Working Lives

How and why I became a Rubber Planter (1954-2009)

Location: Malaya / Malaysia

Roger’s National Service was in Korea and Japan. He then had a long career as a rubber planter in Malaya, working on Estates with British owners and became the senior ex-patriate manager at his company. The Malasianisation policy, among other things let him to retire to the UK.

I was born  in 1933 in Dover, Kent. My father was a paper technologist with Wiggins, Teape, and my mother was the elder of twins, her father being a bank manager in Staines.

In 1940 my father’s firm decided to close the paper mill that he was working in, because of the War. The factory was mothballed and my father was given the opportunity of going either to the West Country or up to Aberdeen where there was a mill. Having been in Aberdeen during his younger years he decided that Aberdeen would be the best place, and also it was slightly further away from Herr Hitler.


From 1940 to 1947 I was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School. It had always been my father’s wish that, if he was able to, I would go on to a Public School. I was very fortunate in this happening, and in the Summer Term of 1947 I was able to go to Gordonstoun and I was there until the Autumn Term of 1951. Gordonstoun was founded by Kurt Hahn in 1934. He had to be smuggled out of Germany because of his very strong anti-Nazi attitude. Many of Hahn’s ideas for his pupils involved them being able to, apart from their normal academic work, do various projects which helped not only them but also helped the local population. To give you an example, one of the autumns while I was at Gordonstoun we all had to go potato picking for a week, a rather back-breaking job, but it did help one of the local farmers.

My House at Gordonstoun was known as the Round Square, which rather seems an anomaly! Academic work was carried out in the morning and then in the early evening. The afternoons to athletics, whatever game, rugby, cricket or hockey, as well as what was known as practical work. This involved the upkeep of the Estate, clearing drains, upkeep of the grounds, doing pruning work on some of the forestry areas and this had to be done, and in many cases it was done by the pupils twice a week. Weekends were free. You couldn’t go to Elgin unless you held a position in the School, and you always had to get permission from your Housemaster. On Saturdays we had what were known as Projects. Now this was not necessarily an academic subject, but it was something that the individual pupil was interested in, and if the staff concerned agreed to the pupils wishes Projects could be done. It ranged from stamp collecting, engineering, model making . . . We had a forestry section where one of the masters used to take us off to various Forestry Commission areas near the School where we were told and taught how to do things. I also made a series of six jumps for horses, because we had a stables of about eighteen horses during the early part of my time at Gordonstoun. Regrettably they had to close the stables because of finances.

There was another aspect of Gordonstoun, which was very important to Kurt Hahn, that being service to the School and neighbourhood. There was an Army Cadet Force, a unit called the Watchers, which were really Coastguards and a Fire Service. These were in my time. Later they added a Mountain Rescue Team. Relating to the Watchers, they were liable to be called out at any time of the day or night to man the Watcher’s Hut up on the coast. If the sea conditions and the visibility were such that the official Coastguard Unit at Lossiemouth considered that the Watchers should be called out that was done. Also the Fire Service that I mentioned, that was a recognised Unit of the U.K. Fire Service. Again this underlined some of the ethos Kurt Hahn had relevant to service of the School and the pupils to the neighbourhood.

We had in my early days distinct instructions that we could go on a Sunday to the local port, a little fishing village, where some of our boats were kept. You could look at them from the quayside, but woe betide if you went on them during a Sunday at any time. You were not allowed to. We weren’t allowed, although we were very isolated, to play any games, tennis, croquet or anything else on a Sunday. It was not permitted because it was not considered to be the correct thing to do at that time in Scotland.

During my time at Gordonstoun I played cricket in the First X1 for five summers and was awarded my colours two years before I left. I played rugby in the Second XV for two winters and the First XV for three winters. I was selected for the School’s Athletics Team for the Public Schools Athletics at the White City for three years, where my event was for the javelin and the discus. As mentioned before, relevant to the riding and the stables having closed, in the last term I had the dubious position of being the last Captain of Riding Gordonstoun ever had. I was a messenger with the Fire Service for which I only did the latter two years of my time there, because previously I had concentrated on sport and the public works. Finally I was Helper of Organisation, which is the equivalent of a Senior Prefect.

I left Gordonstoun in the Winter Term of 1951 to do my National Service, which was two years. I wish to just point out that after the two years service I went back to Gordonstoun and during a lunch with Kurt Hahn I said to him that I had not realised at the time when I was Helper of Organisation the responsibilities which had been put in my hands, and it was only when I left that I realised how much was required of the pupils in the various jobs that they did, and I can only be thankful for what I learned at Gordonstoun. It is certainly something that I shall always remember with great fondness.

National Service

My National Service was with the Royal Army Service Corps. I had training in this country for six months, and I was then posted initially to Korea, but on the boat out to Korea I was interviewed by the Personnel Selection Officer from the Headquarters British Commonwealth Forces, Korea, which at that time was based in Japan. I was posted to G Section in Headquarters, which I found very interesting because that involved in many cases supplies to the front line, and also the new equipment which in some cases was under secret headings related to the troop trials in Korea, which I found a very interesting aspect of the equipment. During my time in Japan I was very lucky in becoming very friendly, although I think really they took me on as part of the family, a senior Warrant Officer and his Japanese wife, and with them and through them I was able to see quite a lot of Japan which I would not have been able to on my own. They very often used to take me at the weekend, if the weather was going to be fine, to some aspect of some sight, some building near Kure. There was very good public transport, even in those days, and the high speed train which they now have I can well imagine didn’t take them very long to invent.

