A little bit of History

(By Ed “Hazukashii” Howell):

Malaysia has many aspects that, while not unique, certainly make it unusual.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, after various treaties and agreements over most of the 19th century, parts of current Malaysia where consolidated under the United Kingdom as the Federated Malay States in 1896.  This continued until the end of 1941 when Japan seized the peninsula.  After World War II, the region went through several more changes including the Malayan Union, followed by the Federation of Malaya when it eventually achieved independence from the United Kingdom on 31 August 1957. 

The territory continued to grow according to Nations Online, and on 16 September 1963, after adding Singapore, and the two regions of Sabah and Sarawak on Northern Borneo, this new consolidation became the country of Malaysia.  This consolidation would not last long, and after significant political upheaval, on 9 August 1965, Malaysia ejected Singapore thus granting its complete independence.  The current configuration of the country is split between two separate landmasses of East Malaysia and West Malaysia.  East Malaysia is part of the island of Borneo, shared by the small enclave country of Brunei on the north-central coast, and Indonesia that makes up about three quarters of the rest of the island.  West Malaysia (a.k.a. Peninsular Malaysia) borders with Thailand to the north, and Singapore to the south.

The current capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur (commonly referred to as KL), which was originally founded by Chinese tin miners in 1857.  In Malay, Kuala Lumpur translates to “muddy estuary” reflecting its location where the Kelang and Gombak rivers meet.  KL was originally selected as the capital of the Federated Malay States in 1896, and continued throughout the years as the region reorganized and changed names, until now in current day Malaysia.

KL also has the distinct honor of being the birth place of the international running club, the Hash House Harriers.  In December 1938, Alberto Esteban Ignacio Gispert, known to his friends as "G" founded the Hash House Harriers (a.k.a. HHH, H3, and Mother Hash).  G was assisted by Frederick "Horse" Thomson, Eric Galvin, H.M. Doig, Morris Edgar, John Barret, Cecil Lee, and others.  Although considered a founding member, Ronald "Torch" Bennett actually was away on personal leave for 8 months from November 1938 until July 1939, and missed the first several months of participation.  He would play a significant role in the future of the HHH, which will be explained later.  A more detailed history and background of the HHH can be reviewed online.

Although the “Hash House” Harriers were a new club in 1938, the idea of hare & hounds (or paperchase) was not a new concept for the region.  There was at least one account of the earlier Kuala Lumpur Harriers (that was believed to have run in the areas around KL from the early 1920s to the mid-1930s) in the Malay Mail (newspaper) in 1932.  The oldest actual Hash House Harriers document we currently have, to the best of my knowledge, that specifies an actual event date is the notice for the upcoming 100th run, which occurred on Friday, 15 Aug 1941.

Another account comes from Horse Thomson.  Before arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Horse lived and worked in Johor Bahru, the capital of the state of Johor.  Johor Bahru is located approximately 350 Kms south east of Kuala Lumpur on the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia.  Horse is quoted as stating, that he had run paper chases in Johor Bahru as far back as 1932.  He had also run similar type events in Malacca (aprox 150 Kms south of KL) as part of the Springgit Harriers (this is where Gispert was said to have first run paperchase events).  Horse also claimed to have run pre-HHH type events with another club in Taiping (aprox 250 Kms north of KL).  They were all referred to as mixed clubs (allowing women to run), and some even brought their dogs on trail.  The runs were often on Sunday morning, and were followed by a curry tiffin lunch.

Although the HHH was not a new idea, it would spawn a whole new branch of hare & hound type clubs that would spread all over the world.  Getting back to the HHH and what it was all about, we go to Frank Woodward, who started running with the HHH in February 1939.  In a letter he wrote in the late 1980s, he explains . . .

          “In those good old days, most of us Hash House members had Malay car drivers . . . and the procedure on the weekly run days was for the two ‘hares’ to go in a car with their haversacks full of torn-up paper and the boot of their car loaded up with a large galvanized tin bath packed with ice, bottled beer and ginger beer, to a pre-arranged starting point and then set off to lay the paper trails. The beer and ginger beer were provided by the ‘hares’ each week at their own expense. The club never had any funds as such and administration was minimal.”

Frank continued to explain that prior to the war, that trails were generally A to B, and that once the pack had assembled and set off running, the hare’s driver would lead all the other cars to the finish point. He also states “After numerous false trails had been investigated the ‘hounds’ eventually arrived at the finish point where the ‘hares’ would have already started on the beer and ginger beer.  Shandies were found to be much more refreshing than beer by itself.”

The original HHH club ran on Friday evenings from Dec 1938 until 12 Dec 1941, at which point it had managed to hold 117 hash runs, but ceased activity during World War II.  An expanded understanding of this period can be seen in an article about Hashing and the Military.  The HHH was reborn in August 1946, and according to Cecil Lee who wrote in a letter dated 24 October 1958 that stated: “We started up again after the war due to Torch Bennett who discovered a Bank Balance and put in a claim for War Damage on one tin bath, and two dozen mugs, and possibly two old bags (not members).”

