John Creer's report: The Guomindang guerillas of Japanese-occupied Malaya

Rebecca Kenneison (Essex), PhD Student

Page 2


John Creer’s Report: Location: HS1/121, UK National Archives, Kew. This file contains the papers of a Force 136 operation, Hebrides, which was infiltrated into northern Malaya in December 1944. Force 136 was the Asian arm of the Special Operations Executive.

If a place is not marked on the accompanying map, its approximate location, where known, is recorded in a footnote. Headings in bold and comments in [square brackets] are mine. Lastly, […] indicates a break of no more than a few sentences.

Extract A:
Arrival of the communists Just after the Penghulu’s arrest [by the Japanese in late 1942], Communist agents arrived at Kuala Tuang. [17] They were accompanied by Koh Piang Siew, whose activities are recorded in Appendix ‘B’, and by one Ah Sing alias Fung Shin with about fifty armed men, mainly Cantonese and Kwangsai, who had been living in the jungle near Koh Piang Siew’s gold-mine. The Communists did not at that time disclose their politics. They said that they came as emissaries from a group of guerrillas about three hundred strong who were encamped near Mentakab under Major Chapman. [18]

Extract B:
OCAJA puts down banditry; poor relationships with Malays Chong Chuk … was an opium smoker and looked like an Italian-American gangster yet I was reliably informed later that on his arrival in the Gua Musang area from Kuala Krai early in 1942, he had put down the banditry then prevalent, executing some of the culprits. […] In September, Chong Paw and Chong Chuk had attacked the police station at Tomo in Siam and obtained 17 Jap rifles. The Japs then drove them out with a mixed force of 300 men and they removed themselves to Perak. At Temengor, they took reprisals on the Malay peasantry, some of whom had instigated the Japs to murder innocent Chinese. This was admitted to be Malays of Kuala Temengor, when I was there early this year.

Extract C:
OCAJA attack Japanese garrison; increasing communist influence During December [1942] new groupings took place. The Communist representatives returned to Pahang to summon teachers [….] The Chinese in Gua Musang were being mishandled by the Malay police, many of whom enjoyed exercising the licence to knock people about conferred on them by the Japs, by the end of December the Kundor party were spoiling for an attack on Gua Musang. The people of Pulai were opposed to the project especially as their padi harvest was only just beginning and when Yong Kong visited Pulai, I spoke to him on their behalf. [19] Looking back now, I think the attack might have been prevented if there had been someone capable of organizing the feeding of the guerrillas. By 1944, there were 150 living in the Pulai area, and another 100 near Gua Musang, all with sufficient rice. But in any case an attack was inevitable sooner or later.

At dawn on New Year’s day 1943, the Kundor guerrillas surrounded and stormed the Gua Musang police-station. Seven Chinese were killed as they rushed up the steps, while nineteen out of twenty five Malay police were killed. It was claimed that three Japanese were among those killed but I doubt this. A Bren gun party on the river bank fired on all who tried to escape by that route, and killed perhaps fifty Malays, including some women and children. In addition to the police, some of the Malay villagers had been armed with shotguns, and twenty-five rifles and twenty-five shotguns were captured. In the feast which followed the victory pieces of fried human heart and liver were interspersed with pork. [20]

Extract D:
Communist teachers arrive On January 3 rd four unarmed Communists, including one woman, arrived at Pulai. Their leader was Chin Khon Hiung who had been with Major Chapman when Clarke-Heywood was killed in July 1942, and is known to Chapman as Haw Loy. [21] […]

The Communists at once started teaching singing, politics and drill but were interrupted by the arrival of 200 Japs and 200 Malays at Gua Musang. The whole population then dispersed into the jungle. I was with a party of about 100 protected by 15 armed men. The enemy occupied Pulai on Jan 11th [1943] and on 14th 100 Malays and 100 Japanese came into the jungle after firing a few mortar bombs and tried to envelop my party. The only casualties in this encounter were one or perhaps two of the enemy killed, and three wounded.