Malaya: My early career on Kajang Estate, Selangor

I was due to leave Japan in early 1954 but had to stay a month later because troops from Korea after the Armistice who had been imprisoned by the Koreans obviously had priority to get home. Eventually I left the Army in February 1954. I then started to look for a job and a career, but I found in a very short time there was a magnetism to get me out to the Far East again. Something had bitten me, and I fell for it, and decided there wasn’t really anything I could do in the U.K. and would be happy in. Eventually I was able to obtain a position as a junior rubber planter on an estate in Malaya. This Estate was Kajang which was roughly 17 miles from the capital Kuala Lumpur. At that time there was still the Emergency in Malaya. This was from 1948 to 1961 and had been caused by the Malayan Communist Party.

Any area in Malaya at that time went under one of three categories, Black, Grey or White. Black meant that you had a curfew from 6 to 6 and without a pass from the Senior Police officer of the district you were in you could not go anywhere at night. You also had escorts on Estates. I had two and they came with me all the time that I was out in the rubber. Grey areas were slightly less dangerous, still with escorts, but here you did not need a pass to be out at night. And then the final were White areas where there were no problems whatsoever, where the Communists had been driven out. Your guards were Malay Special Constables who came, as I said, with you wherever you went in the Estate and this also included if you had to go to collect money from the local bank for payment of the labour force. Most of the Estate vehicles were armour-plated, which, in the Black areas, meant it was exceptionally hot inside. All planters had to have a rifle, a hand gun and in some cases grenades. There were also escorts for wives in the Black and Grey areas. They would normally be at the bungalow in a pillbox or something of that description, and if the wife or the wives were going anywhere they would also have to go with them to see that they were protected. All bungalows had a 7 foot barbed wire fence round them with outward facing lights. This was quite obviously to protect them from being shot at by the bandits, as they were known, during the night.

Relevant to working on the Estate in these conditions you had muster normally at about 6 – 6.30 in the morning, where the tappers would be automatically read off on the roll and they would at the requisite time be allowed out from the Line Site, which was again enclosed by barbed wire fencing. There were Special Constables at the exits, who were responsible to see that people did not go in or out without passes, or too early. The other people, labour force, were then given jobs in the areas where there was work to be done i.e. draining, pruning, weeding, any disease which had to be eradicated. They would then at the requisite time be allowed out, would work during the morning in these areas, up to usually 2 o’clock. From then onwards was their own time.

Initially at Kajang I only had a bicycle, but that was frowned upon by the police because it gave me no protection whatsoever, and it also meant that the escorts who had to accompany me were rather vulnerable on their own bikes. In some cases it did mean two or three miles one had to cycle, but in many cases I walked to the many jobs that I was being taught by my Senior Assistant as to how things were done. The Manager of the Estate I very rarely saw as he had a tremendous amount of work outside the Estate, and he left the work to be done and supervised by the Senior Assistant and to a certain extent by myself in the very early stages of my career.

We had areas in which latex was being extracted by the tappers. This involved the very fine slicing of bark at an angle of about 25 degrees on the half circumference cut, which the latex then ran down the front bottom end of the angle onto a spout of metal driven into the tree and into a cup which was in many cases glass or porcelain. But always, if it was porcelain, they were glazed, otherwise the cups would become virtually useless because they would encourage disease. The tappers normally each had approximately 400 trees to tap, and when they had finished their tapping they had to wait for some time before they were allowed to start collecting until they were informed by the senior man in the tapping group that they could do so. It was then put into buckets and taken to a central weighing station, where the latex was weighed, which would then be taken by tankers to the factory where it was then made into, eventually, dried rubber. The process was relatively simple. The latex was bulked in large tanks, taking sometimes 1000 gallons of liquid. The specific gravity of the latex was taken and, if necessary, water was added. The latex was then allowed to run through channels to tanks, and in these tanks acid was placed and stirred so that the latex became congealed and easy to handle at a later date. Partitions were put into these tanks. The tanks were roughly 3 feet wide and about 30 feet long. These partitions meant that there were sections across the width of the tank of coagulated rubber which stayed there until the next morning. The partitions were taken out and the coagulated latex was put into a chute which then ran to a series of mangles which reduced the water content in them. These bits of coagulated rubber that came out of the end of the mangles were then hung over bamboo poles and then put onto trolleys which were then put into a type of kipper kiln where, dependant on the type of weather, the rubber was smoked and dried. When I say “the type of weather”, the rubber areas always had a monsoon period, and if the drying took place at that time, because of the dampness in the air it obviously took longer. After the rubber was sufficiently dried it was selected to see if there was any matter that should not be there i.e. a bit of bark, dust, dirt. It was then graded into 1, 2 or 3 grades, baled up into 224 pound bales and pressed. These were then eventually sold.

When one needed to have provisions into the Estate you couldn’t bring any type of food, and especially tins, from the local town into the Estate unless you had a pass issued by the local Chief Police Officer. The reason for this was that there was a tremendous amount of smuggling by the local population, mainly Chinese, to the bandits and if you went without a pass to get food out of the local town and you had to stop at the gates to the entrance by the local police, if you didn’t have this pass they would puncture the tin. But we were able to get the pass and at any time we could, after showing it, go through with no difficulty whatever.

