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Destination Malaya 2nd Australian Field Troop

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Destination Malaya 2nd Australian Field Troop

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Destination Malaya 2nd Australian Field Troop

  1. 1. Malaya David Wicks and Simon Wilson A History of 2 Field Troop Royal Australian Engineers 1963–1965 Destination:Destination: "It is a splendid job most professionally done... " Brigadier Terrence McMeekin, Commander 28 Commonwealth Brigade Destinaton:MalayaAHistoryof2FieldTroopRoyalAustralianEngineers1963–1965DavidWicksandSimonWilson
  2. 2. Description of image above to be inserted in this section, description of image above to be inserted in this section L/Cpl John Barnett and Spr Bill Whitfield and an unlucky Brit Spr Ian Tibbles Sprs Bob Rawson and Tony Farrell Spr Arthur Sinclair L/Cpl Tony Farrell Sprs Dave Wicks, Ray Logan, Harry Atkinson, Mick Sutton and George Greenslade Spr Darryl Hess Spr Ken Jolley Spr Doug Canning Spr Dion Hands Front cover photo top: Loading a Commer tipper with laterite under the chinaman at the Free Thai airstrip. Cpl John Bending oversees proceedings while Spr Ian Tibbles advis- es Spr Alan Morris driving the dozer. Operation Crown, March 1964. Front cover photo bottom: L to R: Sappers Les McNamara, Darryl Hess, Peter Matthews, Gary Plumb, Trevor Reece and Bob Rawson. Exercise Raven, July 1964, Asahan Training Area, Malacca State. Rear cover photo: Spr Darryl Hess leading the bucket brigade of concrete carriers during the construction of a stairway from Commonwealth House, the home of the Commander of 28 Commonwealth Brigade, to the beach 1964. Sapper Harry Atkinson drilling rocks in a quarry formed from a gold mine at Bau, Sarawak, 1964. Drawing by Dennis Adams (1914-2001), commissioned by Alan Hodges in 1979 from a photograph he took in Bau. Dennis Adams was a prolific WW2 war artist. The Australian War Memorial has over 350 of his drawings, paintings, illustrations and sculptures. Other works include the bronze Royal Australian Regiment Memorial in Regimental Square, Sydney and the bronze memorial to the Royal Australian Corps of Signals at Watsonia in Victoria.
  3. 3. Malaya Destination:Destination: David Wicks and Simon Wilson A History of 2 Field Troop Royal Australian Engineers 1963–1965
  4. 4. Destination: Malaya A History of 2 Field Troop Royal Australian Engineers 1963-1965 David Wicks and Simon Wilson Published by the 2 Field Troop RAE (1963-1965) Association. October 2003 Revised First published in Australia – September 2003 Published by the 2 Field Troop RAE (1963-1965) Association. ©This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission. Printed in Australia by Trendsetting – Canberra ACT. Design by Spectrum Graphics – Canberra ACT. Images used in this book have been provided freely for reproduction by the owners except for: Certain photos associated with opening of the Bau airstrip where the photographer and the organisation commissioning the photographs are unknown. Formal photos taken by Wong Photographer in 11 Indep Field Sqn lines. This firm is believed to be no longer trading. National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication. Wicks, David, 1939- Destination : Malaya : a history of 2 Field Troop Royal Australian Engineers 1963-1965. Bibliography. ISBN 0 646 42626 5. 1. Australia. Army. Royal Australian Engineers - History. 2. Military engineers - Australia - History. I. Wilson, Simon, 1941-. II. 2 Field Troop RAE (1963- 1965) Association. III. Title. 358.2099
  5. 5. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. Luke 3:5
  6. 6. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE V CONTENTS Preface vi Foreword vii Acknowledgements ix Abbreviations and Glossary x Map of Southeast Asia xii Chapter 1 The Raising of 2 Field Troop RAE 1 Chapter 2 Malay Peninsula 5 Chapter 3 Thailand and Operation Crown 13 Chapter 4 Terendak Again 31 Chapter 5 Bound for Borneo – Sarawak 47 Chapter 6 Terendak, then Homeward Bound 67 Chapter 7 Views from the Top 73 Chapter 8 Reminiscences 87 Chapter 9 Records of Service Achievement 113 Chapter 10 The Reunions 119 2 Troop Nominal Roll 130 Accompanied Family Details 132 2 Field Troop RAE Roll of Honour 133 In Memoriam 134 Service Medals 135 Bibliography 138
  7. 7. PAGE VI DESTINATION: MALAYA Preface This book covers a two-year period in the service of 2 Field Troop Royal Australian Engineers as a sub-unit of 11 Indep Field Sqn Royal Engineers. From 1963 to 1965 the Troop served on the Malay Peninsula, Thailand and Sarawak. This was an active period of training and operations, which prepared many of the troop members in a very practical manner for subsequent service in South Vietnam and other countries. Not only are details of the practical aspects of military engineering described, but there are also descriptions of the social aspects of living in Southeast Asia and anecdotes of events that have become akin to folk law. Accompanied families were an important part of life in Malaya and so there are stories about their experiences in Malacca. Although this book is primarily directed towards the former members of the Troop, the professional and social aspects narrated provide a unique perspective on the life of a soldier during a period of Indonesian Confrontation and on the tensions associated with countering the potential spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. Cpl John Bending, Sprs Alan Morris, Bill Jones and Tom Abberfield
  8. 8. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE VII This book is going to invoke many happy memories for the Sappers who served in the Royal Australian Engineers throughout the 1960s and early 1970s – particularly those who were fortunate enough to join the Australian contingent based at Terendak as part of the British Far East Land Forces (FARELF). I can recall a sense of envy when the 2nd Field Troop of 1 Field Squadron was raised to FARELF establishment to head off on what most of us thought was the only foreseeable military adventure for young Australian servicemen at that time. Little did most of us realise that we would also find ourselves on British rations with the meat allowance before much time had elapsed. Before 2 Troop’s tour of duty in South East Asia was completed in 1965 the Australian Army had become engaged in conflicts in both Malaysia and South Vietnam and we were all confronted with opportunities for adventure. During Confrontation most Sappers serving at the time were going to have some experience of service in Asia. 2 Troop itself was to be a part of this expanded effort, with operational deployments to Thailand and Sarawak. When 2 Troop journeyed back to Australia it returned to a vastly expanded and changing Army. It would never really be the same again. Members of the Troop were to serve with many other units in equally exciting places, and to make their professional contribution to the expanded Army. But what should be of great interest to all students of the military ethos is the fact that, despite its members having many different and stimulating experiences, the two years from 1963 to 1965 has bound them together in a spirit of camaraderie that has endured now for four decades. A part of the reason for this must be due to the fact that it was an accompanied tour, ensuring that it was a total family experience as well as a professional military journey. Being part of a larger allied unit and formation would also have something to do with the esprit of the time and the strong memories it has left. 2 Troop was always on its mettle to prove that it was better than the Brits (which it was), making each achievement a triumph in some way. Produced by the 2 Field Troop RAE (1963-1965) Association, this book does justice to that memory. It is also timely in that it captures the precious memories before they grow dim, or virtual! It is both interesting and stimulating and will, I am sure, be a major contribution to the many reunions to come. I congratulate the authors for their success in capturing the spirit of an experience shared by a select group of the RAE family and a job well done. Governor
  9. 9. The members of 2 Field Troop RAE (1963-1965) Association greatly appreciate the financial support for this publication from the Corps Committee of the Royal Australian Engineers.
  10. 10. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE IX Acknowledgements When 2 Field Troop RAE deployed to Malaya in 1963 many of the members were accompanied by their families. An attempt has been made throughout this book to recognise the contribution made by these ‘associate’ members. For the wives and children it must have been a difficult and, at times, lonely posting in a foreign country, far from the support of family and friends, yet they have done their families and the Troop proud. Also, throughout the book there is mention made of events unrelated to 2 Troop. These events have been introduced in an effort to fix the history of the Troop in relation to the world events of that period. Imperial units of measurement were used in 1963-65 and so they have been retained in the text. Although the Federated States of Malaysia came into existence shortly before 2 Troop’s deployment to the region, the posting was generally known as Malaya, rather than Malaysia, and both the title and text throughout the book reflect this terminology. This book could not have been written without the help of a great many people. We express our appreciation to the friendly and helpful staff at the Mitchell Library in Sydney and the National Library in Canberra, David Sibley, editor of Army The Soldier’s Newspaper, and all the troop members for their contributions and input. In addition, special mention needs to be made of a number of people: Barry Lennon, for his clear and concise advice at the very beginning of the project, and continued valuable input throughout its development; Dave Wood and Bill Jones for their countless hours spent in consultation on all topics, and their assistance with endless research – the book would not have been finished without your selfless contributions; Alan Hodges, not only for considerable material content, continous support and encouragement, but also for his editing skills, taking a fairly ordinary document and turning it into a manuscript fit for publication; proof reader extraordinaire, Beryl Hodges, thanks Beryl; and Alan’s friend Bill Laing of Spectrum Graphics in Canberra, who donated his valuable time and considerable expertise, and that of his staff, to produce the finished product. Just saying thanks hardly seems adequate, Bill – perhaps we could make you an honorary 2 Troop Sapper. Finally, every care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of all material contained within the book and if there are errors or omissions they are entirely the fault of the authors. David Wicks and Simon Wilson August 2003
  11. 11. PAGE X DESTINATION: MALAYA Abbreviations and Glossary ADF Australian Defence Force ANZUK Combined Australian, New Zealand and UK Force APC Armoured Personnel Carrier ASCO Australian Services Canteen Organisation CB Confined to Barracks (a form of punishment) Const Construction CRE Commander Royal Engineers FAMTO First Aid Mechanical Transport Outfit FARELF Far East Land Forces FE Field Engineer GPMG General Purpose Machine Gun MO Medical Officer NAAFI Navy Army and Air Force Institution NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organisation NCO Non-Commissioned Officer OC Officer Commanding OR Other Rank (Sapper etc.) PT Physical Training QM Quarter Master RAE Royal Australian Engineer RAOC Royal Army Ordnance Corps (British) RAR Royal Australian Regiment RASC Royal Army Service Corps (British) RE Royal Engineer RSM Regimental Sergeant Major SEATO Southeast Asian Treaty Organisation SLR Self-Loading Rifle SMG Sub-Machine Gun SQMS Squadron Quarter Master Sergeant SPR Sapper SSM Squadron Sergeant Major Amah Female domestic servant
  12. 12. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE XI Dhobi Wallah Laundry boy (or girl) Dyak Dyak is the name applied to aboriginal inhabitants of the island of Borneo, particularly to the peoples of the interior of the state of Sarawak. The Dyak are divided into six groups including Ibans. Garter Flash Elastic garter used to keep hose tops in position with small attached flag in Engineer red and blue Corps colours. Gollock British Army issue machete. Hose Tops Long sock without a foot. Used in conjunction with puttees and garter flashes. Hutchie Lightweight one- or two-man shelter. Sometimes called a ‘Donga’. Iban The Ibans, also known as Sea Dyaks, are the only Dyak group that inhabits coastal areas. Kampong Native village. Laterite A high-iron clay and gravel deposit suitable for use in road and airfield construction. Padang Open space, village common, sports oval. Panji Stakes set in holes or under water as anti-personnel traps. Parang Malay machete of variable design and shape. Puttees A strip of woollen cloth wound around the top of the boot and ankle for protection and support.
