Batang Kali: Inspiration from a historian

When the writer Mr QUEK Jin Teck moved to a new village called Ulu Yam in Selangor in Malaysia in 2005, he was trying to retreat from a hectic life as a social activist, and was ready to retire due to his ill health. Mr Quek was a historian with 9 major books into Malaysian history, including the War of Resistance against Japan in Malaya and his research into Lai Teck the Spy (马新抗日史料: 神秘莱特).

However, with a twist of fate, Mr Quek did not retire quietly. Instead, he shouldered a massive burden in 2008, culminating in a moving campaign in Malaysia to bring justice home to the families whose fathers and sons were brutally killed by the British troops, on the 11th or 12th of December 1948, six months after the 12-year Malayan Emergency was launched.

The case Mr Quek embarked on was called Batang Kali, or Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre 1948.

What happened in Batang Kali in Malaya in December 1948?

Here is a brief summary of what happened in Batang Kali in 1948. Twenty four unarmed men in the Sungai Remok rubber estate in Batang Kali in the state of Selangor were shot dead by the British Scots Guards. There were two conflicting views. The official line was that the men were communists and ‘bandits’ who were trying to escape. However, extensive research revealed that it was a cold-blooded mass killing without cause. The 24 men were unarmed civilians. In History Today, Christopher Hale wrote Batang Kali: Britain’s My Lai? It is a reference to the Vietnam War mass murder of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968 committed by the US troops.

Batang Kali killing: "Britain's My Lai" (The Guardian)

Batang Kali killing: “Britain’s My Lai” (The Guardian)

Since 1948, the name Batang Kali is synonymous to an atrocity. The 24 men’s bodies were mutilated; their families were torn apart.

Some women and children remembered the thunderous noise from the firearms. Their village was torched to the ground. Women and children were bundled up onto lorries to fled the scene. On fleeing the village, they saw smokes engulfing their village.

Calling for an inquiry of the 1948 killing in Batang Kali, Malaya.

Calling for an inquiry of the 1948 killing in Batang Kali, Malaya.

Outside Malaysia and Singapore, how many people have heard of the Batang Kali killing? Has any British textbook ever mentioned the killing and the human suffering resulting from the British action in Batang Kali in 1948? Or, was the killing a ‘very British cover up’ over six decades?

However, the world is now getting closer to the truth, thanks to the campaign fired by the local historian Mr Quek Jin Tech. You can read about the BBC news reports about the Batang Kali case in the London High Court in May 2012: Malayan ‘massacre’ families seek UK inquiry and BBC News – Malaysian lose fight for 1948 ‘massacre’ inquiry.

How did Mr Quek start his journey?

Quek Jin Teck, the historian who fought for justice for Batang Kali in Malaya.

Quek Jin Teck, the historian who fought for justice for Batang Kali in Malaya. (image via Batang Kali Massacre)

Mr Quek Jin Teck was not a healthy man. His kidneys had packed up. In 2003, Mr Quek made a trip to China for a kidney transplant operation. After returning to Malaysia, he often visited a hot spring located near Batang Kali in Selangor to soothe his legs to aid his recovery.

While recuperating near Batang Kali for his regular spa treatment, Mr Quek realised the local time actually froze in December 1948. The local people never stopped talking about the Batang Kali massacre. The emotional topic always brought tears. The people had not forgotten 1948.

“My father was shot dead.” “My grandfather was not a bandit.” “It was cold-blood killing.” “British soldiers killed the men.”

Villagers shared their painful stories. Mr Quek was outraged that the voices of the people were not heard. Their sorrow triggered his action. Mr Quek somehow forgot his initial plan of a quiet retirement. He decided it was his calling to help the locals to gather evidence and seek justice from the British government. He painstakingly gathered facts from the villagers. He interviewed descendents of the victims and gathered evidence. He decided to take this matter forward.

Mr Quek wanted to publish a book about Batang Kali.

Mr Quek set up the Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre in January 2008 with the support from the local Chinese Clans, NGOs and the surviving family members and was elected the Chairman.

Two months later, they submitted their petition to the British High Commissioner and sought an official apology and compensation from the British Government.

The Straits Times in December 1948: Police guards kill 28 bandits in day.
The Straits Times in December 1948: Police, guards kill 28 bandits in day.

The unbeatable father-and-son team

Mr Quek had always been a passionate activist throughout his life. He was expelled from a Chinese school in Johore Bahru in 1956 at the age of 15 for taking part in a protest against the educational reform. However, to bring the Batang Kali case to the attention of the British government and the global community, he needed someone with legal knowledge and better English to help him. One day, Mr Quek made a special phone call to his eldest son QUEK Ngee Meng for help. His son Ngee Meng is a solicitor.

The young solicitor Quek Ngee Meng was slightly annoyed at first that his father took up yet another challenge on his shoulder, as his father had promised him he would rest in his retirement. The son realised later that his determined father was unstoppable. It would have been futile to dissuade his father from seeking justice for the Batang Kali victims. He joined his father’s team.

Now, the father and son formed a strong team that would change history.

Continuing his father’s battle for Batang Kali

In an interview with Sin Chew Daily, Ngee Meng revealed how his love for his father was strengthened as they shared the same mission.