The life of a rubber tree from the commercial point of view of extracting rubber in many ways, when I was originally in Malaya, was about twenty to thirty years, but over that time there was a considerable amount of research being carried out by the Rubber Research Institute in Kuala Lumpur as to various types of trees which they were experimenting on which would hopefully give a higher yield over a shorter period. As I mentioned initially, tapping of a rubber tree was on a half circumference and also it occurred every third day. To increase the yields prior to the tree being felled for replanting different types of tapping were carried out: As an example you could do a full circumference tap or a full circumference cut on a tree, which would give you extra length from which latex would come. Another aspect was doing ladder tapping at about normally six to eight feet up the tree, because they were, whenever possible, grown to have straight trunks and not branches coming out at five feet. They were straight up to maybe ten feet tall, and what was the practice initially, as I’ve said, the intensity of tapping was increased. You could actually have a ladder tapping area and also a ground tapping area on the same tree, but what you were doing was extracting as much of the latex as possible before the tree became dry, which therefore meant it had very little or no latex in it at all. Once it had been decided that an area needed to be replanted there were initially methods of hand felling of trees which would then be, in many cases, taken out or burned on the spot, but in later years these trees were bulldozed out, both the trunk and also the root, because the roots could carry disease into the new plants that were going to be put in. Trees were normally planted in rows wherever possible, if the ground was sufficiently level. If there was planting up a relatively small hill you dug terraces round the hill which were normally about three feet wide and into which the young seedlings or budded trees were put to grow for about five to six years prior to them being big enough for tapping. Again in latter years, the areas on hills, instead of being dug out by hand, were bulldozed out. It made a much faster way of doing it, although it also created a considerably greater amount of earth movement. When I first went out to Malaya when replanting was being carried out, the hole to which the new plant was to be planted was dug by hand. In the latter years before I left, these holes were done by a tractor with an auger drill on it. Trees were usually kept in a condition which meant that the weeds were not interfering with the growth of the trees, which meant that there had to be monthly circular weeding round the tree, or if – again this was something which was started later in Malaysia – a compound, it could be felt, it could be plastic, could be put down which prevented the seeds germinating in the ground and therefore there had to be less ground weeding.

Going back to where replanting was taking place, prior to this the trees were being tapped to their maximum. In latter years we used to use a stimulant immediately below the cutting area, which was scraped off the main part of the bark, usually about two inches only, and then a compound was put on. This was known as slaughter tapping, which considerably increased the crop prior to those trees being taken out for replanting. Going back now to new areas which had been planted, in between the trees we used to plant a cover crop. This purely was to keep down other unwanted growths between the rubber trees. We also had a regular manuring programme in the immature rubber where immediately after the ring weeding, another gang of labourers would come along and spread a suitable type of manure which was then absorbed into the soil and helped the growth of the trees. One aspect of maintenance of these trees in the young plantation was to see that any side shoots were cut off nearest to the upright of the tree, this making the tree taller and straighter and therefore making it easier for tapping.

The diseases which we were liable to get in rubber were quite considerable and required very careful observation and, if necessary, a considerable amount of work to eradicate them. There were root diseases which meant that you had to dig round all of the roots, remove the growths that were damaged, seal them up with tar, the cut ends, and then re-fill the trenches which had been dug round the tree. We also got diseases on the tapping panel, particularly during the monsoon, which could, if not treated, kill the tree and therefore a considerable loss to the Estate.

The factory on Kajang was quite an old-fashioned one, but it produced a very good quality of what is known as sheet rubber. The better the quality of your rubber, in many cases one got a premium, so therefore, wherever possible, the best quality rubber was produced. All the bales were coated in a whitewash and also marked up with the Estate’s name and what type of rubber it was.

On the more social side of life, as I mentioned initially, you had to get a pass to get out. The Senior Assistant, who eventually became my brother-in-law, and I became friendly and he was very good in giving me lifts up to the time when I managed to get a small car of my own, and we often went to Kuala Lumpur to see the bright lights.

Kuala Lumpur had a wide range of entertainment for us, but fortunately my Senior Assistant had a sister who was married to a Forest Officer and they were both living in Kuala Lumpur, and they used to keep a weather eye on the Senior Assistant and myself to see that we were behaving properly. I was never shot at by the Communists. We were lucky. But there were incidences on the Estate where there were murders committed by the bandits. The nearest I came to any problem was, again in my early days and when I really didn’t quite know what should have been done. I was informed that there was some latex being stolen from one of the areas which I was responsible for. I decided to go in with my escort, but not make my presence known to the labourers, and get as near to the weighing station, where the latex was being weighed, without being seen, and observe. I noticed in a very short time, after the majority of the tappers had gone back to the Line Site, that there were two men hanging around who I knew were not part of the labour force. They then picked up some latex and on one of these sticks across your shoulders balanced the buckets, and off they went into the rubber away from the direction of the factory. I followed and as such they then realised they were being followed. I shouted at them three times to stop in Malay. They did not. I fired with my rifle, first I have to say I wanted to do it over their heads, but I hit one in the shoulder. He dropped to the ground. Fortunately he was not dead. The other one took off. With my escorts I took this man back to the Estate and then into the local police station where they arranged for him to be taken to the hospital which was next door to have his wounds dressed and particulars taken. It was only found out a month later that I had actually wounded one of the Communist bandit messengers. Immediately after this happened I was taken up by the Assistant Manager, who had taken over while the Manager was on home leave, to the Agents in Kuala Lumpur. They interviewed me, said that I shouldn’t really have done what I did, but understood what had happened. They offered me a posting to another Estate because they did not want a backlash on me from what had happened. I said no, I would prefer to stay where I was, which I did.

The labour force on Kajang was predominately Chinese, who came in from Kajang each day prior to them going off to their allotted tasks. There were quite a number of Tamils living in the Lines, and also a number of Malays, but what percentage of which I’m not certain now. I always found that the labour force were always very loyal and would do as much as they possibly could to help you in any particular problem.

