Private Ron Harper, 1st Battalion, the Queen's Royal Regiment, remembers food drops, disease and head-hunting trackers in the Malayan jungle, 1954-57.
Ron Harper
Private Ron Harper

Did you ever run out of food on the patrols?
No we were always well equipped. We took out a month's supply. No not a month, a fortnight. If we were going out for a fortnight we took a fortnight's supply and then we would know within a few days, the end of that fortnight that we would need an airdrop. So then to do an airdrop you have to clear the jungle. You have to chop down quite a lot of trees and make it a nice open space. It was the Hermes that used to come over with, so that the Hermes knew exactly where we were. The biggest drawback with that is you exposed your position to the terrorists. So as soon as the airdrop took place you had to move very quickly as far away as possible from that area. Most of the time in the jungle was very quiet. Everything was done in hand signals, whispers, even with the radio it was all in whispers. Sometimes that caused patrols to get lost. They would go past you within yards and not know when they were coming back from their van patrols. They would come past and I was in one patrol where a section did get lost for 2½ days but luckily we managed to find them with the help of the auster aircraft. Basically was because base camp was so quiet and foliage was so dense you could walk within 2 yards and not know you were there.
What about the wildlife and disease, was that a problem at all?
Most problems we had was with a skin complaint called tinier which looking back was a bit like ringworm. It came up in blotches and usually within the groins. I got it once. It was slightly on the forehead, on the backs of my legs and the groin area as well. If it wasn’t treated then it could spread quite a lot. That was the main problem. One or two chaps got malaria. Not many because we were taking Paludrine tablets and they were very effective. Wildlife, I only ever saw one wild animal and that was a baby elephant when I was on the latrine at the time and so it was just as well and a couple of snakes. The scorpion was the main one you saw. Wasn’t very pleasant when you could hear scorpions about because they could give you quite a big nip. Most of the wildlife was in the camps. We would often have a snake, we would be lying because from 2.00-4.00pm it would be compulsory rest. You would be lying on your bed and you would quite often have a small snake come out from under your pillow. Harmless things. Yes, mainly the camps that you saw anything. I can’t say I saw a lot in the jungle.
I couldn’t tell you what we had. The only thing I can remember about the ration packs was that the milk chocolate was just like white powder and the other thing was we had a self heating tin that came out as a trial and it was like soup and you would light a fuse in the middle and it would go down and it would actually heat the soup up. I can remember we had a couple of Ibans with us which were native trackers from Sarawak in Borneo and they were very agitated and when they get agitated they are head hunters and you sort of get a little bit worried. It turned out they were trying to relight these tins and it would not work and they were getting very uptight about it. You had to, we had an incident when I was at that place called Laying Laying where a group of our boys, it was only a platoon so it was a section that had gone out with a couple of these trackers and they had come across in the jungle these chaps fishing and they thought that they were bandits as we called them and they went down there and chopped their heads off. Our boys stayed away. It turned out they were villagers who were in an area they should not have been and we, myself and another chap were on the gate when the funeral possession came through the gates and it was a very tense time. We had gone from being welcome in that village to being hated overnight. Basically I don’t think it was as much the fact that they were dead, it was the fact that they had been decapitated which caused most of the trouble. I forgot to mention that the company also got attacked one night as well from the rubber. I was saying it was very vulnerable.
Yes. Trying to get rid of you.
Well yes. The thing while we were out there, it was seek and destroy. Hit and run from their point of view, seek and destroy as far as we were concerned. It was any skirmishes were over in seconds. I mean it was just a case of you spot each other, out come the rifles and bang, bang, bang and away. Or they were away. A lot of them were actually dosed up on drugs as well. We had a case when a chappie got wounded in D company, he actually got it in the arm. There were 2 or 3 bandits. He had killed one and the others had gone on and gone into the jungle. He had put a burst of bren on them and everyone was shooting after them. He was found a good thousand yards into the jungle and he was riddled and they reckoned it was only the drugs that kept him running. They found his belt. It had been cut right off with bullets. They found that a long way back. A thousand yards in the jungle is like a mile outside. They were dedicated blokes as well.