- Slaughter and Deception at Batang Kali
The opening sentence of the Foreword succinctly describes the book’s core: ‘No one has ever denied that a mass killing of Chinese plantation workers resulted when a patrol of the Scots Guards raided a Malayan rubber estate near the township [sic] of Batang Kali in early December 1948.’ Ian Ward, with his considerable experience as a journalist and the assistance of his capable wife, spent four years researching this dreadful affair.
Ward also gives us insights into the corridors of power in London and Kuala Lumpur. However, his conclusions are not always sound. Copying a newspaper cutting, ‘Forget Batang Kali plea by Tengku [sic]’, Ward claims that the then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman supported ‘the pro-Scots Guards lobby’ [End Page 130] because ‘events at Batang Kali’ were ‘of little concern to his government’. But this was in 1970 and they were of great concern as the country was still reeling from the effects of the 13 May riots of the previous year.
Ward, known for his anti-establishment views, stoutly maintains that there is a continuing ‘official cover-up’ of this fateful affair. Two viewpoints were expressed in local newspapers: the army maintained that the men were shot while attempting to escape from custody, while survivors were to claim that there had been a massacre of innocents, a view championed by Ward.
The first official account maintained that those killed were ‘bandits’, a term later replaced by CTs (Communist terrorists). In fact they were plantation workers whose Communist sympathies are uncertain. Under newspaper pressure, official enquiries were carried out, apparently confirming that the men had been running away from the estate quarters where they had been detained overnight.
In March 1969 the infamous My Lai killings in Vietnam were exposed, a year after that event. This apparently triggered the conscience of William Cootes, one of the Scots Guards who had been involved 21 years previously. He told a similar story to an English paper, The People, which investigated and published their sensational article ‘Horror in a Nameless Village’ in February 1970. This was backed up with apparently less detailed accounts by four other ex-Guardsmen who were members of the 14-man patrol.
Scotland Yard also became involved and apparently interviewed, amongst others, all members of the patrol still in Britain. It became evident that the slain men, all Chinese, had not been actively engaged in terrorist activities and a new element was added—that the shooting may have been planned in advance.
In 1992 a television commentary on the BBC entitled ‘In Cold Blood’ concentrated on survivors giving their recollections of the sad event. Reaction in Malaysia resulted in the Malayan Chinese Association taking an interest; as a result, the Malaysian government appointed a police task force to investigate over a lengthy period. In 2004 the Prime Minister announced that at the end of 1997 the Attorney General had closed the case ‘after no evidence was found to charge anyone in the matter’. Yet evidently the task force concluded that innocent men had been shot in cold blood. They reviewed all that they knew, stating that ‘a bona-fide mistake had been made’. Unfortunately, neither the British nor Malaysian police were permitted to carry out enquiries in each other’s countries.
One point pursued by Scotland Yard was whether or not the patrol had been ordered to ‘wipe-out’ the village before they left camp. Ward does, however, give quotations from several servicemen that before the shooting began they were told that they need not join in if they did not want to! This indicates that the shooting had been planned by the NCOs leading the patrol. Indeed, Cootes claimed that after loading the women and children into a lorry, the squad was told to shoot all the male prisoners and ‘none of us protested’.
In investigating an event so long after its occurrence, inevitably the timing of separate incidents has become blurred. In an example of how the passage of...