I rise today to acknowledge the 70th Anniversary of the Commencement of the Malayan Emergency, which was marked this past Saturday, June 16th, with a Commemoration Service at the City of West Torrens Memorial Gardens. I was pleased to attend and lay a wreath on behalf of the Premier and Government of SA. Through it I wish to share with this place excerpts from the writings of author Major Paul Rosenweig OAM MA JP (ret’d), who has made a substantial contribution in works recording Australia’s military history.
He begins with:
In 2018, the former allied nations will mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day….Commemorative ceremonies around the globe will mark this significant event, effectively closing off a five-year commemoration of the centenary of World War 1.
Receiving far less attention this year, in fact probably none at all in most quarters will be the 70th anniversary of the start of the undeclared war known as the ‘Malayan Emergency.’
‘The emergency’, as it is sometimes known, was a guerrilla war fought in the Federation of Malaya, which lasted from 1948 until 1960, and cost the lives of 39 Australians.
The Federation of Malaya, a federation of eleven states (nine Malay states plus two of the British Straits Settlements, Penang and Malacca), came into existence on 1 February 1948. Essentially, the Emergency began on 16 June 1948 when three European plantation managers in the northern state of Perak were executed by members of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). The British declared a State of Emergency in Perak on 18 June, and then enacted emergency measures country –wide from July.
The Emergency was the Commonwealth’s response to a ‘National Liberation War’ fought by communist guerrillas of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party. The MNLA (predominantly Malayan Chinese) was seeking to overthrow the British colonial administration in Malaya.
It was an ‘undeclared war’: the rubber plantations and tin-mining industries urged the use of the term ‘emergency’ since their losses would not have been covered by Lloyd’s insurers if it had been termed a ‘war’.
Most official records give ’18 June 1948’ as the declared commencement of the Malayan Emergency, however the qualifying period for the Commonwealth clasp ‘MALAYA’ actually begins on 16 June 1948.
While the Emergency was underway the Federation of Malaya became independent on 31 August 1957, with Tunku Abdul Rahman as Prime Minister.
The Commonwealth contribution included Malayan and British units, including Gurkhas and Royal Marines. Other Commonwealth troop contributing nations included Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia.
Australia’s commitment to operations against the Communist Terrorists fell within the context of its membership of the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve (FESR).
…More than 7000 Australians served in the Malayan Emergency, and some estimates suggest as many as 10000 due to the rotational service of the warships and the rotation of reinforcements into the battalion groups.
The Australian War Memorial records 39 Australian servicemen who lost their lives in Malaya (15 of these deaths occurred as a result of operations), while 27 were wounded. The three battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment lost 20 men (including one attached), the Royal Australian Artillery lost 4 men, and there were a further three deaths from the supporting services. The RAAF suffered 6 deaths, plus another 4 at RAAF Butterworth. The RAN lost two men. In addition, there were a further six deaths (four Army and two RAAF officers) during the non-operational period following 1 August 1960 and during 1961.
The Office of Australian War Graves records that there are 36 Australian war dead from the Malaysian Emergency. They are buried in various locations…Others are buried or officially commemorated in Australia in civil cemeteries and crematoria or in OAWG Garden of Remembrance…The Tedrendak Military Cemetery also contains a Memorial to the Missing on which those with no known grave are officially commemorated.
Pathway to Nationhood
While the Emergency was still underway, the Federation of Malaya became independent on 31 August 1957. Then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman signed a proclamation on 31 July 1960 declaring that the Emergency was over. The formal conclusion of the Emergency set the conditions for Malaysia to come into existence in 1963 when the Federation of Malaya, when the Federation of Malaya joined with the Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak Crown Colonies (although Singapore later separated from Malaysia, on 9 August 1965).
The service of the Australian troops, and the sacrifice of our 39 Australians, among the 1800 Malayan and Commonwealth troops who lost their lives in this 12 year conflict, was not in vain, serving to uphold the sovereignty of Malaya allowing the successful attainment of independence and the eventual creation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.