  13. 13. Bau Malacca Operation Crown
  14. 14. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 1 Chapter One The Raising of 2 Field Troop RAE The Beginning In the early 1950s there was international concern about the possibility of Communism spreading in Southeast Asia. As a result, Australia, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States established the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) alliance in 1954 under the Southeast Asia Collective Defence Treaty. The formation of SEATO was followed in 1955 by an agreement between UK, NZ and Australia to establish a Far East Strategic Reserve in Penang on the west coast of Malaysia. Its function was to counter Communist aggression in Southeast Asia and also to operate against the Communist Terrorists in Malaya. Australia provided, in addition to an engineer troop, an infantry battalion, a battery of artillery, a contingent of signals and other support elements as part of 28 Commonwealth Brigade. A squadron of Sabre jet fighters was based at Butterworth, and there were sundry other military personnel in Singapore. Troop photo taken on the 11 Indep Field Sqn parade ground shortly before the deployment to Sarawak in April 1965. (Wong Photographer)
  15. 15. PAGE 2 DESTINATION: MALAYA The Australian Government had strongly supported the formation of the Federated States of Malaysia and, with a contribution to the Far East Strategic Reserve, it was also providing a tangible means of supporting the fledgling state against the open hostility displayed by Indonesia. It was felt that by guaranteeing Malaysia’s sovereignty, Australia was also guaranteeing its own strategic interests in the region. The inaugural Australian engineer contribution to the Far East Strategic Reserve, 4 Troop RAE, was raised at Casula in 1955 and came under command of 11 Independent Field Squadron, RE (11 Indep Field Sqn) in Penang as part of 28 Commonwealth Brigade. The squadron had a proud history of significant military involvement dating back to the late 18th Century including deployments to the West Indies, Crimean War, Indian Mutiny, Egypt and Sudan, including the relief of Mafeking, and the first and second world wars. The advance party to Malaya of 4 Troop was led by Lieutenant Peter Gration, who subsequently rose to Chief of the General Staff and then Chief of Defence Force. In 1957, 2 Troop from 7 Indep Field Sqn replaced 4 Troop, and in 1959 it was in turn replaced by 1 Troop of the squadron. Another 4 Troop was raised, in 1961, by 1 Field Sqn and, after a brief time at Butterworth and a deployment to Borneo, it moved to new facilities at Terendak, 12 miles north of Malacca. 1 Field Sqn was also subsequently Sprs Trevor Reece, Bob McDonald, Cpl Snow Wilson and unknown. Drilling before blasting, Rylstone area mid-1963.
  16. 16. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 3 responsible for raising 2 Troop, the subject of this book. Surprisingly, the replacement troop in 1965 was also called 2 Troop and subsequent replacements kept that title. With the withdrawal of British troops from Malaysia in 1970, 11 Indep Field Sqn departed and left 2 Troop in support of the Australian battalion. In September 2 Troop was disbanded and some members were absorbed by the recently-created 9 Field Sqn. So ended 15 years of continuous service by an Australian field engineer troop within 11 Indep Field Sqn, RE. Subsequently, the British left a battalion group at Terendak and 9 Field Sqn gained a British field troop under command. The Squadron later became 28 ANZUK Field Sqn and, later again, 28 Commonwealth Brigade became 28 ANZUK Brigade. The beginning for 2 Field Troop RAE (1963-1965) occurred in early 1963 when orders were raised for 1 Field Sqn to form an engineer troop to deploy to Malaya for a two-year period, replacing 4 Troop, which was nearing the end of its tour of duty. It was to be an ‘accompanied’ posting, married personnel could take their wives and children, so competition for a position, in what was considered to be a prize posting, was fierce. The troop was formed under the leadership of Lieutenant Barry Lennon, and marched into 1 Field Sqn at Casula on the 29 May. 1 Field Sqn provided the administration, stores, transport, plant and other support that 2 Troop would require until its departure. At the time the Officer Commanding (OC) 1 Field Sqn was Major D J Binney. He was replaced by Major I R Way shortly after 2 Troop’s arrival. The bulk of 2 Troop’s members came from 1 Field Sqn and from 7 Field Sqn in Enoggera, Queensland, with four members from 20 Field Park Sqn (Plant) at Casula. It was Barry Lennon’s job to mould sappers from these various units into a cohesive troop and, to this end, much time was spent in the Rylstone-Gospers area of the Blue Mountains carrying out typical engineer tasks including road and fire trail construction, improvised bridging, and drilling and blasting. A week-long exercise in the rugged Kangaroo Valley near Moss Vale covered some basic weapons training and ambush drills although, given the wet and near-freezing conditions, the troop members could have been forgiven for thinking they were preparing for a posting to anywhere but the tropics. In hindsight, it seems that, apart from honing engineering skills, preparation for deployment into a region like Malaya was not as thorough as it could have been: there was insufficient weapons training and no period of training at the Jungle Warfare Centre at Canungra in Queensland. During this period, Australian troops were generally deployed with little specialist training for the area in which they were to operate. In early September, Sapper Sam Scales and another sapper were withdrawn from the troop and were replaced by Sappers Lindsay ‘Nipper’ Simpson and Dave Wicks from 1 Field Sqn. By late October 1963 2 Troop was fit and rearing to go. Inoculations were brought up to date and the last of the paperwork completed. The troop members were given pre-embarkation leave to say farewell to family and friends, then assembled once more at 1 Field Sqn several days before departure. One of the last tasks before departure for those who were interested and were over 21 years of age was to cast an absentee vote in the forthcoming Federal election. On departure, the troop was 46 strong, and was accompanied by 14 wives and 22 children. Studebaker 6x6 fitted with tipping body and canopy. Belonging to 1 Field Sqn, it was on loan to 2 Troop.
  17. 17. “There were some early difficulties like learning to wrap ankle puttees so they would stay on, and finding out what hose tops and garter flashes were for...”
  18. 18. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 5 Chapter Tw o Malay Peninsula - The First Weeks Departure day from Australia for 2 Troop was Sunday 17 November 1963, a date still well-remembered by Sapper Bob 'Macca' McDonald as it was his mother’s birthday. The journey began with an early morning bus ride to the international terminal at Mascot where the troop, including wives and children, boarded a chartered Qantas 707. A refuelling stop at Darwin allowed all to stretch their legs; then the 707 continued on to Singapore, landing at Paya Lebar International Airport in the late afternoon. There, a Fokker Friendship and a DC3 waited to fly the troop on to Malacca: marrieds and their families on the Friendship, the remainder on the DC3. The troop was welcomed at Malacca by Captain Malcolm van Gelder, who would be the Troop Commander for the next 12 months, as he had already served 12 months as commander of the now homeward-bound 4 Troop. Buses transported the troop members to their respective destinations: families, with some very tired children, to their married quarters, and singlies to the barracks of 11 Indep Field Sqn at Terendak, their home for the next two years. As well as the Australian troop, 11 Sqn had two British field troops, and a park troop with more construction equipment than a normal field squadron, as the squadron was designed to operate independently without support from other engineer units. The squadron included a section-strength team (up to 10 people) who were parachute- 11 Indep Field Sqn lines looking out to the straits of Malacca. 2 Troop barracks in the foreground and NAAFI on the right. Beyond the tennis courts is the ORs mess.
