Extracts taken from some of the articles written by members of the Regiment from The Last Campaign of The Rifle Brigade Borneo 1965-1966. Published by the Authors and the Trustees of the John Bodley Trust.
Captain later Colonel D.A.B. Williams wrote:
Before I forget any more about our year in the Far East, I would like to set the scene which for me began on 31 December 1964. The place is Normandy Barracks, Felixstowe. The location is Battalion Headquarters’ conference room and the time is 1530 hrs. As a bachelor of 24 I am the Regimental Signals Officer. I have been taking part in the first air mobility exercise which the battalion has ever attempted and it is due to continue over the New Year. However, I am required to attend the commanding officer’s orders group which has just been summoned by the Adjutant, Captain Nick Sealy.
We stand up as the Commanding Officer; Colonel (later Major-General) Mark Bond enters. Before we have even sat down he begins; “Gentlemen this is SECRET and by that I mean that you do not even tell your wives”. I am sure that you can imagine the buzz that ensued as we sat down and looked at each other. The colonel went on with words to the following effect;
“You are all aware that the situation in the Far East has worsened over Christmas and reinforcements are being sent to Borneo from Hong Kong as part of the defence agreement with that colony. The size of our military contingent there has to be maintained and together with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment we are no longer going to Aden but instead we are to fly to The Far East on a one-year unaccompanied tour. We will go to Hong Kong for four months, Malaya for two months to the Jungle Warfare School and then on to Borneo for a six-month operational tour. The advance party leaves in a week and the exercise that we have been doing since Christmas is now cancelled”.
The excitement at the thought of a year in the Far East was one thing but the immediate need was now to celebrate the arrival of the New Year and I remember my priorities were clearly; ‘girlfriend, car, kit, army’ - and as soon as I could I drove up to London in the Volvo which I had bought from Captain Jonathan Peel M.C. when he left Cyprus earlier in the year and in which I had driven home once we had left the island at the end of our tour the previous October. The next morning, however, and on return to barracks and my signals platoon C/Sgt Derek Wrightson and Sgt Dick Hayes soon ensured that I faced up to reality and my priorities rapidly and quite rightly changed to become; ‘army, kit, car, girlfriend’ and like everyone else we unpacked and then repacked all the equipment prior to our move. My year in the Far East had begun!
From the Foreword by Major-General Bond
A foreword is not the place for my personal opinions and anecdotes, individual members of the Battalion will, I hope, provide these in plenty but perhaps I might allow myself some general observations for background. I was extremely fortunate to inherit from my predecessor as Commanding Officer, Colonel Hew Butler, a Battalion in very good shape and heart, even by the Rifle Brigade’s high standards.
I had a personal friend as Second-in-Command, outstanding Company Commanders, and a bunch of high grade junior officers. We were also fortunate to have an Adjutant who, despite his longing for a more active operational role, tackled the endless paper warfare with efficiency and unfailing cheerfulness. Much of our livelihood and what passed as comfort depended on the Quartermaster and his team. He never failed us and his continual quips and wit kept us all in good spirits.
I cannot list all individuals who managed their departments so well; all worked as a team. I must, however, give the Regimental Sergeant Major a special mention. Deprived of a drill square and of men to drill on it, he took on the task of Helicopter Tasking, a job which had been filled by a Major by our predecessors, and performed it so well that he defied all attempts by the Royal Air Force in Kuching to catch him out in any aspect of that testing role.
In the end, of course, the main burden and exertion fell upon the rifle platoons. In retrospect I wonder whether I did not set too punishing a frequency of operational patrols, in the light of conditions of “going” in the jungle and of weather, heat and burdens to be carried. If I did, they have my belated apologies, but they never let us down and their cheerfulness in extremely tough circumstances was beyond all praise and was frequently remarked upon by visitor to the Battalion; I was and remain proud of them.
We were lucky in our comparatively low rate of casualties. Operating with weapons loaded and ready, with chances of meeting intruding Indonesians or indeed of intruding ourselves, some accidents with firearms and explosives were inevitable. Jungle diseases, heat stroke, skin problems and injuries of all kinds kept the Medical Officer and his staff fully occupied. Only one casualty arose from Indonesian action, an anti-personnel mine severely wounded one Rifleman who was evacuated by helicopter and survived. But fear of casualties and difficulty of their evacuation remained a constant nightmare. Thank God, they were so few!
No comments of mine could be complete without a tribute paid to the Rear Party in Felixstowe, and the vital part it played in maintaining the morale of the Battalion and indeed of those wives, many of them young and lonely without their husbands. The Rear Party was so important that some names must be remembered.
It was commanded by Majors Jimmy Glover and Robin Alers-Hankey successively, both, alas now dead, with help from CSMs Young, Collyer and Sergeant Lakeman. The wives club headed by Iona St Aubyn, Janet Glover, Sally Tarleton, Sue Ramsbotham, Christine Alers-Hankey, Lena Carter, Grace Selby, Mrs Byrne and other members from time to time, all worked untiringly to look after families and give support to many wives. The morale of the Battalion would have suffered catastrophically without their constant support. I hope that some Rear Party members will contribute their memoirs to this volume.
In closing, I would like to draw attention to another occurrence which, concerned as we were in Borneo in day to day matters; we failed to recognise its historic significance. On 1st January 1966 we celebrated the New Year’s birth by some volleys of shells towards our Indonesian “confronters” just to keep them from getting up to any larks, but we were so concerned with our own local affairs and worries that the date passed us by. The Battalion on this date ceased to be titled 3rd Green Jackets, The Rifle Brigade and hereafter was to be known as the 3rd Battalion The Royal Green Jackets (RB). In short, the words The Rifle Brigade would no longer appear in the British Army’s order of battle.
As a third generation of Rifle Brigade officers, all three of whom fought with the Regiment at one time or another during the past one hundred years, I was deeply unhappy by the thought that a Regiment which despite its comparative youth had won so many battle honours and been awarded more Victoria Crosses than any other infantry regiment, should no longer have its name included in the Army’s list of titles. Of course I wished the Royal Green Jackets well and now do so for The Rifles in the future. Nevertheless for some this was a sad occasion.
