“He was valued for his social confidence and levelheadedness and was guaranteed to relate well with the Indian officers
The serial: Largie Castle, A Rifled Nest Day67
The battalion had returned an Indian officer to India because “he expressed views considered to be highly objectionable in an officer holding a commission in the service”. Lieutenant General Sir Lionel Bond (General Officer Commanding, Malaya) regarded the incident seriously enough to launch an enquiry into the extent of discontent within the Indian Army in Malaya. With the influx of Indian troops into Singapore and Malaya, fears grew that resident nationalist parties were infecting officers and men with a sense of grievance.
For some time there had been dissatisfaction in the Indian Army, but the only significant mutiny of Indian soldiers between 1857 and 1941 was in Singapore in 1915 when soldiers from 5th Light Infantry ran amok. To avoid mutiny, a company was made up of soldiers from different religions and races with each community having their own holidays and eating arrangements.
One reason for a heightened sense of resentment among Indian officers was the operation of a colour bar in Singapore, forbidding them entry to clubs and other forms of social life in the city. This was a shock as these officers fully expected to be treated like their British counterpart. Promotion It says something that Angus was appointed brigademajor at this critical time. His promotion to chief of staff of a brigade with two Indian battalions was because he was valued for his social confidence and level-headedness and was guaranteed to relate well with the Indian officers.
As the year continued, the threat of invasion grew. When Germany invaded the USSR, the situation changed in East Asia. This was the moment that Japan had been waiting for. On July 2 1941, at an Imperial Conference in Tokyo, Japan decided to expand its troops in South-East Asia and set up bases in south IndoChina, where the French authorities accepted Japanese demands. Three weeks after the conference, the first batch of Japanese forces arrived in southern Indo-China.
Japanese warships entered the colony and its air force made a base near Saigon. The eastern imperial power was now within easy reach of Malaya and the sought-after oil fields of the Dutch East Indies.
On July 25, two days after Japan’s action, the US banned the export of oil and other materials that aided Japan’s military purposes. When the British and Dutch followed suit, it caused surprise and anger within Japan (80% of its oil was imported from America and 10% from the Dutch East Indies). Japan, however, was undaunted; the country was stockpiling oil and had enough in reserve for 18 months.
Its war-machine was poised for an opportune moment to launch an attack on Imperial Britain and its allies in the region. Nevertheless, few of Japan’s potential enemies knew when that moment would be.
In August 1941 Angus took a break from his duties. “I have not had any leave for exactly a year,” he wrote to Esther on August 11, “and I was beginning to feel that I needed one.” There was no question of him returning home. Not only did the war prevent it but even in peacetime, soldiers were seldom granted home leave while serving overseas. Aggressive Because of Japan’s recent aggressive policies in South East Asia, Angus and his brigade were expected to be ready for the enemy to invade at any time. With this in mind, he chose a place within easy range of his Singapore headquarters for a three week respite. “Things are a bit tense out here as I write, and I am quite expecting to be called from leave any moment.”
As in India, there were bolt-holes in Malaya for army officers wanting to get away from steamy Singapore. The longest established was Penang, an island off Malaya’s west coast.
As early as 1786, tired Europeans congregated there to enjoy the mild climate of Penang Hill. Over 2,500 feet high, this green oasis stretched as far as the island’s western shores. Angus probably knew Penang which, with Malacca and Singapore, was a crown colony of the Straits Settlements. It was to Penang that his friend Angus Rose was posted in December 1940 to take care of the island’s defence plans.
Penang or Pulau Pinang was not that far from Singapore: a 12-hour ride on the night train to Kuala Lumpur and then a journey by steamship from Port Swettenham to the island. Angus would have been impressed by the sight of colonial Georgetown, its classical fronted civic buildings, clock tower dedicated to Queen Victoria, and all within spitting range of ships berthed in the harbour.
This tropical island was rich, compact and only a few acres smaller than Singapore. It had sumptuous palaces owned by Chinese trading magnates, large colonnaded churches, mosques, Buddhist temples, and shops, whose verandas extended the length of their frontages, so that the public could amble along covered walkways protected from the sun or the monsoon rain.
Where the Roses lived is undisclosed. The most fortunate found accommodation on the forested hill in elegant mansions where their comfortable lifestyle was maintained by fleets of servants.
Elegant though it was, Penang was too suburban for Angus. He needed a more open, people-less space in which to relax. There was a chain of hill stations stretching the length of the Malayan central range, each with a golf course cleared from the jungle and other provisions for outdoor recreation. Clean air Angus chose Malaya’s Pahang province in the Cameron Highlands to get away. Deriving its name from William Cameron, a British surveyor who came to the region in 1885, the plateau is between Penang in the north, Kuala Lumpur in the south, and about 400 miles from Singapore.
More than 4,700 feet above sea level, it was an ideal “home-from-home” for Europeans, and by the mid 1920s it attracted a steady flow of visitors who enjoyed the cool breezes and clean air; they came also to admire the waterfalls, tea plantations, and terraces of strawberries.
Although Kenneth McLeod claimed it was “ideal for those serving in Malaya,” the Cameron Highlands (fondly termed “a little corner of England in Asia”) was a poor second to Largie.
In his letter to Mum, Angus comments with envy on her good fortune in being able to take three months’ leave there.
“I would give almost anything to get home even for three weeks, let alone months. But I’m afraid there is no chance of that till we have fixed up this wretched fellow, Hitler!” More tomorrow