George Booker rubber planter



George Booker rubber planter

George Booker (rubber planter)

Des has painted a caricature of George Booker inspecting a little rubber tree with a tap on it. George Booker was employed by Dunlop Rubber as a junior plantation assistant on Bahau Estate in Negri Sembilan, Malaya, 1936-1941, before he became a Prisoner of War in Changi.

Some of his duties on the rubber plantation included: ensuring the trees were tapped correctly; inspecting trees for disease; organising & paying numbers of Chinese and Indian ‘tappers’; ensuring diseased trees were removed and properly disposed of.  Perhaps this is why Des painting features him holding a magnifying glass possibly inspecting the ‘tapped’ rubber tree for disease holding his topee hat. Des may have met him while still performing his duties for Dunlop Rubber or as a POW in Singapore (see quote at end of page).

He was a member of the Federated Malayan Volunteer Force, 3rd. Battalion. In December 1941 and some of January 1942 he worked in the war with the Volunteers but on January 17th, 1942 he was given a commission and became an officer, as a 2nd  Lieutenant with the 53rd Brigade of the British 18th Division. When Singapore fell George became a prisoner in Changi and later in Thompson Road POW Camp. In May, 1943 he was then sent with “H” Force to Thailand to work on the Railway. On his return to Singapore he was in Sime Road POW Camp and in May 1944 returned to Changi.

George wrote about the various industries and activities that were established in Changi and Sime Road Camps by the POW’s – which included lectures and classes in all sorts of subjects, theatre concerts, large vegetable gardens and workshops.. He also wrote this – which is possibly where your Des met him –

“I also tapped rubber trees on small holdings around the camp area and bought in about a gallon of latex each day to a small factory we had started, to make “flip-flop” sandals for the use of the patients in the hospital and others without any footwear. The latex was mixed with laterite dust and poured into a mould with a thin sliver of bamboo inside the length of the sole to give it rigidity and two strips of khaki cloth set in over the toe section”.

George’s wife, an Australian, escaped Singapore on the S.S. Narkunda on 16th January 1942. George survived the war and was repatriated to Australia although he was British arriving in Sydney in October 1945, where he met his little 4 year old daughter for the first time and was re-united with his wife.

The family returned to Malaya after the war and George continued working with Dunlop Plantations up until 1965. George passed away in 1993 but his wife  is still alive and will be 99 years old in April 2019.

Rubber was a very important commodity as the Japanese didn’t provide anything and prisoners shoes soon rotted. It was thanks to people like George who was able to direct his mates how best to tap rubber trees and then use the rubber to repair and make shoes and other things. For more information on this go to

George Booker was a British civilian rubber planter in Malaya 1936-1941 and member of Malay Volunteer Reserve and Royal Army Service Corps 1941; POW in Changi Camp, Singapore 1942-1945. (IWM)

SOURCE: With thanks to Jane Booker Nielsen, George’s daughter and an interview by IWM Oral History of George Booker.

“Or as George Booker put it: ‘We used to meet them [the soldiers] in the towns. And if you were sort of sitting in a restaurant or a café having a cup of coffee or a beer you could get into conversation with them. And the impression I got was that they didn’t care for it a great deal.’”

SOURCE: British & French Servicemen in the Malayan Emergency & the Indo-China War, 1945-1960 ‘Experience and Memory’, Thesis by Manual Bollag, Sept 2010, Kings College Dept of History.