Previous Works by Greg Kater
The Warramunga’s War
The Warramunga’s Aftermath of War
This book is dedicated to my grandchildren,
Georgie, Camilla, Sarah, Henry, Laura and Julia with love.
I would like to thank Marilyn Higgins, Clive Dalkins and
all the people at Zeus Publications for their friendly, helpful and competent
work resulting in the publication of this book. I would also like to thank my
editor Gail for her excellent structural editing and Julie Winzar for her fine
editing and formatting. I am also grateful to my family for their support
Colonel Johnny Cook struggled to understand what was
happening to him. He was staggering, sweating profusely and breathing heavily,
through the Malayan jungle along a barely discernible trail, with leeches
sucking at his ankles and insects of all descriptions finding their way up his
nose and into his eyes. Saw-toothed leaves tore at his clothes and scratched his
bare arms. Every time he slowed to catch his breath, he was prodded heavily in
the back with the butt of a Bren gun.
By late afternoon, the group of eight bandits who had
kidnapped him arrived at a small dry clearing and set up a temporary camp of
several small bashas, rough shelters made of bamboo and nipa.
The leader of the group, a Chinese with a round,
pock-marked face, walked up to Johnny and said, ‘We rest here, Tuan.’
He then handed him a tin cup with tepid water that tasted
salty and brackish, probably from one of the swamps they had waded through on
Exhausted, Johnny slumped to the ground. One of the men
gave him a lighted cigarette and pointed at his ankles, indicating he should use
it to burn the leeches off his skin. As he touched them with the hot end, the
wriggling bloated creatures dropped off one by one. Although he didn’t smoke,
Johnny took a couple of puffs and somehow felt slightly better. The same man
handed him a piece of brown paper with some cold dried fish and rice and
indicated that he should eat. Not exactly cordon bleu, Johnny thought, but a
necessary misery if he were to survive this perilous situation.
It was raining softly when he was shown the basha he could
shelter in, and he lay down inside the low structure, barely able to think. He
felt totally disoriented, having no idea in which direction they had been
travelling. At the same time, he was bewildered as to why he had been targeted
* * * *
As the MI6 head of operations for the eastern hemisphere,
Johnny Cook had flown from London to Singapore in mid-March 1946 to assist the
new Malayan Security Service (MSS), set up by the British at the end of the war
as an intelligence agency for the region. The MSS was responsible for security
during the ceremonies on the 1st of April to accompany the creation of the
Malayan Union. Following his arrival in Kuala Lumpur, Johnny borrowed a car and
driver, known as a syce, from Major Algie Browning, the chief of the MSS
station in Kuala Lumpur, to visit the group’s operational centre in the Cameron
Highlands. The car was an old two-door Alvis, which struggled and groaned as
they navigated the rugged thirty-five miles from the village of Tapah, north of
KL, to Tanah Rata, the main township of the Cameron Highlands. The winding,
rough road was surrounded by thick jungle growth over the hills and flats.
Occasionally, it was cut into cliff sides so that there were steep drops on
either side. Johnny had begun to doubt whether the old Alvis would ever make it,
when they finally reached the plateau incorporating the Cameron Highlands
settlement, a sharp contrast to the rest of the countryside. As they approached
Tanah Rata, he noted various tea plantations, farms and orchards as well as
bungalows, mansions and holiday homes. An oasis in the wilderness.
The syce asked for directions and they continued up an even
rougher winding road, which weaved for about five miles through thick jungle
growth, ending at an old Tudor-style house known as the ‘Moonlight Bungalow’,
the headquarters of the MSS in Pahang. Geoffrey Landers, a former MI6 operative
and now chief of the centre, greeted him, as did three young MSS agents who had
been local English policemen before the war. Later, he could only remember their
names as Barry, Lew and Stu.
Landers, an old Malaya hand who had red veining on his
cheeks and nose, was about thirty-eight years old. To Johnny, he seemed
experienced enough but the other three looked green about the gills.
During the late afternoon and evening, they shared a
pleasant dinner and a bottle of Scotch while discussing the strategies for
compiling intelligence information, particularly on the Malayan Communist Party
(MCP). The MCP, largely Chinese-Malays with resourceful leaders, had been
trained in guerrilla warfare and armed by the British before the fall of Malaya
and Singapore to the Japanese. The MCP had had significant success against the
Japanese during the war, especially in ambushes and sabotage. The British
authorities now feared that with the end of hostilities, the MCP might be
entertaining ambitions to take control of Malaya and eventually expel the white
foreigners who they perceived had been so easily defeated by the Japanese in
The main task of the MSS in Pahang was to keep a close
watch on the activities of the MCP, or other such organisations in that region,
for any signs of mutiny.
