Classic Cars in Taiping

Badge of Star Engineering Co Ltd., Wolverhampton

British cars used to be commonplace on Malaya’s roads and at the time of Independence in 1957 more cars were imported from Britain than all other countries put together.

By the 1970’s however British car sales to Malaysia were in free fall due to the general decline of the British motor industry and the rising popularity of Japanese models. The launch of Malaysia’s first home-grown car, the Proton, in 1985 and the increased tariff on imported cars was a further blow.

These days British cars are something of a rarity in Malaysia. No British cars featured in the top 50 selling models in Malaysia (2011 statistics) though, to be fair, luxury brands such as Range Rover and Jaguar have made a strong comeback in recent years.

So while in Taiping recently it was a rare treat to see seven old British cars in one day (admittedly four of them were in a museum). Here they are, mostly in excellent condition:

Triumph 1300 from the late 1960's.
Triumph 1300 from the late 1960’s?
Spitfire MKIV from around 1963?
Spitfire MKIV from around 1963? The mustang bonnet decoration was presumably not part of the original specs.
Austin 1100/1300 range.
This Austin 1100 or 1300 appears to have found a new life as temporary recycling storage.
Rolls Royce Phantom VI (1972).
This Rolls Royce Phantom VI (1972) is on display at Perak Museum.
Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III (1964)
Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III (1964). This model was nicknamed ‘Chinese Eyes’ – probably not a term which Rolls Royce would use these days.
Alvis TD21 Tourer (1960)
My favourite of the bunch, the Alvis TD21 Tourer (1960).
Star Motor 1920's
This vintage model was manufactured by The Star Engineering Co. Ltd., Wolverhampton, probably in the 1920’s. The company went into receivership in 1932.

Bukit Chandan Military Cemetery, Kuala Kangsar

Bukit Chandan Cemetery, Kuala Kangsar
Entrance to the cemetery

In the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, on a rise overlooking the mighty Perak River, lies a small Christian cemetery. It contains 16 British military graves dating from the Perak War of 1875-77 together with some civilian graves, including more recent ones from the town’s tiny Anglican population (mostly Tamils). As a war cemetery, it comes under the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and on their website it is shown as Bukit Chandran Cemetery (should be spelt Chandan).

View from Bukit Chandan cemetery
View from the cemetery overlooking the Perak River at Kuala Kangsar.

The Perak War was one of those small wars that Britain was rather good at. It followed the murder of James Wheeler Woodford Birch who had recently taken up the position of Resident as advisor to the Sultan of Perak. Britain had discovered during its time running India that the practice of appointing Residents to assume all the real power, while leaving nominal control in the hands of the local chief, was a very effective way of acquiring an empire ‘on the cheap’. But poor Birch rubbed the locals up the wrong way and paid for it with his life. You can read more about his assassination on my Malaysia Traveller website.

Inscription on the memorial at Bukit Chandan cemetery
The inscription on the memorial at Bukit Chandan gives an overview of the Perak War.

Britain could not allow its officials to be murdered so a military expedition force was rapidly put together to punish the perpetrators and stamp out any smouldering rebellion in its newest protectorate. The force comprised sepoys from India, Gurkhas, some Sikh police and a Naval Brigade. The Malays put up a fight but eventually were overwhelmed and the assassins, including Maharaja Lela, were captured and hanged. The Sultan was exiled to Seychelles and replaced by a more amenable relative.

List of casualties at Bukit Chandan cemetery
The reverse side of the memorial lists 15 British names who died in the Perak War and who are buried in this cemetery. One other casualty, a Capt. Walters, is not on the inscription but is included on CWGC’s database.

Casualties on both sides were light and, from the British point of view, were a small price to pay for securing Malaya as one of Britain’s most remunerative colonies. Of course, for these poor 16 individuals who perished it was not a small price at all, to say nothing of the many sepoys killed in action who have no known grave (unlike in later wars where Indian soldiers received the same burial honours as other British war dead).

Major Henry Lumsden Hawkins, killed at Kota Lama.
Major Henry Lumsden Hawkins, killed at Kota Lama.
Memorial at Bukit Chandan cemetery.
Memorial at Bukit Chandan cemetery.
Kota Lama (2 miles from Kuala Kangsar) was a hotbed of insurrection and was burnt down by British forces.
Kota Lama (2 miles from Kuala Kangsar) was a hotbed of insurrection and was burnt down by British forces.
William C Sone
Bad handwriting probably caused the name on this headstone to be wrongly transcribed as William C. Sone. I believe this should read William J. Soul. According to The London Gazette article dated 23 February 1876, the list of killed from the Naval Brigade, Her Majesty’s Ship Philomel, during the assault on Kota Lama were as follows:
William J. Soul, Leading Seaman and Seaman Gunner, spear wound on the right side of the spine, transfixing the chest, the aperture of exit being about 5 inches below the right nipple.Killed.
Jasper Ball
Jasper Ball, Private Royal Marine Light Infantry, two spear wounds in the epigastrium. Spear wound of left fore-arm, and several of right hand through grasping the spear. Death in about 18 hours.

