Resolution Won the Day

Annex 1 to Part III
of PERINTREP

RESOLUTION WON THE DAY

(i) This article is reproduced by kind permission of "SARAWAK BY THE WEEK" for the week ending 12 January 1963. This is a weekly report issued by the SARAWAK Information Service KUCHING.

 

(ii) Mr. Tom HARRISON, the author of this article, is the SARAWAK Government Ethnologist and Curator of the SARAWAK Museum. He is in charge of all irregular forces in the SIBUTI, BARAM, Upper LIMBANG and TRUSAN headwaters, which have been forming a screen to prevent rebels from escaping to INDONESIA.

OPENING SITUATION

1. The situation when I arrived at LUTONG on December 11 was that a very large section of the inland population of NORTH WEST SARAWAK, including all the KENYAHS, KAYANS, KELABITS and MURUTS and the IBANS in the Upper LIMBANG and on the BAKONG branch of the BARAM, had in some way expressed their complete readiness to take an active part in quelling the rebellion.

2. Secondly, that a number of British government officers who had happened to be on the spot or were at their stations immediately responded to the situation, gave the necessary leadership, rallied and organised this feeling and by the time I got there, there was already a considerable and rapidly growing armed force at the disposal of whoever was prepared to use it.

3. I would like to mention first in this Mr NICK COYSH, a Rubber Development Officer, who was at MARUDI at the time and, of course, the leadership of Mr JOHN FISHER, the Resident, who gave the go-ahead to the whole movement.

4. The call to arms was at once taken up by TEMENGGONG OYONG LAWAI JAU, PENGHULU GAU, PENGHULU KEBING and the other BARAM chiefs.

5. Mr. RICHARD MORRIS was not in a position to do anything in the Fifth Div­ision because he had been taken prisoner by the rebels, but fortunately a police officer, Mr. A. P. G. PRINCE, was in LAWAS and also Mr. MERVYN SWYNY, a courageous man in the Public Works Department. They together did a magnificent job in rallying this type of support in those places.

6. In fact, wherever there were leaders to give a positive direction to the local feeling the rebellion, which was entirely in the hands of the MALAYS and KEDAYANS, did not spread outside BARAM and the Lower LIMBANG.

7. Therefore, by December 12 we had the position where the military were fully engaged with the rebels in active fighting within the State of BRUNEI and about to be so engaged in the general area of BEKENEU and SIBUTI, in the Fourth Division of SARAWAK.

8. The position was still obscure at LIMBANG, and great care was being taken in planning any operation in case it endangered the lives of the Resident, Mrs. MORRIS and the other prisoners there. It was already clear, however, that the rebels were going to be completely squashed by the great force of British arms coming in from SINGAPORE and elsewhere into WEST BORNEO.

9. The real concern of the military then became, as far as the inland areas were concerned, to prevent the rebels escaping inland, setting up any form of guerrilla organisation inland or simply causing havoc inland, or even more important escaping over the border into INDONESIA from where undoubtedly a number of them had recently returned after training in the use of arms.

10. It was therefore decided to deploy the massive and still growing irregular forces along the whole arc between the British NORTH BORNEO border on the TRUSAN River, right away behind BRUNEI, behind the TEMBURONG District of BRUNEI, over the headwaters of the LIMBANG, again all along the border area behind BRUNEI in the TUTONG and BELAIT districts, and across the BARAM down to MARUDI.

11. An additional force of about one hundred guerrillas was brought down to MIRI itself to assist there under the leadership of Mr WILLIAM GEIKIE and other MIRI District Councillors.

12. At this stage we had the Motor Launch "RAINBOW" on patrol between MARUDI and KUALA BARAM, loaded with armed KENYAHS under Mr WILLIAM SCOTT of the TANJONG LOBANG School and Mr ERIC VENNELL of the PWD, both of whom did splendidly.

13. Finally, there was the more complicated, immediate question of BEKENU, in the SIBUTI area, further down the coast from MIRI.

14. Therefore by about December 13 we had managed to put out effective blocks over a large part of the backstop area mentioned, assisted by additional officers, notably Mr R. E. CLARK of the Land and Survey Department, Mr MANSON TOYNBEE, of the Education Department and Mr BARRY BALBERNIE, of the Agricultural Department.

BEKENU

15. But in the case of BEKENU, where the situation was extremely obscure and where I had twice received salutes in reconnaissance aircraft overhead from people who appeared to be rebels holding the KUBU, we decided that the irregulars could take a fully positive and aggressive role as well.

16. Here we moved some of the MARUDI forces very rapidly into the BAKONG River under DERRICK REDDISH of the BORNEO Company and John BAGLEY of the Medical Depart­ment who, with PENGHULU BAYA MALANG, led two powerful overland groups of mixed KAYANS, KENYAHS and IBANS down the SIBUTI River behind BEKENU - this attack being co-ordinated with the GREEN JACKETS, of the British Regular Army, who simultaneous­ly attacked BEKENU from the coast up the SIBUTI River.