Regarding staff, while I was at Kajang it was quite difficult to get a house boy or an amah at that time to come out and be in a restricted area as far as movement was concerned. I did have one, she was known as a “black and white amah”. They were the, in many cases very well trained, amahs, who wore a white shirt and black trousers, and that was part of their dress and they would wear that both in and out of the bungalow and if they were going into town on business for their own interest or anything that I wanted.

Malaya: Dublin Estate, Kedah

In June 1957 I left Kajang as a result of the sale of part of the Estate and it was considered that they did not require my services any more. I then proceeded on leave to Aberdeen where my parents were. My Senior Assistant and his sister’s family were also in Aberdeen, and on one very auspicious evening I presented myself at the door and said who I was, and they obviously knew who I was by name, and as a result of that meeting I had the great fortune to meet the lady who became my wife.

Before leaving Kajang Estate I had obtained another job as an Assistant with Malayan American Plantations and was eventually, after my leave, posted to Dublin Estate in Kedah. The division that I went to there was majority of old rubber, pre-1930s, and a scheduled new plantation of 250 acres. I was left much more on my own there, and it was a question if I was in a difficulty or uncertainty about a matter I would go and see the Manager and he would then come and discuss it or actually go to the field and show me what he considered should be done. I suppose it was part of the learning curve from a Junior Assistant to becoming an Assistant to eventually becoming an Acting Manager or, in the end a Manager. The Line Site was still enclosed by a barbed wire fence, but as Dublin was in a Grey Area we were able to come and go, as the labour force too could come and go. There were no sentries on the gates although I still had an escort with me whenever I went out into the rubber. The Line Site was mainly Tamil labour force who had originated from Southern India. This involved quite a number of other aspects, a couple of which were that I was responsible for issuing them with brown and white rice once a week. Also where the toddy (which becomes an alcoholic drink from the coconut palm) if the day’s ration had not been drunk by the time the toddy shop closed in the afternoon or early evening, I was responsible to see the residue poured literally down the drain, because it became quite lethal. Another aspect of being an Assistant was that I was also the Recorder of births and deaths, but not marriages. There was a small school in the Line Site staffed by an Indian who taught children up to what would be the equivalent now of early secondary school, when they would then go to one of the nearby schools, bussed if necessary.

As I have said in the past, old rubber is tapped as per the type and quality of the actual rubber in itself and there are considerable variants of it, but it is counted and classified as mature rubber. The 250 acres of replanting was over generally undulating land which was being cleared with a team of bulldozers when I arrived. They felled the trees by knocking them down and then digging out the roots with two large prongs underneath the bulldozer blade. The felled trees were then stacked into what were known as windrows, and eventually these would be burnt after the monsoon period and in a period of what was known as the dry season, which was usually about two to three months in the second quarter of each year. They would be burned by a very experienced gang – this was work that was usually done on contract – because it was not easy, although the windrows were usually 50 feet apart, you could easily get engulfed in a very difficult and dangerous situation if you were caught between two windrows, and the wind was blowing in one particular direction. After the old trees had been burnt the majority of the flat areas would be what is the equivalent of harrowed, but this was always by heavy bulldozer.

The replanting unit itself was part of the company and they went from one Estate to the next Estate each year, or stayed on an Estate for two years depending on what the replanting programme schedule was. In our case they stayed and cut terraces round some of the small hills, which previously I mentioned had been done by hand, and also they constructed new roads through the 250 acres to make the extraction of latex much easier, and access from the point of view of supervision and provision for that replant easier. This was a job which I had never had before, but it required the road route to be surveyed to see that it was not too steep to be used by normal Estate vehicles, the majority of which were 4 x 4, or the equivalent of. At the time prior to planting all the lining, which was the direction in which the trees would be planted, was pegged out by, again, a contractor and eventually when all was ready, and the weather was ready too, which was usually at the beginning of the monsoon, replanting would actually take place of the new seedlings or budded trees. A seedling is literally as it states a seedling grown from seed, and those trees eventually normally become slightly triangular in shape from the base of the tree at ground level to a height of maybe 10 to 15 feet, but not excessively so. Whereas a budded tree or stump has been grown in a nursery for maybe two or three years, and then has been bud grafted as is used in this country for all sorts of fruit trees and roses; standard practice of budding a hard growing, healthy bud patch into the stump in the nursery. Now this patch which would contain the bud in many cases was part of the new, approved, higher yielding type, or clones as they were known, of rubber. So one of the main factors was to try and plant a better quality tree than had been there previously, which would produce more latex over a shorter period than previously, which then meant you could replant with an even better type of clone, higher yielding, stronger, which meant that you were utilising the ground far more than had been done before the Second World War, when, as I mentioned the span of life of a rubber tree could be anything up to thirty years before they were replanted. Whereas on this particular Estate and many others the life of a tree would be only about twenty years, four or five of which was immaturity and the rest was when they were producing rubber.

Again, as previously mentioned for Kajang Estate, a cover crop was planted between the planted trees. This was to enhance the soil and also to stop erosion, because when it did rain with us in the monsoon it really rained and where you needed drains of six feet wide and four feet deep to take the run-off from a standard piece of land, and you had to repeat that every 50 to 60 feet, one can appreciate the amount of rain which did fall.

Normally rubber was grown up to a thousand feet from sea level and it needed in excess of 100 inches per year of rain with a definite wet season, dry season and then a general growing season in the middle of the year.