Extract E:
Communist diplomacy On Feb 6th [1943], an important Communist official from Selangor, whose name was Hiung Kit, arrived at Kuala Tuang. [22] He was accompanied by Lee Fung Sam, a guerrilla leader from Raub. [23] 28 of the Kundor guerrillas on their way to meet Hiung Kit were fired on by Chin Khon Hiung’s men at Pulai, and four were killed and three wounded. [24] Hiung Kit, after lengthy negotiations, persuaded the Pulai people to settle the matter by paying the widows $100 each, and by presenting a pig and a goat for the funeral-feast. At Hiung Kit’s request, I made a speech urging all parties to co-operate in resisting the Japs.

Hiung Kit was an able organizer and soon introduced his propagandists into the Batu Papan and Kundor camps. Communist propaganda had a great success among the ignorant peasantry of Pulai, and before long they were telling me that Chiang Kai Shek, previously their hero, was an embezzler and cut-throat. I was also constantly pestered by Communist smart alecks who asked me to admit that the British in Malaya before the war, had wickedly oppressed the labouring classes, and wanted to know why the Government had imprisoned communists. But the most frequent question of all was why the British had run away from the Japs while a handful of guerrillas were still defying them. The same theme was presented in plays and speeches and I began to form the opinion that the Communists were just as much anti-British as anti-Jap.

At the end of March 1943, Mr. R. Chrystal joined me. [25] [….] Chrystal at that time rather sympathized with Communist aspirations for a post-war Malayan Free State and had only left Perak because he was tired of the monotonous round of traitor-killing, hymn-singing and heart-searching a la Oxford Group Movement. Like me, he was ill-adapted to herdlife, was unwilling to place himself body and soul at the disposal of ignorant Chinese schoolboys, and had neither skill nor inclination to hide his real political views, which still differed greatly from theirs.

He refused to live in the [MPAJA] guerrilla camp at Pulai, so we stayed at the quartermaster’s store. Chin Khon Hiung thought he knew everything about warfare, guerrilla or otherwise, and ignored Chrystal’s repeated offers to train his men. [26]

On May 10th [1943] we attended a feast at Yong Kong’s camp when the Chinese National Flag was hoisted in the presence of Hiung Kit and other Communists. Yong Kong asked us to come down to Kundor again and we returned on the 28th of May, hoping to be allowed to train his men. His camp was only two miles as the crow flies from the Jap garrison at Gua Musang and just before we arrived, a party of Japs and Malays burnt down some coolie lines within a quarter of a mile of the camp and fired about 20 mortarbombs without discovering where the camp was.

[Chrystal and Creer returned to the MPAJA camp, hoping to be allowed to train the guerrillas, but have a strong disagreement with the communists and were effectively held prisoner; they escape during a Japanese ‘drive’ against the guerrillas. Creer was willing to return to the OCAJA, but Chrystal was not. For a time, the two men lived more-or-less alone in the jungle, suffering considerable ill-health. At the end of October, however, Creer went to Kundor with a party of Chinese and aboriginals who were trading salt.]

Extract F:
Fighting breaks out between the OCAJA and the MPAJA I received a warm welcome from Yong Kong who had just expelled the Communist propagandists after disputes about the disposal of money collected from supporters in Kuala Lipis. Yong Kong’s complaint was that practically none of these funds got past Camp No.1 at Pulai. [27] He was still in constant touch with Kuala Tuang where about twelve of the local peasantry who possessed rifles had refused to be trained in the Communist camp at Pulai.

Early in February 1944 an emissary from Pulai was detained at Kundor. In his rucksack were found Communist literature and a letter addressed to guerrillas in the Nenggiri asking them to join the Communists. [28] This letter explained that the Malayan Communists were part of a large organization covering all the countries in South East Asia, including the Philippines. The Nenggiri guerrillas numbering about 20 armed men, were a detachment of Chong Shik Paw’s men. Their leader Lor Chee had just been killed when trying to blow up fish. The emissary from Pulai was one of Ah Sing’s men and, when at Kuala Medang, early in 1942, had been under the command of Chan Woon and Chong Chuk. [29] At the request of these two he was taken out to be shot. He escaped but was recaptured and killed two days later. The same night a patrol from Pulai sent to look for him was fired on by Yong Kong’s sentries, losing one man killed.