  19. 19. trained so as to provide sapper assistance in capturing an airfield for insertion of brigade units. It also maintained a diving team of about the same strength. The first few days were mostly taken up with kit issue and meeting the eight members of 4 Troop who had remained in Malaya and still had 12 months of their tour to complete. Unlike the infantry battalion, 3 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), which had arrived as a complete unit and brought a lot of its Australian issue kit, 2 Troop was to be fully integrated with 11 Sqn, and kitted out with British-issue field kit and troop stores. There were some early difficulties like learning to wrap ankle puttees so they would stay on, and finding out what hose tops and garter flashes were for; but generally the kit was well received with the exception of the footwear and webbing. The British did have an excellent machete, called a gollock, which was far superior to the Australian issue. The British Pattern 44 webbing looked like it was a leftover from WW2 and was uncomfortable, particularly when heavily loaded. The Australian Army by this time had the lightweight American issue webbing, and there was little to compare between the two. Footwear issue consisted of plimsolls, a sort of sandshoe, for PT, leather ammunition boots similar to Australian issue but made from a much coarser grade leather, and green jungle boots with a black moulded rubber sole, similar to gym boots but with tall canvas uppers that laced up to the calf. Weapons were issued – the 7.62 mm FN 30 was almost identical to its Australian counterpart and the SLR (self-loading rifle) was already familiar to all the sappers. NCOs, drivers and plant operators were issued with the Sterling 9 mm SMG (sub- machine-gun), a superior weapon and lighter than the Owen, but this meant some familiarisation training was required. The section machine-gun was a Bren GPMG, which had been modified to accept the NATO 7.62 mm rimless cartridge, and had also been improved so it did not require barrel changes after each 200-300 rounds fired. Australia had only recently phased out the older .303 version of the Bren Gun, so those selected in the machine-gun teams quickly became proficient. The food served in the ORs (Other Ranks) mess came as a bit of a culture shock. Not many Australians ate kippers for breakfast (most could not even stand the smell), the portions of meat were microscopic and underground mutton (rabbit) was frequently on the menu. Potatoes seemed a staple part of the diet, with spuds being served in as many as five or six different guises (or disguises) at the one meal. To compensate in part, the Australians were paid a ‘meat allowance’ of 2 shillings and 6 pence per day, and this was a cause of some friction with the Brits. The Australians were already better paid and the Brits could Rear Spr Alan Pullen, Spr Michael Holloway; Front Spr John Tomczak, Spr Gary Plumb in ceremonial uniform PAGE 6 DESTINATION: MALAYA
  20. 20. not see why the Aussies should be paid extra to eat in their mess. It was doubtful that the allowance was always spent in obtaining additional protein however, unless it came out of a Tiger beer can. The married members were not paid the meat allowance but received 9 shillings and 2 pence per day as a general family allowance, plus a domestic servants allowance that varied with the size of the family. The troops were confined to barracks for the first week, marrieds excluded, to allow them to ‘settle down’ to their new environment. During this time, lectures were given on health issues in the tropics, including an entertaining lecture by Dr. Nurse (aptly named) on the dangers of fraternising with the local ladies. A Paludrine antimalarial tablet was issued to everyone on a daily basis, usually on morning parade. There was also some instruction on riot control, Brit army style. Riots were not uncommon throughout Malaysia at the time, and if the Police could not contain the unrest, troops could be called in to assist under provisions of Military Aid to the Civil Power. On the first weekend leave most sampled the sights and smells of downtown Malacca and the many sites of historical interest. The ancient city of Malacca (now known as Melaka) is on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula about 120 miles northwest of Singapore. Malacca was founded in the 14th Century by Raja Iskandar Shah when Singapore was abandoned due to Javanese attacks. In its early days, the town came under Chinese protection of the Ming Emperor Yung Ho. During the 1400s, the town was the most important port in Southeast Asia and the State of Malacca was a major trading power with exports of gold, ivory and spices. In the late 1400s the Portuguese explorers discovered a sea route from Europe to India, and in 1511 the Portuguese Alfonse de Albuquerque captured Malacca and established a fort there. Towards the end of the 1500s, the Dutch and English, who each formed an East India Company, challenged the Portuguese traders. These companies eventually broke Portuguese control of trade, but it was the wealthier Dutch company that dominated the region. The Dutch captured Malacca in 1641, with the assistance of a Malay force from Johore, after an eight-month siege. The Dutch remained for nearly 200 years and added their own style of architecture that still stands. In 1824, the British East India Company occupied the area, following a treaty arrangement by which the Dutch exchanged Malacca for the British settlement of Bencoolen in Sumatra, and formed the Straits Settlements, which initially included Singapore, Penang-Wellesley and Malacca. During the Second World War, the Japanese occupied these areas. In 1946 the Straits Settlements Colony was dissolved and in 1957 the British ceded Malacca and Penang to Malaya. The Federation of Malaysia was proclaimed in 1963, with the merging of the former Straits Settlements of Malaya, Singapore and the Borneo territories of Sarawak and Sabah. Chief of the General Staff, Australia, Lt Gen J Wilton, accompanied by Maj Tony Stacey-Marks inspecting L/Cpl John Barnett’s gollock. Spr Murray Aitken in the background. Downtown Malacca 1963 A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 7
  21. 21. PAGE 8 DESTINATION: MALAYA Many historical buildings and ruins from the various occupations of Malacca can still be seen. The ancient Catholic Church of St Paul overlooking Malacca was the temporary burial place of Saint Francis Xavier between 22 March and 11 December 1553. One particular attraction of Malacca was Tai Chong, a store better know by its English name of Cold Storage. Here, on hot humid days, strange-tasting but nevertheless satisfying milkshakes could be bought in air-conditioned comfort. The historical features of the city were probably lost on the sappers, at least on this first visit. An article in the Bukit Bulletin (a fortnightly Brigade magazine of Terendak news) by ‘Harry Reyer’ captures the atmosphere of a first venture to Malacca: My hands were perspiring freely. I knew this was to be a dangerous mission. The hazards I was to encounter on this journey I knew would be many and varied. But, if I was to prove myself, this was the ultimate test. I glanced nervously at the man in whose hands I had placed my future. He showed no concern. His face was impassive; his sinewy hands gripped the controls of his machine. He looked round cautiously and then sprang into action – the great adventure was on. It was worse than I had imagined. The Angel of Death was brooding over my head as the hazards loomed up. Destruction against one of the many obstacles, or a direct hit by the missiles that ripped past us seemed inevitable. We moved relentlessly on, not at a smooth pace but progressing in fits and starts, taking every opportunity that presented itself, squeezing past the dust-covered monsters only to have them bear down on us again, blaring their indignation at being passed. Somehow we evaded them all. I glanced up at the man. He still looked impassive but I noticed he was sweating now and the veins on his face were bulging slightly – the trip was obviously taking its toll. My knuckles gleamed white as my fingernails dug into my sweating palms and then we slipped out of the stream and stopped. In the comparative quiet I felt weak but triumphant. At last it was over. With a shaking hand I passed the coin to the man and moved to the shade. Yes. I had done it – the length of Newcombe Road in a trishaw. While the troops were enjoying this first weekend of freedom, the families still settling into their new surrounds, and the Jones family making arrangements for Lorraine’s 21st Sprs Lindsay Simpson and Les McNamara taking a conducted tour of Malacca in a trishaw with local guide. Cane shops in Malacca were popular shopping destinations.
  22. 22. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 9 birthday party, the world was stunned by the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 36th President of The United States of America. The President was struck in the head by two rounds fired from a sniper's rifle while travelling in an open car in Dallas, Texas around 1.30 pm Friday 22 November (4.30 am Saturday eastern Australian time, 2.30 am Malacca time). Terendak Garrison Terendak was a large modern military base, complete with all amenities and on a much wider scale than provided in Australia. The garrison took its name from the highest hill in the area, Bukit Terendak, which means the hill of the rice planter's hat. The camp area was 1 500 acres with an associated training area of 3 500 acres. The camp housed probably in excess of 10 000 people, including married members and their families. It was the home of 28 Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, of which the Australian units were a part. The NAAFI (Navy Army and Air Force Institutes) was centrally located in the garrison and was somewhat similar to ASCO (Australian Services Canteen Organisation) in Australia, but with considerably expanded services. It included a supermarket with its own butchery and bakery, hairdresser, electrical, watch and shoe repairers, photographic shop, tailor and a florist. The camp had three churches and a temple, a cinema (the Loewen, showing films twice nightly with additional afternoon matinees on Wednesday and Saturday), a large four-storey hospital, four swimming pools and other sporting facilities, and various clubs with bar and restaurant service. There were also the St. Andrew's Commonwealth Club (a sort of drop-in centre where you could have a quiet cuppa or write a letter home), the Rose & Crown pub, several beach clubs for various rank levels, and a sailing club with a squadron boat. Although the camp had 900 married quarters, it was not large enough to accommodate all the married personnel and so many lived outside the garrison boundaries in comfortable bungalows in purpose-built ‘villages’ (Bukit Bahru, Tay Boon Seng). The residents usually referred to these villages by English names: Somerset Green, Eden Park, Suffolk Gardens. The married quarters were fully furnished and included linen and crockery. Each item was worth a certain number of points and a monthly points breakage allowance enabled replacement items to be issued. Each married family had an amah, (and sometimes two if the family was large) St John’s C of E church and the Rose and Crown Inn. Terendak Garrison swimming pool.
  23. 23. to help with the housework and look after the children. Some amahs cooked although there might also be a separate cook. Neither were the single members left to fend for themselves. The troop had a ‘boot boy’, Babu, an Indian from Allahabad. Babu not only polished everyone’s boots and brass (including spit polishing the parade boots), but also made the beds and swept the floor as well. Laundry and ironing were done by the ‘dhobi wallah’. Silver, another gentleman of Indian decent, was the dhobi contractor (although he employed local labour to do the work) and also the Squadron tailor. The cost to troop members was minimal, amounting to only a few shillings a week each. There were no latrine duties, as the ablution block and barrack surrounds were kept spotless by the ever- smiling Malay maintenance man, Baba. Small wonder Malaya was a popular posting. The climate was probably a bit trying at first due to the high humidity, but in fact was quite equable. The sun rose and set at around the same time all year round. There was lots of torrential rain carried away by large open monsoon drains, but there were no distinct wet and dry seasons. The temperature rarely exceeded 850 F, dropping to around 700 F at night. The barracks and married quarters were open and airy with ceiling fans and shutters rather than windows, designed to take advantage of the sea breezes. Each of the barrack rooms housed eight people with NCOs in individual rooms at the end of each block. The Troop’s first ‘acclimatisation’ task was to construct a volleyball court between the barracks. This was followed by a ‘gentle’ march in section strength into Jungle East, a training area adjacent to the garrison. Phase three of the Sprs Harry Atkinson, John Tomczak, Lindsay Simpson, Ian Tibbles and Cpl Simon Wilson lending their support to an Australian food promotion at the garrison NAAFI supermarket. Babu, 2 Troop’s ever-smiling boot boy, at work polishing belt-brass and boots. Typical married quarters in the purpose-built villages outside the garrison boundaries. PAGE 10 DESTINATION: MALAYA
  24. 24. acclimatisation period was to be a three-day exercise in full kit, including hard rations, into the jungle proper. Day 1 passed without incident until, preparing to ‘hutchie-up’ for the night, the deficiencies of the Brit issue kit, particularly the bedding, became even more apparent. Then, while chopping down some bamboo for his hutchie, Sapper Nipper Simpson disturbed a nest of wasps. Not wishing to seem a selfish fellow, Nipper ran toward a group of his fellow sappers, sharing his largesse. Nipper was always well liked in the troop, but he would not have won many votes in a popularity contest that night. Day 2 also left a bit to be desired. After the troop had marched well into the afternoon, it was decided the troop had become ‘temporarily misplaced’ and they had to backtrack, arriving at an isolated police outpost, a remnant from the days of the Malayan Emergency, just on dusk. It had been a long, hot, trying day for little or no gain, but the troops were too bushed to whinge too much, rolling their groundsheets out on the concrete floor and sleeping like the dead. (In Chapter 7, S/Sgt David Crosby bravely acknowledges that he managed to read the map on to the wrong ridgeline!) Day 3 saw a return to camp, most of the way by truck, after a morning road reconnaissance exercise. Nearly all of the troop returned to camp footsore, and from then on seldom wore the jungle boots, preferring instead to use the ammo boots with their Australian issue gaiters. About this time, several members of the troop were issued with a new Australian design boot for user trials in the field. It was an all-leather boot with welted rubber soles, and laced up to the calf. This was the prototype of what was to become known as GPs (General Purpose), complete with steel innersole for protection against anti-personnel mines and panji stakes. Meanwhile the plant operators, Cpl John Bending, L/Cpl Noel Butler and Sappers Dave Wood and Alan Morris were working with Park Troop constructing a grenade and rocket range adjacent to the garrison. It was their first experience on a Vickers Vigor dozer, with its unusual track design (similar to a tank), and the all–hydraulic Aveling Austin grader. Being experienced plant operators, they did not take long to master the unfamiliar equipment. 2 Troop members enjoy a friendly game of volleyball on the newly-completed court. Pouring concrete for the volleyball court, the Troop’s first task after arrival. The assault course and 25-yard range are in the background. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 11
  25. 25. PAGE 12 DESTINATION: MALAYA 2 Troop’s first Christmas in Malaya was a fairly low-key affair with the single members, in particular, having thoughts of home. Christmas dinner (lunch) was served on Christmas Eve by the officers and senior NCOs as tradition dictated, and after a few beers everybody’s spirits improved. Peter and Margaret Stokes held an open house to usher in the New Year. It was the first time many had seen a bath tub filled with cans of beer and ice, and it was just as well most of the troop attended otherwise Margaret would not have been able to bathe for several days. (See Margaret’s perspective in her reminiscence in Chapter 8.) An extract from Cpl Simon ‘Snow’ Wilson’s diary dated 1 January 1964 reports: Saw the New Year in at Peter and Margaret Stokes’. A terrific party. Mounted guard at 0900 and was not feeling very fit. We were notified that the move to Thailand had been brought forward, leaving here for Singapore on 3rd Jan. Sprs Trevor Reece, Bob Rawson, Cpl Bruce Parsons, Sprs Les McNamara and Peter Glasson, relaxing after a one-day acclimatisation exercise in the Jungle East training area adjacent to the garrison. Typical Malay kampong (village) similar to many the Troop encountered on their first acclimatisation march Lt Barry Lennon doing his once-a-year table service duty, Christmas lunch in the ORs mess 1963. L/Cpl Brian Cribbs gracefully accepts a beer.