17. This worked very well indeed and completely bottled in the rebels in that area. There was no question of their escaping inland - they were attacked from both sides and also additional troops were put in by helicopter on top of them to places I designated, on December 15.

18. That was the earliest place in the whole of this operation to be really mopped up. BEKENU and that whole area were effectively cleared of rebels by December 18.

19. Now all the time the army were cleaning up and putting on the pressure in BRUNEI itself and the attack by the Commandos had gone in to LIMBANG. So having finished with BEKENU, we quickly brought REDDISH and BAGLEY out again, to put REDDISH up in the top of the TRUSAN River, with other forces, mainly KELABITS and MURUTS.

SUBSEQUENT ROLE OF THE IRREGULARS

20. The role of the irregulars after this was entirely that of serving as back­stop. Increasingly this had to be tied up with British Regular Army units as the soldiers were freer of the main battle. I would stress of course that theirs was always the main role in BRUNEI itself and then in LIMBANG, but that we irregulars had to take a burden off the Army shoulders inland. In fact not one single rebel has, as far as we know, so far escaped alive into the interior or got through our cordon, and there is no evidence that anybody is likely to do so in the immediate future.

21. I have been asked how it was possible to cover such a huge area on the map.

22. The answer to that is easy. Geographical knowledge of the area is important and this was one thing I was personally able to contribute because I have travelled all over the Fourth and Fifth Divisions of SARAWAK, also all along and inside the border with KALIMANTAN and SOUTHERN British NORTH BORNEO.

23. In fact, although it looks tremendous on the map - owing to the terribly rugged terrain, there are very few actual routes which any sane human being can hope to use with any hope of getting away.

24. Many of the irregulars were people who had been with us in SRD during the war in 1945 and were very proud to show on this occasion their war medals.

25. We were able to learn very largely from that past experience with the big organised Japanese forces, in one case over 700 strong, who attempted to escape inland to INDONESIA during 1945.

26. Using that experience and those veterans we were able to concentrate on a limited number of escape routes which, in fact, are the only practical ones available for anyone thinking of going to the border.

ARMING THE IRREGULARS

27. I would like to emphasise here that we did not arm masses of people all over the country. All that happened throughout this operation was that buckshot cartridges were given on allocation to licensed shotgun holders in areas where there was seen the possibility of the rebels escaping or the rebellion extending.

28. We did not arm large areas where there was no such threat. Nobody had received any sort of outside weapon - revolver, rifle or anything else.

29. But there are two aspects to this thing of giving these cartridges - one, that they would be positively useful if any rebel did break through from BRUNEI; and I am quite sure that the average KENYAH, KAYAN or KELABIT would and will give a very good account of himself.

30. Secondly, that many of these people in the interior do not normally keep any stock of these cartridges and were getting extremely worried at reports and sometimes rumours of masses of people moving about through the country. They felt they had nothing to protect their own women and children with.

31. Therefore, directly we supplied the cartridges the whole atmosphere changed. I have seen this in remote villages, such as up in the ULU AKAH and at such places where we landed - at tiny or improvised airstrips in RAF SINGLE PIONEERS and helicopters.

32. The moment we issued even five cartridges per man everybody was solid from then on, not worried any more and determined to make a positive contribution.

33. In fact the rally of these inland people was something quite remarkable and nothing to do with politics or race - a real demonstration of their love for their own country - SARAWAK.

KEEPING TRACK OF THE REBELS

34. The question has also been asked as to how we did keep track of the rebel movements. Well, that is a very easy one because, as I have said before, they could only use very limited routes.

35. You cannot take a bee line across the country anywhere in the interior of SARAWAK - the country is much too rough. By using helicopters, and even more using BEAVER and SINGLE PIONEER fixed-wing aircraft very close observation was able to be kept on the movement inland.

36. In fact, as I have said, nobody did get far inland. As well as receiving salutes from the ground to the air I actually received a surrender from two men below the MEDALAM, in the LIMBANG. They held up their hands in the boat to the air­craft, dashed away downstream and were never seen again.

37. They were the only two people we know of who really looked as if they were ever going to penetrate the interior at all. It may well be that there will be some people getting up there. There are two or three reports in the Fifth Division. But by the time they have got far inland, into the area I am talking about, they are go­ing to have had an awful mauling from the army, gunfire, aeroplanes and reconnaissance.

38. And they are not jungle people who are doing this rebellion - they are coastal MALAYS and coastal KEDAYANS who are not at home in the jungle at all. It will be a remarkable fine performance on their part if they do manage to establish any sort of activity far inland.