My only consolation is that I believe that we who served on active service in Borneo, and whose performance was described by our Brigadier in his goodbye to us in words of such extraordinarily extravagant praise, can claim that in its final months on operations we maintained to the last the superlative reputation of our Rifle Brigade predecessors. I am proud to have served with you all and wish you all well and I wish good fortune to this fascinating literary project.
Yours ever, Mark Bond, Maj. Gen.
A trench line in the Nibong Forward Base. The Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Bond wearing sunglasses stands behind the base commander Major Michael Carleton-Smith. Major Stephen Cave, O.C. ‘C’ Company stands on the trench parapet.
R.D.C. writes I am most grateful to Lord Healey and Roger Annett for giving me permission to publish this article in the brief history of The Rifle Brigade.
The preface from the book DROP ZONE BORNEO, The RAF Campaign 1963-65 by Roger Annett. Published by Pen & Sword 2006 in which Lord Healey wrote:
Our victory in Borneo is still too little known in Britain. In my memoir, The Time of My Life, I describe our operations in Confrontation - our struggle against the Indonesian invaders - as the most successful use of armed force in the twentieth century. After nearly four years of fighting, the toll of British casualties was no larger than that on the roads in Britain on a single Bank Holiday weekend.
The bulk of the fighting was done by Gurkha battalions and Britain's own special forces-the SAS and SBS. Britain's Director of Operations was General Walter Walker, who was himself a Gurkha General. He knew that our success depended on winning the hearts and minds of the local population, writing later: `It was indelibly inscribed on our minds that one civilian killed by us would do more harm than ten killed by the enemy.'
I strongly agreed. When the RAF Commander in Singapore asked me for permission to bomb the Indonesian ports of entry in Eastern Borneo, I refused. At a time when the United States was plastering Vietnam with bombs, napalm and defoliant, leading disastrously to the death of millions of civilians and ultimate defeat, no British aircraft ever made an offensive strike in Borneo.
On the other hand, when Walker asked me to allow our forces to cross the border so as to ambush the enemy soldiers before they could enter Malaysian territory, I gave them permission under strict control. So I allowed the border crossings, first for small groups up to three thousand yards, and later for up to ten thousand yards with large bodies of men. The operations, code-named `Claret', remained secret until long after Confrontation was over.
The role of the RAF was vital not only in providing the helicopters to ferry our troops into the jungle, but also to drop supplies to them. As this book describes most clearly, the dangers our supply aircraft faced over the Borneo jungles and mountains, and from the weather, were daunting; but the aircrews flew to success in their essential task.
The Right Honourable
Lord Healey of Riddlesden CH MBE
Secretary of State for Defence 1964-70
Platoons at different times take the moments to recover from the ardours of the jungle, to change worn out clothing and equipment, to catch up with mail, write letters, some to have haircuts and generally relax at their fortified base in the jungle, not too far from the Indonesian border.
Brigadier Colin Harrisson C.V.O., O.B.E. Chairman of The Rifle Brigade Club and Association in a letter to R.D.C. wrote:
As you know I served 2 tours as a helicopter pilot in Borneo with the 60th. Our first tour was in West Brigade and we were at Semengo Camp outside Kuching. When the Scouts had a serious problem and were grounded for weeks (sand ingestion problems in the turbine) I fund myself deployed flying the Brigade Commander (Bill Cheyne), a highly decorated wartime soldier and an incredibly nice man, and also doing a fair number of tasks for the Rifle Brigade. Indeed I became very familiar with the terrain around Balai Ringin, Nibong, Gunan Gajak, Plaman Mapu etc etc.
Bill Cheyne knew I was RB and, when the Rifle Brigade had settled in, made no secret of saying just how impressed he was with the Battalion - imaginative, professional, effective, capable and intelligent - he found the RB style and way of conducting operations to be uniquely successful. He became a big fan of the Rifle Brigade in consequence.
Sergeant, later WO2 Steven Horsley Assault Pioneer Platoon wrote:
For a while I was attached to the training staff of the school to instruct in my Field Engineering skills; namely, explosives, demolitions, mines and engineering tasks such as wiring (barbed type) and sand bagging of defence positions. During one of the training sessions I watched a Platoon Sergeant demonstrating the setting up and use of a Claymore mine to his Platoon. The Claymore mine is an American weapon used as an anti-personnel mine armed with explosives and steel balls. Having set up the Claymore mine and some targets about 50 yards to the front and 25 yards to the rear of it he then allowed the platoon to observe out in the open. As he was about to detonate the mine I stopped him and insisted that the Platoon took cover in the range bunkers. After the mine was detonated we returned to the open ground and found that even the targets at the rear were all blown down and some even had holes in them. No one knew or realised that this mine had a back blast capability.
Captain later Major Simon Marriott, Signals Officer wrote:
Helicopters were our life line at a relatively early stage of their development; you either walked or flew. We had our own Mark 10 Whirlwind Helicopter and resident pilot at Battalion Head Quarters who never failed to rise to the occasion and we could always call on the assistance of a Belvedere, the twin rotor chopper used for heavy lifting.
Lastly I have dined out ever since with the story of Corporal Lody the Royal Signals Battery Storeman who earned enormous respect from an animal he claimed was a mongoose that travelled everywhere with him on his shoulder. One night on meeting a coiled and venomous Banded Krait snake sitting outside the Signals Office I called for Lody to release his mongoose which took immediate fright and disappeared into the Jungle between our legs. In the subsequent investigation the animal was identified as a Civet; by nature very frightened of snakes.
Major, later Major General Sir Michael Carleton-Smith CBE, DL. Commanding A Company and Nibong Base wrote:
Borneo was a very different situation to the previous tour I had with A Company as 2i/c in Malaya in 1957; then we had been a largely national service army with high turnover and we lived in tented camps outside the jungle where we operated against the Chinese Communist terrorists. In Borneo we lived in fully defended bases in deep jungle supplied by helicopters and air drops and operating in clandestine raids [Claret operations] over the Indonesian border against their regular army. Borneo was generally a much tougher more professional experience.
