For the descendents of Richard Dearie and his son John Russell


Writing after so many years there are bound to be inaccuracies in my memories of Boh Estate but I do not think any such will be of significance. I arrived on Boh in February 1938 by car from Kuala Lumpar. At that time the Boh Road was more a dried up river bed than a road, with jungle on both sides all the way as far as Uling lines. The view on reaching Moir’s Gap was quite amazing. After coming up a narrow jungle filled valley to have the wide valley of Boh and a view stretching seventy miles or more was a sight to be remembered always. I think I realised at that moment how fortunate I was to be there. The superintendent, Robert Brown, I had known in Ceylon which helped. Robert left Boh to open up his own estate off the Green Cow Inn Road and to supervise Blue Valley Estate and Sungei Palas Estate. Robert's farewell party was quite an event. It was held at Shaidali's bungalow at the entrance to the Boh Road. I remember it for the Dresser's recitation in full of "blow, blow thou Winter's Wind, thou ar't not so unkind as man's ingratitude". The reason behind it I have never discovered. Chanan Singh provided the musical background on a penny whistle until he had taken too many revivers and wandered round with whistle in one hand and a hunk of bread in the other not knowing which to blow and which to eat. Later on he took exception to Lam Wah Kwai, the Chinese building contractor, whom he followed about with a menacing scowl on his face. Fortunately nothing more serious happened. It was encouraging to see such a contented, cheerful staff. The staff I remember then were Mckay, the assistant, Indra Singh, the surveyor and Nana Prakasham, the dresser, who gave the recitation, and others I cannot recall. The estate was originally opened up by A. B. Milne on capital provided by J. A. Russell personally. Mckay was his assistant and later was in charge on his own when Milne left. Capital was then very short chiefly due to the profligate spending by Milne. The survival of the estate was, in my view from all I heard, entirely due to Mckay. At one time he had a guard of Sikhs at the entrance of the estate to stop the labour force bolting and was once besieged in the office by the labour force as there was no money to pay them. Fortunately he was well liked by them and his courage and tenacity brought him through. I was afraid he might resent me, a stranger, being brought in over his head but I could not have had a more loyal and hard working assistant. We were, I hope and believe, good friends. I have much to thank him for. Indra Singh, the surveyor, was most efficient and completely honest and reliable. Tragically he was lost in the jungle during the occupation. He used to go into the jungle to get food from the Sakais and never returned from his last trip. He was very well liked by the Sakais so one must assume that he was captured by a Japanese patrol. His end does not bear thinking about. Nana Prakasham, the dresser, was a kindly man who always did his best for the health of the labour force and was well thought of by our visiting doctor, Dr. Quaife. The senior conductor was Prakash, the nephew of Indra Singh. He was quite the best conductor I have ever worked with and I have worked with many. He did not approve of any holidays as he said,. "very difficult, nothing to do.” He remained on Boh until he was promoted to Conductor-in-Charge of Sungei Palas where he died. A great loss. I saw his widow in 1973 when I visited the estate. She and her children were due to return to the Punjab. Unfortunately I cannot now remember the other members of the staff at that time. Later Jimmy Robertson, a Scottish friend of Mac's, came as my junior assistant - a thoroughly trustworthy, efficient and hard working young man. He was fortunate in escaping from Singapore just before it fell to the Japanese and later parachuted in with Force 246? and won the M.B.E. This took a lot of guts. I must confess I felt very relieved when I found I was not eligible to join that force as I had a "Watch Keeping Certificate" in the Navy and no watch keepers were allowed to go. Mackay also got away and joined the army in India. Robert Brown was captured and died on the Burma Railway with so very many others.

Area and Crops When I arrived on Boh there were 700 acres of tea, 100 acres of coffee, but I am not sure of this acreage. There was also a small planting of cardamoms in the ravine by Boh and Central Divisions, a patch of Tung Oil at the top of Field 6 and a few Hemp in Field 5. None of these proved profitable though Coffee was persevered with for some years. The area on the South slope of the Checko ridge was planted in Coffee in about 1939. Fermenting tanks, pulper, centrifugal and a rotary drier were installed. However, yields were poor due to climatic conditions and showed no signs of improving. All the coffee was therefore uprooted and planted in tea in what are now Fields I5, 17, 18 and the Checko area. Shortly before my arrival the original grant of land to the East of the present planted area was surrendered for an equivalent area taking in the whole of Gunong Chantek on the North and West sides. Felling was started at the West end but the terrain was so precipitous that I inspected the whole area - a most exhausting task as it was all ridges and ravines. Apart from the dubious prospect of better quality at a high elevation it was quite obvious that the land was totally unsuitable for any type of agriculture being too steep, poor jungle growth indicating poor soil, wrong aspect and presenting considerable transport difficulties. Fortunately the Board agreed and the estate reverted to the original boundaries.

