Sarawak (Malaysian) Rangers

Iban Trackers and Border Scouts.


The Sarawak Rangers were a para-military force founded in 1862 by the second Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Anthony Johnson Brooke. They evolved from the fort-men which were raised to defend Kuching in 1846. The Sarawak Rangers were first commanded by William Henry Rodway, briefly in 1862 and again from 1872 to his retirement in 1881, and were highly skilled in jungle warfare and general policing duties, being equipped with various western rifles, cannons and native weaponry.

They were based in a number of forts constructed at strategic locations in towns and at river mouths. Aside from protecting Sarawak's borders, they were used to fight any rebels and were engaged in a number of campaigns during their history. In times of emergency or war, they could depend on the support of the local population and tribes-people.

The Sarawak Rangers were disbanded for a few years in the 1930s, only to be reformed and mobilised for the Second World War in which they attempted to defend Sarawak from Japanese invasion in 1942 at the start of the Pacific War. After the abdication of Charles Vyner Brooke in 1946, the Sarawak Rangers became a colonial unit under direct British control and saw action in both the Malayan Emergency and the Borneo Confrontation.

Eight weeks after the Malayan Emergency was declared on 16 June 1948, the first group of 49 Iban Trackers were sent to Malaya - to meet the request of the Malayan government. The Commonwealth forces need the tracking skills of the Ibans to track down the communist terrorists in the thick jungle of Malaya.


The Iban Trackers was an astounding success. As requested by the Iban leaders back home that their warriors be given full military responsibility, the para-military Iban Trackers were re-formed into the Sarawak Rangers - a full-fledged military unit with Lt Col C.J Baird as their first Commanding Officer on 1 January 1953. Organised into two platoons, Sarawak Rangers continued to perform the same task that they were doing when they were Iban Trackers.


Then on 31 March 1960, Sarawak Rangers (Malayan Unit) was disbanded and the next day, 1 April 1960, it became Sarawak Rangers (Far East Land Forces), to become a part of the British Army. They could now be deployed anywhere in the world.


However, on 15 September 1963, it was again disbanded and on 16 September 1963 it became the 1st Battalion, Malaysian Rangers. Only 100 members of the Sarawak Rangers (FELF) volunteered to continue their service while the rest opted to return to their long house


Iban Trackers

(The beginning of the modern Malaysian Rangers)


Photos obtained from around the World, in particular from George Swetman of the 1st Manchester Regiment to whom the 1st Experimental Platoon was attached to in 1953, soon after their training in Siginting Camp,Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan. Also photos from Shaun Aumua of New Zealand some invaluable pictures that have helped shed some light on this elite band of trackers and soldiers.

1st Platoon


2nd Platoon

Seated (L to R): Cpl Samat, Sgt George Swetman (1st Manchester), Mr D Johnson (QM), 2Lt Schwarz (1st Manchester), Lt Col C J Baird OBE (Commandant Sarawak Rangers), WOII B Simmonite (1 RWK), Mr B Jarrow (Dayak LO), Cpl Safie (Malay Regt) and Cpl Adrian Tandang.

The 2nd platoon with the Commanding officer Lt Col C.J Baird OBE and Officers from 1st Manchester Regiment. Cpl Adrian, who was killed in a contact with the CTs later is seated on the extreme right.


A rehearsal for the passing out parade in Siginting Camp, Port Dickson.



The Beginning


On 8 August 1948, six weeks after the Malayan Emergency was declared on 16 June 1948, the first group of 49 Iban Trackers was sent to Malaya to assist the Commonwealth forces in fighting and tracking down the Communist insurgents in the thick jungles of Malaya. Initially, their term of service was 3 months only. Some chose to stay longer.


Twenty-four of this original group of 49 Trackers were attached to the newly-formed Ferret Group No. 4, a unit comprising Gurkhas and ex-members of Force 136. The remaining 25 were attached in small groups to the various Gurkhas, British and Malayan battalions already deployed in Malaya.


By the end of August 1948, a further group of 55 Ibans had arrived and by October 1948 there were some 170 Ibans at Seginting Camp, Port Dickson. On completion of their three months service, each group of these Trackers were flown back to Kuching.


By mid December 1948, all, except 29 who had agreed to extend their service for an additional three months to meet a special request by the British Guards Brigade, returned to Sarawak. This last group finally returned home on 7 March 1949.