Our national servicemen had served us magnificently but it was good to have professional long term regulars with negligible turnover in Borneo. In Malaya most of the operations had been at section and platoon strength whereas in Borneo many of them were at Company level. A Company at Nibong and B Company at Gunan Gajak were the two forward bases and for Claret operations platoons were often exchanged including those from C and Support Companies with Battalion HQ at Balai Ringin on the only road.
Captain later Major C.R. Marriott LVO Second-in-Command A Company and Nibong Base wrote:
I had not expected to see Kota Tinggi again; the Malayan Jungle training base in Jahore when I left in it 1957 but it was there that we were destined to train for six weeks before moving to Borneo. Once there we were equipped with two new weapons the GPMG and the revolutionary Armalite rifle; touted by a stout salesman from the American manufacturer. This had many advantages in that it was light and compact needed little cleaning and being .223 calibre more ammunition could be carried than with the familiar 7.62 Self Loading Rifle (SLR); all features which made it an ideal jungle weapon.
Company Sergeant Major later Major MBE R.D. Cassidy, Company Sergeant Major C Company and Nibong Base wrote:
Water was a problem in Nibong, how do you get running water out of a tap based on a hill in the middle of the jungle? Easy, we employed Rifleman Doug Reed as waterman whose sole role in life was to produce water into Nibong via the river into tanks so that we could drink and shower. The only time there was a problem was when the river was in flood and his two-stroke engine was submerged. But he solved all problems to do with water including the purification. Give a task with clear instructions to a rifleman and you will be rewarded with a first class result.
Colour Sergeant later Lt Colonel MBE W.J. Taylor Headquarter Company and A Company wrote:
First sight of Nibong gave the impression of a fortified camp from the First World War. Trenches were used for communications between command posts, stores, fire trenches and the living accommodation. Without doubt major work was required to improve the general well being for those occupying the base and for the patrols returning after several days in the jungle. To this end the majority of requirements were supplied by air drops. Maintenance was never ending therefore enormous amounts of timber; corrugated iron, (CGI or Wriggly Tin) and other building materials were required. Due to prevailing weather conditions mud was also a constant problem. Our local Kampong helped provide our major work force and without them our task would have been almost impossible giving assistance in building, recovery of supplies from the air drops and even a laundry service. A select few had the pleasure of clean sheets on a regular basis.
Rifleman later WO 2 James Mulvaney A Company Headquarters wrote:
My main duty during the Battalion’s tour of Borneo was to be the radio operator/signaller for the OC A Company (Major Mike Carleton-Smith). On one particular patrol under the OC, Rifleman Paddy Goggins and I trekked along ahead of the boss on our fourth day out of base in the border regions. We eventually stopped for lunch. After sentries were posted, we sat down for a bite and I sat with my back to a tree when we heard a rustle in the bushes ahead. As I swiftly trying to grasp my rifle, a large ugly creature ran at me and across my legs. I thought I was about to be eaten alive. The jagged scaly back of the creature brushed across my face. My heart raced but I was too dry to even let out a yell. Paddy and I started laughing with relief as the creature made off into the trees. Carleton-Smith was quick to shut us up and bring us back to the task in hand. At the time we felt the beast was ten foot long and three foot high. But now looking back, once we had calmed down it was nearer six foot Long and two feet high. We now believe it to have been either a Komodo dragon or more likely an iguana. Whenever I see a lizard I tell my grandchildren about the time I was nearly eaten by a dragon (for a few seconds I believed it to be true).
Captain later Major G.F. Blunden MBE, Quartermaster wrote:
My first visit to Borneo was a ‘Recce’ with the Commanding Officer from Hong Kong. En route to Balai Ringin we stayed overnight with our affiliated Regiment the 6th Gurkha Rifles, which was interesting. After being shown around the Company bases of the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who we were taking over from, we had a good idea of what we were in for. Life at Balai Ringin was comfortable, certainly compared with that at Nibong and Gunan Gajak our two forward bases.
We had beds, showers,an Officers and Sergeants Mess and even the occasional ENSA show in the shape of Acker Bilk and Frankie Howard. I was the Quartermaster at Balai Ringin where there was a primitive system of pumping water from the river into the camp. I was told that it would be replaced with a much improved purification plant. One snag was that there was a large tree on the proposed purification site and I was told it would be helpful if we could remove it ourselves so that work could begin. The Armourer, AQMS ‘Curly’ Maunders REME, assured me that this was no problem and that he could do the job. Later I was working in my office listening to the dull thud of an axe when there was a despairing cry of “OH NO” followed by an almighty crash. On investigating I found that the tree had fallen the wrong way and demolished a fair bit of the Commando Battery’s hut narrowly missing a Gunner trying to catch up on some kip. The Gunners were not too chuffed and I don’t think that the much vaunted purification system was installed before we left.
WO1 (RSM) later Major Ken (Nick) Carter, Helicopter Tasking Officer, wrote:
Finally when one of our men was injured on a cross border patrol we called for a helicopter to pull him out. Due to operational reasons this had to be done at night as it was on the Indonesian side of the border. Helicopters did not operate at night at that time as they were not fitted with night flying equipment. Two pilots nevertheless volunteered to fly this sortie with primitive equipment. They flew from Kuching over our base where I manned the radio to assist them in finding the route. Several weeks later I learnt that Jack Trigg had been one of the volunteers and had gone on the operation. I would commend Master Pilot Jack Trigg to our book as he did the Regiment a great service during our tour in Borneo. For the rest of the tour I can only say that I have never served at a time when morale was so high or been so proud to be a Rifleman.
