; a plant poison spray to clear the roadsides of ambush areas.
His main occupation now, however, is the country's social services: getting more doctors and nurses into rural areas, organizing training schools for student teachers. There was one project he could turn to with all his soldier's heart: the creation of a 240,000-man Malay Federation army, of Malays, Chinese, Indians and Eurasians. He saw it as the prerequisite of self-government, and was disappointed when the Chinese held back. He is also deep in such unsoldierly problems as rural industrial development and low-interest loans for local cooperative societies. The sensational fall in the price of rubber, as a result of a falling-off in U.S. purchases, distressed him. More even than the guerrillas, that might spell disaster for all his plans.
It is a measure of Gerald Templer's success that in less than one year he has been able to turn from quick skirmishes against disaster to slow battles for Malaya's peaceful future. "We are beginning to get the shooting war under control," said Templer. "Deserves highest credit," said the Economist. "Staunch service," said the London Evening News. "An absolute ace," exulted Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttelton. In London to report to Churchill on his "full powers, sparingly used," he faced the press in a Colonial Office room overlooking Westminster Abbey. Dressed in a neat, dark, double-breasted suit, with blue & white striped shirt and stiff collar, he did not at first glance look like a man who had just flown in from the jungle. But there was a brown sweater under his waistcoat—a concession to chilly London—his 6-ft. frame was down to 147 Ibs., and his slicked-back hair was greyer.
The substance of his report: Malayan guerrillas are on the retreat. To use their own "beastly jargon," the Communists' "situation has become malignant" since "the regrouping of the masses." In October there had been 36 contacts between police and terrorists, and 35 terrorists had been killed. The Reds were shifting their tactics to "insidious subversion."
When he had finished, the reporter from the Communist Daily Worker asked him if his collective punishment policy was not the same as that used by the Nazis. Templer's lip curled into a smile like a soundless snarl. Grimly he recited the prosaic, ghastly facts & figures he had had to deal with. "I notice you do not deny using the Fascist system," said the Daily Worker reporter. "Didn't bother to," said Templer. The Communist reporter asked: "What is the level of anemic malnutrition in Malaya?" Answered Ternpier: "I haven't the vaguest idea." The reporter: "Why don't you? You're High Commissioner, aren't you?" Templer said quietly: "You sit down. You sit down, or get out." The Communist sat down.
It was Templer's day—a triumphant return, though his acidulous manner did not show it; long ago he had learned never to drop his guard, or to expose a lurking sensitivity inside. The tough, tired soldier had told Churchill he wanted to get back to the army when this job was done. But he was thinking now of a more peaceful haven than the army. "I don't like this world," he once remarked in Malaya. "It's not my kind of world. I want a little farmhouse in the south of Italy or France, with a garden and my books. Everybody's working too hard. The whole world has gone mad." The source-Time.