39. The helicopters of course, have only a limited use in the interior, though they played an invaluable role in the whole operation.

40. But one of the great values of the helicopter was in landings made in the sub-coastal areas such as along the TUTOH River and in the lower TRUSAN where again, the very fact of landing in a helicopter, in the middle of a village square, dishing out some ammunition and a spot of leadership, immediately changed the whole atmosphere. Giving the people some information and determination from first hand made all the difference.

41. Most of the villagers had completely run out of batteries and had no radios working at all. Others were listening attentively to INDONESIA. The picture was terribly obscure to them and a helicopter landing with a friend and some ammunition was worth half a battalion at that particular moment, psychologically.

ACHIEVEMENTS

42. So the further question arises - what did the irregulars shoot at and what did they capture?

43. The answer to that is extremely little. I am very glad to say that that is so, because our job was to stop people getting in there.

44. By the ordinary methods of travel all through that area, of course, within a day or so of all these people being armed, everybody knew about it over a wide area down to the coast. I feel quite sure if we had not done this, and this I know is also the view of my seniors in the army and elsewhere, if we had not done this, the rebels would have probably escaped inland.

45. But they were not prepared to tackle these warlike ex-head hunter types of the interior and therefore they were compelled to stay down on the coastal areas.

46. That made it easier for the army to deal with them, though the thing is not completely dealt with yet because even the coastal country is difficult enough, God knows!

47. The irregulars did prevent then from spreading inland and also it was essential to give some positive leadership to those inland people to stop all sorts of other silly ideas developing and even the possibility of the rebellion itself spreading from mere muddle and misunderstanding.

48. So the question is - where are the rebels now and what are left of them?

49. The general view seems to be that they now are confined to the coastal plain and the immediate sub-coastal belt. Many of them have gone back home, trying to pretend that they are just ordinary farmers and never did any harm to anybody.

PRESENT SITUATION

50. If some of them do break through and start working up the rivers now, the irregulars will not be able necessarily to hold them, but what the irregulars do is act as a stop. Immediately there is a need for anything more, there's that much notice, that much intelligence and the regular forces can immediately fly in and deal with the situation, if that is necessary.

51. One occasion of that kind has occurred. It was based entirely on rumour, but a serious rumour, and we took it seriously.

52. A unit of GURKHAS was flown in to an inland place very quickly indeed, with very enterprising flying by RAF TWIN PIONEERS and the whole situation was dealt with in a matter of a few hours - that is the sort of future picture I would see, unless of course, something much more elaborate and something quite different develops.

53. That is something we are working on now and the irregulars may have a further part to play in any long term thinking about this whole area.

LESSONS OF THE REVOLT

54. Some people have asked me if there are any lessons SARAWAK can learn from this revolt.

55. Well, of course, there are all sorts of lessons for the Administration and Intelligence and so on which are right above my head. But in my mild capacity as Government Ethnologist and Curator of the SARAWAK Museum, there is an ethnological problem that comes out of this - that is that you cannot afford to ignore small racial groups.

56. The KEDAYANS have played a major role in this. There are less than 10,000 of them in SARAWAK but they have not been taken into account. There are practically no responsible KEDAYANS in any positions. They are not represented adequately in Government and this applies equally to many other groups in the NORTH.

57. The large groups have received overwhelming amount of attention not only in administration but, for instance, over the radio where only the large groups have any programmes at all.

58. Although the populations of people like the KEDAYANS, the KENYAHS, KAYANS, KELABITS and MURUTS, are relatively small, they occupy enormous areas of this country.

59. Moreover, they are, what is called, politically backward, or what I would call, happy fellows. But they can he got at and confused.

60. In my view, what happened at BEKENU, among the KEDAYANS, there, who I know quite well and who are extremely industrious farmers, is that they did get completely confused and misled.

61. They are guilty all the same, no one is denying that, but there is a lesson that the same sort of thing can happen widely and I do not think the argument is sufficient that this group is a small one, therefore we can ignore it.

62. In the modern world, one small group can break up a whole pattern just as, in some ways, this revolt has done. Also we have to remember that a group may be small in SARAWAK or in BRUNEI but it can be very big in BORNEO as a whole.

63. The KEDAYANS are closely related to the TIDONGS and other peoples over a very wide area of INDONESIAN BORNEO. In just the same way, the KAYANS and the KENYAHS are only a few thousand in SARAWAK, but are more than 200,000 in KALIMANTAN. The KELABITS are less than 2,000 in SARAWAK - there are probably 100,000 over the border.

64. Therefore on the positive side, our leadership and propaganda in those languages and to those groups, radiates right across the border in our favour.