Development My first plantings, as far as I remember, were the areas from the Western Boundary to Uling lines on one side and Muirs gap on the other (Fields 12. and 13?) and the rest in numerical order. South Division was the area I favoured most but this was set back by the Japanese occupation when it was abandoned at a critical stage in its development. My planting days were way back in B.C. (Before Clonals), and all plantings were from seedlings from our own seed bearers, stumped to 4 inches. Some basket plants were put out but only for in-filling vacancies. The six acres of seed bearers at the bottom of Field 5 were very profitable. Large quantities of seed were sold to Kenya. They did once complain of the poor germination but it was found that the seed had been kept in store for over a month before putting it out in the germinating beds. Planting distances were 3’ x 3'6". This may have been reduced in South Division, but I am not sure of this. Lining was up and down the slope of the land. Experts of the Tea Research Institute in Ceylon recommended contour planting. This would be feasible on gently undulating ground but not in Cameron Highlands. There is far less erosion through pluckers walking up and down than struggling to keep a foothold across steep land. Another of their proposals was that the jungle should be felled across the slope. This would have caused complete devastation to the tea and probably life as the big trunks would be bound to roll down the slope in due course. Contour drains were also out as the friable soil broke away and slipped down the hillside. The answer to soil erosion is very evident on Boh, which has shown that the methods adopted solved the problem of erosion. There was no clean weeding, as in Ceylon. Only toxic weeds were removed and soft weeds were slashed thus forming valuable humus until the ideal condition of a complete cover of tea was achieved. Field 5 had a valuable cover of oxalis and Cantrocema was tried in some areas but was not a great success. After the felling and clearing of South Division and within a few weeks of planting, a thick cover of a type of grounsel sprang up. This was slashed periodically and formed an excellent mulch, stopping all erosion. A God-sent gift of nature on virgin jungle land where there had never been any grounsel before and certainly no flowering grounsel anywhere else on the estate. Except for a few acres, all the felling and clearing was done by the Sakais who, of course, were expert at the job. Their only shortcoming was they might disappear for a week or more to open up a new ladang but they always came back and finished the job. They are such a happy people, it was a pleasure to be with them.

Pests Helopeltis was the most troublesome pest in the early days, but spraying and hand collection eventually eradicated this. At times the childrens1 education was rather neglected I fear. They were all given empty cigarette tins and sent out to catch helopeltis. They became really expert catchers and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, proudly showing me what a lot they had got. It was all well worth the few cents they were paid. This would not be allowable in a free democracy, ruled by Trade Unions! There were a few outbreaks of red spider but this disappeared as soon as rain came. Nettle grub was troublesome in Field 2 for a time until the Agricultural Department sent us a consignment of a type of Ichneumon-fly which were released in the field. Later the nettle grub cocoons were collected in hundreds and put into an empty loft in the factory with metal gauze over the windows. Holes were enlarged in these big enough to allow the flies which hatched out to get through but not the moths. The buzzing in the loft sounded like swarms of bees. This proved the death knell of the nettle grub. Blister Blight came in after the war. Spraying and collection and destruction of affected leaf from tipping fields kept this in check. Considering the favourable conditions it is amazing that Blister Blight is now a thing of the past. It is presumed that spores were carried in the upper atmosphere from India to Samatra and then to Malaya. There is no other feasible explanation. I had thought that root disease would be a problem with all the roots of the jungle trees in the ground but apparently this is not so in Virgin Jungle land.