During my time on Dublin I had got agreement from the Company that I could marry my fiancée. They arranged for her to come out by boat, which offloaded her and baggage at Penang. In those days things were much more casual, and provided you behaved yourself and were polite to the Malays, particularly some of the government servants, you could and were able to do things which possibly now would not be accepted. I went to Penang and from the Club saw my fiancée’s boat lit up coming through the channel. I went down to the Customs’ Wharf, asked for the Senior Officer and requested permission to accompany him out to the boat, because the boat was not actually going to be tied up at the quay. And without hesitation he said “Yes. But I must go on board first “. I was very lucky in this. I went out and got on board, second up the ladder. I did hear a scuttle of feet from those who were hanging over the gangplank watching those who were coming, and eventually cornered my fiancée in her cabin. We were married in Penang on 27th September 1958 in St Andrew’s Church, Penang. The Rector of whom was a Scotsman by the name of Fergus McDonald, who had been in the British Army as a Pastor and had also been a boxing champion. After our Reception in the Penang Club the Manager gave AM and our immediate family a celebratory lunch. We then, after the lunch, drove to Fraser’s Hill where we were going to spend our honeymoon.

Back on the Estate life continued as normal. It was a 10,000 acre Estate, to which had been included a Clubhouse, a small swimming pool, a tennis court and a nine hole golf course. Being the size that it was there were fifteen individuals or couples on the Estate from either the Manager, the Assistant Manager, the Doctor etc. Also the Club attracted a large number of planters and Government servants, whether they were ex-patriot or local, and normally on a Sunday if the weather was fine it was a good place to go either to play golf, tennis, swim or what-have-you. During the week prior to the run-up to St Andrew’s Night, the Manager, who although English was a very keen patron of the Society in Penang, took all and anyone who wanted to be taught Highland dancing under his wing for teaching one night in the Club per week. AM, my wife, knew Scottish dancing from her childhood and I was the novice, to put it politely! But we all got on very well together and they were good nights and were enjoyed by just about everybody.

Prior to me being married my servant who I inherited at my bungalow, for the first five days that I employed him gave me nothing else other than out of a frying pan! At the end of the five days he was due to go on one of the Indian festivals, Deepavali, and said he would be back the following week after four days or something like that. On the fourth afternoon I received a telephone call in the office to say that my cook had been admitted to the local hospital suffering from I don’t remember what, but he wouldn’t be back for a few days. I wondered about this, phoned back the hospital later, asked for admissions and they confirmed he was there. It happened to be at this Club on the Estate that a wife of the Club boy, who was an amah was there and she was out of employment. I took her on and said that, if all went well and she didn’t mind working with my wife when she came out, I would employ her. Anyway I was very pleased to say that sixteen years later when I eventually left Malaya we said our goodbyes, and she had been and was a very, very faithful servant, the children loved her, she was very good with them and she was an absolute gem to have as a servant.

At the beginning of 1961 it was confirmed by the Company that they would not be re-employing me because I had not passed the Incorporated Society of Planters Tamil Examination. And also prior to that, which is really more important, our first daughter was born on 20th December 1959 in the Penang Maternity Hospital. After all the preliminary examinations it was a question of waiting for such a time as I needed to get my wife to the hospital. Now in those days the access between the mainland of Penang and the mainland of Malaya was by what had been old landing craft during the Second World War. It was rather precarious to get on and off them, put quite politely, when it was low tide! Now these ran up till approximately 10 o’clock at night from 6.30 in the morning. Over the 10 o’clock at night till 6.30 no ferries, so you had to make your timing correct or you kept 60 dollars, Malaysian, in the glove pocket of your car and, if you had to, you phoned up the Port Authorities and said you would be at the port at Butterworth at approximately whatever time you estimated for transportation over to the other side. I’m told, but I somehow believe that this is part of a joke, I was woken up in the middle of the night when AM said she thought she ought to be moving, but then we did not actually leave the house until a good bit later, and as such I didn’t have to use the 60 dollars in the glove box! We were both very, very happy with our first daughter, L..

Home Leave. Finding a new job, Duff Development, Kelantan

Coming home on the boat, which we did after leaving Kedah, I didn’t have a job to go to. My Forest Officer brother-in-law suggested that I might try a Company called Duff Development who were based in Kelantan on the North-east side of Malaysia. Anyway it resulted in me writing and eventually getting a position as Assistant on Kerilla Estate, based in Kelantan.

Duff Development Company was started some time around the early 1900s. The State in itself had been, up to that time, part of Thailand and it was under their sovereignty. But in 1909 it was ceded back and became part of the Federated Malay States. Prior to this happening, the then Sultan of Kelantan, because of the considerable number of bandits and robbers in the State, requested from the Singapore Police Department an Officer and some constables to come and clear the area, and do it as soon as possible. The Singapore Authorities sent a Captain Duff and some police constables to Kelantan and they cleared the bandits, robbers and thugs very quickly. The Sultan was very pleased with the way it had been done, and as a reward he granted a considerable acreage to Duff and also all the trading rights, which included opium as well! Over the years the trading rights had been sold, and some of the land, but in 1961 when I went to the Company they had 11,200 acres in rubber. I have to say, in all honesty that it was the happiest time that we had together both as a family and also as a planter. I got on very well with the staff in the Company.

Kelantan at that time was a White Area which meant that we did not have escorts, we didn’t have Special Constables at the bungalow, and I didn’t have to go around armed. But we as Company personnel had to collect from the main town, Kota Bharu, the money to pay for the labour force for their wages, which meant collecting from the main police station to the Estate, Kerilla, a requisite number of Special constables and sometimes, depending on the amount of money you were drawing, whether it was a full Corporal or a Lance Corporal or a Sergeant, if the total was high. Whenever I went to do this collection of money I always changed my mode of going. I would not always go by road, I would not always go by river, because the Estates which the Company had were spaced out and at the Kelantan River, which was at the main Estate 300 yards wide, we had a number of fast moving boats, speed boats, which got us from A to B very quickly. And very often I’d go out by road and come back by boat, or go out by boat and come back the other way round. It was purely because there were known gangsters about and the payroll, which was a considerable sum of money was quite a reasonable target. We never had any problems with any abductions or being fired on or anything like that, but I always felt that it was wise to take a different course and not go to a pattern.

