Earlier this year Madison and I had the pleasure of sitting down to speak to Malayan Veteran, Peter Gallacher. We explored his love of photography and the importance of acknowledging his comrades. Peter has kindly provided Online Cenotaph more than 500 photographs of his time spent in Malaya and full proofsheets are included in this article.
Peter Gallacher was born on 15 May 1937 in Rotorua to an Irish father and a Scottish mother. He is of mining stock: his mother and grandfather were born on Denniston in the Buller District of the South Island, and his grandfather became manager of Ironbridge Mine.
After school Gallacher became an apprentice farm machinery fitter. In 1958, he undertook Compulsory Military Training at Papakura Army Camp, joining the Army proper in 1959. He served for eight years—three on active service. Gallacher was posted to 2 New Zealand Regiment (2NZR) at Waiouru in late June 1959. The 2NZR, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Aitken, relieved 1 New Zealand Regiment on November 28, 1959. The Regiment had been raised to replace 1 Battalion who had served in the Malayan Emergency from 1957.
Gallacher had always been a keen photographer “right from way back, right from Box Brownie”. The earliest set of photographs he captured while on active service were taken just before embarking or aboard the troopship the Captain Cook. The ship left port on 6 November 1959 with the 2 New Zealand Regiment being the last Battalion to embark on a troopship bound for active service.
A new Asahi Pentax S3 was the first thing he bought when he got to Malaya. The camera cost him £35 (70 Malayan Ringgits, or about $1,400 NZD in today’s money) and he paid it off in six installments.
It wasn’t all plain sailing when capturing images in the humidity of the Malayan jungle. He used good old kiwi ingenuity to preserve his photos and camera while in the heat and damp of Upper Perak. He repurposed an ammunition pouch covered with a thick plastic zip bag to carry the camera and film, and added two small salt packets with small holes in them to collect the water.
The first film stock he used was KODAK Tri-X black and white. They were “OK to use with f8.0 aperture and a slow shutter speed”. He then moved to colour, using 35mm Agfa colour film, but it turned blue on long shutter speeds in the darkness of the jungle.
You can find lots of photos with lots of “things” on them. What I found was trouble with the ...original film if you look in some of them they are very blue and that’s Agfa film, aqua colour...in the jungle it went blue before it went green. That’s when KODAK bought out Ektachrome [where] the green was the last colour to come through and it worked very well.
The film was transferred to slides that were placed in a sealed tin with a press lid. Gallacher would put two three packets of rice with holes in to absorb the moisture. Once out of the jungle, he would take them out and air them in the sun.
Life of a soldier
The photos Peter took provide a wonderful insight into day-to-day life of a typical soldier. Subjects range from the comparative luxury of barracks of a typical basha in Taiping to life on patrol in the jungle and on the rivers.
The initimacy of scenes of the 10 Platoon ensconced in makeshift camps, sharing out rations, using plastic explosives to catch fish, moving locations on the rivers, repairing makeshift helicopter pads and building rafts and bridges out of bamboo, contrast with the official histories of the British colonial administration.
The relatively banal images of camp life are interspersed with more dramatic images, such as the one below, of a near miss helicopter crash. The chopper had a power fault on take off and ended up in a river about 1 km from the Thai border. As Peter reminisced, “two very white Kiwi got out alright.” Due to the terrain the helicopter had to be dismantled and returned to the base in parts.
The photos include a number of images of the indigenous peoples, of the Orang Asli, fishing, cultivating their crops and maintaining their villages. These photographs illustrate how closely the British Commonwealth Forces lived and fought next to locals.
The Malayan Emergency was a guerilla war fought between Communist pro-independence fighters and the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve. Much of the fighting and patrols were undertaken in dense jungle terrain with soldiers living alongside members of remote villages. Platoons worked with local guides and learnt local ways of building huts and in return they provided food and other supplies.
Peter has an ongoing interest in pinpointing where Chin Peng, long-time leader of the Malayan Community Party, was located in relation to his Platoon. But if his images of the dense jungle and the topographic maps, filled with treacherous contour lines, were anything to go by, it would be surprising whether the Far East Strategic Reserve were ever fully able to track his whereabouts.
Surrender of Kerinching
While the ‘Emergency’ officially ended on 31 July 1960, the New Zealand Battalion continued to undertake exercises and patrols along the Malay–Thai border. During this period the Battalion, including three of Gallacher’s platoon mates, were involved in the surrender and interrogation of the elusive Orang Asli leader Kerinching, Chief of the Teuan tribe. Gallacher feels that Private Jim Gatenby (KIA Vietnam); Private Peter Lawson, and Private Laurie Ford should have received more acknowledgement for their involvement in the capture of the terrorist.
Gallacher photographed Kerinching and two other Orang Asli. After the capture, senior Intelligence Officers attended the camp and removed the roll of film from Peter’s camera. It was never returned. Years later, Gallacher found the images on the National Library website. Thanks to the Alexander Turnbull Library, we have now been able to amend the record to credit Gallacher as the photographer.
Gallacher completed two years of service in Malaya and was on active duty until the end of the Malayan Emergency. He returned home to ‘civies street’ and his old role as a machinery fitter. He married Judy on 18 August 1962 and they raised their five children, Kelly, Michael, Jerrald, Kathleen, and Paula in Rotorua. Gallacher has returned to Malaya four times over the years with his family.
In the last decade Gallacher has returned to focus his interest on the history of 2 Battalion. A big thank you to Peter for providing us with such a wealth of information and records that have enriched hundreds of Online Cenotaph records.
While we can’t add all 500 images to Online Cenotaph we have created a full pdf of all of the images Peter has kindly provided us. Please contact us know if you can identify any of the men in the images.
2 Battalion NZ Regt Embarkation on Captain Cook November 1959
- Last updated on: 15 Jul 2021 | File Size: 4.5 MB
2NZR 10 Platoon D Company with captions
- Last updated on: 15 Jul 2021 | File Size: 28 MB
|Braggins||Eric Vernon||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960, Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||31187||
|Brown||Rushby Carl Midgley||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||37470, 37470||
|Brown||William Louis||Army||World War II, 1939-1945, Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960, Regular Military Service||052093, 30475, 38680, 342358||
|Cooper||E. S.||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||301655||
|Cribb||Jack||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||624334||
|Dearing||Rodney Stephen||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960, Indonesian Confrontation 1962-1966, Borneo Confrontation, 1963-1966, Vietnam War, 1961-1975||347348, 347348, C347348||
|Flood||P. R.||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||32736||
|French||D.||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||349319||
|Frost||Tony P.||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||38700||
|Gallacher||Peter Michael||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||537858||
|Gatenby||James Robert||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960, Indonesian Confrontation 1962-1966, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Borneo Confrontation, 1963-1966||38655, 38655||
|Walker-Grace||J.||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||346236||
|Grey||T. K.||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||537927||
|Hills||B. F.||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||467691||
|Johnston||Joseph||Army||Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||303668, 303668||
|Karu||W.||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||516376||
|Kepa||George||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||528222||
|Kiwi||Albert Reti||Army||Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Borneo Confrontation, 1963-1966, Indonesian Confrontation 1962-1966, Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960||37869||
|Koni||C.||Army||Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960|| ||
Cite this article
Peter Gallacher: Documentarian of D Company. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 2 July 2021. Updated: 28 July 2021.