Memoirs of Douglas Morris
Malayan Emergency - I will tell you now of the outstanding memories of those years ’48 to ’52 both happy and sad. Ah Kwee had survived the years of the Japanese occupation. At the end he was soon able to return to his lifetime occupation and became cook/servant to a British officer. He got to hear on the “wave net” the news that Joan and I were back in the country.
Nothing was going to prevent his return to serving us again and after giving his employers a month’s notice was back once again totally committed to our service.
I was posted as 2i/c to the 2nd Battalion with whom I had fought as Adjutant during the war. Fort Dickson was our base and in command was Colonel Bill Blair-Oliphant with his charming wife Marjorie. We were in a lovely quarter and for the first year our life was normal peacetime training and building up to full battalion strength. Colonel Bill from the Border Regiment was new to Malay troops; his war had been in Europe with his Regiment and had distinguished himself having been awarded an OBE and MC. As an “old hand” I was able to help him considerably and we became a happy team. Joanie on her side settled in very happily with old friends both British and Malay and all went well.
While tension was rising, the outburst of severe trouble came with the murdering of several British planters countrywide by well-armed Chinese “Bandits”. The Emergency was with us. Within a short time two Guards Regiments, a battalion of Grenadiers and a battalion of Coldstreams were to be posted to Malaya under the command of Brigadier Malcolm Erskine, Scots Guards. His Brigade Major was Major Sir Michael Fitzalan-Howard, also Scots Guards. Their Brigade HQ was to be Kuala Lumpur and, to give them a third battalion for operational purposes, 2 Malay were put under their command.
It was an honour for us and we were able, with our local knowledge, to give them considerable help. We, as Officers, were soon accepted into “the Club” and we were on Christian name terms as is common throughout the Guards Brigade.
We were posted for operational purposes to Pahang right in the centre of Malaya,a country with a wide range of terrain from very high hills to deep almost impenetrable jungle into which the bandits were building camps. our Battalion was based in Kuala Lipis, the capital, and our operations were searching and with long-range patrols seeking out our enemy who seemed to have skill and determination in setting up ambushes in this country so ideally suited to this type of warfare.
We were soon to lose a British Officer, Major Ian Henderson, killed in an ambush and over a longer period before the end of operations sadly five all told with of course a number of men.
One of our sad losses was that of Brigadier Malcolm. His easiest and quickest method of getting up to see us from KL was by Auster, a single-engined little two seater flown by competent pilots and widely used countrywide. At the end of a visit which had been full of encouragement and morale boosting, his pilot told him: “Sir, the weather has turned so bad with heavy thunderstorms covering our journey home, I strongly advise no flying for some hours.” The Brigadier had an important meeting back in KL, which he was determined to attend. He, I believe said, “It’s only an hour’s flight.
I am determined we can overcome this situation. I order you to fly me.” He did, and mid-flight I believe struck by lightening. They crashed into the jungle and both were killed and the aircraft almost totally destroyed. Immediately all efforts were made to find them. Patrols from all three battalions in the Brigade had to search wide areas in which the bodies had been totally destroyed, burnt to a cinder. One identifying piece of evidence was a portion of DSO ribbon on a piece of charred uniform. It was altogether a deeply upsetting episode and took precedence over all other duties.
It was to see the break-up of this Brigade for operational cohesion. To follow and take his place was our good friend Brigadier Desmond Shean who took command of 1 Malay Infantry Brigade which saw the amalgamation of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Bns the Malay Regiment to cover a similar area for operational purposes, but more of that anon.
First, I must tell you about Peter Irwin, one of many new officers to find themselves posted to the Malay Regiment that was rapidly expanding and was to reach six battalions before Joan and I finally left. Peter, Royal Signals, the son of General Steve Irwin who was right-hand man to General Bill Slim in Burma, was to be our Brigade Signals Officer and a great help to me for I found myself appointed Brigade Major. Peter was engaged to marry Sheila, a lovely South African girl, and it was at this time she was able to join him in Malaya and they were happily married in Seremban as Joanie and I had been in 1940. Joanie took Sheila under her wing and we were able help and organise everything for them. Sheila was to become a close and life-long friend to Joan, as indeed was Peter. Long after we both left Malaya we kept in touch and in 1990 at our Golden Wedding celebrations they were both with us.
The Malay soldiers took well to jungle operations and gradually we were able to dominate and overcome the bandits.
While we inevitably suffered casualties, I can remember well when the 2nd Bn celebrated the 100th Chinese killed on their record.
During all this time Joan lived in Port Dickson but although operations inevitably meant periods of separation, we were able to see each other at reasonable intervals and I remember one happy event when Jack and Veronica Masefield, serving in the state of Perak up north saw the arrival of their third daughter Delphinia and we were invited to go north to be with them at the Baptism. I was privileged to become her Godfather and now 50 years later Delphie is still my faithful and much loved Goddaughter and we see each other quite frequently. Her home is now in East Harting near Petersfield which was the home right up to the end for both Jack and Veronica.
Time marches on and it was decided to send me for a course at the Senior Officers’ School at Erlestoke Park in Wiltshire, so it was in 1950 that we returned home by sea greatly to enjoy the relaxation and the experience of the course.
Incidentally, it was soon after my course ended successfully they suffered a serious fire which was to see the end of this establishment at this site.
I was promoted at this juncture to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and we were returned to Malaya there to take up the post of Senior Staff Officer at Regimental HQ, The Malay Regiment, under Brigadier Toby Andr and we had a busy and happy two years based in Port Dickson serving under the leadership of General Sir Gerald Templer, the Tiger of Malaya. He was constantly in touch with the Malay Regiment and we had a personal contact with him.
While back at home of course part of our time was spent in Northern Ireland. My dear brother in law had been laid to rest but of course Ellie and Arthur were back at home in Northern Ireland with their home in Armagh. One of their near neighbours and friend of theirs was dear old Mrs Templer, General Sir Gerald’s mother. We were taken round one day to have tea with her. While we talked she said to me, “Tell me now, how is Gerald doing out in Malaya?” I said to her, “You will I know understand my humble position. Far be it for me to offer anything but total praise to Sir Gerald who, as our C in C and High Commissioner, is totally in command and doing brilliantly.” “Oh” she said, “I’m glad Gerald is doing alright.”
When next I was in Sir Gerald’s company on an occasion off duty when he was visiting Port Dickson and having a gin and tonic before lunch, Joanie and I told him all about our visit to his mother in Armagh. He laughed and was totally relaxed and to the end was always kind and attentive to Joanie.
So it was in 1952 in the August our time with the Malay Regiment was to draw to a close and I was told that I was to be posted to the Regular Commissions Board at Westbury. There, for the next two years, one was responsible for the selection of the future officers of the Regular Army. I felt it was a posting of some distinction.