I had no wish to get mixed up in fighting between Chinese; so about the middle of February, I went across to the Nenggiri where Tham Yeong was in charge of the detachment mentioned above. There were about 200 Malays at Kuala Betis, but they had no communication with the Malays.

In April at Tham Yeong’s request I wrote to the Malay Penggawa at Bertam and my letter was taken to him by a Chinese who spoke Malay well. [30] The OCPD, Kuala Krai, whose name is Che Shaari, met this Chinese and tried to send a Malay to meet me but excess of caution on the part of Tham Yeong’s men prevented this. [31]

Meanwhile Yong Kong had been in trouble. In March he took 20 men, of whom 10 were armed, up to Kuala Tuang which was still resisting Communist attempts at domination. They had not been there long when, at dawn one morning, they were attacked by a body of Pulai guerrillas under Tong Ah Nyen. Yong Kong and a few others escaped back to Kundor.

About this time a message arrived from Chong Shik Paw saying that he was on his way back from the Nenggiri with about 100 men. Since leaving Gua Musang at the end of 1942, he had been roaming round Upper Perak and the Malayan-Siamese border. From what I heard at Belum later, he and his men had sorely oppressed the Malay peasants of Belum killing most of their livestock; but one Malay who spoke to me about this suggested that the fault was largely that of the Penghulu, who deserted his post on the approach of the Chinese. [32] Chong Paw had obtained 21 rifles by attacking a police station near Lenggong and killing the Garrison, who were, I think, all Punjabis. The Punjabis fought to the last round and Chong Paw had expended two or three thousand rounds in the engagement so ammunition was very short both at Kundor and Kuala Betis, the Nenggiri Headquarters. Moreover, such ammunition as they had was old and some of it had been immersed in rivers for weeks before being recovered. By this time about six rounds in ten were duds. The successful Communist offensive in 1945 was, I suspect, made possible by the dropping of new ammunition from India into Perak. [33] The Pulai patrol was a detachment of the 5 th (Perak) Corps. [34]

Just before Chong Paw reached Kuala Betis, a patrol of about 20 men was reported to be approaching from Pulai and the leader, whose name was Liew Wong, was captured by our sentries. He was brought in to Kuala Betis on May 8th and Chong Paw arrived an hour or two later. Liew Wong was well-known to everyone there including myself. He had been with Ah Sing at Kuala Medang in the early days and was now quartermaster at Pulai. He had gone out of his way to be offensive to Chrystal and me, so I did not feel much sympathy with him, until his captors began to examine him in the traditional Chinese way.

Repeated beatings during the next few days forced him to speak. I was told that he admitted having received orders to contact the Nenggiri guerrillas and persuade them to co-operate with the Communists in attacking Kundor. It was, however, generally believed that the real object was to surprise Kuala Betis where until May 8th , there were only seven armed men, the rest of Tham Yeong’s detachment being at another post two days downstream.

[…] On May 15th Liew Wong was strangled. His heart and liver were fried and eaten and some of his blood was drunk mixed with samsu. [35] I had already made myself unpopular by giving him tobacco and lending him some of my ragged clothing and my unpopularity was increased by my refusal to join this feast. There were not wanting people who suggested that I was a Communist spy and by May 29th , the atmosphere had become so hostile, that I persuaded some Malays to dump some cooked rice for me on the East bank of the Nenggiri, intending to swim across and try to rejoin Yong Kong. However, I was being too closely watched; so that afternoon I walked up to Chong Paw and accused him of planning to murder me. He made no direct denial but merely kept on saying “Who told you?”, while everyone gathered round me assuring me that nothing had been further from their thoughts. I am a great believer in the frontal attack when dealing with Chinese intrigues. […]

Wong Shin who had come in with Chong Paw on May 8th [1944] had been absent while all this was going on, and his return at the end of May was a relief to me. However, on June 22 nd I returned to Kundor to attend the opening of new camp buildings. Yong Kong welcomed me as warmly as ever and told me that To Misai, a Malay headman of Limau Kasturi, was anxious to see me. [36] Unfortunately I was unable to go to Limau Kasturi until early August, having damaged my foot on the way from Kuala Betis to Kundor. In the meantime, I wrote letters to To Misai, the Penggawa Bertam and Che Shaari, OCPD Krai.