Labour The labour force was predominately Tamil with about 30 Chinese women and 10 Sikhs. The Tamils were mostly Kaundans (the blacksmith cast). Labour was always rather short but this was an advantage in keeping costs down as it forced one to be quite sure of the priorities and cut out all unnecessary frills. Labour relations were good and there were no Trade Unions. I was, however, faced with a strike the day I got back after the war which I think was February 1946. This was a demand for more pay of course and was undoubtedly organised by some Communist element in Tanah Rata probably headed by the Sikh Postmaster. The atmosphere was nevertheless very friendly as I found when walking round the lines. All I could get out of the Tamils was that "they" had told them it would be a good thing to do. They would not say who "they" were. After a day or two a deputation arrived at my office from Tanah Rata, headed by the Postmaster. About a dozen in all and none of them employed by the estate. They claimed they represented the labour force. I explained that reclamation of the estate had only just started and wages could not therefore be increased at that stage and that if they insisted the estate would be closed down. They then adjourned to a mass meeting outside the factory where they told the meeting that now was not the time to strike but that they should wait until the estate was back in production and then strike when the Company would not be able to afford a close down and thus lose all the money spent on reclamation. They all turned out for work the next day to the great satisfaction of all concerned except, no doubt, the self appointed Committee. All remained peaceful until the start of the Unions and the emergence of a strong Communist element organised by the Chinese. There was never any really serious trouble though a few agitators got in and the Chinese Communist organisation in Ringlet did their best to stir up trouble. We had one or two Hartels over the new Constitution ostensibly. Labourers were threatened that if they did not take part the least they could expect was a broken arm the next time they were caught on the Boh Road. Once I told them they could stop work for the day and we would work on Sunday instead. The next time the Tamils decided they would work but the Chinese were definitely frightened. They had been visited in their lines the night before and warned of the consequences if they did not take part in the Hartel. Of course I let them stay away. About that time I had a visit from a British M.P. and Trade-Unionist, Messrs. Aubrey and Dally. I spent about an hour explaining to them the seriousness of the Communist element in the county and the Ringlet lot in particular. I thought I was getting through to them but then Mr Dally said to Mr. Aubrey, "Well comrade, we had better go and talk to the workers"! I let them get on with it on their own and they disappeared into the factory. I heard no more about their visit so perhaps they were reasonable. Emmanual, the General Secretary of the Plantation Workers1 Union in Ipoh was a very reasonable man and I got on well with him. His son though was a trouble maker, but later he saw the error of his ways and confessed to me once that he realised the trouble he had caused. The real menace was a South Indian called Dawson (real name Dass). He was an official of the Trade Union and caused me some trouble until I found him on the Estate once without having obtained my permission first which was the law. I was therefore entitled to order him off the Estate. He never came back. This was during the Emergency. There were other trouble makers of course, especially during the early part of the Emergency, and these I will deal with later.

Factory and Manufacture The original building comprised five bays to the East of the first staircase and withering fan chamber, and a lean-to-extension to the West which housed a drier and the sorting and storage bay. There was a humidifying chamber at the East end but this was later demolished when that end was extended to house drum witherers. These were never installed. A year or two after my arrival the factory was extended Westwards to its present size with extensions at the back to house the coffee drier and packeting room. Considerable additions to the machinery were added - new rollers, driers and sorting machines. Manufacture was standard Ceylon manufacture. Whereas every aspect of manufacture required attention to detail at all times from the quality of green leaf to the finished product, the most important to my mind were fermenting and drying. I had heard of trough withering and was appalled at the idea of subjecting leaf to such drastic treatment, but on visiting the estate in 1973 I realised how efficient, labour and space saving they are. In fact they produce just as good quality withered leaf as the old withering tats, possibly better. However, all this proves that the stages of manufacture are no different intrinsically from those practised over many decades. I sometimes wonder though whether the teas of today with the vastly increased yields and heavy applications of inorganic fertilisers have the same quality as teas of years ago.

Post War On my return to Boh in April 1946 I found that except for about 200 acres, the whole estate had been abandoned, with the tea grown to a height of ten feet or more and the factory machinery in very poor condition. Clarkson had had my bungalow cleaned up as far as possible. I was told that the labourers’ cows had found it very convenient as shelter in bad weather. There was little change in the labour force and some of the staff were still there but, unfortunately, except for Prakash I cannot recall the others. Shortly after my return Leong Yeu San wrote from Selangor to say he would like to come back and would I send him $30 to pay off a debt. This I did and the next I heard was that he had been arrested at Tapah for having an opium pipe. I bailed him out and the charge was subsequently dropped. He proved invaluable in the renovation of the factory machinery. I have already referred to the strike on my arrival. After that all was peaceful until Trades Unions were instituted some time later, and which I have mentioned earlier. The labourers’ only grouse was the shortage of rice, which was virtually unobtainable. I got samples of various other grains which were available and submitted these to the 'leading ladies' for their consideration and then ordered a consignment. When it arrived they usually said they did not like it after all! In actual 10. fact they were all in very good health from their diet of goat and vegetables. Many were making a fortune in the growing and selling of cabbages. Later they took to tomatoes. The birth rate had increased considerably - no doubt because they had little else to do! In spite of the fact that no anti-malarial oiling had been done for years, malaria was non-existant due to the fact that all streams and drainage ditches had become shaded by vegetation. Indeed, this was the case throughout Malaya.