More Involvement


However, the Malayan Government again requested for the service of the Iban Trackers. In April 1949, a new group of 40 trackers was raised and sent to Malaya on a six months service. With more demand, this number was increased and by December 1952, the numbers had reached 301 Iban Trackers. By this time too, some 1,168 Ibans had completed a tour of active service with the various security force units in Malaya. Of those, 8 were killed in action and 10 wounded of whom 5 were invalidated.


The first fatality occurred on 12 March 1951 when Tracker Jaweng anak Jugah of Ulu Gaat, Kapit, who was deployed with A Troop 42 Commando Royal Marines, was accidently shot by a special constable who mistook him for a CT.


In that same year, Tracker Awang anak Rawing of Skrang was awarded a George Cross, the civilian equivalent of Britain's highest military award, the Victoria Cross and Malaysia's equivalent of the Seri Panglima Gagah Perkasa (SP). The award recognised Awang's exemplary courage and devotion to duty by saving the life of Private Hughes, a member of 10 Platoon, D Company, 1st Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment, after the platoon was ambushed by CTs on 27 May 1951.This award was the first in history to be awarded within the Malayan Archipelago and the only one awarded during the Malayan Emergency.


On 13 November 1952, Tracker Menggong anak Panggit, appointed as Acting-Lance Corporal and Second-in-Command of an Iban platoon, led an assault on an enemy camp, after his platoon commander, Lieutenant R R G Bald of the 1st Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), had been killed instantly in the initial engagement. For his gallant actions, Menggong was awarded the George Medal.


Undoubtedly, there would have been many more awards given to the Iban Trackers than the two mentioned. However, the Iban Trackers were still recognised as civilians and therefore not eligible for military honours and awards.


A nameless Tracker / Sarawak Ranger


Another nameless Tracker / Sarawak Ranger


Trackers Dana, Tampi and Dani in Kroh 1951


Some of the Sarawak Rangers at the British Jungle Warfare School in Johore


Tracker Mangi with Sgt George Swetman of UK's 1st Manchester Regiment

Modern Malaysian Rangers Cap badge

A soldier of the Sarawak Rangers showing his head gear and cap badge


Collar dot of the Sarawak Rangers


Cap badge of the Sarawak Rangers. The crossed kris and 'parang ilang' is the same as the modern cap badge - except for the crown.


Some insignia of the Sarawak Rangers


The modern cap badge of the Malaysian Ranger. Note the colour of the backing. In the 60s and 70s, each Regiments had their own colour. Red backing was worn by the 3rd Battalion.



The Border Scouts – Indonesian Confrontation


Insignia worn by the Border Scouts.


Many of the members were former soldiers of the Sarawak Rangers. Some served in Malaya towards the end of the First Emergency. Indeed, one was killed and had his name written on a memorial wall in Terendak Military Cemetry. They played a big role during the Confrontation with Indonesia.

During the Confrontation some 1500 men from the indigenous tribes of Sabah and Sarawak were recruited by the Malaysian Govt. as Border Scouts under the command of Richard Noone and other Officers from the Senoi Praak.


Jungle Warfare School


Training Notes

Sept. 1968

Copied on CD in .pdf format

£4.50 each + p&p

to order email



1. Introduction. 19. Jungle Ranges.

2. Platoon Organisation & Equipment. 20. Booby Traps.

3. Silent Signals. 21. Searching Villages.

4. Immediate Action Drills. 22. Assault on Defended Village.

5. Navigation. 23. War Dogs.

6. Health. 24. Combat Tracker Teams.

7. Radio Communications. 25. The Attack.

8. Living off the Land. 26. Air Reconnaissance.

9. Poncho Shelters. 27. Air Supply.

10. Sentries. 28. Helicopters

11. Harbouring. 29. Joint Operations Room.

12. Visual tracking.

13. Movement by MT

14. Crossing Water and use of Waterways

15. Patrolling.

16. Ambushes.

17. Night Lighting

18. Tree Demolitions.


217 Pages



Jungle Training "Calvert" Style - Air guns at the Ready

Note- the fencing mask for protection.

Tree Jumping


Supply Drop


Helicopter Drop

Hearts and Minds

Gurka Support