Source: The Independent, July 11 2009
Malaya, 1948. In one of the most controversial incidents in British military history, 24 unarmed civilians were killed by a platoon of Scots Guards. Now the release of secret documents means the real story may be told at last
In her recurring nightmare Tham Yong’s fiancé is calling her from the spirit world to go back to the river to look for survivors. She can see the pained expression on his face and his outstretched arms beckoning her to return to the scene of a massacre that wiped out every adult male in their village.
The images which still haunt the 78-year-old grandmother are as vivid now as they were when Britain’s colonial war in Malaya first broke upon this small settlement of Chinese rubber-tree tappers, 45 miles north-west of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. “I have other bad dreams too,” says Tham Yong. “I dream that the British want to kill me. I tell them that we are good people, we are all innocent, but the soldiers just keep repeating that we must be bad people and we must die.”
Just three years after the end of the Second World War, Commonwealth forces were again heavily engaged in a bitter jungle war – this time against a small army of Chinese communists whose attacks on Britain’s industry and rubber-tree plantations threatened to overthrow colonial rule.
Sixty-one years later, Tham Yong says she cannot forget the night a patrol of 16 Scots Guards crept into her village in search of an elusive enemy whose hit-and-run tactics had won them early successes over the much larger British forces. Acting on military and local intelligence, the patrol had been briefed that settlements around Batang Kali were being used as a “bandit” supply centre. When the soldiers left the village on the afternoon of 12 December 1948, 24 Chinese civilians, including Tham Yong’s fiancé, were dead. All were unarmed and all had been shot while trying to escape. There were no wounded and it was thought that there had been no survivors. Continue reading
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