Enemies or Friendlies? British Military Behavior Toward Civilians During the Malayan Emergency

  • Christi Siver


After World War II, the British re-entered Malaya to find that anti-Japanese forces they previously supported had now begun an insurgency against colonial interests. While the British had extensive experience with jungle warfare, the first British units in Malaya struggled to deal with insurgent attacks. For some units, frustration with insurgent tactics boiled over into reprisals against civilians. The massacre of twenty-five civilians at Batang Kali is the most extreme example of this violence. However, many units took pity on the civilians caught in the crossfire and endured tremendous risks to protect them. Based on extensive archival research, the author finds that, while all units received relatively little training in the laws of war, some units had subcultures that valued tactical innovation and pride in service. Leaders of these units helped to steer uncertain soldiers toward the ideals of minimal force and civilian protection.


Batang Kali Massacre Jungle warfare Counter insurgency Subculture 


  1. Barber, Noel. 1971. The War of the Running Dogs—How Malaya Defeated the Communist Guerrillas 1948–1960. London, UK: Cassell.Google Scholar
  2. Bayly, Christopher, and Tim Harper. 2007. Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Belfast Telegraph Online. 2015. Relatives Lose Appeal for Probe into 1948 Malaya Plantation Shootings. Belfast Telegraph Online, 25 November 2016. Accessed 17 April 2017.Google Scholar
  4. Carnegie, Sacha. 1955. Sunset in the East. London, UK: Peter Davies.Google Scholar
  5. Coates, John. 1992. Suppressing Insurgency: An Analysis of the Malayan Emergency, 1948–1954. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  6. Deery, Phillip. 2003. The Terminology of Terrorism: Malaya, 1948–52. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 34 (2): 231–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. ———. 2007. Malaya, 1948: Britain’s Asian Cold War? Journal of Cold War Studies 9 (1): 29–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Erskine, David, ed. 1956. The Scots Guards, 1919–1955. London, UK: William Clowes and Sons.Google Scholar
  9. Gilbert, Martin. 1988. Winston S. Churchill. Volume III ‘Never Despair’ 1945–1965. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.Google Scholar
  10. Hoong, Khong Kim. 1984. Merdeka! British Rule and the Struggle for Independence in Malaya, 1945–1957. Selangor, Malaysia: Institute for Social Analysis (INSAN).Google Scholar
  11. Jackson, Robert. 1991. The Malayan Emergency, The Commonwealth’s War, 1948–1966. London, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Malayan Monitor. Vol. 1 (1948–1956). London, UK: Putera—A Malay Confederation Comprising the Malay Nationalist Party, PETA (Malay Youth Organization), AWAS (Progressive Malaya women’s organization, Malay Peasants Union, several Malay groups).Google Scholar
  13. Marston, Daniel. 2006. Lost and Found in the Jungle: The Indian and British Army Jungle Warfare Doctrines for Burma, 1943–5, and the Malayan Emergency, 1948–1960. In Big Wars and Small Wars: The British Army and Lessons of War in the Twentieth Century, ed. Hew Strachan. London, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Miller, Harry. 1954. The Communist Menace in Malaya. New York, NY: Frederick A Praeger.Google Scholar
  15. ———. 1972. Jungle War in Malaya: The Campaign Against Communism 1948–1960. London, UK: Arthur Barker Limited.Google Scholar
  16. Mockaitis, Thomas R. 1990. British Counterinsurgency, 1919–60. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Oldfield, Major J.B. 1953. The Green Howards in Malaya. Aldershot, UK: Gale and Polden, Ltd.Google Scholar
  18. Ramakrishna, Kumar. 2008. Freedom News: The Untold Story of the Communist Underground Publication. Singapore: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.Google Scholar
  19. Short, Anthony. 1975. The Communist Insurrection in Malaya, 1948–1960. New York, NY: Russak & Company, Inc.Google Scholar
  20. Simpson, Grant G., ed. 1992. The Scottish Soldier Abroad, 1247–1967 (The Mackie Monographs, University of Aberdeen). Edinburgh, Scotland: John Donald Publishers Ltd.Google Scholar
  21. Stockwell, A.J. 1995. Malaya, Part II—The Communist Insurrection, 1948–1953. London, UK: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO).Google Scholar
  22. Stubbs, Richard. 2004. Hearts and Minds in Guerrilla Warfare: The Malayan Emergency, 1948–1960. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International.Google Scholar
  23. Sunderland, Riley. 1964. Army Operations in Malaya, 1947–1960 (Memorandum RM-4170-ISA). Santa Monica, CA: The Rand Corporation.Google Scholar
  24. The Scots Guards. 1951. Malaya 1948–1951. Kuala Kubu Bharu, Malaya: The Battalion.Google Scholar
  25. Thomas, Leslie. 1966. The Virgin Soldiers. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company.Google Scholar
  26. Verkaik, Robert. 2009. 60 Years on, Malaya ‘Massacre’ by British Troops to Be Investigated. The Independent, 30 April. Accessed 21 July 2009.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christi Siver
    • 1
  1. 1.Political Science DepartmentCollege of Saint BenedictCollegevilleUSA

Personalised recommendations