WO2 later Major, MBE Dennis Williams (ORQMS) wrote:
Life in Battalion Headquarters at Balai Ringin did have its advantages, the occasional trip to the forward bases at Nibong and Gunan Gajak and down to the Rear Echelon where Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Phil Young and the late Sergeant Pete (Pop) Healy ruled. Orderly Room life was pretty much the same worldwide but the daily routine was always broken with the arrival of iced coffee provided by the ‘char wallah’. A unit going on to active service is required to complete a monthly ‘War Diary’ in accordance with Queens Regulations. Having had some small experience of this for a short period in Cyprus, and still having the forms in our stationery cupboard, I took on this task. So some where in the military archives is six months worth of the Battalion’s War Diaries from Borneo. Entertainment was provided by a twice weekly film show and the occasional Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) show with such stars as Frankie Howard, Aker Bilk and Shirley Abicair plus supporting artistes.
Rifleman Rodney (Rod) Rodway, Signal Platoon wrote:
From the airport we were whisked off to a camp in the middle of the jungle where we were allocated digs and started to get settled in for our six months tour. As a signaller I was detailed to man the Battalion Control room. It was a wooden hut with open windows and dim lights where I spent most of the time playing with the local bugs. We did twelve hour shifts with the night shifts being a bit arduous. I got into the habit of coming off shift and falling straight into bed for a sleep. Usually after an hour I was woken up by a jumped up lance-jack who took delight in waking up us sleep deprived blokes for two hours fatigues.
Some weeks into our tour I was rudely woken up by this nasty little fellow and in my sleep deprived state made the mistake of clumping him across the head with my equipment belt and telling him to ‘Foxtrot Oscar’ and leave me alone. Well I got to see the inside of the local guardhouse awaiting a hearing in front of the C.O. The charge was insubordination whilst on active service. Crikey! I could end up at Colchester MCT for this or even shot! I got two weeks loss of pay and a week in the guardhouse which gave me a nice long rest from the radio shack shifts. As a result of this I was given a cushy job working on the helicopter pad operating the radio relaying the arrivals and departures of personnel which I thoroughly enjoyed. On one occasion a group of rough looking blokes arrived in a helicopter and as they passed the air control room I asked them who they were and what were they doing in this neck of the woods. The reply was “mind your own f”%&*ing business” They were a group of SAS who had no intention of telling me anything.
Sergeant later WO 2 R.M. Hayes (Dick), Signal Platoon wrote:
After a couple of weeks it was decided that the patrols from the forward bases should be able to communicate from their forward positions straight to Battalion Headquarters. As this was impossible with the radio sets that they had it was decided to install a relay station on high ground and automatically relay their messages. Captain Marriot, the Signals officer elected me to run the relay station and gave me as my “Jungle Buddy” Rifleman Danny Finn. This was the start of a period of very hard work that almost caused Danny and I to collapse with sheer physical exhaustion. By this time the patrols had perfected the technique of moving at a fast pace through the Ulu (jungle) to avoid a sudden ambush. Danny and I had packs that weighed up to a hundred pounds each, what with radios, rebroadcast kit, spare batteries and aerial kits not to mention night clothes ammunition and food.
We had a method when packing for patrol, ‘must’ take, ‘should’ take and ‘could’ take. The ‘must’ takes was all the radio equipment and ammunition plus weapons and two water bottles with purification tablets. The ‘should’ takes was the aerial erecting equipment and spare co-axial feeders with insulating links and a four foot ‘F’section rigid aerial. The ‘could’ takes were a change of clothing, night clothes, ground sheet and overhead cover and food. Most times we went with a mess tin of boiled rice flavoured with a meat block and made that last for the duration of the patrol. I must say here that on the patrols I witnessed young boys turn into men who were very disciplined and professional in their manner and a credit to the Regiment.
Lieutenant JD Stephens OC 1 Platoon A Company wrote:
I can say that commanding a Rifle Platoon is about as good as it gets. The Green Jacket way is difficult to define but it involves young officers learning from Riflemen and NCO's just as much as the other way round. I was blessed with many outstanding examples of both. Tony Martin, sadly to die in Borneo, commanded one of my sections when I took command of 1 Platoon on the streets of Nicosia fresh out of RMA Sandhurst. To say that I had a lot to learn was an understatement. Martin who was an exceptionally talented soldier was responsible for a big chunk of my education. The Riflemen can smell incompetence or weakness at about a hundred yards. If as a young officer you are not up to it they will find you out. There is quite a lot of truth in the saying ‘there is no such thing as a bad Rifleman, only bad officers’.
Acting Corporal later Captain George N. Evans, 1 Platoon A Company wrote:
Lieutenant John Stephens would talk in his sleep and poor Sergeant Arthur Iles spent more time awake keeping him silent. It was a good Platoon; Normanton, Brunton, Ginger, Farndale etc. There was a camaraderie shared even by John Doyle who failed to return from leave in the UK. On return from patrol we were met by C.S.M. Ron Cassidy handing out mail and rum from Colour Sergeant Bill Taylor coupled with a complete change of clothes with no quibbles regarding the condition of equipment. This was followed by a shower courtesy of ‘Dolly’ Read; he of the ‘peroxide hair’ who found out what chlorine could do before the fashion world.
Rifleman later WO 2 John Brunton 1 Platoon A Company wrote:
It can be gathered from earlier in the story that equipment was kept to a minimum; however, we still had quite a load to carry in the very difficult conditions. We all dressed in Olive Green shirts and trousers, jungle hat, and long green canvas jungle boots. My weapons were an American Carbine .223 inch “Armalite” rifle, three hundred rounds of ball ammunition two “36” grenades, a number 80 white phosphorus grenade plus an M79 grenade launcher and Claymore Mine.
All of this was in addition to my personal equipment and an A41 spare radio battery. Platoon weapons and spare equipment for the radio were spread among the Platoon. The Platoon weapons were a 2 inch mortar, ammunition and signal pistols. All in all the average weight each man carried was in the region of 40 pounds. Not a great deal but when you are in thick hilly jungle on the Equator with the humidity at 90% it is more than enough. Fording rivers became a major task particularly if they were deep.