  26. 26. Chapter Three Thailand and Operation Crown The Construction of Leong Nok Tha Airfield Since the Troop's arrival in Malaya there had been talk that it may be deployed to Thailand for an airfield construction project. The rest of 11 Sqn was to go, but it was thought that 2 Troop, due to political considerations, might have to remain at Terendak. Major H A Stacey-Marks, the OC of 11 Indep Field Sqn, had a high regard for the Australian sappers and was adamant that 2 Troop should accompany the squadron. The green light was eventually given and, at fairly short notice, the troop prepared for departure. Part of the conditions of entry to Thailand was that everyone had to have a current passport. The staff at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok and the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur must have worked overtime as the passports were duly issued, with the appropriate entry visas, in early March. In the interim period, the Australian Military Forces Identity Card (AAF-A129) proved adequate. The only person who seemed to have a problem was Cpl Snow Wilson. Snow was as Australian as anybody; however he had been born at Quetta in India (now part of Pakistan) where his father was serving with the British-Indian Army at the time. The family migrated to Australia when he was only seven years old, and it never occurred to him that he needed to become an Australian citizen. After all, he was in the Australian Army, wasn’t he? He wrote to his mother requesting she contact the Immigration Department in Perth to have him registered as an Australian citizen, but was advised that, as he came from India, he would have to sit a test to ensure his grasp of the English language was adequate. Eventually, the problem was solved by the High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur. In the late evening of 26 December 1963 the advance party, including nine members from 2 Troop, left Terendak with vehicles and plant for Singapore, where they embarked on the Maxwell Brander for Bangkok. The Maxwell Brander was a 4 255-ton (gross) LST (Landing Ship Tank), which was built by Smith’s Dock Co. Ltd. at South The Maxwell Brander ready to leave Singapore Harbour with the 11 Indep Field Sqn plant and vehicles, New Year’s Eve 1963. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 13
  27. 27. PAGE 14 DESTINATION: MALAYA Bank-on-Tees, England, and was launched in October 1944 as LST 3024. It is not known if she took part in the Normandy landings, but she was transferred on charter to the War Office in 1946 when she was named the Maxwell Brander. By the time 2 Troop sailed on her, she was managed by the British India Steam Navigation Company and contracted to the British Army. The troop felt that the LST was well past her use-by date, having already been to the bottom several times. After many years of sailing Southeast Asian waters, albeit slowly, she was bought by Panama in 1968 and then sold for scrap in Hong Kong in 1969. With no radar onboard the Brander, her Captain navigated by following the coastline and, with a top speed of six knots, this made for a long and tiresome voyage. If it was a quiet Christmas and New Year at Terendak, it was positively subdued for the members of the advance party en route to Thailand, some of whom had left wives and children to welcome in the New Year in a strange country alone. From Bangkok, the convoy travelled northeast, spending the first night at the American base at Korat. Next day it was on to Ubon, approximately 400 miles from Bangkok, where they were to meet up with the plant and heavy equipment which had been brought up by rail. Meanwhile, the main body of the squadron travelled to Singapore by rail, entraining at Tampin station on the morning of 3 January 1964. Several days were spent cooling heels at Gillman Barracks, the Royal Engineer base in Singapore, as RAF Transport Command aircraft were being held in Europe for the possible movement of troops to Cyprus. The break gave the 2 Troop members an opportunity to explore Singapore (even though Singapore had been declared out of bounds to the squadron). Then, after a rather hurried departure from Gillman Barracks (only a half hour's notice) and a fast trip by bus to Changi Air Force Base, the troop boarded an RAF Transport Command turbo-prop Britannia for the flight direct to Ubon, Thailand. As well as being home to elements of the Royal Thai Air Force, Ubon became a major operational base for United States Air Force incursions and strike missions into Southeast Asia. Also at Ubon was a flight of eight RAAF Sabre jet fighters detached from 79 Squadron at Butterworth; their primary role was the defence of the air base and Thailand’s borders with Laos and Cambodia. In addition to the 20 or so flight crew from Butterworth, there were around 100 RAAF logistic and support personnel at Ubon and these were rotated directly to Australia after a six-month deployment. The facilities at the base had been erected in 1962 by the Ubon Detachment of RAAF’s 5 ACS (Airfield Const Sqn). L/Cpl John Barnett exiting the RAF Transport Command Britannia via the emergency escape chute at Ubon Airport. There were no steps available for disembarking in the more conventional manner.
  28. 28. Welcome to Thailand When the aircraft arrived in Ubon, it was discovered there were no steps available large enough to service the Britannia, so the troop was required to exit via the emergency escape chutes. It was already late in the afternoon by the time buses were boarded and the troop was heading north for Ban Kok Talat, 70 miles away over a rough and only partially-sealed road. The local buses were a sight to behold with their fierce dragon emblems and large tail fins, and they were obviously built for the small stature of the local population as leg room was at a premium. It was very late and very dark by the time the troop reached the proposed camp site and untangled themselves from the buses. It was then a case of collecting a camp bed from a jumble of stores, which should have been very simple except that a very zealous sergeant, in charge of the stores, decided that everyone should queue up and sign for each item. While he was being quite officious to Captain van Gelder and S/Sgt. David ‘Bing’ Crosby and others, tired Sappers were removing camp beds under cover of darkness and getting settled for the night. Common sense finally prevailed. Next morning over a breakfast of hard rations and a brew, the sappers surveyed their surroundings. They had been dropped in a paddy field from which the season’s rice crop had been harvested and only the stubble remained. There were very few trees but there were a couple of mounds of stores, which had obviously been just thrown off the trucks wherever they had pulled up. Upon the Squadron’s arrival at Ubon, Major Stacey-Marks briefed everyone and advised that there would be very little at the camp site. He certainly got that right. The first task was to get mess and latrine facilities operational and some shelter erected. The piles of stores contained tents and marquees, so over the next couple of weeks the sappers became very proficient at pitching tents, at one stage erecting 15 tents and two marquees in a day. In all, over 200 tents were erected plus marquees for the mess, stores, Typically-decorated Thai bus similar to that used by the squadron to travel from Ubon to the Operation Crown site. The first morning in the paddy fields of Ban Kok Talat. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 15
  29. 29. canteen, and administration. Not only did they have to provide their own shelter, but accommodation also had to be provided for the influx of engineers from other units scheduled to arrive in the near future. S/Sgt Bing Crosby was largely instrumental in the rapid construction of an efficient latrine facility. With a ‘borrowed’ RAF Pengo (large diameter posthole digger) and a couple of chippies he soon had a framework built over several bottomless pits which served the camp well for the duration. So started OPERATION CROWN. Water was in short supply and bathing was usually done in a dish. Even shower buckets could not be used due to the acute shortage of water. For the first week the squadron’s six 100-gallon water trailers were towed into Ubon each day and refilled, the 140 mile round trip over atrocious roads taking a heavy toll on the squadron vehicles. Each tent of four people received a daily ration of one jerry can and this had to provide for both drinking and ablutions. Eventually a mobile bath unit did arrive and set up a communal shower, something similar to a sheep-spray race: dirty people in one end, clean ones out the other. Snow’s diary 15 January: 9 tents and 2 marquees today. Jack Brown had gone off sick with a bad cartilage. There is a pirate radio station broadcasting to us from across the Mekong in Laos. We have been listening to 6WF in Perth on shortwave, it's good to hear from home. We have 3 tents left to put up. There is mail tomorrow, well here’s hoping. We had our second shower tonight thanks to the RAOC mobile bath unit. It was the height of the dry season: hot and cloudless. The paddy fields, after countless years of flood irrigation, were just fine silt, and this quickly transformed into bulldust, particularly where there was vehicular traffic. This dust got into everything, clothes, bedding, and especially food, although in this case it probably improved the flavour. It also made for difficult working conditions and was to be a constant irritant, until the rains finally started some months later. Despite the RAOC mobile bath unit, hygiene was to be a constant problem for the troops throughout their time in Thailand. The poor diet, coupled with limited ablution facilities, ensured almost everyone suffered from some form of skin complaint at one time or another. After the first week or so, limited supplies of fresh vegetables A ‘Pengo’ (large-diameter post-hole digger) on loan from the RAF, drilling holes for the latrines. Spr Peter Glasson enjoys a bath in a makeshift tub fashioned from a poncho. Wonder where he got enough water? PAGE 16 DESTINATION: MALAYA
  30. 30. became available through local purchase, but fresh meat was not seen until the end of January. The troop cook, Spr Tom Abberfield, did his very best but, with little to work with, it was difficult to provide a balanced and varied diet. Bing Crosby recalls: Several members of 11 Sqn, including 2 Troop, paid a courtesy call on the US Base, Ubon. They were made very welcome and, as with servicemen everywhere, the fat (an appropriate term as the reader will see) was chewed over a convivial glass. When it was explained that the scale of rations at Crown was not good, it was not being disloyal because the merit of the British individual and section ration packs was praised by all, especially the inclusion of Cadbury’s chocolate. The Crown visitors inspected the huge refrigerated stores for meat. It was obvious that the American ‘cousins’ had sides of beef in abundance. The question of a trade-off was raised with the currency being beef for Cadburys chocolate. Back in Crown, the SSM and the SQMS did the sums on available chocolate. The SSM advanced the view that the CRE would not agree to being helped by the cousins. This would become a matter of national pride, he suggested. 2 Troop members didn’t think the venerable SSM was right on this occasion and Capt van Gelder was asked to inform the CRE of the plan. He was to say that even the officers would benefit. Astoundingly, the SSM’s view was sustained and national pride kept the meat rations ridiculously low for the work being done in the field. There was one plus. The Americans had a weekly milk run from Stateside. After all, this was an Air Force Base! Cardboard boxes with an insert containing about 20 litres of pasteurized, homogenized milk were available at one per week for (of course) Cadbury’s chocolate. Those concerned realized that to prevent animosity between the officers, senior NCOs and ORs, the milk should remain with the senior NCOs – and it did! The kitchen facilities, like everything else in the beginning, were basic, just pressure field stoves and one Wiles cooker (the small two-wheel version, at that). A bush oven was constructed of beer and soft drink cans filled with damp earth When steam developed, as the oven heated, the cans exploded, some landing on the ORs mess tent roof. The Brit who had constructed the oven sustained some injuries and the RSM threatened to charge him. Sapper Dave Cannon was quite a talented cartoonist and kept 2 Troop Spr Tom Abberfield preparing to serve lunch in the gourmet kitchen, while Spr Bill Jones inspects the Wiles cooker. The bush oven in the background exploded the first time it was used. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 17