Frank Woodward also wrote that, after the rebirth starting in 1946, trails were much more commonly A to A.  “After the war not many members of the H.H.H. had car drivers, especially the newcomers who had come to Malaya for the first time . . . starting and finishing points of the runs [were] at the same place; otherwise the routine was exactly as before.”

The new (or reborn) HHH began the current tradition of running on Monday evenings, and celebrated its first invitational gathering to coincide with their 1000th run in March 1966, when there were only about ten clubs total, and all in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei.  By 1973 many other hash clubs had sprouted and spread out beyond Southeast Asia, so Mother Hash repeated the effort for their 1500th trail that drew about 300 hashers to Kuala Lumpur.   

If you are doing the math, although Mother Hash conducted weekly runs, they went from 1000 trails to 1500 trails in just 7 years. That happened because on the occurrence of their 1000th run event, they unceremoniously added the original 117 runs from the pre-war era of 1938-1941.  That made the run immediately following the 1000th run number 1118, and they have continued on from there.  While this extended the birthright to the original date in 1938, it also robbed Torch Bennett’s rightful distinction as the founder of the actual second hash club.

Also of note during this early period, in 1949, the city of Kuala Lumpur began requiring clubs of all kinds to register their activity.  While a common theme of hashing is "there are no rules," the club registration (drafted in 1950, and approved in Feb 1951) was the original "Rules" or at least guidelines.  Written with the wry jest of a good hasher, the objectives of the Hash House Harriers were listed as:
    (a) to promote physical fitness amongst its members
    (b) to get rid of weekend hangovers
    (c) to acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it with beer
    (d) to persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

While researching a previous article on Hashing and the Military, I came across what would best be called a splinter group off Mother Hash.  In 1957, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand funded the Malaysian Army to construct a base at Terendak, located ~125 Kms south of Kuala Lumper.  Bill Panton’s original paper spreadsheet contains a listing for this club. Although the concept of other hash clubs had not really been established, this splinter group is listed as the Terendak H3, with a founding date in 1960.  There currently is no additional information available on this splinter group, but it is plausible that some of the military personnel on the hash in KL, could have either been involved in the construction, or more likely been transferred from KL to Terendak, and they took hashing along with them.

If you are really into dates and specifics, as previously recorded, the second country to have a hash club was Singapore, but if you noted above, Singapore was still part of Malaysia until 9 August 1965, that makes the first breakout hash club the Brunei H3 on 18 February 1963.  But once again, further research shows that Brunei did not gain independence as a British Protectorate until 1 January 1984.  So, technically, Great Britain is the second country to have an HHH club.  The already established HHH Singapore founded on 19 February 1962, would not be in a separate country until 9 August 1965, making it the third country to have an HHH club.  And pulling that string just a bit further, the Federated Malay States were also a British Protectorate until 1957, so you can draw your own conclusions from all that.  Would it be apropos at this point to say . . . but I digress?

The HHH Genealogy currently lists a total of 280 hash clubs to have existed in Malaysia, with 215 listed as active.  These clubs are spread widely throughout the country, with KL hosting 23 clubs, where you can run a hash any day of the week, sometimes two.  As far as terrain for hashing goes, it’s hard to beat the rolling hills and countryside of Malaysia, or South East Asia as a whole, but Malaysia is special.

Mother Hash hosted the first invitational hash events in KL celebrating their 1000th run in 1966, and their 1500th run in 1973.  Hong Kong initiated what would become INTERHASH in 1978 immediately followed by Malaysia, that has hosted INTERHASH three times, first in Kuala Lumpur in 1980, again in 1998, and finally in Kuching in 2010.  Malaysia has also been the proud host of the PAN ASIA Hash five times in various locations, in 1989, 1995, 2001, 2003, and 2005.  Malaysia is also host to the most extreme International Hash Challenge, a grueling 45 Km team event hash trail through the jungle, hosted by the Petaling H3.

In summary, this article has highlighted many aspects of the history of the Hash House Harriers in Malaysia, but it only scratches the surface in the greater world of the HHH.  I have had the pleasure of visiting and hashing in Malaysia several times, including INTERHASHs, Pan Asia, Mother’s 3000th run, and 75th Anniversary, and even the International Hash Challenge.  For the future, I have officially begun writing the consolidated history of the growth and worldwide expansion of the HHH, with the book to be released in Oct 2024 to coincide with my 40th anniversary of participation in the wacky world of hashing.

Special thanks to Ed “Hazukashii” Howell) for doing all the research and posting on edinburghh3.com

In the Spotlight – Malaysia