Our C.O. Lt. Col. Mark Bond once made me an acting Sergeant. We were in our observation post observing the fall of shot of a Battery of 105mm pack howitzers who were pounding a Kampong containing Indonesian soldiers; they blew the hell out it. The C.O. had come out from Battalion HQ by Chopper to observe but due to low cloud, rain and the onset of last light couldn’t make it back to Balai Ringin that evening. I think it was the only time I was cold in the Jungle. The C.O. cadged two cigarettes from me and jokingly promoted me. He was another example of a Green Jacket officer, a real soldier’s soldier.
Rifleman Doug Reed. AKA The Gunga Din of Nibong Base, 1 Platoon A Company wrote:
After a month or so at Nibong there was a great shortage of water. This was due to the fact that the guy who was trained in water supply had big problems with the engines and could not start them and we were all asked if we knew anything about them. I said “yes”, sure that I could get them going as I had almost completed an apprenticeship in mechanics prior to joining up. After a while I found both engines to have electrical problems that were easy to fix. To cut a long story short I was offered the job of looking after the water and the pump engines. They didn’t have to twist my arm to accept, I jumped at the offer. What a turn of luck, anything to get off the day in and day out of patrolling which was the most demanding physically and stressful work imaginable. I have the greatest respect for all the guys that completed the remaining 4 months of patrols. I was out of it or so I thought; as it turned out my new job was to be one of the hardest challenges that I have ever under gone in my life.
Rifleman later WO 2 John Dennis.1 Platoon A Company wrote:
Memories of those days that will remain with me are the comradeship of the members of the platoon, the endless ten day patrols, the rotting smell of the Jungle, the rain, the way the dark came down at night and not being able to see your own hand in front of your face, the constant walking in swamps and rivers, the leeches and being bitten by red ants.
Lieutenant Nick Pearson. OC 3 Platoon A Company. Happy Days? Do You Remember, wrote:
I arrived just in time for a big operation when we went 4000 yards across the border and brewed up an Indonesian outpost. 2nd Lieutenant Robert Pasley-Tyler and Lieutenant Jack Francis under Major Mike Carleton-Smith did the rough work. Three platoon with the fearsome Sergeant Pete Hollings, Corporals Giddings and Poole in support (Corporal Poole was later tragically to die as the result of another platoon operation with Robert P-T) was to be the radio relay station on the border itself. We sat there for a day or two having a cushy time and just getting soaked, until we heard the machine gun and mortar fire that signalled their attack going in on the other side. All radio contact with the boys forward failed, so we sat in anxiety puffing fags into the damp air not knowing what was going on. To add insult to injury our radio relay system with Battalion Headquarters failed to work as well, surprise, surprise, so we could not even tell them we knew absolutely nothing! So I must admit that our part in this bit of excitement was fairly minimal. However, it was a useful introduction for me to the Jungle and taught me something of the problems of communications if nothing else!
Sergeant later Major MBE Tom House 3 Platoon A Company wrote:
In Hong Kong prior to our Malaya and Borneo tours one aspect of personal health we were advised was to “see to your teeth”; in Borneo no dentist would be available. If a problem did occur the Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) had a dentist kit to do the odd extraction! In my platoon we had a rather sickly chap, Acting Corporal Powney, who had earned the nickname of ‘Kampong Charlie’ as it seemed just before operations a pressing medical condition needed attention; in-growing toenails, crutch rot etc. However, I do believe his tooth ache was his undoing. After complaining of tooth ache the RMO duly arrived and without medication and in the open Powney was unceremoniously dumped on to a chair. With two riflemen holding his shoulders whilst the RMO unrolled his tool kit to expose what suspiciously looked like common electrical pliers and started to extract the tooth. After many tugs and with an audience of thousands the tooth was extracted. Funny, after this I gained a fit and healthy A/Cpl Powney for the rest of the tour.
Major D. Ramsbotham later General the Lord Ramsbotham, GCB, CBE. Commanding B Company and Gunan Gajak Base wrote:
5 Platoon were the first in the R & R cycle when it was organised by Battalion Headquarters amongst whose number was ‘Brummie’ Stokes. Those who remember him will also remember that he could not resist hitting gunners for which he received several spells of 28 days detention. Soon after we got to Hong Kong ‘Brummie’ applied for SAS selection, which I told him I would not sign until he had not hit anyone for six months. This proved too much for him in both Hong Kong and Singapore but the six and half months in Borneo looked a good bet! However, it was not to be.
One night, on that first R & R someone made a rude remark about the RB’s which saw the end of the evening for him and a large part of Kuching market. The only concession that Colonel Mark Bond would give was that ‘Brummie’ could serve the inevitable 28 days in open arrest so that he could come on operations. But he banned any further R & R for B Company. The ‘Brummie’ story does not end there because on the boat taking us from Kuching to Singapore on our way home he asked for an interview.
During this he asked to be allowed to spend his leave in the ‘nick’ because he had worked it out that if he was locked up for that time, not only could he not hit anyone but that six months would have elapsed since the R&R incident. I agreed and that is what happened. The next I heard of ‘Brummie’ was that, three years later, he was one of two members of the SAS to get to the top of Everest. Because they were slightly late getting to the summit they had to make and spend the night in a snow hole on the way down and as a result of which both he and ‘Bronco’ Lane were frost bitten. The leader of the expedition later told me that when back in Katmandu a journalist wrote some ‘soppy stories’ about the two heroes to which they objected so in the middle of the night ‘Brummie’ got up, went to the journalists room, and thumped him! I asked the leader what he did next to which he replied “sent the journalist home”!
Captain later Major CMG, Mark Scrase-Dickins, Second-in-Command B Company wrote:
It is of some interest for the Regiment’s records to recall that when I was, in the 1980’s the Political Councillor in the British Embassy in Jakarta, I was very close to General Benni Moerdani the C-in-C of the Indonesian Armed Forces i.e. all three services plus the Police; and the second most powerful man in the country. A remarkable and brave man who became and remains a good friend. At the time we are covering he, as a Major, was commanding 3 RPKAD a Battalion of Indonesian Special Forces and a formidable force of a very different calibre to the regular Army.