  31. 31. PAGE 18 DESTINATION: MALAYA entertained with his satirical comment on life at Op Crown, including the exploding- oven incident. During a tent inspection, several of his more irreverent cartoons were confiscated by the inspecting officer who considered them to be ‘anti-establishment’. Unfortunately, no examples of Dave’s creations appear to have survived to the present. Snow’s diary 20 January: Short of water all day again. The meals are shocking, found two pieces of tin in my dinner. Because it was too hot to drink tea in the middle of the day, a cold drink consisting of a lemon- or orange-flavoured powder dissolved in water was usually served with lunch. This concoction was mixed in a large metal garbage can and was so potent it dissolved the galvanized coating from the can. Hence it was called ‘battery acid’. When mixed in the correct proportions however, it was actually quite a refreshing drink. By the end of January 1964 the 'tent city' was completed, and work commenced at the main construction site a couple of miles down the road, and adjacent to the village. The village people were friendly and industrious and soon after the squadron's arrival they were satisfying the troop’s needs, be it a cold soft drink or dhobi facilities. The most popular villagers by far were the watermelon vendors from whom a cool delicious melon could be bought for just two Baht (10 pence). The SSM, Tom Thornton, decided to bring the watermelon sellers under ‘military control’. He had Tables Field Service set up at the entrance to the camp area and priced each watermelon with a crayon. He became the camp expert judging ripeness and size, but had an occasional argument with the sellers who thought that their fruit was larger and that his pricing structure did not reflect that in comparison to others. He would wave his cane, speak loudly and rapidly and, given his imposing height of 6 foot 4 inches, his will prevailed. What the locals really thought of these visitors from Australia and Britain is uncertain, but it cannot be imagined they were too impressed with losing a large tract of their traditional rice-growing land for an airfield they didn’t particularly want or need. Water, or the lack of it, was still a grave concern. After the first week all the camp needs were met from the village well, which had been equipped with a pump by the squadron. It was however only a limited supply and, in addition to the camp, it still had to provide for the needs of the village and their livestock. Before the start of Op Crown, the Thai Department of Mineral Resources had conducted a geological survey of the area, and drilling for water was still going on apace, with absolutely no success. There was no way the village well would be able to supply the quantities of water required for the compaction of the roads, helipad and runway. In desperation, the CRE of Op Crown, Lieutenant Colonel Harry McIntyre, agreed to let a 2 Troop member, L/Cpl John Armitage, divine for water, amid much derision Spr Ian Tibbles and ‘Guts’ a loveable local villager who became a constant companion of 2 Troop. Soft drink entrepreneurs from the local village under a rudimentary shelter. Even more popular with the troops were the watermelon vendors.
  32. 32. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 19 from the geologist and the drilling team. Nevertheless, water was found on the first try, and this bore, along with another also divined by John, provided all the water required for the permanent camp and the airfield construction. John Armitage’s divining skills were put to further use on his return to Malaya where he found water on several oil palm plantations, considerably enhancing troop funds in the process. On 11 February the Troop received the sad news, from station 6WF Perth via Snow’s shortwave radio, that HMAS Voyager had been sunk in a collision with HMAS Melbourne while conducting night exercises in the Jervis Bay training area. A total of 82 crew members lost their lives. Construction of the Main Camp 2 Troop's first task at the main construction site after the perimeter fence was the erection of the workshop buildings. These consisted of eight steel Romney huts. Not only were these difficult to assemble due to being badly transit- damaged, but also, with daily temperatures hovering around the 1040 F mark, the galvanised sheeting and steel frames became almost too hot to handle. Add to this the glare and the blowing dust, and the working conditions could best be described as difficult. In spite of the adverse conditions, all the buildings were finished by the end of February 1964, complete with concrete floors. Major Stacey-Marks was impressed enough to shout the Troop three cartons of coldies. Also during February, the troop poured the footings for the Braithwaite tank stand for the camp water supply. Pouring concrete at Op Crown had it own special set of problems. Firstly, the aggregate was more a kind of shale than gravel and very difficult to work with. The parched soil, high temperatures and low humidity meant the mix set almost as soon as it was poured and, to add further to the Troop's woes, it was suspected the cement supplied to them was a quick-setting type usually used for soil stabilization. In late February there was a dramatic change in the weather with strong cold winds blowing from the northwest, reputably from the Gobi desert in China. The temperature plummeted and with no warm clothing everyone suffered, and the blowing dust was even worse than usual. Fortunately, the change only lasted for about a week then it was back to the daily 1000 F plus. The nearly-completed helipad had its first tryout about this time when a Royal Thai Air Force Westland Wessex landed to evacuate a Brit who had injured his back. The MO (Medical Officer) deemed he could not be safely transported to Ubon by ambulance because of the very rough road. After the initial requirements of setting up the base camp were met, the troop shifted from a 7-day working week to 5 days. Overnight leave was approved and this was usually taken in Ubon, although there were excursions to Mukdahan on the Mekong L/Cpl John Armitage divining for water. (Army The Soldiers Newspaper 14 May 1964)
  33. 33. River and other places of interest in the region. Capt Malcolm van Gelder’s extensive reconnoitring in the Laos/Cambodian border region was popular with the sappers and he could always be guaranteed to have a full Land Rover each time he went out. Malcolm and a party from 4 Troop had been involved in a combined exercise and reconnaissance of the general area during May and June of the previous year during Exercise Dhana Rajata. On Sunday 1 March 1964 a team from 2 Troop travelled to Ubon for a friendly game of Aussie Rules against the RAAF. It was a bit one-sided, the RAAF winning 7 goals 11 to the troop’s 1 goal 5. Still, a great time was had by all. Members of the squadron had also constructed a wooden volleyball court in their own time and games were played regularly, usually 2 Troop against all comers. Snow’s diary Sunday 8th March: What a day; the boys from Ubon came back a bit under the weather, and broke…and Mukdahan…that was a different story. Five of the boys decided to go to Laos over the Mekong, stole a boat and sank it, and all are now in the Mukdahan gaol. The Mekong River at Mukdahan was the border between Thailand and Laos. On one visit to the town, five 2 Troop sappers decided they would like to visit Laos, in spite of the fact it was very much out of bounds and would have required a passport and visa anyway. Changing their Thai currency for Laotian Kip, they ‘borrowed’ a local boat to transport them across the river. The Mekong at that point was about 1 000 yards across and, in spite of it being the dry season, was still flowing quite strongly. About halfway across, the outboard motor stopped, and the Sgt Jack Brown and Sprs Humphrey Dodd and Darryl Hess erecting the perimeter fence at the main camp site. Sprs Harry Atkinson, Dennis Fitzhenry and Darryl Hess sheeting the first Romney hut with the aid of a ‘mobile scaffold’ constructed on the tray of a 3 ton Bedford. Spr Ian Tibbles delivering cladding for a Romney in a Rough Rider motorised skip, complete with accompanying dust. PAGE 20 DESTINATION: MALAYA
  34. 34. sappers, all experienced in boat- handling, moved to the end of the long, skinny craft to offer advice to the nominated driver. With all the weight in the stern, the boat stood on its end and disappeared below the water. After being rescued from the river, the group was thrown into the local lock-up where they were held until a none-too- happy Barry Lennon arrived late that night to bail them out and reimburse the boat owner for his loss. Several days later all five faced the table and were given seven days CB (confined to barracks with additional duties), no leave for a month, and deductions from their pay until full restitution was made for the lost boat and motor. (A rather different perspective on this event is recorded in Chapter 8.) Since the start of Op Crown the 11 Sqn plant operators had been busy preparing the foundations for the construction site, building access roads, starting preliminary work on the helipad and main runway, and clearing overburden from borrow pits. They had collected the construction plant from the Warin Chamrap railhead near Ubon, driving the graders and other wheeled equipment the 70 miles to Op Crown. With the tented accommodation now ready, troops from 59 Field Sqn RE and 54 Corps Field Park Sqn RE began arriving direct from Singapore and the UK. With them came their heavy plant, Cat D8s, Gainsborough wheeled dozers, open-bowl scrapers and other specialist equipment, and now the earthworks could begin in earnest. The fine soil and dust were first removed, then laterite from the borrow pits nearby was laid and compacted. Because the land was previously rice paddy and reasonably flat, large amounts of fill were required in some areas to ensure adequate drainage. Capt Malcolm van Gelder assesses the capacity of a bridge to support the Land Rovers while on a reconnaissance near Cambodia. 2 Troop Aussie Rules team preparing to play the RAAF at Ubon airfield. Cat D8 and open bowl scraper of 54 Field Park Sqn taking material from the borrow pit for placement on the construction site and helipad. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 21
  35. 35. PAGE 22 DESTINATION: MALAYA With the influx of personnel, the mess facilities were being strained to the limit so a staggered shift system was introduced to ease the problem. Reveille for the early shift was 0500, the late shift starting work at the normal time. The shifts were alternated week about. The Free Thai Airfield With the influx of heavy plant and equipment of 54 and 59 Sqns, a small contingent of 11 Sqn plant under WO2 Dixon RE was detailed to begin a secondary airfield project on a site some 15 miles northwest from Ban Kok Talat at Ban Sawat. Known as the Free Thai strip, it was in fact only a DZ (drop zone) which had been built by Thais opposed to the Japanese occupation in WW2, so that arms and medical supplies could be parachuted to the resistance movement. Included in the nine-man contingent were 2 Troop’s Cpl John Bending, and Sprs Dave Wood and Alan Morris. Their total plant consisted of two Fowler light dozers, one Aveling Austin grader, a towed multi-wheel roller, a Foden water tanker, two Commer tippers and a Land Rover. With this limited equipment the team managed to turn an ox cart track into an 15-mile access road and clear, form and surface with laterite a 700-yard airstrip in less than three months. At one stage it took three days just to remove a very large tree from the road alignment with only the light dozers at their disposal. Dave Wood recalls: The road was the width of two dozer blades with about a 20-foot carriageway and side drains to suit prevailing conditions. We camped on site each night just short of whatever village we were going through at the time. After reaching the airstrip site we established a more lasting campsite complete with a sleeping tent and cooking, shower and latrine facilities. As we were without a front-end loader we constructed a chinaman, using timber from an old bridge we demolished. The chinaman proved very effective for loading the tippers but was not so good when it rained as it could only be drained by pumping the water out. During this time I think most of the crew developed a taste for the local Thai food as we were frequent guests to the local's homes for meals. Some of us were invited to attend the local schools to talk and show some pictures of the countries we lived in. We also carried out some basic first-aid treatment to the locals along the way and also during our stay at the Free Thai strip. Another highlight was the The nearly-completed camp from on top of the Braithwaite water tank. Workshops in the foreground, NAAFI in the distance and ORs mess in between. RNZAF Bristol Freighter, the first aircraft to land at the newly-completed Free Thai airfield, welcomed by crowds of locals who just appeared from the surrounding bush.
