Templer of Malaya

As British High Commissioner and Director of Operations in Malaya from January 1952, General Sir Gerald Templer was invested with what Winston Churchill called 'full power'. The Australian Official Historian of the Malayan Emergency went further, calling Templer a 'dictator, who combined military power and civil control in order to implement a clear political goal – independence for Malaya.'

Some feared that Templer might be a repressive figure, impeding Malaya's progress to self-government. He made it clear very early on, however, that he believed the Emergency, rather than necessitating a slowing down in progress towards self-government, made it all the more necessary.

Templer used his position to bring a new energy to the Commonwealth effort in Malaya. Forthright and blunt, he was not without detractors among his subordinates, some of whom felt that he 'pushed rather than led.' Moving around the country in an armoured car rather than the Rolls Royce favoured by his predecessor, he bombarded officials, military and civilian, with questions for which he demanded quick and accurate answers.

His methods could be brutal. When the people of Tanjong Malim to the north of Kuala Lumpur failed to assist the authorities after a communist attack, Templer rushed to the scene, harangued the locals for their lack of cooperation and imposed a strict curfew, cuts in rations and closed schools and bus services. Cooperation was soon forthcoming. The case of Tanjong Malim was an early incarnation of Templer's strategy. While he was prepared to enact harsh measures he also promised security and growing prosperity in a successful attempt to encourage Malaya's Chinese population, in particular, to support the Government rather than the communists.

Templer's success in combating the communist insurgency was noted by various British media outlets including the Economist which described him as deserving of the 'highest credit', and the London Evening news which reported on his 'staunch service.' Colonial Secretary Oliver Littleton described Templer as an 'absolute ace' for his role in Malaya.

By the time of Templer's appointment, however, some leaders of the Malayan Communist Party already felt that the guerrilla struggle was floundering. Nevertheless his energetic and hard-nosed approach to defeating the insurgency ensured that they would not be successful. Western histories give Templer much of the credit for the ultimate defeat of the guerrillas.


Last updated: 12 January 2019

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