It is a credit to the CWGC that this far-off and largely forgotten cemetery continues to be beautifully maintained 140 years after their burial, even though most of the descendants of the deceased are probably not even aware of their existence.

Well maintained cemetery at Bukit Chandan.

HMS Amethyst in Malaya

HMS Amethyst BadgeIn March 1952, during the Malayan Emergency, the British frigate HMS Amethyst was engaged in counter insurgency duties along the coasts of Malaya. On 9th March  Amethyst  sailed 30 miles up the Perak River and shelled Communist jungle hide-outs. A newspaper article at the time wrote:

The operation took place in one of Malaya’s blackest bandit spots-a region of dense jungle and deep swamp through which the crocodile infested , Perak River flows.

I estimate that this raid must have taken place somewhere near Teluk Intan which I visited this week and where I took this photo of the river.

Perak River at Teluk Intan, February 2014

The Perak River looks very peaceful these days with no crocodiles on view.

Amethyst’s operation was successful in flushing terrorists out into the open where a number were killed or captured by waiting army and police units.

HMS 'Amethyst' Arriving at Hong Kong, 3 August 1949 from BBC website

HMS Amethyst is famous for another, less successful, river mission which took place earlier, in 1949, in China as described in this account:

On 20 April 1949, HMS Amethyst steamed up the Yangtze River to relieve the guard ship HMS Consort at Nanking, preparing to evacuate British and Commonwealth citizens caught up in the advance of the Chinese Communist Forces. At about 0830 hours, Amethyst came under fire from Communist shore batteries positioned on the north shore of the river opposite Low Island. Amethyst was hit again by several shells wounding Amethyst’s Commanding officer, who died from his injuries a day later. The ship managed to send off a signal to all ships in the area, “Under heavy fire, am aground, large number of casualties”. Amethyst received over 50 hits and holes below the waterline. During this time HMS Consort was sighted, flying 7 White Ensigns and 3 Union Jack flags, steaming down from Nanking at an incredible 29 Knots. Consort came under fire from the shore batteries but her 4.5-inch guns managed to knock out the enemy shore batteries and she attempted to take Amethyst in tow. HMS Consort  turned about with all guns blazing at the north bank batteries, destroying an enemy position. As she steamed up river for the second time she was fired on by a concentrated number of 37mm anti-tank guns.

She had taken 56 hits and lost 9 killed and 30 wounded. On the 26th of April, after being aground for six days and in the dead of night, a second attempt to free the Amethyst from the mud was successful after she had been lightened forward. She then proceeded to move up river and anchored off Fu Te Wei. Later that day a signal was received: “HM ships London and Black Swan are moving up river to escort the Amethyst down stream. Be ready to move.” But concentrated fire from batteries near Bate Point hit both ships; HMS London was holed 12 times on the port side and lost 12 killed and 20 wounded. HMS Black Swan had 7 wounded. Reluctantly the order was given for both ships to return down river. Finally Lt. Cdr. Kerans decided to make a break for open waters. On July 31st under cover of darkness, Amethyst slipped her cable and proceeded down stream to begin a 104-mile dash for freedom running the gauntlet of Communist guns on both banks of the river.The Amethyst, at full speed ahead, passed through to the mouth of the river and made contact with HMS Concord and sent the time-honoured signal. “Have rejoined the fleet off Woosung…God save the King.”

Yangtse Incident Movie Poster

A book was written about the incident and made into a film, The Yangtse Incident, starring Richard Todd.

This is an example of the British media turning a blunder (the decision to put the ships in such a dangerous situation in the first place) into a morale-lifting triumph, thanks to the heroism of the sailors and marines involved

Another casualty on the Amethyst was Simon, the ship’s cat who was seriously wounded when one of the first rounds tore through the captain’s cabin. The badly wounded cat was rushed to the medical bay where the ship’s surviving medical staff cleaned his burns, and removed four pieces of shrapnel, but he was not expected to last the night. He did survive however and after a period of recovery, returned to his former duties of chasing rats and raising the morale of the sailors.Able Seacat Simon 

Following the ship’s escape from the Yangtze, Able Seacat Simon became an instant celebrity, lauded in the British press, and presented with the Dickin Medal , the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, in a special welcome when the ship returned to Plymouth.

