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 door Kumaran froze, terrified. Would he be next? He was greatly relieved to hear footsteps clattering through the door of Walker’s office. Concealing himself by the door, Kumaran watched as the men rode wobbled away on their bicycles heading towards the road. There was nothing he could do for Walker. He was stone dead, shot through the head and chest. Acrid gun smoke hung for a few moments in the still, humid air. Kumaran noticed that the key to office safe lay on the floor, though the safe itself containing $2000 had not been opened. Walker may have hurled the key at his assassins.
Half an hour after the murder of Walker, another armed party of twelve young men entered the Phin Soon estate, a few kilometres away on the other side of the Lintang Road.  They surrounded the plantation office. Inside, the ringleaders discovered Ian Christian, the trainee ‘conductor’ or overseer, Tan Ah Joo, another conductor called Cheah Lip Chong and an Indian clerk K.N. Mudaly. Christian had not been in Malaya long. One of the intruders tied his hands behind his back. The estate manager, fifty five year old John Allison had the office next door. Like Walker, he had been a prisoner of war. His wife and son were in England. Allison too was tied up. One of the gunmen seized the safe keys from his pocket and rifled through the safe. Then they hustled him, Christian, Tan and Cheah out of the office and set off in the direction of the plantation bungalow a few hundred yards distant. The gunmen ordered the two Chinese to wait outside as the two Europeans were taken inside – presumably to find any other valuables. A short while later, the gunmen and their captives reappeared and hauled Christian and Allison back to the office. They informed Tan and Cheah: ‘We are out only for Europeans. These men will surely die today: we will shoot all Europeans.’ Back inside the office, Allison and Christian were tied on chairs. The Chinese men lifted their pistols and fired at point blank range. Allison and Christian died instantly. The rebels then set fire to a rubber store and fled. One of the first to arrive on the scene was a local doctor, David Tweedie. He reported:
‘I was told by the Manager of Kamuning Estate when I made my routine visit that the Manager of Elphil Estate had been shot. I rushed to the estate and as I passed the entrance to Phin Soon Estate, now Sungei Siput Estate, I saw a policeman guarding the entrance. Also in the distance was a column of black smoke rising to the sky as in the days when smoke houses and stores were burned to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Japanese. I stopped and asked the policeman what was the matter. He said that the European Manager, Mr Allison and the Assistant, Mr Christian, had been shot and the store set on fire. By the time I reached Elphil Estate a huge crowd including senior Police Officers and police had arrived. The Manager, Mr Walker, had been shot as he sat in his office by two Chinese pretending to be making a business call. He was a very popular Manager with his staff and labour force. At that moment a car drove up. It was Mrs Walker returning from a shopping trip to Ipoh.’
The Sungei Siput murders have an iconic significance in the history of British Malaya. Few historians mention the killing of a Chinese foreman on the Senai Estate near Johor Bahru and a Chinese contractor near Taiping on the same day. Neither one is commemorated in the historical literature. The British planters have well tended memorial graves at ‘God’s Little Acre’ near Ipoh. It is conventional, even clichéd to regard the events that took place near Sungei Siput as the spark that set off a conflict that raged for twelve years. The real war lasted much longer: Chin Peng and other communists did not formally lay down their arms until 2 December, 1989.
On the same day that the MNLA squads struck at the Sungei Siput plantations, the High Commissioner Sir Edward Gent, damaged by his perceived mishandling of the Malayan Union crisis, declared a state of emergency in Perak, which he extended to the whole of the Peninsula two days later. On 23 July, the British banned the MCP and its allies. Gent’s declaration had a profound impact on the course and nature of the war. The British did not ‘declare war’ on the Malayan communist insurgents.

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