Kampong Bukit Kepong Police Station, lay at the south-west apex of a big bend in the Muar river at around the 65km mark and upstream from its mouth on the west coast of the Johor. The village itself was small and isolated - consisting of about twenty shops and groups of accompanying houses - and by early 1950 the area had became a hive of CT activity.
From the month of January onwards, there had been a noticeable increase in the tempo of contacts & incidents - both road and river ambushes amongst other - but the most disconcerting of all, was the discovery of blazed trail markings showing the way towards the town. The nearest township of note to Bukit Kepong was Lenga, about 10km to the south along a rough enemy controlled dirt road in a vehicle or a 2 ½ hour foot patrol, but apart from this, it was just a few other like kampongs scattered about.
The station was commanded by OCPS Sgt Ray Dancey - an old Palestine hand and away at the time and a point not missed by the CT - and manned by a mixed platoon of 15 Malay Regular and Marine Police Constables under the stocky and redoubtable Sgt Jamil Mohd Shah.
At the time this force was complimented by three Special Constables (SC) and four local Auxiliary Police (AP) as needed by the post to assist with the guarding and other duty. A force of 22 all told. Thirteen police wives and children were also lodged in the married quarters at the rear of the compound.
Communications in and out of Bukit Kepong were poor - hence the marine police attachments and the station’s launch service down to Muar - and signals to and from its nearest neighbour Kampong Java at about a kilometre away, as with kampongs Gek & Tui further on, was by the use of gongs. Even the outpost’s name was ominously translated as 'Siege Hill’- but this was historically believed to have originated from it’s 186m namesake 5km to the east.
Now in the early morning darkness of the 23rd of February 1950, the 200 strong 4th Independent Company under the joint leadership of one of the few Malay Communist Terrorists within the MRLA called Muhammad Indera AKA Mat Indra from Muar (the main leader was believed the tactical mastermind & Commissar, Goh Peng Tun), well armed with a full compliment of infantry weapons, began its move in towards the Bukit Kepong compound (for layout see map).
The Communist Terrorist's aim was to teach the police post a comprehensive lesson and to use it as an example to others, and Mat Indra - who wore a talisman around his neck, which was believed bulletproof by some - was contemplating a quick and easy straight forward job.
The following is a reconstruction of the phases of battle which followed:
0400hrs - after some difficulty in the darkness, the Communist Terrorists deploys to complete the encirclement of Bukit Kepong. The group is accompanied by some of the wives and children and these are to act as medical staff and to carry away the Communist Terrorists casualties (mainly in gunny sacks provided). Half the force is deployed to the front and main parts of the compound (Group 1), with the other half in Pl group lots (Groups 2 & 3), deployed to the other three sides.
At this point, there is only L/Cpl Jidin bin Omar and SC Abdul Kadir Jusoh within the Charge Room, and two APs in Samad Yatin & Osman Yahya on guard in the compound backed by SC Jaffar Hassan with a Stengun. There is also every indication, that the latter had become aware of the CT’s movements,
0430hrs - SC Jaffar challenges and fires on a CT who is seen to fall and the attack on the wire begins and builds up to the accompaniment of screaming and bugle blasts and although all forward sides are attacked simultaneously, the CTs mainly concentrate on the penetration of the front of the installation and where the post’s main strong-points are housed. They had expected to totally surprise the station - but are in turn! Caught completely by surprise by the volume and intensity of the return fire. This, particularly, from the two Bren Guns embedded underneath the Charge Room - it being a raised structure on posts - but also as from within the C/R itself as well as from the back and sides of the compound. Around this juncture, AP Osman is KIA and SC Jaffar is wounded, with the wives and children of the policemen fully noted assisting their menfolk with the defence of the base,
0450hrs - the initial CT assault is beaten back after a protracted exchange but at the loss of Sgt Jamil who had been manning one of the Brens under the C/R, and who is now seen slumped lifeless over one of the weapons. There were trapdoors in use for access down to the Bren guns. Command is now assumed by the junior NCOs like the youthful and diminutive Cpl Mohd Yassin and the much larger L/Cpl Jidin bin Omar (later fatally WIA)and combined casualties for both sides at this time, are placed at a dozen plus. The police wives and children left sheltering in the flimsy walled and also elevated married quarter building behind, make up a good portion of this. Also as such, at around this period. Four of the wives and five children manage to make their escape out of the compound,
0500hrs - Auxiliary Police and small groups of citizen volunteers are mobilised around Kampong Java under the headman Penghulu Ali bin Mustaffa, and these react to the attack by going to Bukit Kepong's aid. They’re expected by the CT rearguard, however, and in turn ambushed and held engaged in skirmishes and suffering casualties. About this time the defenders main firepower in the two Bren guns back at the station, are knocked out,
0530hrs - the CTs continue a number of assaults on the wire and lighting and which provides them with a small breach at the front side and with which they attempts an envelopment of the C/R but are still held and beaten back from within and from the interlocking fire from the married quarters. Some of the weapons are at this point wielded by the wives remaining.
Mat Indra is reported frantic at the lack of progress after an hour and wary of the approaching daylight, calls for an all out bayonet charge at 0600. Both the compound and CT casualties had mounted and are being treated in situ by the wives and children as before. The CT casualties had been retrieved under fire, and it was noted how the police would not fire at the women and children so involved.
