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Hujan Panas Bawa Bencana (Hot Rain Brings Tragedy).

Before the Second World War, Peter Dobree was a young official working with the Malayan Department of Agriculture. As a member of the Malayan Volunteers, he took part in fighting in the peninsula, and was in Singapore when the British surrender was announced. His sergeant told Dobree that if he wanted to try to get away, he should do so, and he fled Singapore on a small boat hoping to reach Sumatra. On an island in the Straits of Malacca he was fortunate enough to encounter people who knew about escape routes set up by Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE), and following their instructions succeeded in reaching Sumatra. From there he was evacuated to Ceylon. Discovering that being in the Volunteers did not qualify him to join a regular military unit, he enlisted in the armed forces and after undergoing training was posted to the Third Gurkha Rifles. He was subsequently selected to join Force 136, the SOE organization responsible for clandestine activities in Southeast Asia, and on 16 December 1944 parachuted into Upper Perak, charged with establishing a Malay guerrilla operation.

Dobree succeeded in building up an impressive intelligence network, and also formed a military force known as the Askar Melayu Setia, or Loyal Malay Forces. Much of their time and energy went into obtaining food and supplies, and evading detection. The Japanese quickly learned of their existence, but had difficulty pinning down the exact location of the camp. Residents in the area proved to be artful dissemblers: "Yes, we've heard about that." "Only rumours." "It was on the radio." "If we get any solid information, we will tell you." Knowing that the Japanese might raid his camp at any moment, Dobree created a second base deep in the jungle near the Thai border, some 80 miles from the main camp, and when the Japanese did arrive, he withdrew his forces successfully.

The war ended without any major battles in Malaya. Guerrilla forces in the country had been trained to support a full-scale invasion, and Dobree's forces were travelling south into the heart of Perak in anticipation of the Allied assault, planned for early September, when the Japanese capitulated. After the surrender the Malay guerrilla force disbanded, and its members returned to their villages, while Dobree flew back to England in 1946.

This book reveals many of the tribulations faced by the guerrillas. They were completely dependent on the cooperation and good will of the local population to give them supplies and conceal their presence from the Japanese. When the Japanese searched one of the villages Dobree depended on for information and food, the people there sent a messenger to ask for help. Dobree's account poignantly brings out the dilemma he faced:

What could I say? They had helped and supported us. We were their security force. We had to help them. And I was aware that it was absurd. Young people from the villages were not capable of fighting against Japanese soldiers. They were no different from small Children with toy guns. (p. 86)

Fortunately the Japanese had left before Dobree's force arrived.

Dobree made contact with Kuomintang (KMT) guerrilla bands operating in northern Malaya, which he says had a very bad reputation for acting in a "predatory" way toward the local population by imposing taxes and other levies. Relatively little is known about the KMT guerrillas operating in Malaya, and Dobree's two brief chapters offer a bit of useful information. They were at loggerheads with the Communist-dominated MPAJA operating further to the south, and Dobree was forced to intercede to halt open warfare between the two groups and oppression of the villages. He did this by threatening to withhold weapons and supplies which the British were sending in through his operation, and the Interim Agreement he worked out with the KMT, reproduced with the illustrations, is a fascinating document.

Dobree's characterization of the people he encountered is perceptive and often amusing. Of a man known as Panjang (Long) because of his exceptional height, Dobree wrote: "His expression was always sombre, with sunken cheeks. I never saw him smile, although there were times when he thought he was smiling" (p. 64). The title of the book is derived from a conversation that took place one day when rain fell while the sun was shining. One of his companions commented that people said, "Hot rain means danger" [Hujan panas membayeu]. Dobree asked what that was supposed to mean. The man replied that he didn't know; it was just a Malay saying (p. 89).

The editors have converted the dollar signs used for Malayan currency at the time of the war to RM [Ringgit Malaysia], a new designation for Malaysian currency introduced in 1996. Since the currency used in the 1940s was not Ringgit Malaysia, use of RM is distinctly ahistorical and somewhat unfortunate. Otherwise there is little to criticize about this attractively produced volume. It is a memoir that offers information about a little known aspect of the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Much of the material is anecdotal, but the appendices supply additional details, including a list of 117 participants in Dobree's guerrilla force. A map locates events described in the book, and there are some interesting photographs.

Paul H. Kratoska National University of Singapore
COPYRIGHT 1996 Cambridge University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kratoska, Paul H.
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Words:876
Previous Article:Japanese Cultural Policies in Southeast Asia During World War 2.
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