Book Review: The Last Post

History is replete with events that have been relegated to mere postscripts, or worse, forgotten entirely. In a bid to ensure the sacrifices made in the Malayan Emergency are not consigned to the fog of history’s forgetfulness, retired Superintendent of Police Dato’ R. Thambipillay presents a commemorative, limited-edition book to honour those who fell defending a nation struggling to unite.

In the summer of 1948, following years of unrelenting worldwide war and the subsequent withdrawal of Japanese forces, Malaysia (then called Malaya) was forced to deal with a communist uprising stemming from an economy in tatters, rising food prices, and widespread labour unrest. The Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the militant arm of the Malayan Communist Party, formed as an “anti-British” group, ostensibly nationalist, but realistically militant and communist. On 16 June of that year, three European plantation managers, working on two different rubber tree plantations in Sungei Siput, Perak, were shot and killed by insurgents within a half-hour span. With much of Malaya already an unsettled tinderbox, these murders provided the spark.

Britain, whose own post-war recovery efforts were buoyed by revenues from Malaya’s tin and rubber industries, reacted swiftly. Within a month, the entire country was plunged into an increasingly difficult war. Many plantation owners were insured by Lloyd’s of London, and losses incurred due to war would not have been covered, so the leaders of these industries pushed for the term “Emergency,” and thus it was known. For 12 long years, guerilla warfare was rampant throughout Malaya, thousands were killed by terrorists (including 101 expats working in Malaya), and the Federation of Malaya teamed up with forces from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand to combat the MNLA. The communist insurgency was finally defeated on 12 July 1960, 52 years ago this month.

Author Dato’ R. Thambipillay, following a storied and much-decorated career as a civil servant in the police force (which he joined in 1949, at the beginning of the Emergency), has compiled and published a new book entitled The Last Post: Story of the Emergency & Commemorative Events (1948-1960) as a revised and substantially augmented edition of his 1998 book, God’s Little Acre. In this updated edition, Dato’ Thambipillay has spent over four years researching and photographing additional details, and the book discusses not only the actual events of the Emergency, but the commemorative events which have arisen and taken place since 1980. The book also includes over 400 photos, and of these, 330 are of the grave markers and tombstones of those killed fighting the communist threat in Malaya, including Commonwealth Military personnel, Royal Malayan Police force, expatriate planters and miners, and civilians, including two British children. The graves are largely in the aforementioned “God’s Little Acre” in Batu Gajah, Perak, as well as in other cemeteries throughout Malaysia.

In addition to the photos of the grave markers, the book contains details of the deceased and the circumstances of their deaths. It is a sobering and haunting reminder of the ravages of war, and a respectful tribute to those who gave their lives to protect Malaya. This young expat working as a rubber plantation manager is but one of the many who fell:

Name: Farebrother, E.M., Manager
Date died & place: 5 November 1948, Voules Estate, Tenang
Age: 21 years
Multiple bullet wounds in a bandit ambush. Prior to joining the estate, he served in the Royal Navy from June 1944 to December 1947.

A well-known man in his home state of Perak, Dato’ Thambipillay has initiated and organised numerous events to commemorate and honour the fallen from not only the Emergency, but also the Battle of Kampar in WWII, among others. His latest book serves as a memento and an honourable commemoration of those, military and civilian alike, whose lives were cut short during the struggle to secure Malaysia’s future and prevent a newly emerging country from falling into ruin, and its people from being subjugated under a cruel tyranny.

The 300-page book is printed as a keepsake, and only 1,000 hardcover copies have been printed. Should you wish to order a copy please email the author directly at [email protected].

This article was written by Chad Merchant for The Expat magazine.
Source: The Expat July 2012
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