Wednesday, 18 April 2012

From the National Archives, Kew 18 April 2012

I flew to London this morning for the release of the Colonial administration records, which includes a tranche of documents about Malaya, Brunei, Borneo and Sabah.


First of all the disappointments. There is nothing about the 1948 Batang Kali incident, when a platoon of Scots Guards murdered 24 Chinese villagers, which implies that relevant records were destroyed at some point after independence. This fact alone suggests that the British administration in post war Malaya concluded that they had a lot to hide. 


Tony Stockwell, who has edited a multi volume collection of British documents about Malaya emailed me to say: 
...if there were to be a government inquiry or litigation, the British government would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to produce evidence in its defence because it either failed to keep a record at the time or has destroyed it since. In FCO24/851 there is a brief but telling comment by an FCO official who had drawn a blank when asked to call up the relevant papers at the time of the Healey inquiry in 1970. The official reported that the Colonial Office file on the Batang Kali incident had been destroyed under the provisions of the Public Records Act 1958, since 'it was apparently considered at the time it was reviewed [probably in 1966] as not being worthy of permanent preservation' and he added: 'This is, of course the fate suffered by most of the C.O. files on law & order in Malaya during the Emergency.'   I had hoped that the 'migrated archives' would prove me wrong but, after last Wednesday's introduction to them, I remain pessimistic.
Some weeks ago, I simply inserted 'Massacre in Malaya' into the NA search engine - and came up with two files, which should appear here.
When I tried to order these files, a message appeared stating that they were 'out to a government department'. I assume the files are being studied prior to the trial in May at the Royal Courts of Justice. I know they contain the 'confessions' of the Scots Guards veterans who went to The People newspaper following Foreign Secretary George Brown's obfuscating comments about the possibility of a 'British My Lai'.
The archivist who introduced the release of the formerly secret colonial records made an interesting distinction between archival gold bullion and gold dust - the former being a ground breaking revelation, the latter demanding careful sifting of data. It looks as if the latter strategy will be required with the new Malayan releases.
This Guardian report refers to files - which at the time of writing I have yet to locate - that describe the elimination of 'Communist terrorists': Casualty tables written for December 1956 record: "Ranking terrorists eliminated – 8." The phrase "eliminated" is used repeatedly to describe the killing of insurgents. In January the following year, Madoc recorded: "In Selangor a small but important success was achieved when the whole of the Ampang branch, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, was eliminated."


As historian Karl Hack commented when I met him at the Archives, these are hardly revelations. 

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Introduction to this blog

I have begun researching a new book - in general terms it is about the decolonisation of Southeast Asia. But it is focused on the 'Malayan Emergency' and the creation of the Malayan, and later Malaysian nation. In this blog, I will report back from the research frontline.
On 18 April, the UK National Archives in Kew will release formerly secret documents concerning a number of British former colonial possessions, including Malaya. 
This was announced on the web site of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and by the National Archives.
I shall be at the Archives on the 18th - and will report back again after that.
In early May, I will attend a trial at the Royal Courts of Justice about the Batang Kali massacre that took place in December, 1948 at a tiny plantation village. It is not disputed that a platoon of Scots Guards entered Batang Kali - and that 24 male villagers were shot dead. For 64 years, successive British governments have refused to conduct an official public enquiry into what happened. The lawfulness of these decisions will be judged at the trial. Because this is an open public hearing, a number of secret documents about the Batang Kali massacre should become available.
Here are some powerful comments from Bindmans website... 
Quek Ngee Meng, coordinator of the Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre commented:
'After decades of seeking redress for the Batang Kali massacre's victims we can now, finally, see the light of justice at the end of the tunnel. Despite the ingenious technical arguments put by the British Government to try and keep this case out of Court, and their attempts to frighten us with the threat of legal costs, an unequivocal message has been sent by British judges in the Kenya Mau Mau case and now our own: that there can be no cover up of massacres or other dishonourable and immoral acts committed on behalf of British Colonial authorities in living memory. We do not expect the British Government to reverse its stance, but it should immediately and unconditionally release all documents relating to this massacre and the aborted attempts to investigate in the past so the Court that hears this case, and the public, have a complete picture.'
Chong Nyok Keyu, the first Claimant in the case:
'I wish my late mother, Tham Yong, who survived the massacre, could have lived to see the brighter side of the British judicial system, which has granted us the fair hearing that has been so long denied. We are truly hopeful the outcome will be the inquiry we seek, where my mother’s and many other eye witnesses' stories will be publicly heard and the truth is made known to all. This grant of permission affirms my faith in British justice. It honours my mother’s memory, my own country and the UK.'



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