  36. 36. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 23 water festival which was held about mid-April after the rains had started – not sure what it was called but do know they throw water on everyone for good luck. We decided to take part in the festivities so we filled the water truck then used the pressure pump to spray everybody, including the local Buddhist monks who, I might say, were not that impressed. In addition to the road and airstrip the team also constructed a 9-hole golf course (under instructions from CRE Crown). The first plane to land at the Free Thai Airstrip was a Kiwi Air Force Bristol Freighter with the New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr Keith Holyoake, on board. They saw the strip and thought they would ‘just drop in.’ The ‘official opening’ by the British Attaché to Thailand, who arrived in a DeHavilland Dove, was several days later. The Attaché’s pilot treated the construction crew to a joy flight and an opportunity to see the fruits of their labour from the air. During late April, with the main tasks completed and insurgents becoming active in the area, the contingent returned to the main camp. Snow’s diary, 10 March: Hold-ups on road to village by armed locals. If this keeps up someone could get hurt. When the Squadron arrived at Ban Kok Talat there were no bars in the village but, with the influx of thirsty troops, bars sprang up overnight, almost as if by magic. The main drink served was Singha, a pleasant lager style beer brewed in Bangkok, but a spirit called ‘Mekong Whisky’ was also popular with some of the patrons. This fiery concoction, made from grain, juniper berries and various other unknown ingredients was a real ‘fighting’ drink and also caused temporary blindness if partaken of too generously. The often inebriated patrons walking back to camp for the 2230 curfew sometimes found themselves the victim of a hold-up by armed local bandits. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt in these encounters and a police crackdown and some summary Thai justice during late March all but ended these encounters. During March, 2 Troop started on the MRS (Medical Reception Station) and hospital building. Timber frames were prefabricated on site, erected, and then clad with corrugated galvanised iron. This building was fully-lined inside and fitted with ceiling fans and even boasted an air-conditioner in the treatment room. The troop also poured the foundations for the power station and built several prefabricated site sheds around the construction site. Around this time, the Op Crown flag mysteriously disappeared from the flagpole to be replaced by a ladies bra. The CRE nearly had apoplexy and, to add insult to injury, the bra became stuck at the top of the flagpole and a crane had to be brought in to remove the offending undergarment. A little later on, the RASC flag from the FAMTO (First Aid Mechanical Transport Outfit, although usually known as the Fuel and Motor Transport Partially-completed MRS and hospital building with the Braithwaite tank and one of the Romney huts in the background.
  37. 37. PAGE 24 DESTINATION: MALAYA Office) store also disappeared, but unfortunately it was lost to posterity many years later when the Wicks family lost their house and all their possessions in Darwin’s cyclone Tracy. The monsoon season was approaching and this would signal the end of major construction work for several months. The first downpours started at the end of March and caused quite a sensation in the tent city, as not only did the tents leak, but also the rice paddies filled and inundated the tents as well. The floors of the tents had been laid with coir matting in an attempt to reduce the dust. (The coir matting had been 'salvaged' from the packaging in which the tents were originally consigned.) Breeding under the matting were all sorts of nasties including some very large scorpions. As the tents flooded, the nasties moved to higher 'ground', which meant climbing up onto the camp beds. This was particularly exciting when the downpour occurred in the wee dark hours of the night, and it gave added incentive to make sure the mosquito net was tucked in tightly. Thankfully, by this time, several of the accommodation blocks at the main camp were nearing completion and some of the sappers from 54 and 59 Sqns were moving house so the tents could be dismantled, although 11 Sqn, including 2 Troop, remained under canvas for the duration of the deployment. The sod-turning ceremony signalling the ‘official’ start of Op Crown was performed on 3 April 1964 by the Thai Prime Minister, Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, who named the airfield after the late Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat. There were a 60-strong Thai Army guard of honour and a brass band, and a combined Australian, New Zealand and British ceremonial guard also. Security was tight in and around the construction site with armed Thai Militia everywhere. The Prime Minister arrived by luxury twin rotor helicopter, landing on the recently-completed helipad. After the traditional inspection of the guard, the Prime Minister climbed aboard a Cat D8 (after it had been A Buddhist Monk blesses the Cat D8 before the sod-turning ceremony marking the official beginning of Operation Crown. Combined Australian, British and NZ guard of honour for the official start of Operation Crown await the arrival of the Prime Minister of Thailand.
  38. 38. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 25 suitably blessed by a Buddhist Monk) and, with the help of the Kiwi plant operator, pushed over a tree left standing especially for the occasion. A near-tragedy occurred in the early hours of Good Friday when one of the 2 Troop tents caught fire, probably started by a cigarette carelessly discarded by a passer-by. The entire tent was engulfed in seconds, and the four occupants, Sappers Frank Sexton, Mick 'Moose' Sutton, Arthur 'Geordie' Sinclair and Cpl Stan Limb were lucky to escape with their lives. Little was saved, the heat being so intense that even the aluminium trunks melted and the contents burned. Next morning Moose Sutton displayed his melted radio complete with his grinning denture inside the fused components. Bing Crosby recalls that he told Moose to keep it as a memento/sculpture as it was unique and would eventually be valuable. Unfortunately Moose did not accept that advice. Despite the dogged effort of Malcolm van Gelder to get compensation for loss of personal and civilian effects, the answer was ‘they were told to insure property against loss’. On the other hand, the CRE Crown flag thankfully survived, buried safely in an ammo box deep under the coir matting. (Several years later this flag was presented to the Sportsman’s Club at 21 Const Sqn Puckapunyal by Moose Sutton.) While watching all he owned go up in flames and wearing only a towel, Geordie Sinclair was berated by the RSM for being incorrectly dressed. April brought the news that 7 Field Sqn from Enoggera in Brisbane was to be sent to Sabah the following month. Part of Australia’s commitment to Malaysia was to provide military support, but it still wished to avoid direct contact with Indonesian forces and, no doubt, saw the provision of an Engineer unit as achieving both objectives. Also in April, Op Crown had its first two serious accidents, one fatal. A cook from 59 Sqn RE was badly burned while filling a pressure stove. There was no helicopter available to evacuate him so a couple of plant operators, including Noel Butler, worked throughout the night to prepare a section of the main runway to accept a STOL (short takeoff and landing) type aircraft. The pilot was not too happy with the surface but he landed and lifted the injured cook out. On 21 April a Brit electrician, only newly arrived from UK, was electrocuted while working on powerlines within the construction site. In spite of the best efforts of the MO he could not be resuscitated. A visit by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr Holyoake, and the Commander in Chief, Far East Command, went largely unnoticed by the workers at the construction site, except maybe the Kiwis and those at the MRS and hospital building, which rated an inspection. Spr Frank Sexton looking rather forlorn amid the ruins of his fire- ravished tent on Good Friday 1964.