We became friends largely due to our common experiences in Borneo and through him I became close to their Special Forces. Both Benni and many a grizzled Lieutenant, commissioned from the ranks, remember the Green Jackets very well. They remembered us, and this would apply to all three battalions, and admired our professionalism. It was a delight that no dislike was harboured by the Indonesians as a result of ‘Confrontation’ and indeed, as it should be between professional soldiers, only common memories and respects were due. I am not sure that this would be the same on the British side but few know the political problems affecting the whole Indonesian effort. Again another story not for these thoughts.
B Company forward base at Gunan Gajak
Colour Sergeant later Colonel George F Smythe OBE. B Company wrote:
In the early days, to my regret, I made a comment to an Argosy pilot who had dropped a container into the jungle which was not complimentary. Something like “less time in the bar and more time improving your aim.” I thought no more of it until I was airlifted back to Kuching one morning to fly a mission with the pilot. He was very friendly and on return from the mission to Red 345 I made a promise to keep my remarks to myself in future. On the ground one could always hear an Argosy approaching as the pilot was trying to reduce speed for the drop and also keep the aircraft in the air. When you are in the aircraft approaching the DZ watching the crew perform in the cockpit was similar to watching a conductor of an orchestra making sure everything happens on cue. I viewed my DZ from the air and was amazed at how small it was and how little time the crew had to get it right. I returned to Gunan Gajak full of admiration for the aircrews and made the effort when resources became available to enlarge the DZ. (Ed note: - the pilot was Roger Annett who wrote the book Drop Zone Borneo and contributed a story for this book.)
Corporal Jim Hitches. B Company. (Supplier of everything) wrote:
‘Hearts and Minds’; no one did it better than us. We built up a trust and friendship with the tribal people who oddly enough enjoyed, even loved, having injections clamouring for them whether they needed them or not. When a girl had one the entire village crowded around laughing as gleefully as she did when the doctor ordered her to drop her dress and jabbed the needle into her bottom. It had become routine now this welfare aspect of our counter Indonesian commitments in Borneo. It was so important to the people that lived there that I wondered what will happen to them when we leave them to fend for themselves. I don’t know.
Corporal later WO2 Peter Chismon i/c Signals B Company, wrote:
The platoon signallers were Jimmy Dawson of 5 Platoon, Charlie Bamford of 6 Platoon and Charlie Chaplin of 7 Platoon who all carried SR A41’s plus spare batteries. They were tasked to call in at 0600 hrs and 1800 hrs each day to qualify their positions and send a report. Most of the time they were on high ground so we had no problems with the VHF communications coming through to us at Gunan Gajak. During the second part of the tour I had to go on the operations when patrols went into Indonesia, I luckily did not go any further than the border ridge as I was based on top of mount Salanchan providing a radio link to Gunan Gajak and Battalion Headquarters.
The ‘enjoyment’ of these patrols were offering the platoons six spare A41 batteries to carry along with their food and ammunition. I think that the most significant operation that I was part of was when we rescued Rifleman Ronnie Masterman who had had his foot blown off on the Indonesian side of the border. I think that the New Zealand SAS had a part in giving cover to the platoon who went over to cut a clearing for the helicopter to enable it to winch Ronnie to safety. Unfortunately I was left alone with my A41 on top of the mountain until darkness when another patrol came up to look after me and the communications. The rescue of Ronnie was an outstanding piece of planning; they got him out and into hospital where they amputated his lower leg. I met Ronnie at a Rifle Brigade reunion many years later and he was as ebullient as ever.
Acting Corporal later Captain BEM J A Donoghue, B Company Clerk wrote:
The look of despair on the faces of those who suffered the administrations of Jim Hitches as the Company Barber – myself included! The night ‘Jack’ Frost, with whom I shared a ‘basha’, and I noticed the rats had stopped making their usual din, a background noise one got used to over time, but certainly noticed when it stopped. Suddenly the parachute silk lining the roof of the ‘basha’ began to sink towards the ground, obviously something quite heavy and long. It started above Jack’s bunk and moved towards the opening into the fire trench. We could see this quite clearly as our battery powered lighting was quite good. We both yelled and scrambled to get out. The Iban trackers who were accommodated just along the trench came running, and once they understood what had happened they hunted for the snake, which turned out to be a python, some 10 ft in length. They found and killed it, hanging it from the tree on the Village Green for a day before eating it.
Acker Bilk (Second from left) entertains with his band at a Forward Base. The battalion had fond memories of those in the entertainment world who used to give up their time to entertain and remind all of home.
Lieutenant, later Colonel, Mike Dewar, O.C. 5 Platoon B Company wrote:
We did all the things the other platoons did too; cutting helipads, ‘hearts and minds’ patrols in the rear areas, a weeks ‘R and R’ in Kuching and just patrolling along the broken border ridge. But I suppose the most dramatic event occurred on the way back from a B Company cross-border operation when 5 Platoon was lead platoon in a Company file along a ridge along a path up to the border. My Dyak tracker was in the lead, followed by myself as I was navigating. Behind me was Rifleman Ronnie Masterman.
By some miracle both the tracker in front of me and myself walked over a landmine, I suppose managing by luck to place my feet either side of it. The next thing I knew I was blown off my feet by the force of a blast behind me. Rifleman Masterman had trodden directly on a landmine and lost his leg to just below the knee. Sergeant Beerman applied first aid and undoubtedly saved Ron Masterman’s life. At the sound of the mine exploding the Indonesians started containing us having ‘DFed’ the split so it was quite accurate fire but because we were on a ridge most of it ‘fell off the edge.’ It was decide to evacuate Masterman then and there. I have never seen Riflemen work so hard to cut a hole in the jungle canopy through which Masterman could be winched. A very brave RAF Helicopter pilot then hovered under fire and whisked Masterman away. I have met Ronnie on many occasions since. He became a postman, is happily married and walks extremely well with his artificial leg.