0600hrs - visibility is now better and the CTs hit the wire again in a frantic mass as ordered, but are again surprisingly beaten back with the exception of some further gains at the SW rear and left hand side by the married quarters. Mat Indra now calls for a pause to reconsider his options. During this period and as it had been throughout the engagement, loud hailers and personal voice addresses had been used on the defenders in an attempt to get them to surrender. But to no avail - in spite of the fact that they had suffered badly - and just as the many alternate offers of ‘safe conduct’ out of the area had been treated with defiance and derision,
0700hrs - the frontal targets are now isolated by the CTs and all efforts concentrated in the vicinity of the previous gains around the rear and SW side and this providing them with an instant result. One of the police wives captured in this thrust, Mariam Ibrahim the wife of Constable Mohamad Jaafar, told her captors that only an other woman and her young child were left alive in the married quarters. The CTs force Mariam to appeal to the men to surrender but this is duly ignored. About this time, Fatimah Yaaba and her son Hassan are also taken, also asked to appeal to the men, and on refusal Fatimah is executed. Her husband Constable Abu Bakar Daud the base’s MP launch driver down at his duty station on the Muar river - perhaps aware of the personal tragedy which had just taken place - elects to fight to the death in a skirmish with the CT sent to capture and sink his launch. In the final outcome he is shot through the chest & arm.
There are indicators that some others were either sent or also went to assist him with getting away for help. But this group is also assumed engaged by the CTs. And although its also believed that the MP Constable could have saved himself if he chose by starting his motors and casting off, he never ever did.
At this point, the CTs consolidate their hold on the rear of the complex through the torching of both the launch (which sank) and the married quarters - with the reported wife Saadiah and daughter Simah still alive inside and refusing to come out - and throwing the executed woman’s body into the flames as well. Also about this time, the villagers of Durian Chondong a riverine kampong to the west, dispatched a boat down to Lenga to inform the police of the attack,
0800hrs - full daylight and with the rear of the compound ablaze, the CTs execute a determined grenade ‘pincer’ attack against the C/R and are finally successful. Setting it ablaze as well. Then picking off both male and female survivors attempting to get out with rifle shots - some seen with their clothing fully on fire at this point - and capturing Hassan bin Abu Bakar the young son of badly wounded MP Constable Abu Bakar in the process.
Hassan was caught in the vicinity of the silenced Bren guns, with some believing that he was the last person seen standing or perhaps even attempting to fire, one of the weapon at this duty station. Perhaps he was just too shocked to leave his comatose father nearby or his dead mother Fatimah’s burnt body. But either way! The brave lad was thrown live into the raging flames of the C/R along with all the dead and wounded police defenders including Sgt Jamil. Also about this time, news of the attack is relayed to Police District HQ at Pagoh, and a relief force of Jungle Squad and Seaforth Highlanders is prepared for a forced march to Bukit Kepong,
0930hrs - Mat Indra finally declares the objective taken - five hours after the commencement of what had been considered a simple action - and stating that they the MRLA ‘had dealt a glorious blow against the Imperialists and for the Liberation of the Oppressed People’ (some say that Mat Indra would was later be killed in an ambush)-- but it was reported that he was captured and later hanged in Taiping Prison in Perak. Also around this time, a boatful of villagers from Durian Chondong and coming to investigate and to assist, are also engaged by the CT force as they pull out,
0940hrs - a spotter aircraft also sent out to investigate, calls back to base that there is nothing but a charred ruin - ‘with no signs of life in evidence’
1030hrs - the exhausted relief force from Pagoh led by OC JJ Raj Jr, finally arives to take charge and is greeted by scenes of massive devastation. But the refurbishment of the BK station area, at times a slow refurbishment, does now begin,
12 Regular Police, two Special Constables, all of the four Auxiliary Police and four dependants, a total of 22, fought to the death at the Battle of Bukit Kepong. AP Constable Ali Akop bin Ahmad, who had earlier been cited for a Colonial Police Medal for Gallantry for a previous action, and once out of rounds, was last seen charging the barbed wire with his parang as example. A further four constables were found severely wounded within the compound. Of these survivors, as apart from the women and children who had managed to slip out much earlier, only PC Yusof Rono and well in his seventies now, is still alive today. A further two APs were also killed in action and a number of locals WIA during the relief actions as mentioned.
The CTs would only ever admit to around 10 casualties, but a quadruple of this would be very much closer to the mark. From the outset, the garrison had been outnumbered ten to one yet it never slackened in its resolve to do its duty. Even after the death of Sgt Jamil, and who is credited with the setting of the tone of the resistance, no one nor at anytime, appeared to consider the numerous offers of surrender or ‘safe conduct’ held out to them by the CT.
Bukit Kepong was also the first real indicator for the MRLA, that the affable laidback Malay, might just not be the easy mark that had been estimated. And that they would clearly constitute an additional factor in their the MCP’s, over simplistic overview of Red independence and rule in Malaya.
It was also noted how quickly the humble kampong Malays, reverted to the fatalistic strength of their Muslim faith when cornered. In the final analysis, the words of an SEP who was one of the attacking force expresses it all - ‘I admired them at the time, and admire them to this very day’.
by A L (Paddy) Bacskai (National Malaya & Borneo Veterans Association)