The following morning, Johnny Cook set off in his car back
down the rough track from the Moonlight Bungalow. They had only travelled two
miles when the Alvis was stopped by an armed group of men. Wordlessly they
pulled Johnny from the car, shot the syce and immediately marched Johnny off
into the jungle.
* * * *
In the high altitude of the jungle camp it was cool but
Johnny found it difficult to sleep on the damp ground. At first, a long silence
was broken by the loud clicking of crickets accompanied
by the shriek of cicadas, the grunting of frogs, and other unknown jungle noises.
He was hungry, and every bone and muscle in his body seemed to ache. He had
thought he was fit, but apparently not fit enough for this. He fell into a
fitful sleep but awoke when the myriad jungle noises stopped suddenly while
As he lay there he felt determined that he would survive
this. No point in losing hope and wallowing in despair. He would endure whatever
these people had in store for him, and perhaps even find out why he had been
taken in the first place. He wondered if they were MCP bandits.
As the light began filtering through the tapa roof of his
basha, he heard the others talking to one another in Cantonese. He recognised
the language but didn’t understand it.
One of the men kicked his boot and said in Malay, ‘Bangun
After another quick meal of dried fish and rice, they set
off through the jungle, following some indiscernible trail, with one of his
captors again prodding him in the back whenever he stumbled or slowed. Despite
the cooler climate in the mountains, Johnny could feel the sweat running down
his back. Their progress was relatively slow, but the constant pace was
unrelenting. Ignoring the barbed leaves and bamboo sticks scratching his skin,
Johnny squared his shoulders, determined to show no sign of weakness.
Around noon, the party stopped for a rest and more dried
fish and rice. Johnny sat under a tree and watched them while they smoked and
chatted in their curious dialect. Then they were off again through the infinite
About mid-afternoon, they reached a large clearing.
Emerging from the dark canopy of the jungle, Johnny blinked in the harsh light.
A large, long bamboo and tapa hut stood next to a stream to his right. Staring
at them from in front of the hut was a small group of men, women and children.
The children were all naked. One of the bandits pointed at them and said, ‘Temiar.’
Johnny had read about the Temiar Senoi, the aboriginal
people of this region of Malaya. He realised he had probably been led along one
of the almost concealed sakai trails of the Temiar over the past couple
They left the Temiar behind and continued for another
half-hour along a well-trodden track, arriving at a larger encampment with many
bamboo huts with tapa roofs and about fifteen men and a few women, mainly
Chinese. They all stopped what they were doing to stare at the new arrivals,
A thin, authoritative-looking Chinaman, obviously the
chief, emerged from one of the huts and spoke angrily to the moonfaced leader of
the group that had kidnapped Johnny. His words came out like a machine gun, and
the other man looked around self-consciously. With its guttural tones, Cantonese
is a good language to be angry in, Johnny thought.
The chief finally walked over to Johnny and asked in
relatively cultured English, ‘Who are you?’
‘My name is John Cook, and I’m wondering why I’m here,’
said Johnny. ‘Who are you?’
‘What’s your position in the British Military
Administration?’ the Chinese persisted.
‘I have no position in the BMA. I’m just a tourist from
England who was visiting the well-known Cameron Highlands,’ said Johnny. ‘Your
men picked me up there. I have no idea why.’
The Chinese studied Johnny, spat on the ground and said,
‘My men made a mistake.’
‘Well, you know my name and I’d like to know yours before
you take me back to Tanah Rata,’ said Johnny.
‘We can’t do that, unfortunately. My name is Tan Boon
Cheng. You can call me Boon. You shall be our guest for a while, Tuan Cook.’
‘Why would you want to keep me prisoner here?’
‘Never mind. I’ll show you to a hut where you can settle
down at night. Follow me.’ Boon turned on his heel and strode towards one of the
Johnny followed him, protesting, ‘How long do you intend to
keep me prisoner? Am I to be locked up?’
Ignoring him, Boon entered the small hut and said, ‘We’ll
get you some blankets and a few spare clothes. We’ll even see if we can find a
spare toothbrush. You can set up camp in here.’ Then looking at Johnny with a
grin, he said, ‘I don’t think we need to lock you up. Do you?’
After he left, Johnny inspected his new quarters, realising
that what Boon had said was true. There was no need for them to keep him under
lock and key. He was unarmed and without a clue where he was. No one in the
outside world knew where he was either, and the thick jungle surrounding the
encampment was as effective as any prison walls.