Corporal later C/Sgt Ken Ambrose, Section Commander in 5 and 6 Platoons B Company wrote:
We were several kilometres inside Indonesia and we were tired through being up all of the previous night. The platoon commander, Lieutenant Mike Dewar myself and two others had been observing an enemy camp from 50 meters away making note of their defences. Having achieved this with no problems and the job done we withdrew moving through a rubber plantation on our way to the relative safety of our side of the border. In front of me were my two scouts and just behind me came my gun group and rifle group. My section strength was ten and we were well spaced out in single file. Behind my section came Platoon HQ followed by the other two sections. Having just started to climb up towards the border I felt rather than heard a loud bang from behind me; I was blown forward on to the base of a tree.
What could have only been seconds later I heard, as if in the distance, shouting and screaming from behind me. As I pushed myself up under the weight of my rucksack I turned to see Rifleman Ronnie Masterman attempting to stand up but unable to do so as his right leg had been blown off just below the knee. Without thinking I started to move quickly towards him but was stopped by the urgent voice of the platoon sergeant, John Beerman, who shouted to me that we were in a mine-field. Having heeded the warning I again started to make my way towards Ronnie this time being very careful where I put my feet.
By the time I managed to reach Ronnie John Beerman was already with him administering the contents of a morphine ampoule. Although the right leg had completely gone it was the injuries to the left leg that caused the most concern. It had been damaged by shrapnel and was loosing a lot of blood. Medical advice at the time was to get the injured man to hospital within six hours of having received the injuries to avoid further complications. Keeping this in mind we set in motion the ‘Casevac’ procedure for getting Ron to safety. With a team clearing the way in front of us for mines and Ron on a makeshift stretcher we set off up the hill to find a suitable roping site.
The enemy had of course heard the mine detonate and after about an hour we started to hear the sound of mortars exploding in the area where we had taken our casualty and they were slowly moving towards us. At the time we were on a very narrow ridge and a suitable roping site had just been located. A Royal Naval helicopter was already on its way to lift Ron out. We then spotted an Indonesian helicopter that had obviously been sent to direct the mortar fire at us. Although we did not know it at the time our operational commander, Captain Scrase-Dickins, had already called in air support and we were treated to the sound of two Hawker Hunters seeing the enemy helicopter off and the mortar firing stopping shortly afterwards. A few moments later a smoke grenade was thrown and our Naval helicopter came to the hover just above us and Ron was roped up and away to hospital in Kuching. The last I saw of him was an unconscious figure being reeled into the ‘chopper’ 30 feet or so above us.
Acting Corporal later WO2 Fred Ward BEM, 5 Platoon B Company wrote:
Inevitably the tour didn't go without its trials and tribulations. Ronnie Masterman contracted Leptospirosis early on during the tour and had to be flown out to hospital. Then there was the Tony Martin incident. One Rifleman (name I can't remember) died of Leptospirosis. Several personnel suffered with Tinea and I was a regular visitor to ‘Doc’ Lambert after patrols, to get my verruca pared down and bathed in Silver Nitrate. Unfortunately that treatment was not successful in getting rid of it. R&R in Kuching was well appreciated by all and any transgressions there are best forgotten. On one occasion, after a hard day patrolling the jungle, we must have either harboured up too near a Defensive Fire zone, or the Aussies had consumed more than their daily beer allowance, because when the shells from the big guns started landing too near for comfort, we had to break radio silence to get them to shift their fire.
Rifleman Ron Masterman, 5 Platoon B Company wrote:
Coming near to the end of our tour of duty, on our last patrol, I was speaking with Ron ‘Knocker’ Notley, Ian ‘Frenchie’ French and a few of the lads about how we were looking forward to going home when we received a message to say that Harry Donoghue was dead. (He was a good footballer.) The following day, 1st December, on our way back from a patrol to camp we stopped for a rest period when a message came for us to move on. Moving along the track all I can remember is a bang and seeing smoke then hitting my head on my rifle. Lying on the ground I looked over my shoulder and saw my boot lying on the ground.
I can’t remember my exact thoughts at that moment only that my life was clicking like a camera before my eyes and stopping at my daughter who I hadn’t seen. After being patched up and given Morphine by Sergeant Beerman I was taken on a stretcher that the lads had made to the border and a waiting helicopter that took me to Kuching hospital. (I hasten to add that I passed out at this point.) After spending about two weeks in Kuching hospital I was sent back to England and on arrival I went to the Royal Woolwich Arsenal hospital. Just before Christmas 1965 my wife and daughter came and stayed over the Christmas period. Two or three months later I was transferred to Chessington where I learnt to walk with my artificial leg, (Still a constant reminder of Borneo). I was finally discharged in August 1966.
Rifleman Ian Fleming (Ginge), 7 Platoon B Company, wrote:
I had my 18th birthday in Borneo, now I could vote; go in to a pub for a drink and my army service began. I went in to Borneo a plump 17 year old. When I got home my mum was shocked, I looked like a refugee from Belson Concentration Camp, she was going to phone Col Bond and give him a telling off, till I explained everyone looked like a bag of bones except Jim Hitches!
When I left the army I returned to college and got an A level City and Guilds in Sheet Metal and an O in Welding. Becoming a Charge Hand I used to teach apprentices. I divorced after eight years of marriage and my two sons remained with me. The eldest served for three years in 3RGJ. My youngest was born with Downs Syndrome and is looked after by me.
Cpl W Bingham (Bill) 3 and 7 Platoons, wrote:
By now our S.A.S. team had returned from their recce to say “well sir. On the left there is no cover from sight and on the right little cover from fire. The enemy have cleared a wider area since we were last here and also put in two bunkers on each end of the longhouse and behind it with two heavy mortars along with a sandbagged trench under the longhouse” (Time to go walkies I thought!) the Major gets on the radio to Battalion HQ and informs them “if we attack we shall take war time casualties”. I understand that the decision to attack was left to the commander on the ground, the Major, (talk about passing the buck!) If we lost men; “you shouldn’t have gone in”. If it were a success the Major would have been a hero and got a medal! After another chat with the S.A.S. team the Major called the operation off saying “I am not prepared to get my people hurt so we are going back, pass the word and be prepared to move at first light.” I would have kissed him, if only I had known where he was in the dark!