The Malays around Limau Kasturi had already handed over a few thousand rounds of .303 ammo, mostly dud, to Yong Kong’s men and before going to Limau Kasturi, I made Yong Kong promise that he would not initiate an attack on Pulai. I told him that without this promise I could not ask the Malays to hand over any more ammo. Yong Kong agreed to this but the few hundred rounds obtained after this turned out to be 90 percent duds.

At this time there was a constant exchange of letters between Pulai and Kundor, the Communists were still hoping to win over Chong Paw and always referred to him in the most respectful terms, calling Mr Chong Paw while Yong Kong and Chong Chuk were denied the prefix. Meanwhile, they were cutting new jungle-paths towards Kundor and on August 3 rd Yong Kong’s men ambushed a party of ten, 2 miles from our camp.

On the same day I left for Limau Kasturi and after a long walk along the abandoned railway-line met the To Misai on Aug 5th . On my return to Kundor, I learnt that at 10p.m. on Aug 5th , a party from Pulai entered a house about a mile from our camp by moonlight and killed nine persons, men, women and children. Two small boys managed to remain concealed.

Later in August ten of Yong Kong’s men, who were manning defences in front of an exposed village west of our camp, were wiped out by about 50 Communists. The reason of [sic] Pulai’s aggressiveness at this time was the arrival of 60 men from Perak under our old friend Low Mah. [37] I have never met this person but Chrystal has many entertaining and many gruesome stories to tell of him and should be asked to record them for police files. This murderous buffoon requires watching.

Extract G:
Creer’s view of communist tactics Lee Fung Sam had been a contractor for the supply of timber to the Bukit Bentong sawmill before the war. [38] After the British retreat he and some of his men purchased rifles from Slim River and established a camp near Raub. [39] He was in touch with other KMT camps in Selangor and Perak. Communists gradually obtained control of these camps and drove out the original Cantonese and Kwangsai guerrillas, transferring their arms to young Hylams and Hakkas. Some of those expelled joined Lee Fung Sam and by the end of 1943, he had under his command about 100 men in two camps near Raub. Some of his men were recognized by Chrystal, having been trained by him in communist camps in Perak. I am told by Major McAdam, who with Lt. Col. Richardson in Pahang, that Malays in Pahang spoke well of Lee Fung Sam. [40]

From mid-1942 onwards there had been Communist propagandists of the Hakka race in Lee Fung Sam’s camps but he had never been converted to Communism. His stubbornness was punished in March 1944 by a treacherous attack in which forty of his men were killed. Communists came to his camp as self-invited guests and, when Lee Fung Sam’s men were lined up to receive them, suddenly opened fire. Soon afterwards emissaries from Yong Kong invited Lee Fung Sam to come over to Kelantan. Lee Fung Sam accepted but left about 30 men in Pahang. Lt. Col. Richardson has met these men since the surrender.

Early in October Lee Fung Sam led an attack on Pulai. The Communists and villagers withdrew into the hills and, when the invaders occupied their camp, they poured rifle and Bren-gun fire into it from lime-stone cliffs nearby. The invaders retired leaving ten killed and carrying back 15 wounded.

[Japanese troops withdrawn from Gua Musang]

Extract H:
Major communist offensive opens The Communist offensive had opened at the end of February with attacks on all the KMT camps from Kundor to Kuala Betis, which numbered four. The KMT had to abandon all the areas on which they had depended for rice and to move downstream into Malay villages. Yong Kong asked me to go to Dabong to ask the Malays in that area for help and Chrystal and I distributed a large number of pamphlets in which we offered to pay at the end of the war, for all rice supplied if anyone was unwilling to make a free gift. It was our object then as always to maintain the best possible relations between Chinese and Malays.

[Creer and Chrystal meet up with Force 136]

Extract I:
At Jeli in Kelantan on May 21st [1945], I learnt that the Communists were at Kuala Balah and the Japs at Dabong. [41] There was no news of Chrystal’s party. So I decided to visit Bukit Nangka where Lee Fung Sam was reported to have established a post and then to return to Belum in order to inform Colombo [Force 136 HQ] of the continuance of the Communist offensive.

