The 1948 massacre at Batang Kali of around two dozen ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers and tin miners by a Scots Guards patrol couldn’t have resurfaced in the media at a worse time for the regiment. The massacre in Malaya has been back in the headlines recently due to a High Court review in London of a British Government decision not to order an inquiry into the killings. Now there’s speculation that the Scots Guards may be disbanded in the next round of defence cuts because it allegedly has the worst recruiting figures in the Guards Division. I don’t think that is going to happen, but the Scots Guards wouldn’t have Batang Kali hanging over their heads now if they had been more honest about it in the past. When the BBC aired a documentary in 1992 about the massacre it was condemned by highly placed members and former members as a foul slur on the regiment. The News of the World accounts of the massacre in 1970 were also dismissed as nonsense. There’s been a cover-up and the Scots Guards may yet rue their part in it. Meanwhile, at the High Court in London in a bid to torpedo a proper inquiry into the massacre, British Government lawyers have been arguing that the real bad guy was the Sultan of Sengalor. They said that Batang Kali was in his territory and the Scots Guards were answerable to him. Obvious nonsense. Then they argued that the British Government was entitled to wash its hands of all responsibility because Malaya was granted independence in 1957. A close look at what is known about the massacre reveals a number of seedy second-and-third raters in both the military and the colonial administration who ordered and then covered up a wicked and stupid act. Proceedings at the High Court suggest nothing much may have changed when it comes to the calibre of British public servants.
The threat to the Scots Guards is only one of several to Scottish units in the defence shake-up expected to be announced soon. It seems almost certain that one of the Royal Regiment of Scotland’s five battalions will be axed. The question is which one. The 5th Battalion, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, is the most junior but the 4th Battalion, the Highlanders, is saidto have the worst recruiting record and the highest number of non-Britons in its ranks. One rumour has it that it will be the 5th Battalion and its soldiers will be transferred into the 3rd Battalion, the Black Watch. The historic names may also to be dropped altogether and the battalions will be known only by their numbers. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards may also be on the chopping block as the Army reduces its main battle tank fleet. Not a good time to be a Scottish soldier.