Veteran recalls forgotten conflict

Just three years after the terror of the Second World War, British troops were engaged in action in Malaya (now Malaysia) - then under British imperial rule.

James Marston

Just three years after the terror of the Second World War, British troops were engaged in action in Malaya (now Malaysia) - then under British imperial rule. Today, 60 years after the Malayan Emergency began, JAMES MARSTON speaks to veteran Bob Duff.

BOB Duff wears his service medal with pride. He earned it in a colonial conflict that began 60 years ago this year.

Bob, who was an 18 year-old on national service at the time, said: “You either got posted to Malaya or Korea and I went to Malaya. People often ask me what it was like. We spent most of the time on patrol in the jungle, we moved around a lot.

“Mine isn't a hero story, there were lots of us in the same boat.”

Bob, of Cumberland Towers, Ipswich, was born in the town in 1933 - far removed from the swamps and jungle that were to feature in his life as a young man.

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He said: “I lived on the Whitton estate during the Second World War and during the air raids I had to carry a gas mask and go into air raid shelters.

“I was called up at the age of 18 years to do National Service and went to Bury St Edmunds Gibraltar Barracks with the Suffolk Regiment and was given the army number 22602527, which any service person will know is the number you remember until you die.

“After six weeks basic training I had a week's leave then went back for ten weeks action service training on assault courses, learning how to fire machine guns and load and throw hand grenades. Then I had another week's leave before being posted to Malaya.”

Bob and his new comrades went to Southampton and boarded the troop ship Empire Orwell which took three weeks to get to Singapore, stopping at Algiers, Port Said, going through the Suez Canal to Aden and Colombo.

Then in Singapore he was put on a train to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaya, which was the headquarters of the Suffolk Regiment.

He said: “I did another week's jungle training before being posted to “B” company 5 Platoon and given an EY rifle to carry in the jungle on patrol - it fires hand grenades about 100 yards.

“Week in and week out we would patrol the jungle looking for terrorists led by a tracker, who were head hunters from Borneo.

“We went through swamps and cut our way through thick jungle with machetes. During the monsoon period when it rained every day, we had leeches on our legs sucking blood which we burned off with cigarettes, also mosquitoes which did the same and could give you malaria.”

Snakes and spiders were also common, and today he can pick up any spider with no fear.

On Tuesday, July 8, 1952 his section of 5 Platoon was involved in the killing of Liew Kon Kim, then considered a notorious terrorist, and his mistress Loh Yuk Maai.

He said: “We took hours carrying the two bodies strapped to bamboo poles out of the jungle. Platoon leader Lt Raymond Hands shot Liew Kon Kim and was hailed a hero in the Singapore Standard.

“When we got out of the jungle we were met by Major Dewar and later back at camp General Templer came and shook hands with everyone and said 'well done.'

“We were given a week's leave in Kuala Lumpur, our photos were taken and put on the front page of the Singapore Standard.”

The Suffolk Regiment came home on the troop ship Georgic and docked at Liverpool and then Bob went to Colchester Barracks.

He said: “We were then allowed to march through Ipswich with fixed bayonets and were given the freedom of the town.”

After two years, Bob was discharged. He worked for Ipswich Council in Wolsey Street as a refuse collector then driver supervisor.

Later he went into the office as a supervisor of refuse collection and after 18 years took voluntary redundancy and went on to work at St Clare House as a messenger.

Bob, now 75, has lots of praise for servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also served alongside the Gurkhas in Malaya.

He said: “They are among the best fighters in the world.”

Did you serve with the Suffolk Regiment in the Malayan Emergency? Did you do National Service? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to

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