Batang Kali: The voyage without a suitcase

Lim Ah Yin still remembered vividly the evening of the 11th of December in 1948. That was the turning point of her life as a 11-year-old child. Her childhood ended on that day.

Lim Ah Yin’s father was taken away by the British troops, and was shot dead the following day in Batang Kali of Malaya during the Malayan Emergency. Her mother, who was eight months’ pregnant, was spared. However, when Lim Ah Yin first heard of the gunshots, she thought British soldiers had killed her mother. She was distraught. “What about me and my little sisters?” Lim Ah Yin loved her sisters.

“Let’s have noodles for dinner.”

Before she left for work that day, Lim Ah Yin’s mother promised she would cook after work some stir-fried noodles for the family, and asked Lim Ah Yin specifically not to bother about cooking.

However, her parents were late. It was after 5pm and Lim Ah Yin started to get worried. She decided to walk along the stream to find them. Lim Ah Yin’s parents kept two jobs. In the morning, they worked in a rubber plantation to extract rubber latex. After a short break in the early afternoon, they would head for a field a mile away to harvest rice.

From a distance, Lim Ah Yin saw her parents walking towards her. She rushed to them and told them how worried and how hungry she was. This short journey home turned into a lifelong terror.

The promised family meal with noodles that night never materialised.

LIM Ah Yin lost her father, and later her sisters.

LIM Ah Yin lost her father, and later her sisters when she was 11 years old.

On their way back together, the family were stopped by some British soldiers, about 11 of  them. The soldiers pointed their guns at them, separated her mum and dad, and later pulled 11-year-old Lim Ah Yin away from her mother.

“Who did you meet? Were you with any communists? Where are they?”

The soldiers interrogated her mother. They then started shooting close to the side of her head. It was only a mock execution. Terrifying the heavily pregnant woman was just part of their job.

On the 11th of December in 1948, 14 Scots Guards of 7 platoon, G Company, 2nd Battalion had crept onto the Sungai Remok rubber plantation in Batang Kali. The arrival of the apparently young British soldiers took the villagers by surprise. The following morning, women and children were ordered to leave on a lorry, leaving behind their home, their village in flames, and their husbands and fathers. On the lorry, Lim Ah Yin heard the barrage of crackling sounds of the automatic weapons’ gunshots. To Lim Ah Yin, the rain of gunshots sounded just like firecrackers that you hear during the Chinese New Year.

All 24 men were shot dead.

The women and children were taken to a nearby town, and dumped there.

What did the Batang Kali children take with them?

When Paddington Bear from “Darkest Peru” was found at Paddington Railway Station in London by the Brown family, the bear who “came all the way in a lifeboat, and ate marmalade” was sitting on his suitcase (bearing the label “Wanted on Voyage”) with a note attached to his coat which reads “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”

When the British children were evacuated to the countryside during the Second World War, to save them from the risk of the aerial bombing of cities,  they all had a label around their necks and their possessions were in small suitcases. The children also packed their favourite toys.

British evacuees from Bristol to Kingsbridge, Devon, 1940. @ IWM (D 2597)

British evacuees from Bristol to Kingsbridge, Devon, 1940. @ IWM (D 2597)

British evacuees from Bristol to Kingsbridge, Devon, 1940 © IWM (D 2593). © IWM (D 2593)

British evacuees from Bristol to Kingsbridge, Devon, 1940. © IWM (D 2593)

However, back in the Malayan rubber plantation in Batang Kali north of Kuala Lumpur, on the 12th of December 1948, the children were not allowed to pack anything. Lim Ah Yin recalled her heavily pregnant mother was so badly shaken that she lost her ability to function at that very moment of crisis. Would you have blamed her? The poor woman had soldiers firing gunshots near her ears just 12 hours ago by the stream and her husband and many men in the village had disappeared. It was the sensible 11-year-old Lim Ah Yin who took charge. She raced upstairs to collect a few items and dragged the bag downstairs, only to be told by the British soldiers to leave everything behind.

No name tags around the children’s necks. No cute fluffy toys to take with them on the lorry.

How the family disintegrated

“We had absolutely nothing. The only things we had were the clothes we were wearing.”

By LIM Ah Yin, whose father was shot dead in Batang Kali in 1948 in Malaya.

Women and their children were taken to a nearby town in Ulu Yam Baru. The locals were kind and helpful and gave them food and clothes.

Lim Ah Yin’s family was lucky as her father’s friend put them up temporarily.

“My father’s friend gave my mother 70 dollars. My mother gave my three-year-old sister to him for adoption.”

By LIM Ah Yin, whose father was shot dead in Batang Kali in 1948 in Malaya.

Anyone who could afford 70 dollars in 1948 must have been reasonably affluent. For a woman who had just lost her husband, with three small daughters and an unborn child,  she felt she could entrust her three-year-old daughter to the man and his family.

A week later, Lim Ah Yin’s mother returned to Batang Kali to give her husband a simple burial, when all 24 families were allowed to return to identify the bodies of the men killed by the British troops. Lim Ah Yin’s father was 33 years old when he died.

In January 1948, a month after she had buried her husband, Lim Ah Yin’s mother gave birth to a baby girl. She nursed her baby girl for a month with love, but left her in an orphanage soon after that.

Lim Ah Yin told Sin Chew Daily that her mother had a hard life. Her mother was indeed a child bride. Her parents had eight children, including boys, but only four girls survived.

 “My mother was sad throughout her life. She complained that all she got was daughters, and she worried that no one would look after her when she got older. I promised her that I would look after her even if I have to beg for food. I looked after my mother until she died when she was 92 years old.”

By LIM Ah Yin, whose father was shot dead in Batang Kali in 1948 in Malaya.

Lim Ah Yin now lives a life of contentment. Her five children are filial, and she is surrounded by respectful and caring grandchildren. She enjoys pottering around in the garden and also grows some vegetables. However, does she have any wish?

“I don’t need anything else in my life. I only want justice for my father. That is my only wish.”

By LIM Ah Yin, whose father was shot dead in Batang Kali in 1948 in Malaya.

LIM Ah Yin (left) at London High Court in 2012. Her father was shot dead. (Image via Herald Scotland)

LIM Ah Yin (left) at the London High Court in 2012. The descendents of the 24 men killed by the British troops are seeking justice through the British court. (Image via Herald Scotland)

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14 thoughts on “Batang Kali: The voyage without a suitcase

    1. ardeedee1Duclos Ronald david

      This Batang Kali incident is cited as murder! even if not proven.
      But the thousands of civilians and security forces who were killed in ambushes and were innocent of any wrongdoing by the terrorists during the terrorists campaign in Malaya are not moaned?
      Where is your misplaced sympathy- wake up and see the truth!

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you for reading and your interest in these stories. Here are some books that may interest you, if you would like to find out more on the Malayan Emergency.

      Emergency in Malaya, by Harry Miller (I haven’t got hold of this old book yet.)

      And The Rain My Drink Commemorative Edition, writer Han Suyin, foreword by Leon Comber, 2013

      Slaughter and Deception at Batang Kali by Ian Ward, Norma Miraflor

      The latest one is Massacre in Malaya: Exposing Britain’s My Lai, by Christopher Hale, Oct 2013

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