South Scotland

King's Own Scottish Borderers recall Malayan campaign

Young soldiers Image copyright Bert Houston
Image caption Many of the young King's Own Scottish Borderers had never been abroad before being deployed to the Malayan campaign

Across the south of Scotland and beyond this week brings a significant anniversary from many men now well into their seventies.

It is 60 years since the King's Own Scottish Borderers were deployed to a campaign they will never forget.

The Malayan Emergency, as it became known, was a bitter conflict against hardened ethnic Chinese communists.

Sometimes called the "forgotten war", its memories remain strong among the young national servicemen of the day.

Few of the teenage soldiers had previously been away from home and were setting off on a lengthy journey unaware of the conditions they would have to face.

For many of them, the furthest afield they had travelled was Southerness, Edinburgh or perhaps Blackpool.

'Everything was new'

To Arthur Haining from Glencaple, for instance, a trip to his uncle on a farm at New Galloway had been a major event.

"My father couldn't afford to go anywhere on holidays like they do nowadays - Butlins or abroad," he said.

"We got the boat from Southampton - the troop ship - we couldn't compare it with anything.

"It was great - seeing the sea and the flying fish - everything was new. There was no television when I was a boy so seeing all these foreign people and seeing how they operated, it was great."

That experience was echoed by Leslie Thin from Galashiels.

"In those days it was only those and such as those that could go holidays abroad," he said.

Image caption In 2004, the Malaysian government awarded the Commonwealth soldiers who fought there a medal for their service

"You saw things things that you never dreamed you would have seen."

Their destination saw them enter a conflict in which they not only had to face a hostile environment of heat and humidity, deadly insects and debilitating illnesses, but fight an unseen enemy in guerrilla-type fashion.

Willie Jardine, from Dumfries, had never imagined the conditions he met could exist.

"Nobody knew where the enemy was, but they were there," he said.

"You were walking in darkness in the jungle - you never knew what was in front of you.

"It could have been an ambush - there were one or two. It is something you will never forget."

It was a very similar experience for George Wright from Jedburgh.

'Soaking with sweat'

"The heat and the humidity was something else," he said.

"When you made camp at night, each person had a poncho cape - you used it as a ground sheet.

"The whole movement of earth under your feet was just a mass of ants and beetles. And during the day you were just soaking wet with sweat."

Mr Wright, too, lived with the constant threat of ambush from the enemy.

"The jungle was so thick," he explained, "that he could have been four feet away from you and you would never have seen him."

This week these former servicemen will mark the anniversary of the regiment's introduction to the campaign.

Eventually the British, Malayan and Commonwealth forces pushed the communists back far into the jungle, finally ending the conflict in 1960.

But by then 2,500 soldiers had died and those who survived will never forget their experiences.

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