  39. 39. Anzac Day 1964 Anzac day was approaching, and in spite of Malcolm van Gelder’s best efforts, the Australians were not to be granted a full day of rest. However a contingent of Kiwi plant operators and carpenters had arrived in March as New Zealand’s contribution to Op Crown, and the Anzac force, along with the recent visit by Mr Holyoake, convinced the powers that be that the day should be accorded the respect it deserved. After a 0400 reveille, a combined Anzac and British dawn service was held at the construction site. This was followed by a gunfire breakfast with some excellent British Navy rum which had been flown in from Singapore as the result of Malcolm's persistence and emphasis on the ‘tradition’ that the British initially failed to appreciate. The rum was served in waxed sputum cups, compliments of the MRS. Later, some of the troop repaired to Ubon to celebrate further, and to play a game of rugby union against the RAAF. The RAAF won 6 points to 3. Those who remained at the camp continued on with a gunfire lunch. The ORs mess was completed at the main camp by another unit and its first use was the gunfire breakfast after the dawn service. With the weight of the large crowd, the piers supporting the floor sank into the rain-softened earth. It seems that no sole plates or concrete pads had been used under the piers. From the 26th all meals were served at the new mess, the first meal being bully beef. The change of venue and improved kitchen facilities had obviously not improved the menu or its presentation. The hospital was completed by 2 Troop by the end of April and the MO brought the troop a couple of cartons. (Some wag suggested it was only a couple of cans and a carton of straws.) It must have been very difficult for the MO to have maintained a reasonable medical service for both the soldiers and the locals amid the blowing dust, with just tents and a marquee for an MRS and hospital, and so he was overjoyed with his new facilities. During the previous six weeks, in addition to the hospital, the troop had also constructed the power station and the FAMTO store, using the same prefabrication techniques. Meanwhile, the Brits of 11 and 59 Sqns had erected a Braithwaite tank and stand for the camp water supply, installed three diesel-powered generating sets in the power station and erected the Erecting the prefabricated wall-section of the FAMTO store requires a solid team effort. Barrack hut based on a design by WW2 Australian Army Engineer in Chief, Major General Sir Clive Steele. It is doubtful that Sir Clive would have been impressed with the finished product. PAGE 26 DESTINATION: MALAYA
  40. 40. distribution lines throughout the camp. They had also constructed a range of other buildings including the Sgts and ORs messes, accommodation barracks, and the NAAFI. The accommodation barracks were supposedly based on a 1940 WW2 design by Major General Sir Clive Steele, an Australian Army Engineer-in-Chief. The finished product bore little resemblance to Sir Clive Steele’s original design and the workmanship left much to be desired. By May all of 11 Sqn's designated tasks were completed. With able assistance from 2 Troop the Squadron had established a tent complex to house three squadrons of Engineers, nearly 900 men in all, constructed a permanent camp with all facilities, begun preliminary work on the access roads, helipad and main runway, and completed the Free Thai airstrip and access road. The completion of the Crown airfield would be left to 54 and 59 Sqns who would be joined by the Royal Air Force 5001 Const Sqn, and other support units. After the earthworks were completed the 5 000 feet runway and dispersal areas were covered with a 6-inch layer of cement-stabilised laterite, topped with two and a half inches of hot mix asphalt. The completed airfield was handed over to the Thai Government in June 1965. Malcolm van Gelder provides an overview of the reasoning behind Operation Crown and some of the design parameters: If only in a minor way, Australian sappers were involved in Operation Crown from late 1962 when Lt Norm Griffith (Troop Officer 4 Field Troop RAE) accompanied what was believed to be first ground reconnaissance party of the area. Operation Crown was designed to provide an MRT (medium range transport) airfield in northeast Thailand as part of the UK’s contribution to the SEATO program for improving logistical facilities in Thailand. More specifically the purposes of the airfield were: • To deliver troops, supplies and equipment for a Brigade Group (initially). • The deployment of fixed and rotary wing short-range takeoff and landing aircraft. • To provide a means of subsequent maintenance of the force. Boiling the billy during the first weeks at the main camp site Op Crown. Sprs Ian Tibbles and Darryl Hess, Sgt Jack Brown, Spr John White and L/Cpl John Armitage preparing the alignment for the perimeter fence. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 27
  41. 41. The airfield location was strategically midway between the two US bases of Ubon and Nakom Phanom, but not too close to the Mekong River, the border with Laos. In fact, the Mekong was 33 miles to the east and 35 miles to the north. The 5 000 foot design length of the airfield was to cater for Hastings, Argosy and Beverley aircraft. Parking areas were to provide for up to 10 MRT aircraft, six helicopters and a fuel area for two 10 000-gallon pillow tanks. The design glide angle was 1 in 50 with 15 degrees splay. Following an example such as the Nakom Phanom airfield, the pavement was to have been constructed to LCN (load classification number) 30 based on 10 inches of compacted laterite, with the top 3 inches mixed with bitumen. Surfacing options considered were using PSP (pierced-steel plank), a conventional bitumen prime and seal or concrete. On 4 May 1964 the main body of 11 Sqn, including most of 2 Troop, packed up and said farewell to Ban Kok Talat, travelling by local bus once more to Ubon. There, a chartered British Eagle Britannia waited in the hot sun to fly them to Singapore. This time there were actually stairs to board the aircraft. Following the landing at Singapore, the troop was hustled on to a train for the overnight journey to Tampin, (with sleeping compartments, would you believe?) and 24 hours after leaving Op Crown, the bulk of 2 Troop was once again 'home'. Meanwhile, the transport party loaded their vehicles and plant on to the train at Warin Chamrap, the railhead near Ubon, leaving Op Crown on the 8 May 1964 for the last time. An overnight train trip to Bangkok followed and then to the Maxwell Brander, which was waiting to be loaded before sailing for Singapore. By now the Brander had been fitted with radar and other navigation devices and the return voyage only took three days. The transport party finally straggled into Terendak on the 14th arriving in dribs and drabs due to numerous vehicle breakdowns. A rear party of 11 Sqn personnel stayed at Camp Crown for several more weeks to provide finishing touches to the MRS and to strike the remainder of the tents and ready them for transport. Operation Crown Postscript The following is an extract from The Royal Australian Engineers, 1945 to 1972 Volume 4, by Brigadier P J Greville, CBE about the subsequent involvement of 11 Indep Field Sqn and 2 Field Troop in Operation Crown: The Squadron (with the new 2 Troop under Capt Alan Hodges) returned to Operation Crown in Thailand from December 1965 to May 1966 … Crown airfield had been completed in late 1965 Lt Barry Lennon and S/Sgt David Crosby discuss the works program outside the 2 Troop site office. PAGE 28 DESTINATION: MALAYA
  42. 42. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 29 but water penetration during the wet had led to the failure of the pavement. The redeployment of 11 Independent Field Squadron was part of a major operation to correct the problem. It involved stripping two inches of bituminous macadam surface, repairing the laterite base and laying eight inches of quality concrete on the 5,000-ft runway…The squadron was part of a larger British force of engineers, plus transport, workshops and stores, totalling 418 men. About 150 Thai nationals were employed. The squadron was relieved in May by 59 Field Squadron RE and the task was completed by December. Twenty years after 11 Sqn’s involvement in Op Crown, John Stevens returned to Loeng Nok Tha and recorded his visit in The Royal Engineers Journal, Vol 104, No 4. Some of John’s observations were: Ubon airport turned out to be a shadow of its former self … One Thai Airways flight a day and a small RTAF presence is all that is left. However, Ubon town has grown out of all recognition – wide streets, modern buildings, a population trebled in size, a new bridge over the meandering Moon River. Off on the road to Loeng Nok Tha– a wide straight metalled road, raised above the surrounding paddy has replaced the laterite ruts, standing water and endless dust of the dry season. After a coffee stop at Amnat Charoen – remember the 16 foot tall Buddha image – the local village of Ban Kok Samnam and the entrance to Crown Airfield was reached in a little over an hour. The approach track leads to two concrete plinths on which brass plates in English and Thai commemorate the opening of the airfield. The English version has been used for target practice and now contains no less that fourteen bullet marks. The pavement quality concrete of runway, taxiways and apron appears in excellent condition, though one must remember it has received very little use by aircraft and a Thai water buffalo is hardly LCN30. Crown Camp has returned to the bush. The only clearly recognisable features are the swimming pool … and a concrete slab containing sixteen large holes. – Polaris silo or perhaps something more mundane? A stroll down the main camp road and up the nearby village – no beer tins or Mekong bottles now define the route – revealed a transformation. Ban Kok Samnan is now a model village – neatly laid out, tidy houses with a metalled road and mains electricity… Perhaps not a lot to show for all the Sapper, REME and RCT ‘blood, tears and sweat’ which went into Operation CROWN but the airfield is there, intact and with very little work could quickly be made operational once again. With the emphasis on tourism in Thailand it might even become MUKDAHAN INTERNATIONAL!!
  43. 43. “...camp security was again upgraded with the guard being increased to five NCOs and 18 ORs, all armed and issued with live ammunition”
  44. 44. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 31 Chapter Four Terendak Again Everyone was pleased to be ‘home’, especially the married members who had been separated from their families for over four months. A ‘welcome home’ party was held on the 16 May 1964 and everyone had an enjoyable time. Security had been increased around the garrison during the Troop’s absence, due to the threat posed by Indonesian insurgents. The duty guard now consisted of two NCOs and 12 other ranks, as well as a Duty Officer. Two Sterling SMGs with 40 rounds each were issued to the duty patrol. Near the end of May, Sapper Harry Atkinson flew home to Queensland, as his father was very ill. The good news was that he recovered, and Harry returned to Terendak in due course. An Increase in Troop Numbers During July of 1963, while 2 Troop was still undergoing pre-deployment training in Australia, in Malaya, Sharon, the first child of Bill and Lorraine Jones was born. Bill, the Troop vehicle mechanic, arrived in January 1963 to join 4 Troop and stayed on with 2 Troop. When Sharon was born, Terendak Hospital was still under construction, so she was delivered in the MRS, which was really only a treatment room and outpatient facility. Shortly after 2 Troop’s arrival, Bob and Marilyn Reed welcomed their first baby, Donna, who was born a couple of weeks before Christmas. Bob had completed two years with 4 Troop and remained in Malaya with 2 Troop for Donna’s birth. He did not accompany the troop to Thailand and returned to Australia in mid-1964. When the new 140-bed hospital complex was officially opened in Terendak shortly after 2 Troop’s arrival, it boasted a 30-bed wing, exclusively for use by the families of the servicemen in the garrison, and this included an air-conditioned eight-bed maternity ward and delivery suite. The first troop family members to trial the new facilities were Trish Lennon and Val Plumb. Both Jenni-Lee Lennon and Kevin Plumb were born in March 1964 while the Troop was in Thailand. In May, John and Betty Bending welcomed baby Michael and, soon after, the Morris family increased with the arrival of Shane, a brother for Stephen. The modern hospital complex at Terendak Garrison which was officially opened after 2 Troop’s arrival in Malaya.