Extract J:
Situation in mid-1945 When Chrystal and Emran reached Dabong at the end of April, Wong Shin left them and rejoined his men who had suffered considerable losses during March and April. [42] Kow Pah Hiong had been captured and tortured to death. He was no loss, but Chen Ming, second-in-command since the re-shuffle in December, 1944, had died in an ambush and Yong Kong and To Misai were killed when the Communists fired on a boat near Stong: the death of these three was a matter of real regret to Chrystal and me. [43] When Chrystal was reported to be in difficulties near Kuala Gris, Wong Shin led his men into Kuala Gris and drove out a rabble of Malay police and press-ganged Chinese under three Japanese. [44] Wong Shin’s party, like the Japs, missed Chrystal through his being on the other side of the river. They had been very short of food for several weeks; so after failing to find Chrystal, they made for Bukit Nangka. Chrystal arrived there before them having found his way, part of the time alone and without food, by another route. I met them at Jeli, men, women and children, nearly 300 in all, half-starved and ill with jungle-sores and malaria. Their last clash with the Communists had taken place near Kuala Balah on June 3rd [1945].

Extract K:
Malays joining and assisting the OCAJA Emran had brought three or four AMS with him from Perak and Lee Sam sent his Malay recruits up to Batu Melintang at my request. [45] The Lance Corporal and six policemen stationed at Batu Melintang also joined us, being dependent on us for food. We already had a large number of refugees from Grik living at Batu Melintang, and after Dobree’s departure from Belum, many more came over and joined us. Haji Ibrahim, formerly a detective in Malacca, and now stationed at Batu Melintang, frequently visited Kota Bahru and besides useful intelligence, he used to bring back rice puchased in Siam. [46]

[Arrangements were made for a drop of stores by Force 136; the party established its own wireless station. At the end of the war, some of the KMT and a party of the Malays raised by Operation Hebrides were led by Creer into Kota Bahru.]