Like all animals entering the UK, Simon was subject to quarantine requirements and sadly, whilst in quarantine, he contracted a viral infection caused by his war wounds and died on 28 November 1949. He was buried at the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford.

Simon the Cat's grave

His gravestone reads:

MAY 1948 — NOVEMBER 1949

In this respect, Simon has received a more fitting resting place than the 45 Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel who were killed in the Yangtse Incident, of whom 22 were committed to the waters of the Yangtse and the remaining 23 were buried in a Shanghai cemetery which was subsequently destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and built over. Their sacrifice has however been remembered in a plaque in the British Ambassador’s residence in Beijing and in a memorial at HMS Drake Naval Base at Plymouth.

Burial of KL654/R Flight Crew at Cheras Road Cemetery

The remains of eight crew members of RAF flight KL654-R were permanently laid to rest on 18 October 2012 in a burial service with full military honours at the Cheras Road Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur, some 67 years after their B-24 Liberator crashed on 23rd August 1945.

The crew had taken off from their base at Brown’s West Island airstrip in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean around 1,000 km south of Sumatra along with four other B-24s from Squadron 356. Sadly KL654 never returned and is believed to have clipped a tree before crashing into dense jungle on Gunung Telapak Buruk (a 1193m high mountain in Negeri Sembilan, Malaya) with no survivors.

The War had officially ended eight days earlier and their mission had been to drop supplies of food and medicine for Allied POWs, still imprisoned and in poor health, in a camp at Kampung Langkap not far from the crash site. They may also have been dropping leaflets announcing the end of the war because although Emperor Hirohito had, on 15th August, instructed his forces to lay down their arms, surrender in Malaya did not occur until 13th September. This was mainly because there were no allied troops on the ground to surrender to, apart from the tiny numbers of special forces in Force 136 who were emerging from their jungle hideouts along with units of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army.

It is thought that the crash site was first discovered in the 1950s by orang asli tribesmen who reported it to the British Army. However no action was taken at the time as the Malayan Emergency was in full swing and the army feared a trap by communist insurgents.

Later efforts to search for the wreck were thwarted by lack of funding and initial reluctance by the UK Ministry of Defence to support recovery of the remains.

In 2006 the Malaya Historical Group, following two expeditions to the wreck site, positively identified it as belonging to KL654. In 2007 MHG organized another trip with involvement of the Malaysian Army and two British participants, former Apache pilot and author Ed Macy and police detective Clayton Ford, and found various personal belongings of the crew such as rings, a gold bracelet, dagger, dog tag, coins, a tiny doll, spectacles and a water canteen. Some 80 bone fragments were recovered over the following years which have since been DNA tested to confirm their identities.

The remains of the 8 crew members were buried in one coffin but have individual headstones. Their names are:

Flying Officer J.T. Bromfield, 166369 from Cheam, Surrey (20 years old)
Flight Sergeant A. Turner, 1621393 from Dewsbury, Yorkshire (21 years old)

Flight Sergeant William Ross, 2213814 from Gateshead, Durham (20 years old)
Flight Sergeant Jack Blakey, 1582692, from Boston, Lincolnshire (30 years old)

Flight Sergeant Raymond Arthur Towell, 1624252, from Wellingborough, Northants(21 years old)


Flight Lieutenant John Selwyn Watts, 158017, from Crofton, Yorkshire (24 years old)
Flying Officer Edward Donald Mason, 166082 from Sheffield, Yorkshire (22 years old)
Flying Officer William Kenneth Dovey, 166352 from Ludlow, Salop (20 years old).

The commemorative service,  conducted by The Reverend (Wing Commander) Jonathan Beach RAF, was dignified and respectful. There were readings from the British Defence Adviser in Malaysia, Captain Kenneth Taylor RN, Wing Commander John Dunne RAF and Warrant Officer ClassII Paul Cross. Pall bearers were from the RAF Regiment and a Gurkha bugler provided the Last Post and the Reveille. Members of the Malaysian Armed Forces and the British High Commissioner were also present.  Around twenty relatives of the deceased had been flown out from UK for the occasion at the expense of the Government (making up for the MOD’s earlier reluctance to search for the remains).  The closest relations in attendance I believe were the younger brothers of Flying Officer Dovey, now of course well advanced in years. It was clear that all the family members found the service moving and beautiful and an appropriate honour for the valour and sacrifice made by their relatives’ generation.