Revisiting Old Haunts 65 Years Later

Richard Middleton 1 Troop Cmdr. 1957

Thanks to the marvels of satellites, it’s possible to discover how much the places I used to know well have changed in the ensuing 65+ years.  Malaysia has become a major tourist destination, and so I was expecting a certain amount of urbanization, but even so I was surprised.

Butterworth, where our squadron was based, has changed beyond recognition[1].  The only familiar landmark is the former RAF Butterworth airfield, which is probably now a Malaysian Air Force base.  There is now a container port, and about 3 km north of that is a jetty which I think may be what’s left of the old ferry terminal where we used to wait in our Landrovers (almost overwhelmed by the smell of drying fish!) to board the ferry to Penang (and where there was  a Customs office, as Penang was a free port and so in theory we had to pay duty on anything brought into mainland Malaya).  The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank branch where I used to get the squadron payroll was on the northwest side of a roundabout just inland from that quay, and the squadron camp was possibly a mile or so to the north, on the seashore. 

The southeast side of Penang island has been covered with houses and other development, and I have no idea where our bomb disposal site at Sungei Dua was.  What is labeled as the Pulau Jerejak jetty seems to have old tile-roofed buildings, so might be the place where we used to load the RAF pinnace prior to dumping bombs and torpedo warheads at sea, but I can’t be sure.  In 1957 I was told that there were massive amounts of Japanese munitions still buried in tunnels and other hiding places all over the southern end of the island (Swettenham pier was a Japanese submarine base[2]), so I hope these were removed by someone before the construction of the international airport and other amenities!

When we were building the Naka-Nami road we used to drive east from Alor Star through Pokok Sena to Kampung Naka.  That road is now Route 175[3].  At Naka the road splits, with 175 heading southwards and 125 crossing a small river (over which 1 Troop built Dors bridge) and then going northeast.  To the southwest of the river bridge there is an open area with what seem to be warehouses.  This must be the site of our tented camp, vehicle park and parade ground/sports field.  Eventually 125 turns north to run parallel to the Malay/Thailand border (which was the objective of our road, to provide a means to move troops quickly to places along the border where the CTs were infiltrating).  But there is no Kampung Nami along that alignment, so I don’t know the fate of that section of our laterite road. 

I think I did find a solution to the “missing” Naka.  On the 175 continuation, southeast of Naka but still on the west side of the river[4].  is a village called “Kampung Nami Baru”, so it was probably one of the “new villages” (“baru” means “new”) set up during the Emergency, into which rural communities were moved so that they could not shelter or provide supplies to the CTs.  My best guess is that our road did reach the original site of Nami (wherever that was), and later formed at least the first part of 125, but that the location around Nami proved too hard to control and a decision was taken to relocate the community.  That could have been quite a long time after the squadron left  -  Merdeka was in 1957, but when I visited Malaya in 1979 one of my staff told me that there had been a CT ambush of a police vehicle on the Kuala Lumpur-Malacca road (on which we were driving!) only a few weeks before.  So terrorist activity continued for at least another 20 years after Merdeka, although on a much-reduced scale.

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