“The Malayan Emergency” on History Channel in August

I know very little about the “Emergency,” essentially a war between the British and the communists in the jungles of Malaya that threatened to engulf the country – only it did not. The various strategies employed by the British government were considered successful and gave rise to “New Villages” amongst other things. As a case study, it has been suggested to the Americans for application in Iraq.

My introduction to the the Emergency was in the form of a upper primary school text in the backyard cupboard. I must have been in early primary then and would not use this text when I grew up for we would no longer study local history by the late 70’s. In a few pages I read in fascination about the assassination of Henry Gurney, the post-war British High Commissioner in Malaya, by the communists on 6th October 1951.

Much later, I read another book that was lying around also in the backyard cupboard, this time the dedicated tome, “The War of the Running Dogs” (1971) by Noel Barber. This book painted a more vivid picture, filling in many details about various players and would form the mainstay of my impression of the period of insurgency between 1948-1960.

Noel Barber 1971
Images from Noel Barber’s book scanned by Redstorm @ malsingmaps.com forums

I still can recall a black and white photo from the incident which occurred at Fraser’s Hill. That left enough of an impression for the memory to come to the fore every time we travelled up the winding road of the Gap. I never knew the exact spot and a new signboard was erected by malaysian officials last year. Ironically, it has been suggested that Gurney had not been specifically targeted by the communists who only found out about the identity of their victim later.

More recently, Leon Comber filled us in with “Malaya’s Secret Police 1945-60: The Role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency” (2009).

Yesterday, Kenneth Pinto scooped all of us in Friend of Yesterday.sg by alerting us to a 2-hour documentary, ” The Malayan Emergency,” produced by Novista Sdn. Bhd. It will be shown on History Channel (401) in August and I am certainly looking forward to it.

Novista lists the following broadcast times:

  • Sunday, 15th August – 8pm
  • Monday 16th August – 1pm
  • Saturday 21st August – 10am
  • Sunday 22nd August – 3pm
  • Monday 23rd August – 10pm
  • Tuesday 24th August – 4pm
  • Sunday 29th August – 10am

There are more time slots listed on the History Asia webpage here.

The synopsis from novista.tv reads,

“In 1948, an undeclared war on terror exploded in the jungles of Malaya. British and Malayan security forces fought a formidable guerilla army determined to create a Communist republic. They failed – but by the time the war ended 12 years later, tens of thousands of people had been killed, both combatants and civilians. Yet against this terrible background, Malayans from all races and classes joined together to form a new nation – independent Malaya. The Malayan Emergency was an education in fighting together – the crucible of independence.

The Malayan Emergency is a 2 hour special documentary that tells this epic and inspiring story – uniquely, from both sides. The film features unique archive film and photographs which cast a brilliant new light on the often traumatic human experience of jungle warfare. Many veterans agreed to share their remarkable stories. In Thailand, former Communist guerillas tell the story from their point of view.

The Malayan Emergency puts on screen the vibrant drama and suspense behind this war on terror – and how close the British came to defeat. It reveals the radical new strategies, like resettlement and counter espionage, that in the end turned the tide. It introduces us to some of the great personalities of the time – from courageous front line policemen, Chinese, Malay and Indian to the big players like Sir Gerald Templar, Tunku Abdul Rahman and their wily communist foe Chin Peng.”

I find that the facts and significance of many significant events only reveal themselves after exposure to multiple sources over time and re-reading some of the earlier books I once thumbed through. It looks like this documentary will certainly contribute to that understanding.