“I’ve finally fully understood my father in his final month, for what he stood for.” As the son whose father left him when he was 8 years old due to his parents’ divorce, this understanding of his father’s passion for justice and integrity brought them closer. Sadly, Mr Quek passed away in January 2010 while waiting for his fourth operation to have his leg amputated. In his final month in the hospital bed, the consuming topic of the father and the son was nothing else but the Batang Kali case.

Quek Ngee Meng: continuing father's fight for justice

Quek Ngee Meng: continuing father’s fight for justice

“The Batang Kali massacre is a journey. It is a journey of justice for the families of the Batang Kali victims. This journey has also strengthened my love for my father.”

By Quek Ngee Meng, solicitor, for Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre

The solicitor Quek Ngee Meng arrived at the High Court in London last year with the relatives of some of the 24 men killed. The relatives were campaigning for a public inquiry and compensation.

Quek Ngee Meng did not forget to continue report to his father. He visited his father’s grave before and after the Batang Kali court hearing in London.

Was the London hearing a success? 国樑(KL), researcher and blogger from Singapore, had two insightful posts in Chinese about the history of the Batang Kali case: May Justice Be Done Through Heaven Falls Part 1 and Part 2. The UK Judges upheld a government decision not to hold a public hearing into the alleged massacre in Batang Kali, as it would be “very difficult” to establish now whether the actions of the Scots Guards had been “deliberate”, according to the BBC.

New book fighting for justice.

New Book by QUEK Jin Teck and Quek Ngee Ming

In March this year, a new book Suing British Government – the Batang Kali Massacre 越洋控诉 caught the media’s attention. The book’s co-writers are the father and son, the late Mr Quek Jin Teck and his son Quek Ngee Ming. The book shows how they both recorded one of the most painful and controversial episodes in the Malaysian history. The son Quek Ngee Ming dedicated this book to his father, to honour his battle for the truth of history.  He promised him he would continue the campaign that his father had started in 2008, to seek redress for the victims’ families of the Batang Kali massacre.

The Batang Kali killing was the most tragic during the Malayan Emergency. Though the families have lost their fight for a full judicial review of the case, there are positive outcomes. The most touching of all was the fighting spirit of the Malaysian community. The sheer determination demonstrated by the late Mr Quek Jin Teck not only inspired his son, the historian has also inspired many others to continue the crusade for the truth hidden in one of the far-flung corners of the earth, in the rubber plantation in Batang Kali of Malaya, in December 1948.

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14 thoughts on “Batang Kali: Inspiration from a historian

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you for your positive comment. The event in Batang Kali has imprinted in the minds of many of the Malaysian people, and they need an answer to their past. The third generation of the victims are now continuing the fight which they have carried forward from the previous generations. Whatever their outcome, their determination in finding the truth from the British government despite early setbacks is moving and admirable. The Batang Kali case is absolutely significant for both the Malaysian and the British history.

      It is very sad that most British people have never heard about this hidden episode in those years. The British people have their glorious past, but there were also so many mysteries in the colonial past that worth our examination.

  1. 国樑 KL

    This is an exceptional account of Batang Kali since Malayan Emergency in 1948. Well done Janet.

    The Batang Kali case has yet come to rest after 65 years. I sincerely hope this blog’s writer has inspired Mr Quek (jr) and his team to continue to fight for upholding of justice.

    In my opinion, the verdicts from London court (2012) were not a lost of battle for the Malaysian team. Instead, the London court condemned the British Authorities but refused to reopen the case for some obvious reasons.

    What do you think, Janet?

    Malayan Emergency period had also seen the resettlement of Chinese into new villages which generated much controversy. I am looking forward to the blog author to give us more insightful stories about this.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you, KL.

      I read the verdict too. For those who are interested, here is the Judgment by the court on 4 September 2012: Keyu v Secretary of State Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs judgment (pdf).

      The conclusion from the High Court:

      From the analysis which we have set out above in relation to arguments presented to the court, it follows that in our judgment the decisions of the Secretaries of State were ones that took into account the relevant considerations
      and were not unreasonable.There are no grounds for disturbing their conclusion. In our judgment they had regard to the relevant factors and weighed them carefully and reached a conclusion which it was plainly open to them to reach.”

      However, the verdict brought some comfort to the victims’ families. The 24 men were unarmed civilians, not bandits. They did not try to escape. These facts are important for the families.

  2. ShimonZ

    Regardless of what we might do, or how we might try to right the wrongs, there will never be a resolution of all the foul play engendered by the many years of colonialism. There was a time when a great many people took it for granted that the strong and well organized would use the weaker and less organized. Today, there is still a terrible lot of abuse in this world. But it seems that there is also a bit more understanding of the dignity of man.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Dear Simon,

      I like your thought on Abuse and Dignity of man. There will never be a resolution. After the Japanese was defeated, the conflict of ideologies saw brutality and terror in many parts of the world, and in Malaya, the jungle war was an incredibly brutal one. Chin Peng was never a gentle soul. I’ve begun to understand why and how certain tragedies happened, and what might have triggered certain actions, but what saddens me the most was the suffering of the people who lived through the period, the descendents of the helpless people who lost their lives in the cross-fire of a brutal political war. The suffering of the people seems to last forever. When people ask for an apology or compensation, would an official apology bring ‘closure’? Would there ever be a closure?

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