National Geographic : 1953 Feb
Malaya Meets Its Emergency Embattled British and Malays Fight Red Terrorist Guerrillas, but Keep Vital Rubber and Tin Moving to the Free World 185 BY GEORGE W. LONG JWith Illustrations by National Geographic Photographer J. Baylor Roberts TREAD this," said the director of a large British rubber company in Malaya. "It's a letter from one of our plantation managers. Gives you some idea of what we're up against out here. Reports like this are routine these days." Taking the paper, I read of a hit-and-run raid by Red terrorists-of rubber trees by the hundreds slashed, equipment smashed, trucks burned, and workers intimidated. Tersely the final paragraph announced: "We deeply regret to advise that Mr. W. A. Puddicombe, our assistant, was murdered by Communists this morning." Grim Half-war Grips Malaya Such incidents, multiplied by thousands, make up the grim half-war that has gripped Malaya since mid-1948. With typical under statement the British there call it simply the "Emergency." In the dense jungle that blankets four-fifths of this lush, productive country lurk some 5,000 tattered and tough Communist guer rillas. They aim to wreck the country's economy, create chaos, and take control. Swift, elusive, quickly swallowed by the jungle, the terrorists are everywhere and no where. Surprise, sudden death, and gangster terrorism are their weapons. Striking against Asians and British alike, they ambush traffic, derail trains, attack villages, murder, burn, and rob. The Reds' prime targets, the war's "front lines," are Malaya's rich rubber estates and fabulous tin mines. Planters and engineers, wearing side arms and getting about in armored automobiles, live and work in death's shadow. Somehow, despite the Emergency, they manage to produce a third of the world's natural rubber and more than 35 percent of its tin (pages 187, 227). In the steady flow of these vital resources lies Malaya's vast importance to the free world. About the size of New York State, Malaya shares Southeast Asia's long Malay Peninsula with Thailand. It is a country of dramatic mountains clothed in jungle green, of palm fringed beaches, idyllic thatch-roofed villages, bustling towns, wild rivers, monsoon rains, tropic heat, and enervating humidity. At the southern tip of the peninsula, like a pendant, dangles the modern island city of Singapore (map, page 189). On a visit to Asian trouble spots, National Geographic photographer Joseph Baylor Rob erts and I flew to Singapore after a tour of embattled Indochina.* As our plane circled the city, we saw scores of freighters dotting its spacious anchorage. This strategic Crown Colony is still the busy "crossroads of the East." But in Singapore the Emergency seemed remote, although it filled the city's newspapers. Chief topics of conversation were business and money. Tight knots of serious men discussed the price of rubber, so important to Malaya. War in Korea had inflated rubber to five times its early 1950 value. When we arrived, the balloon had just burst and the price was sinking fast; later it steadied. For a close-up look at the Emergency, we journeyed into the strife-torn Federation of Malaya and then returned to Singapore. With us went British-born James Taylor, a veteran planter. Early in the twenties "Jungle Jim" began working on Malayan rubber estates. He became an American citizen in 1938 and hunted wild rubber in the Amazon's upper reaches during World War II. When the Japanese invaders left Malaya, he re turned. Jim can't stay away from rubber long. Although friends looked doubtful and shook their heads because of the "danger," we drove from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, the Federa tion's capital, without incident. We found "K. L.," as it is called, a bustling city of 200,000-British colonial city, Malay village, and Chinese town rolled into one (p. 188). Jungle "Comforter" Shoots Lead Slugs To see a rubber plantation under the Emer gency, we drove from K. L. through rolling country to the 1,700-acre Tuan Mee estate. Rubber trees in orderly rows marched beside the curving road for miles. Jungle, wild and forbidding, lined our route in places. Quietly Jim laid his "comforter," a .45 automatic, on the seat beside him. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGhZINE: "Indochina Faces the Dragon," by George W. Long, September, 1952; "Portrait of Indochina," by W. Robert Moore and Maynard Owen Williams, April, 1951; and "Strife-torn Indochina," by W. Robert Moore, October, 1950.