In my time with the Company, which lasted until 1969, I spent a considerable amount of time on the main Estate, which was Kerilla. I had a replanting to look after, I had old rubber. The replanting had been planted up prior to my arrival and was in good condition, but one of the aspects which I had never come across before was that we were having a considerable problem in the first year during the dry season with locusts. They were literally eating up everything including the rubber leaves on the trees and also the central cover crop. We used to spray the area and them with a powder form which hopefully did the necessary, but it only happened on two years running, and after that we never had to bother with it again.

Other than that it was a normally run Estate. The type of factory was one of the older fashion type where all the rubber went through on what was known as smoked sheet. But towards the end of my time with the Company we changed to producing crepe rubber and what was known as crumb rubber, which I’ll talk about later. As time went by I was given a greater area to look after, with greater responsibility, and from being just an Assistant as I was when I arrived, it became Senior Assistant and then Acting Manager and then eventually Manager within the Company on one of the five Estates which we had. During the time that we were in Kelantan there was a Confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia. This did cause quite a bit of concern and worry, to the extent that the Chief Police Officer, who was a very senior Malay, who had been in the Force for many years, realised that there were a considerable number of planters in general in Kelantan who had been employed with no knowledge of firearms. He suggested at one of the Managers’ meetings that he had that it would be a good idea to start a gun club so that everybody knew how to use a weapon, a sidearm, not a rifle, but a pistol or revolver if necessary. I had previously, when we were on Dublin estate, after we were first married I had taught AM how to use a rifle. I have to say after a comparatively short time she was quite a good shot, the only problem being left-handed she did find the gun slightly difficult to use, because the cartridge comes out that side (demonstrates) and it’s going to go across your face. She was also a reasonably good shot with my pistol. This idea of the Chief Police Officer was a very good one, and we all agreed it would be a good idea, and we did start the club which the police said that they would run for the first year and then it would be up to us to carry on. There were shoots, competitions and I went in for them and enjoyed it very much.

As a result of this confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia, we knew from regular monthly meetings with the Chief Police Officer that one of the Estates which I was on, Taku and Kenneth Estate, was one of the areas, if there was to be an invasion, they expected Indonesian parachutists to drop in, because of the small size of the trees, and also because of the accessibility of the river. I remember distinctly going back from the main Estate upriver in one of the speedboats that had a 40 horsepower McCulloch engine in it, and they made a lot of noise, suddenly becoming aware of a much deeper note of an engine, and a shadow on my left and right – because remember the river was roughly 300 to 400 yards wide – a shadow, and this was a British bomber flying upriver, and I hadn’t heard it coming other than when it was virtually on me and I can tell you it gave me quite a shock! But that really, as far as we were concerned, was the worst bit with regard to the Confrontation period. It didn’t materialise. The Indonesians decided that they’d better go and behave themselves, and I think it was a good thing because the British Government had got British troops in Malaya if things went wrong, although the Malays by that time had a very competent army, but numerically Indonesia at one time had more personnel than the Malay Army. So it was a good thing – I mean they had enough problems previously without starting up more.

Our second daughter was born on 11th August 1962 at the Assunta Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, or Petaling Jaya which was a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. AM’s brother, my first Senior Assistant, was still on the same Estate, Kajang, and was only 17 miles from Kuala Lumpur, he said that in the last month AM could go down there and wait until such time as was necessary for him or his driver to take AM to the hospital. The Assunta Foundation staff were mainly white medical staff who had been missionaries in China and because of the Revolution had been thrown out. Anyway they were excellent and nothing was too much trouble. There were no restrictive hours and they certainly did not mind the odd can of beer being brought in because they said it all helped the mother’s milk. AM, I can’t remember, spent a few days – she was out in maybe five at most. We got back to the Estate, no harm and A settled in very well, although the only thing that she had a problem with, and that she did find rather irksome, was that her hair did not seem to grow quickly, and for all one knew, unless, as was the practice in the old days that boys were sometimes put into girls’ dresses, you would have said she was a boy! A was a little bit put out about this to the extent that when we went home on our first leave AM’s mother gave her some false hair which eventually, when we got back after the leave, was tied at the back of A’s head as a pony tail and she was very happy flapping it about.

The social side of life in Kelantan was very good. Obviously we had to work hard; it wasn’t all play and no work. We had a Club in Kota Bharu which held all sorts of Dances and Evenings. The main two really in a year were the Sultan’s Birthday or the New Year’s Eve Party where the Sultan and his wife, the Sultana, came. It was expected that some time during the evening you had to go up and speak to them, the men to His Highness and the ladies to the Sultana, which was a little bit difficult because she wasn’t all that good at speaking English. The Sultan wasn’t worried whether you spoke Malay or English. There was never any difficulty; they were a very amicable couple. Usually the New Year’s Eve Dance would be some type of fancy dress, and we on Kerilla, the main Estate, would usually club together by doing something stupid like a shipwreck for instance. A small 6 foot to 8 foot long craft would be made – we could get it made by the Malays, who were excellent with this sort of thing – looking like a raft, and we would turn up looking in all types of clothes, literally, if there was a shipwreck, you had grabbed when you went out. Another time when the theme was haunting we went as a group all dressed as spirits, alcoholic, focusing in on the ladies behind a bar which was oval. Again completely mad, but we enjoyed it and it was accepted.