65. On the negative side, if we neglect them, propaganda in their languages and from their groups, very powerful in KALIMANTAN, can in fact end up by undermin­ing the thinking of these groups inside SARAWAK. Perhaps the nicest thing about this whole horrible business as far as I see it, is that apart from the KEDAYANS, all the other inland tribes have not responded in that way and have shown them­selves really SARAWAKIAN and (though it is a rather out-of-date sentiment) really PRO-BRITISH.

66. But the margin which determined that position was quite small. I am sure that it depended on individual leadership of people like Mr FISHER, COYSH, SWYNY and perhaps, in a different way, my wife down at NIAH - if she had not been there and stuck to her guns, the whole thing might have spread down the coast as far as BINTULU. The people themselves are good-hearted and mean well, but they have got to be led.

67. This leadership must be positive - it must be directed by a positive policy which must have some local meaning - if it is to succeed. Generalisations and negative attacks on other groups or parties mean little or nothing here.

FUTURE ROLE OF THE IRREGULARS

68. Well, there remains the question of the irregulars in the future.

69. At the present moment over most of the country, they are in effect disbanded back in their own houses, looking after their own rice crops.

70. We felt it most essential to do nothing in this whole operation which would start producing a civil administrative problem afterwards, such as the failure of the rice crop.

71. Now they have got a sufficient reserve of buckshot and also confidence that there is a communication system and contact, air support and regular troop support, if necessary.

72. There is, in effect a Home Guard extended over a very wide area of NORTHERN SARAWAK, and particularly all along our common borders. One hopes there is no future role for the irregulars in this. That does not depend on the irregulars, the regulars, or the SARAWAK Government - it depends on other people trying to do mischief to us.

73. I think it is very reassuring that we have got, perhaps gettin on, to 1,600 people now who have been in some way, either formally or informally, some­times in remote places, in tiny airstrips, with a few minutes' notice, brought in­to this picture.

74. If something else does break out, these people now do look in one direction and have a very good idea of what it's all about.

75. Of course, one of the great difficulties, in dealing with this sort of situation, and this must be remembered, is that we are covering an enormous tract of country.

76. The whole State of BRUNEI is just a little flea bite when you compare it with the Third, Fourth and Fifth Divisions. I have not said anything about the Third Division because I really do not know what has been going on there - I have been fully occupied in the Fourth and Fifth. But in the Third Division, I do know that there had been rumour of 100 enemy in the BELAGA District.

77. Fundamentally that seemed absurd to all of us up in BRUNEI and indeed it proved to be totally false.

78. Now in this huge country, ridiculous rumours can develop if people are prepared to give them currency. The geography is confusing and there are many languages. Communications are difficult. That is one reason why personal leader­ship and continuous personal contact and steadiness are important.

79. We must not allow people to be suddenly carried away with the sort of mad­ness which in fact struck the KEDAYANS at BEKENU in this whole business of raising the flag and taking the KUBU there.

80. Perhaps I could mention one example of what actually happened in this way in the area I had been working over.

81. Over a radio set, working on an internal intercom frequency, one operator heard a story of over 100 rebels moving up the LIMBANG to the KUALA MEDAMIT.

82. Now the KUALA MEDAMIT is within the tidal waters and within a day or so of LIMBANG itself and that story was not peculiar at that moment, which was about December 16.

83. The situation was not yet under control. Rebels were being driven back by the army and there was no reason why they should not move up to the KUALA MEDAMIT.

84. Unfortunately the operator heard this as the KUALA MEDIHIT because atmospherics can be very bad in the interior.

85. Therefore with immense excitement, this was rushed through to MIRI as an absolutely top urgent signal with 300 rebels, as it eventually became and as these things do, moving into the KUALA MEDIHIT.

86. Now the KUALA MEDIHIT is really about five days' hard boating, including shooting major rapids upriver from the KUALA MEDAMIT. Actually, the last inhabited house up the LIMBANG is the KELABIT house of LONG NAPIR, in the MEDIHIT.

87. As a result of this report, the only thing to do was to take it seriously -we could not ignore it. Therefore I got involved in arming the people in that area and guiding in an element of regular troops and eventually the GURKHAS who came in, went right down the MEDIHIT, the whole way down to the MEDAMIT. A great deal of energy was expended but of course not one single rebel was ever encountered any­where in the whole area, because in fact the country is only an escape route on the map.

88. That is the sort of way a rumour can easily develop. Self-control in people, especially responsible people in remote places, is frightfully important here.

89. On the whole I think it would be safe to divide any present estimated rebel movement from the BRUNEI direction inland now, at once divide it by ten. On the other hand, never ignore it. It is by ignoring a situation that we have had this revolution. It is by ignoring or underestimating people like the KEDAYANS that the BEKENU situation, particularly, developed. Also in other ways the situation at LIMBANG where the pro-BRUNEI Party was vastly underestimated. You cannot ignore it - you have got to deal with it.

[Source TNA: WO 305/2519, transcribed by www.arcre.com]