Reclamation With such a small acreage of tea in production it was essential to proceed with reclamation as quickly as possible if the estate was to survive financially. First the Uling area, which was in partial plucking, was given a very light top prune to achieve a quick if temporary return. Fields 1,5 and part of 2, were still giving small yields. With the exception of some other small areas, which I cannot now remember, the rest required pruning back to about one foot to eighteen inches from the ground. All the side branches had died back and only four or five of the main centre branches had grown up to over ten feet in most areas. Stacking the prunings was difficult and called for care. In South Division, where die back was not so severe due to the tea being much younger, the growth was much thicker. Here three rows were pruned and the prunings were stacked against the fourth standing-row until such time as they had broken down or were taken for fire¬wood by the labourers. These rows were then pruned. Soon after pruning a thick cover of soft weeds sprang up. These were slashed just above ground level and formed an excellent mulch. Only toxic grasses were removed and there were only patches of these. New growth came on well and the long process of reforming the bushes began. Artificial fertilisers were applied for the first time as far as I remember. To watch the area coming back into bearing and leaf flowing into the factory was rewarding indeed.

The Occupation I had left to join the Malayan R.N.V.R. two months before the Japanese invasion and subsequently Mac and Robertson were on active service with the F.M.S.V.F. As I have mentioned Jimmy Robertson parachuted into Malaya later on. The Japanese destroyed nothing and any looters were executed on the spot. Boh Estate was, however, neglected and practically abandoned. They had not the fuel to operate the factory. Thousands of Tamil labourers were sent to the Burma railway, where hundreds died from fever and starvation. One of the instigators of this move was the notorious Chandra Bose. The Tamils were fortunate indeed that the Japanese regarded Cameron Highlands as a food growing area and none were sent from there. My Chinese cook was one of eight who were beheaded on the Padang at Tanah Rata before the whole village as a warning to them of what to expect if they failed to co-operate. These eight were picked at random. Their atrocities were appalling as is too well known as is the whole course of the occupation and their final defeat. I believe the Japanese considered making Cameron Highlands their last stronghold. Tunnels had been dug into the hillside under the road to the factory as ammunition stores.

The Emergency The emergency really went off ,”half-lock”. If, initially, the Communists had been properly organised they could have murdered practically every planter and V.I.P. in the county within the first two days. As it was there was enough time to organise a semblance of defence, but for two or three years their build up was quicker. The first firearm issued to me was a very ancient shot gun and four cartridges (No. 8 I think). I was then given four Special Constables, two rifles with four rounds each. I remember attending a meeting at Tapah of planters with Malcolm Macdonald, the High Commissioner for the Far East. He was supposed to be touring the county to raise the morale. We did not need pep talks but arms. He stated that due to the Geneva Convention it was not possible to fly out arms. When I ventured to ask how, in that case, it was possible for a Chinese arms dealer in Ipoh to procure arms by air with the full permission of the Police, which was a fact, he said he supposed he had made some special arrangement! However, in due course the Company sent me a 9 mm carbine and the Police gave me a .455 revolver and later still a 9 mm automatic. With these plus two grenades I acquired through the S.A.S. I felt my personal armament was adequate for any emergency! As the emergency progressed our force of Specials was increased to forty, each with a rifle and 30 rounds of ammunition. The Company bought a Morris Armoured Car which was used chiefly to collect labourers' pay from Tanah Rata and providing an escort along the Boh "Road. It was a comforting thing to have around. For security reasons we had to abandon the Chekho lines and concentrate on the remaining four sites where barbed wire, watch towers and flood lights were installed. At one period we had a half battery of 40 pounders on my old bungalow site above the factory and then a platoon of Gurkhas in huts at the factory. The early part of the emergency before our defences were built up was the most worrying. The Specials I had were not enough to split up so I had to concentrate them at the factory and hope we could get to the scene of any trouble elsewhere in time. Tragically it was during this period that the Conductor on Boh, Gomez and Kandasamy K.P. were murdered. These were two most loyal men and ever since their murder I have thought and thought whether there was something I could have done to guard against these atrocities. At the factory we knew nothing of the murders until the next morning when word arrived from Boh Division. Gomez was found shot dead in the tea between his bungalow and the lines. He had a rope round his neck and it was evident that the intention was to drag him to the lines and murder him there before the labourers' eyes. He must have managed to break away and was shot while trying to escape. Kandasamy was found on the bed in his line room with several bullet wounds. He was still alive. Bandits had broken into his room, told his wife to keep their small daughter out of the way, and shot him. He was rushed to Ipoh Hospital where he died some weeks later. He seemed to be recovering and when I visited him and asked him who had done this thing all he said was "Sengoded knows". He had a relapse and died soon afterwards. On the doorstep of Gomez' bungalow was a hurricane lantern, still alight, a pencil and a note book. He had obviously been called out by someone he knew. I knew the Sengoded, Kandasamy mentioned. He was a relative and I believe there was a certain enmity between them, but nothing could be proved. Why Gomez was murdered I do not know except that he was very loyal and it was probably to intimidate the labour force. Jim Hall, my senior assistant at that time, Ganu Lal, a Gurkha Special, and I, tracked them into the jungle at the bottom of the estate as far as an abandoned Sahai ladang and waited there for an army patrol to arrive. We had picked up one of their caps so they had evidently left in a hurry and were probably miles away. Two ex-British Palestine Policemen helped to organise our extended defences and train more S.C.s until there were guards and barbed wire at all four line sites. There were several alarms and shots fired by S.C.s but all proved false. When alone on guard at night it is easy to imagine all sorts of movement round about. Even an army Bren gunner opened up on a fire-fly! This was the sort of mistake our few Sakai S.C.s never made. I remember at one of these alarms on Boh Division I found a Sakai S.C. lolling in the corner of his kubu quite unconcerned. "There's nobody there - it's just these Malay S.C.s, he said with great contempt at the ignorance of the town dweller. And so the Emergency dragged on and it was not until General Templar arrived with over-all powers that the tide really turned. Previously General Biggs had not been given enough authority. Apart from Dass there were other trouble makers from time to time, especially Reddie Kg and another man I called Tikus (Rat), but we got rid of them. I would like to pay a tribute to the labour force for their good sense and loyalty throughout. I felt they were my friends, together with my staff. My assistants Hall, Mckay and later, Squires and Davies, and for a short time Tristan Russell; the office staff, Phillip, Thomas, Simon and Kurup; the tea-maker Abraham, and Conductors, Gomez, Prakash and Raju. The most reliable S.C.s were Gamu Lal, Batchan Singh, Kher Singh, Lille Bahadur and Bakhta Bahadur and the Sakais. The Malays were good but somewhat irresponsible. By the time I left in 1958 the Emergency was almost over and Cameron Highlands a "white area”. At all times the Police could not have been more helpful and I remember especially Ted Moorow and Abrahams.