The Sultan was asked out with his wife, once a year to a dinner party on Kerilla by the General Manager. We always went to the Sultan’s Birthday Garden Party, but there there was the usual segregation between the sexes.

The Malaysian Police Band used to come up and play to those who were in the Club on the grass area immediately outside. And one particular evening we went – it was Beating the Retreat – and they were an excellent band, who had been in the past to the Edinburgh Tattoo. Apart from being a band they also had a large section of pipers. It was unfortunately rather a damp evening, misty, and there was concern whether they could play, because quite a lot of the drumskins could be badly damaged. But they decided they would, and both of us, AM and I, found it a most evocative evening, hearing piping music out there so far from home. It really was.

It was a very happy time for both of us. We thoroughly enjoyed it and it was while we were there that our third daughter was born, again in the Assunta Foundation in Kuala Lumpur. We named her C and she was born on 19th March 1968. I had been out doing my normal work before breakfast in one of the young replanted areas when I heard in the distance the sound of a car horn being repeatedly sounded, and I thought “Well, this is strange, I can’t understand what this is and why”. And I then saw the vehicle coming, and it happened to be the General Manager’s Estate car and every few seconds or very quickly the horn was being honked, and obviously there was something wrong, so I got up to the roadside before it actually passed, to be told that the General Manager wanted to see me immediately. I had two thoughts: Either I had been sacked on the spot or AM had produced! Anyway I got there. The General Manager had actually gone back for his breakfast. I went up to his house and he said “Congratulations, you have a third daughter. I’ve arranged a flight for you from Kota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur”. And after some Black Velvet, which is champagne and Guinness, to wet the baby’s head I was told to go back to the bungalow, have a shower, get changed and get some bits and pieces together and get into Kota Bharu. The Estate car was ready waiting for me, plus the speed boat on the river. I got the plane and went to the Assunta Foundation to find both very well, very happy and all going well. After AM was discharged we all went home by air. Our amah, who had been at Kajang before C’s birth, did not like flying at all and was most unhappy. She was there to help AM but it was more a question of us helping her!! We got back to the Estate with no harm done, and C settled in very well.

The General Manager and the Company, had decided that we needed to change our type of production of rubber and we went into what was known as crepe rubber, and also crumb rubber. This needed a completely new factory to be built, different type of milling and a different type of drying. Latex was collected in the normal way, it was bulked, the gravity, density was calculated and then put into tanks, acid was put in and then the partitions, and the next day it was milled. This went through a completely different type of milling than previously for the smoked sheet. The markings on the actual milling through which the rubber passed were much deeper. In the end, you had a crumb or crepe coming out as opposed to a sheet. If you wished to change it to crepe you cut out one of the milling sections, and it came out as a very thin piece of rubber, which actually wasn’t very strong, but if it was pressed together under pressure it then became very strong and became what was used in the shoe industry as crepe soled shoes. Whereas the crumb rubber became the top grade rubber which could be sold on the open market at a high premium. Both the crepe and the crumb had to be kept as clean as possible. Before it got to the packing shed it had to go through a drying process. This was on a rail system where the trolleys which held the rubber, or the trays in the case of the crumb, went through an air drying process, and, providing all was working well, if you put in 4 trolleys at the beginning of where they had just been milled, the next morning you took out 4 trolleys – not the same ones, because they were going through. You normally had either a 12 or a 20 trolley drying tunnel, and what you put in first you took out the other end. It was just gradually working through, drying. After it came out at the exit end of this tunnel, it went straight into the packing shed and was sorted very carefully, because the crumb, and also the crepe, had to have no foreign bodies at all. When it had been suitably checked the rubber was pressed into 50 or 70 pound blocks. It was placed in multi-layered paper bags which had to be sealed but only after the rubber was completely dry, and had cooled down, otherwise it would have sweated. It was a much more convenient way of handling them, and also it meant, at the other end, you stood a much better chance of getting your rubber to whoever had bought it in the best possible condition you could. This was in the new factory which initially the General Manager and myself were responsible for the building of, and also then the layout with the help of a specialist from our local office in Penang. The General Manager went on leave and I was left in charge of the whole shooting match. He was only away for three weeks, and everything fortunately went well. He came back and I came home on leave.

Malaysia : Kuala Pertang Estate, Kelantan & Estates in Kedah

I came back to Kuala Pertang Estate, for ten months when I was asked to go to an Estate in south Kedah, near Butterworth, as an Acting Manager while the Manager was on leave. I hadn’t been there two months when I was called into the Office in Penang and asked if I would take up permanent management of an Estate in north Malaya, Paya Kamunting and Riverside Estate, because the then Manager had unfortunately had a mental breakdown and they had to get somebody in a hurry. I said at the time of the interview that I obviously wished to speak to my wife about it. We decided to move from one Company to the other Company, and go to this Estate, Payah Kamunting and Riverside, in January 1971. I was there for just two years and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was only a matter of about 20 miles, if that, from the Siamese border. It was again on the North – South road. I had another Estate which was about 40 miles away further down to look after, which I used to visit. The main Estate had quite a big Line Site, old mature rubber and a replanting which I continued. It had also been the site of one of the battles between the Japanese invading forces and the British in1941, to the extent that in part of the old rubber there were still some of the old trenches you could quite easily see in the ground. Also during my time there a labourer, who I reprimanded seriously when he eventually came to see me after the incident, brought in an unexploded mortar bomb to the office, which was duly exploded. It was live and for some unknown reason, thank heavens, it hadn’t gone off either in his presence or in mine. Our bungalow was on the bungalow site, one which was mentioned in one of the short stories by Somerset Maugham. I don’t know which one and I have never been able to trace it.