  45. 45. Another happy event during May was the marriage of Sapper Tony ‘Flash’ Farrell. His bride-to-be, Trish, had arrived in Malaya shortly after the Troop and stayed with her old school friend, Betty Bending. The wedding took place on Saturday 23 May 1964. It was the first wedding in Terendak’s newly- consecrated Catholic Church and was performed by the Australian chaplain, Father James Boberg. In January, while the Troop was on its way to Thailand, Sapper Alan Richardson, another of the 4 Troop ‘half-and-halfers’, returned to Perth to wed his fiancée Yvonne, and she too joined the Troop in May. Tasks at Terendak Although enjoying life at ‘home’, 2 Troop members were by no means idle. An old disused building on the other side of the squadron oval was requisitioned as the troop clubhouse, and considerable time was spent on renovations. The first party was held there in June and was voted a huge success. A large rainforest tree adjacent to the residence of the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Robert Dawson, had died as a result of a lightning strike, and was considered a danger to the house. Civilian contractors would normally have been employed to remove it, but after the lightning strike the locals considered that a spirit resided there, and regularly lit candles, making it a kind of shrine. The Troop was entrusted with the task of removing the tree, while still leaving the house intact. Under the direction of S/Sgt Bing Crosby this task was successfully accomplished. Some months later, another job for the Brigade Commander consisted of building a set of concrete stairs from the house down to the beach. In all, over 80 steps were required, each one individually formed up, and the concrete carried up the hill in buckets from the mixer situated on the beach. Sgt Bruce ‘Blair’ Parsons was in charge of this project and, on its successful completion, the Brigadier showed his appreciation with a round of beers for the workers. Brigadier Terence McMeekin who had recently replaced Brigadier Dawson, subsequently wrote to OC 11 Sqn: I have been meaning to write you a note to thank you and your boys for so ably constructing a new stairway to Commonwealth House. Succeeding generations of decrepit VIPs – not to mention occupants! – who visit Commonwealth House will have cause to praise 2 Field Troop Royal Australian Engineers and those who directed them. The wedding of the year and the first in the newly-consecrated Catholic Church. Spr Tony Farrell and his bride Trish with Matron of Honour, Barbara Saxelby (NZ), and Best Man, Spr Peter Matthews. Cpl Peter Stokes, Spr Doug Canning and Mary Reece are on the left. Spr Peter Glasson hard at work painting the troop club house. Peter, a painter before enlistment, was 2 Troop’s unofficial painter and decorator. PAGE 32 DESTINATION: MALAYA
  46. 46. It is a splendid job most professionally done and – as far as I could see – with great good heart. Please thank them very much for me. In June the Troop received the news that 7 Field Sqn had arrived at Jesselton aboard HMAS Sydney, to begin its deployment in Sabah. At this time Exercise ‘Wide-step’ was held near the garrison in the Asahan training area, and consisted of building an improvised bridge over a 60-foot gap, capable of supporting a 3-ton vehicle. It turned into a competition between 2 Troop and 1 Troop, one of the Brit troops from 11 Sqn. The task was completed by 2 Troop late in the afternoon of the second day, several hours ahead of 1 Troop. The next exercise was an overnighter in Jungle East. Because it was adjacent to the garrison no transport was involved, so the troop marched to the area in full kit and set up a defensive perimeter for a series of ‘stand-to’ exercises. The heavens opened and, even without stand-tos, no one had much sleep. Many of the hutchies flooded, and it was a wet and weary troop that returned to barracks next day. The troop travelled to Asahan once again, this time for an explosives exercise and, after destroying a lot of trees, returned to base. An ‘Air Portable’ inspection was held on the 26 June. The troop still had some serious deficiencies in its kit and essential stores due to shortages within the squadron. However, this was not considered a reasonable excuse and all the section NCOs were given extra duties. 'NEVER ASSUME' as told by S/Sgt Bing Crosby Background The air portable inspection on the 26 June 1964 had a dummy run, a day or two beforehand. Capt van Gelder asked Cpl Graeme Leach what he used as a container for centralised cooking or brewing up in his section. Graeme replied that there wasn't a suitable item in the Q Store. Reaction The Troop Commander was obviously determined that the troop should present very well. He told Cpl Leach to find something, such as a pulp-apple tin, from the mess. AP day On the morning of the 26th, the inspection wasn't going too well, when Capt van Gelder asked Cpl Leach where his newly-acquired container was. The reply: ‘I haven’t been able to get one.’ Commonwealth House, the Brigadier’s residence, was threatened by a large tree. Sprs John White and Les McNamara float-finish steps on the stairway project at the Brigadier’s residence. Exercise Wide Step in the Asahan training area. A smoke break as work on the improvised bridge is progressing ahead of schedule. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 33
  47. 47. Opposite and equal reaction Capt van Gelder turned to me and told me to parade Leach to his office after the inspection. We both stood to attention as Cpl Leach was given a ‘right bollocking’, which I found rather embarrassing because I thought the ‘crime’ wasn't that serious. I attempted a defence but I was cut off and Cpl Leach was dismissed with several extra duties. Later, there were some fierce remarks outside the OC's Hearing as Graeme felt that he had been the victim of – if not a kangaroo court – certainly a wallaby one. Inevitable flow on After Graeme had left, I was asked why I had not followed up on the direction that Malcolm had given. ‘I assumed that Cpl. Leach, in his usual efficient way, would have obtained a suitable container’, I said. To this, Malcolm replied: ‘Never assume. Just be thankful that you are not being formally disciplined.' Lifetime lesson I suppose I was thankful not to be disciplined, but my sense of professional pride and fairness had been dented. Looking back, it was a worthwhile lesson to carry through life from that day, but I certainly didn't think so at the time. Exercise Raven All this activity was only a lead-up to ‘Raven’, a Brigade-strength exercise also conducted in the Asahan training area. 2 Troop was to provide engineer support for the KOYLI Regiment (King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) and after a 0230 start on day one, the troop was kept on the move for the ensuing seven days. Its tasks included, as well as the usual war games, a night-bridging exercise. While travelling in convoy on a straight stretch of jungle track, the troop was strafed at treetop level by an ‘enemy’ Buccaneer jet fighter which seemed to appear from nowhere. Fortunately it was only an exercise, but it still scared the hell out of everyone. When ‘Raven’ was finally concluded, the sappers were treated to their first shower in seven days, and their old friends from Thailand, the RAOC mobile bath unit, provided it. Exercise Raven was the last major activity for Malcolm van Gelder as Troop Commander. His replacement, Captain Alan Hodges, arrived shortly before the exercise and deployed with Sprs Clem Finlay and Tony Farrell join others from 2 Troop boarding the truck for a 0230 start to Exercise Raven. Sapper ingenuity. Spr John Tomczak, Cpl Graeme Leach, Sprs Tony Farrell, Ray Logan, Sgt Jack Brown, Sprs Harry Atkinson, Dave Wood and Norm Looby with a ‘borrowed’ ox-art, minus ox, just the thing for carrying all that kit on Ex Raven. PAGE 34 DESTINATION: MALAYA
  48. 48. the troop. Malcolm and Helen, with their two boys returned to Australia, enjoying a relaxing and well-earned holiday. Other new Troop members arriving before the start of ‘Raven’ were Sapper John Tomczak, replacement for the homeward bound Bob Reed, and Private Ken Johnson, a cook from the Australian Army Catering Corps. Not long after this, the Squadron 2IC, Captain Mike Arber, was replaced by Major Gordon Chave. During July, Bruce Parsons was promoted to Troop Sergeant. Bereavement Shortly after the return from Exercise Raven, Dave and Judy Wood lost their two-year old daughter, Roslyn Heather. She had been in ill health since receiving a BCG injection before leaving Australia. It was a very sad time for the Woods, made especially hard by being so far from family support. The funeral service was held in the recently- consecrated OPD (Other Presbyterian Denominations) Church on 25 July 1964, and the troop members not on duty attended and offered what little comfort they could. Roslyn was buried near the hospital in the garrison military cemetery, which is now beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Interestingly, the cemetery was used to bury 24 Australians killed in Vietnam, as well as those from the Borneo conflict because, at that time, it was Australian policy not to bring bodies back to Australia for burial. A Vietnam VC winner, Major Peter Badcoe, is buried there, as is Cpl Bob Bowtell from 3 Field Troop RAE, the first engineer to die in Vietnam. The Cameron Highlands The Cameron Highlands are in the central mountainous region of Malaya, and have an elevation of about 5 000 feet and above. The British had used the area as a hill station to escape the hot, humid conditions of the lowlands, and many retired expatriates had made it their home. The British Army maintained a rest camp there, and units were rotated for several days of R and R, usually once during their deployment. A party from 2 Troop, those not required for duty, joined other 11 Sqn personnel for a brief stay. The golf course, where Mick Sutton lost countless balls, was very picturesque but quite difficult, and the troops generally enjoyed the novelty of the nights in front of a roaring open fire. The Cameron Highlands is also a major tea-growing area, and the troop members enjoyed a tour of one of the plantations and the processing facilities. There was also a march through virgin rainforest, (with very, very steep hills) to a remote village to see an ancient tribe of indigenous ‘primitive’ Malays in their natural habitat, unchanged for hundreds of years. Just how primitive they were was evidenced by the fact nearly everyone carried the latest model transistor radio. However, it was an enjoyable four or five-day break from Terendak, in spite of the long trip to and fro in the back of a Bedford 3-ton truck. Well, not so enjoyable for Darryl ‘Fred’ Sprs Arthur Sinclair, Peter Matthews and Bob Rawson take a breather after walking up very steep hills in a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands area of central Malaya. A History of 2 Field Troop RAE 1963 to 1965 PAGE 35
  49. 49. Hess perhaps. While on guard duty one night, he was instructed by the Duty Corporal to take his evening meal break. When the Duty Sergeant found the guard room deserted Fred was charged with leaving his post – the Corporal denying everything. Fred was returned to Terendak next day to face the table where he was relieved of 28 days pay. If the punishment meted out to the sappers seemed harsh at times it was because, as part of a British unit, they were governed not by Australian Military Law but by the much more draconian Queen’s Regulations, and sentences for even minor misdemeanours could be quite severe. While indiscriminate urinating at the tented campsite at Crown was not heavily frowned upon, it took a charge of two British sappers by Malcolm van Gelder as Duty Officer to demonstrate the severity of punishments under these Regulations. When Malcolm expressed surprise at the punishments given, the sentencing officer said: ‘Malcolm, if you don’t know the consequences of charging, or object to the severity of punishment, you should not have charged them.’ Near the end of July the camp security was again upgraded with the guard being increased to five NCOs and 18 ORs, all armed and issued with live ammunition. This meant that guard duty was a very frequent event for everyone and, with not enough NCOs in the Sqn to maintain a reasonable roster, several senior sappers like Bill Jones and Tony Farrell were seconded to the role of Guard Corporal. The Park Troop, with attached 2 Troop plant operators, was deployed to the Asahan training area to construct a heavy-weapons firing range. The project consisted of access roads, stop butts and abutments, firing mounds, and bund walls around the munitions magazines. While it was essentially a plant operation, some FEs were required for culvert and headwall construction, and 2 Troop made its contribution. Sport played a major role in the squadron, helping keep everyone fit, as well as providing entertainment. Rugby, basketball, hockey and volleyball were played regularly, with 2 Troop providing its share of participants to the squadron teams. An inter-troop sports day, consisting of track and field events, was won by the troop, as was a swimming carnival held in August, although 2 Troop lost the water polo competition The nearly-victorious water polo team, standing, Sprs Trevor Reece, Tony Farrell, Ken Jolley, John Tomczak, Cpl Graeme Leach and Team Manager‚ Cpl Bruce Parsons. Seated, Sprs Dave Wood, Peter Matthews, Norm Looby and Lindsay Simpson. 11 Sqn basketball team with a strong 2 Troop element. Standing: Spr John Tomczak, S/Sgt David Crosby, Cpl Bruce Parsons, Cpl Graeme Leach and Spr Dennis Fitzhenry. Front row 2nd from right, Spr Peter Matthews. PAGE 36 DESTINATION: MALAYA

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