Personalities In the early days there were several well-known characters in Cameron Highlands. Miss Griffith Jones, the owner and head mistress of Tanglin School near the Golf Course and also an infants school - a very gracious lady for whom we all had a great respect. I was so glad to see her again in 1973. The two Wilkins brothers, reputed to have been born the wrong side of the blanket. The elder certainly bore a close resemblance to a very distinguished gentleman indeed. Baker, who lived just off the road to Tanah Rata. He had a Tamil wife and two most exotic coffee coloured daughters who were called Hovis and Bermaline - most appropriately! Wichett, a retired tin miner and Dunbar, ex-Perak Hydro and R.N. - both outrageous romancers. If one met them together, the one who was not telling some amazing anecdote would lean over and say in. a loud stage whisper “ Bloody old Liar”. Dr. Quaife, our visiting doctor. He had been for many years Lever Bros’. doctor in the South Seas and had his own schooner in which to visit his patients in the islands. A most interesting man, whose visits I always looked forward to. After the war there was a young Roman Catholic priest from Teluk Ansan, who visited his few parishioners amongst the Tamils. He would stay the night and always enjoyed sitting in front of a log fire with a glass of whisky. I had a great respect for him. He said to me once, “I don’t care what religion a man is as long as he is a good man". I thought this was unusual for an R.C. He also told me that when he was at school in France during the German retreat one or two of the boys would boast at the number of Germans they had shot during the previous night. He was convinced that there was going to be civil war in France between the Right and the Communists, but he said, "We will win. and and God is on our side we have the arms and ammunition “ I must also mention my very good friends Dr. Jack Reed and his wife Penny. Dr. Reed was our visiting doctor after the war until he died. A very great loss. I also remember with affection my servants:- Mee Seng, Chan me Woh, now married to the young engine driver, Ah Loy, who died shortly after she left and married, and finally Ah Chum, who is still in Cameron Highlands. I always tried to look on Boh as a home and way of life for several hundred people and not as just a commercial undertaking. I am thankful for those years on Boh which I have to look back on with pleasure and, I hope I may say, satisfaction.

PRESTON, November 29th, 1976

REMINISCENSES OF BOH ESTATE by Bill Fairlie who was the Estate Manager from 1938 to1941 and 1946 to 1958.

Right: Bill with his wife at their bungalow on Boh.