One of the great disadvantages of being on Paya Kamunting was that we were about 80 miles from Penang, and if, during the dry season you were driving to Penang and you had the misfortune to get behind .. . we just called them fish lorries, but this was rank, bad fish, which was being shipped somewhere for processing and making into fertiliser and was dripping. You either went half a mile behind it and hoped that the smell had gone, or you gritted your teeth and belted past the lorry so that you didn’t have this spray coming! It was one of the two! And also the Sikh taxi drivers who used to drive with their right arm hanging out of the window and sometimes almost waving in the wind! The majority of these taxis were Mercedes vehicles which were diesel and were not properly tuned and the belching black smoke was horrendous! The way over to Penang from Butterworth was still by ferry. They had replaced the old landing craft which were used previously to the same type of car ferries that they used in Hong Kong with four propellers, one at each corner of the boat which then meant they could virtually turn on their heads. We quite regularly, possibly once a month, would have a weekend in Penang because there were no other Europeans within 40 miles of the Estate, so we used to go to Penang and stay in the Club. The children came with the amah because she loved having them in Penang. That’s if they weren’t at school. She would take them off to see some of her friends down in Chinatown. We knew they were perfectly safe with her in a trishaw and off they would go. The old amah would stay with them till we came back to the Club bedroom. She would go to the hotel next door for the night. The visit would be on prior arrangement with some of our friends, half a dozen of them who were planters, and we would see them, as I said, once a month or if there was something special we went in.

Paya Kamunting was the most northern European staffed Estate in Kedah State. Because of this AM and I had the great privilege of being invited by the British High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur to meet the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on Britannia in Penang. Other Estate managers from the east, west and south joined us and the local dignitaries from Kedah and Penang on the quay. Once on Penang we were introduced to the Queen and Prince Philip, and then split either left or right into saloons where there were drinks and small eats. We happened to be split into the area that Prince Philip came into and we talked to him for quite some time. I wore my Gordonstoun Colour Bearer’s tie, which had been noted, he told me, as I came to shake his hand. He asked me about when I was there and which House I was in. AM spoke to him as well and then we moved on, because obviously there were other people, and we spoke to our friends and others who we saw there. I have one regret though, and AM agrees with me, because in the background was Lord Mountbatten, and he to us, AM and I, and somebody else remarked about this, was looking a bit lost and I’m only sorry that we didn’t go up and speak to him because he was on his own. Because his wife had been out very, very early on, after the end of the Second World War when the Japanese had capitulated, to both Indonesia and Malaya, Singapore in her capacity of being a patron, I think it was patron, or very senior Officer in the Red Cross, which she did, and actually one of the hospitals in Kuala Lumpur was The LAdy Mountbatten Hospital. But then, you know, these things happen and you don’t take advantage of them at the time, and then of course when he was killed with the IRA blowing up his boat, one thinks even more to the effect that it’s a pity you didn’t. The Royal Marines piped us off and then played as the boat gradually sailed off. It was very moving. In the dark; it had been the afternoon when we got on board, late afternoon, about half past four, and of course by 6 o’clock, half past 6 it’s dark. It’s something we have very happy memories about.

When I left the Duff Development Company to move to Paya Kamunting and Riverside Estates I lost my seniority of nine years. I was then the most senior ex-patriate planter in the Duff Company. By going to Paya Kamunting I lost that seniority and went to the bottom of the pile as far as they were concerned. In late December ’72 I was told that I would be moving to another Estate as I was now surplus to requirements. Unbeknown to me, when I was called in and asked if I wanted the permanent management of this Estate, Paya Kamunting, with two years seniority given to me. My new Company were trying to sell an Estate near Ipoh, smack in the middle of a tin bearing area where for some considerable time the Chinese owners, and in some cases British owners of the mining area had been in effect trying to buy this rubber Estate to rip the rubber out of it as much as they possibly could, fell all the trees and then use the acreage concerned as a tin tailing dump. Eventually the Company had agreed to the sale. And as I was at the bottom of the pile at that Company – there were only three other Managers who had been there for a long time. Looking back at things now I think what I should have done was stayed with Duff Development and life might have been slightly different. We decided that, the way things had gone over the last couple of years it was time to leave Malayasia for good. There had been a Government Malayanisation Policy of the Planting Industry for some years; also two of our daughters were at school in England. We felt it was time to go. So we made arrangements through the Company that we would come back home, which we did but with many, many regrets. Malaysia had been a wonderful country. I was very fond of the people concerned, we were very happy in Malaya and we were very, very sorry to see it for the last time. So my days planting in Malaysia stopped in April 1973.


Hevea Brasilensis – Natural rubber

Natural rubber originated from the Amazon Basin of Brazil. The trees grow well in a climate of 100 inches of rain per year, with defined wet and dry seasons, a temperature of 70-90 degrees F. and to 1,000 feet above sea level. As early as 1834 the possibility of growing Hevea in the East had been suggested. In 1873 the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew received 2,000 seeds from the Amazon. Only 12 germinated, 6 plants were sent to Calcutta but they died.

70,000 seeds were sent from Brazil to Kew in 1876 and yielded 2,800 plants. A large number were sent to Ceylon and smaller lots to Malaya and Java. The Malay plants did not survive, but in 1877 a second import of 22 plants was successful. 9 plants were established in the Residency grounds at Kuala Kangsar in Perak, and 13 in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Mr H N Ridley, who was the Director of Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1888 – 1912 must take the credit for the current rubber plantations in Malaysia as the trees all came from the original 13 trees of 1877 and a few from Ceylon.

Roger (1933-2014) talking to WISEArchive on 27th January 2009 in Necton.

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