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The Spark, June 1948

That morning Arthur ‘Wally’ Walker, the manager of the Elphil Estate, had started work before sunrise inspecting the long rows of silvery rubber trees with his dog, and talking to his estate workers. Just before 8 a.m., he returned to his office where he met the estate clerk A.H. Kumaran. Both men then began work. Walker would take breakfast two hours later. Such was the custom of the British rubber estates. Walker was in his mid 40s. Born in Moffat in Scotland, he had come out to Malaya in the 1920s. In 1942, he had been captured by the Japanese and imprisoned at Changi jail in Singapore. Earlier that morning, his wife had left the estate to go shopping in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar. They would meet later to discuss their planned holiday in England. At about 8.30 a.m., three young Chinese men rode up to the office on bicycles. They jumped off, carefully parked their machines, then walked unhurriedly into Walker’s office. The dog began barking. Next door, the clerk Mr Kumaran heard a Chinese voice greet Walker: ‘Tabek, tuan!’ Salutations, sir. He heard Walker reply. Then two shots rang out loudly in the small office. Next […]
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Empire builders

Kwasi Karteng argues in his book ‘Ghosts of Empire’ (2011) that British imperialism was driven not by a moralistic desire to export liberal democracy but by ‘anarchic individualism and paternalism’. The grand moralistic sentiment of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Hands all Round’ (dedicated to Queen Victoria on the occasion of her sixty third birthday in 1882) was merely childish blather: ‘We’ve sailed wherever a ship could sail We’ve planted many a mighty state; Pray God our greatness may not fail Through craven fears of being great.’ As a declining post imperial nation, Britain remains preoccupied with Empire – and whether, to adopt the terms set by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman in ‘1066 and all that’, ‘the Empire’ was a good thing or a bad thing – or perhaps ‘Right but Repulsive’ as they judged the English Civil War. That kind of debate, which has become sterile and polarised, presupposes that the Empire was ‘a thing’ at all – that is to say a coherent consequence of intent. It has been argued that the British Empire was to some degree accidental: the initiatives of colonial administrators, the ‘men on the spot’ had equal if not greater impact than any master imperial […]
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