[1] The SOE in Singapore in 1941/42 operated as Orient Mission
[2] For the use of ‘bandits’ and ‘robbers’, see, for example, Major G.R. Leonard, Operational Report, p. 7, HS 1/123, UKNA (where the MPAJA interpreter Lau Mah tells him he has been fighting ‘bandits’) and J.D. Richardson, Kiwi’s Diary: A Journey of the Beacon’s Party of Force 136 from Hulu Perak to Pahang during the Second World War, Terbitan Tak Berkala Dunai Melayu (Occassional [sic] Paper on the Malay World) No 16, Institu Alam dan Tamadun Melayu, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1994, 17, 19 and 24: he was told that the MPAJA had just recently cleared ‘robbers’ from the area. It is evident, from the timing and location of these contacts, that the MPAJA had been fighting the OCAJA.
[3] See, for example, Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Britain’s Asian Empire and the War with Japan (London: Penguin, 2005), 416 and 452. The ‘misinformed’ view of ‘senior officers’ is scathingly criticised in Capt. J.P.M. Clifford’s operational report on HS 1/121. John Clifford worked with the OCAJA.
[4] Ranajit Guha, “The Prose of Counterinsurgency,” in Selected Subaltern Studies, ed. Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 46-84. Guha argues that much writing on insurgents is by the ruling power and amounts to ‘the prose of counterinsurgency’; here instead we have the view of an opposing political force.
[5] At the time of the Japanese invasion, the population of Malaya, excluding Singapore, was about 48% Malay, 35% Chinese, 15% Indian and 2% other. These figures are calculated from Paul H. Kratoska, The Japanese Occupation of Malaya: A Social and Economic History (London: Hurst & Company, 1998), 19.
[6] In a surviving signal on HS 1/121, Creer goes so far as to describe Yong Kong, an OCAJA leader, as ‘my best friend’.
[7] See Dennis Holman, The Green Torture: The Ordeal of Robert Chrystal (London: Brown, Watson, 1962), 136-37
[8] See Extract H
[9] See Extract B
[10] The OCAJA take the fight to the Japanese in extract C
[11] Poor relationship: extract B and F; cooperation: extracts F, J and K
[12] See, for example, Lt Col F Spencer Chapman, Report ‘A’, p.21, HS1/109, UK National Archives
[13] Cheah Boon Kheng, Red Star over Malaya: Resistance and Social Conflict during and after the Japanese Occupation, 1941-46, 3rd ed. (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2003), 210-23
[14] Efforts at diplomacy and conversion: extracts A, C, D and E; fighting: extracts F, H and J
[15] Extract G
[16] Extract I: the Japanese are at Dabong, where the OCAJA had formerly maintained a customs post.
[17] A penghulu is a headman; I have not been able to locate Kuala Tuang but it must have been close to Pulai
[18] Mentakab is a town in central Pahang; Major Chapman is Freddie Spencer Chapman, author of The Jungle is Neutral.
[19] Padi is rice; Yong Kong was a leading member of the Kelantan OCAJA
[20] Here, Creer is accusing the OCAJA of cannibalism; Chapman, in his long report, accuses the MPAJA of exactly the same behaviour (HS1/109, p27)
[21] Clark Heywood, who lived in Kuala Lumpur, was a member of No. 3 Stay-Behind Party. These were behind-the-lines parties inserted just ahead of the Japanese advance by Orient Mission, an SOE body which was a precursor to Force 136. Freddie Spencer Chapman led one of these parties.
[22] This is probably the same man as ‘Wong Kit’, recorded as being ‘AQ’ (either Assistant or Acting Quartermaster) with the 1st Regiment in Selangor; the comments on him in the ‘MPAJA Personalities’ forms on HS1/119 indicate that he may have been a political commissar.
[23] Raub is a town in western Pahang
[24] This is the first instance of violence between the OCAJA and the MPAJA. It appears to have been a genuine error, since Lee Fung Sam, who was with the MPAJA leader, was an OCAJA guerrilla leader.
[25] Robert Chrystal went into the jungle in the same stay-behind party as Clark Heywood.
[26] Chrystal, aside from his training with the SOE, had seen service on the western front and in Greece in World War I (Jonathan Moffatt and Paul Riches, ‘In Oriente Primus’: A History of the Volunteer Forces in Malaya and Singapore (Coventry: Jonathan Moffat & Paul Riches, 2010).)
[27] The communist leader Chin Peng, tells this differently in his autobiography; he says that the OCAJA squandered the funds given them by the communists on opium and prostitutes.
[28] The Nengirri is a large river in south-western Kelantan. In this context, ‘the Nenggiri’ means the watershed of the river
[29] In other words, this emissary had gone over from the OCAJA to the communists.
[30] A penggawa seems to have been some kind of official; I have not been able to locate Bertam
[31] OCPD: Officer Commanding Police District
[32] Belum is in northeast Perak, between Grik and Jeli
[33] By Force 136, intended for use against the Japanese
[34] That is, the 5th Independent Regiment of the MPAJA.
[35] Rice Wine
[36] I have not been able to locate Limau Kasturi
[37] Low Mah, better known as Lau Mah (Cantonese for ‘Old Horse’) was a leading member of the 5th Independent Regiment of the MPAJA who on occasion acted as an interpreter (see, for example, HS1/107, Funnel Brown Operational Report, p2-3). He operated under several aliases.
[38] Bukit Bentong is in western Pahang
[39] Slim River is a town in southern Perak
[40] This is Douglas Richardson of a Force 136 operation, Beacon, which was infiltrated to work with the Malays of Pahang. Major McAdam was an OSS operative dropped to Operation Beacon
[41] Kuala Balah is about 20m south of Jeli; Dabong had previously been under such effective OCAJA control that they had had a permanent post there to collect dues on river cargoes
[42] Emran was a Malay member of Operation Hebrides.
[43] I have not been able to establish the location of Stong, but it was probably on the Galas river.
[44] Kuala Gris is a few miles northeast of Dabong, on the Galas River
[45] The AMS was the Askar Melayu Setia, a Malay guerrilla group raised by Operation Hebrides. The location of Batu Melintang is unclear.
[46] Malacca, now Melaka, is on the west coast of Malaysia