9 December 2009
A Canadian writer is deploring the British Government’s recent decision not to order an inquiry into the massacre of around two dozen Malayan rubber plantation workers by soldiers from the elite Scots Guards regiment in December 1948.
Edmonton-based Paul Cowan, whose latest book Scottish Military Disasters highlighted the massacre of suspected sympathizers with a Chinese-led Communist insurgency in the then British colony, said it was time the full truth came out.
“The official British version is that the male workers at Batang Kali were shot while trying to escape from custody, the unofficial version is that the killings were the work of a rogue foot patrol,” he explained.
“But at least one witness has said she was driven away from the massacre site in a British army truck – rogue patrols don’t order up trucks.
“It’s highly unusual for the British Government to cover-up for a bunch of squaddies – this makes me wonder who they are protecting.
“This may seem like ancient history now but the lack of a proper British inquiry is still souring relations between Britain and Malaysia.
"This is a disgraceful decision."
Cowan said his research into events at Batang Kali revealed almost as many versions of the killings as there were victims.
“There’s not even agreement on how many men were executed, that’s why I usually say ‘around two dozen’.
“Some versions say 24, others 25. Most agree that one man survived because he fainted. He died last year and now there is only one woman, whose fiancé was killed, who was an adult villager at the time of the massacre. [The woman, Tham Yong has since died]
“There are so many questions that still need to be answered.”
A British newspaper tracked down some members of the patrol in 1970 after the massacre was denounced as “ Britain ’s My Lai”, a reference to a US atrocity in Vietnam. The soldiers admitted the massacre at Batang Kali had been premeditated and said they were given the choice of taking part in it or not.
The Labour government of the day called in Scotland Yard to investigate but the inquiry was shut down when the Conservatives won a general election not long afterwards.
Demands for a fresh, and definitive, inquiry got a boost when the families of the victims found lawyers in Malaya and London who were prepared to take their case for compensation to the British courts.
In January the British Government said it would not order a fresh inquiry but quickly back-tracked and announced in April that it would reconsider that decision. Lawyers in Malaysia have now been told that the British Government is not inclined to order a proper inquiry.