Rifleman Albert Storey Bugle Platoon, H.M.S. London and 13 Platoon, wrote:
On completion of our jungle training in Malaya we arrived in Borneo on the 6th July and travelled by Bedford 4 tonners some 70 miles to Balai Ringin. We then moved by helicopter to the forward base of Nibong. We lived under ground or in trenches when we were not out on patrol. I preferred to be on patrol as the camp was a muddy hole when it was raining, which was most of the time, we were after all in a rain forest. Because of this Dick Dobson, Frank Allen and I spoke to Sergeant Major Ron Cassidy and asked if we could build some steps from the top of the hill down to the kitchen because when it rained it was like trying to walk on a sheet of glass!
On occasions some of us wound up on our arses with our meal in our laps. Ron agreed and managed to get us the materials that we needed for the job so we dug it out and used wooden boxes to form the frame work. I have to admit we made a good job of it and it cut down on the accidents. In this day and age I don’t think that it would have passed a Health and Safety inspection! A couple of years ago I was talking to Mark Scrase-Dickins, the second in command of B Company during our tour, and he told me that the steps were still in situ as he had been back for a visit and seen them.
Captain later Lt Col OBE, DL John Spedding, 2 i/c C Company and The Green
In early October 1965 I arrived in Balai Ringin from a Junior Staff post in B.A.O.R. I was white skinned and knew nothing of Jungle warfare. I was to be the Second in Command (2i/c) of C Company which had been divided up between the two forward Companies; A and B. At the same time I was given the job of M.T.O. (we had a couple of Bedford three tonners and a ferret Scout Car.) It was apparent that I would not be over stretched.
This laid back state of affairs was not to continue. Someone (Brigade HQ, I think) decided that it would be a good idea if the Battalion was to patrol the rivers in our area and I was appointed to organise and lead them. The object would be reconnaissance to find out what was going on in the Kampongs on the rivers and also as ‘Hearts and Minds’ with the local Iban and Land Dyak people. Navigation of the Sarawak rivers was not easy; when the water is low it is often not deep enough for navigation and further more there are blockages of floating timber and bamboo. In the monsoon season when the water is high it is sometimes difficult to identify the main course of the river. George Blunden decided that we should ‘do as the Romans do’ and ordered two Sarawak longboats. These being recce boats we named then ‘Shufti and Butchers’. I thought that it would be a good idea to do a short practice run within a day.
The river patrols were to consist of ten members, including an excellent Iban tracker, who proved invaluable in navigation and in contact with the locals. I was also delighted that the group included Corporal Vic (Bullets) Brooks, an old friend and an able administrator. We also had Craftsman Slater of the R.E.M.E. who was known as Commander ‘E’; his role was to see that the outboard motors kept running. We secured all of our weapons by tying them to the hulls of the boats and had a GPMG mounted in the bows of each.
When we were ready to depart on our first patrol the C.O. Colonel Bond and George Blunden the QM came to see us off up the river. I have to say that I did not like the look of ‘Butchers’ from the start. She looked a bit down in the stern and unbalanced so I decided to ‘fly my flag’ in ‘Shufti’. When I gave the word to set off ‘Shufti’ shot up the river at a great rate; ‘Butchers’, however did not move despite much roaring of her engine. Suddenly the pier on which the Colonel and QM were standing moved out into the river behind ‘Butchers’; it appeared that Craftsman Slater had forgot to cast off!
Company Sergeant Major later Major MC, F. Sainsbury, C Company wrote:
Prior to arriving in Borneo I was under the impression that C Company would be occupying a forward base camp and I believed that it would have been the one at Plaman Mapu where the Para’s had had a major confrontation with a large force of Indonesian troops during their tour. However, on our arrival in Borneo Plaman Mapu had been given to a company of Ghurkhas to man and I found that I was to be stationed at Balai Ringin with Battalion Headquarters and a skeleton C Company as the platoons (9, 10 and 11) were to be rotated into the forward bases at Nibong (A Company) and Gunan Gajak (B Company). “What about Company HQ?” I hear you ask, what indeed! Have you ever felt surplus to requirement, a Company HQ without a Company? The OC, Major Cave, myself and Colour Sergeant Ron Cassidy had all the equipment but no soldiers.
After a few weeks of this we were told that 9 platoon were coming back to Battalion HQ because the platoon commander had been posted and they didn’t have a platoon Sergeant. Back they came and found themselves digging holes and being used as general ‘dogs bodies.’ This annoyed me, a good fighting unit going to waste for the want of someone to lead them so I volunteered and was accepted. My feelings for 9 platoon may seem a little strange but there were reasons for this. I was the platoon Sergeant of 9 platoon from when we were stationed in Bulford through Kenya and then in Malaya in the early 1950’s so I had a soft spot for them. I also have a historic connection, my great uncle Bill was the platoon Sergeant of 9 Platoon C Company 1st Rifle Brigade in the First World War until he was badly wounded. Perhaps now people will not think that I was being stupid in preferring the jungle to base camp. Anyway C.S.M. Alf Arnold of HQ Company was carrying out all of the Sergeant Major duties for the base. I had a very competent Platoon Sergeant ‘Evil Pete’ Hollins, who unfortunately passed away in the 1990’s.
A patrol of ‘C’ Company being entertained by the local population who were the inhabitants of the Longhouse. This happened often and was seen as just part of the Hearts and Minds campaign. A very rewarding experience.
Rifleman later Acting Corporal Larry Lamb 9 Platoon C Company wrote:
Some time later whilst at Balai Ringin I was walking past the command post when Major Cave, the Company Commander, came running out and said “Lamb get a vehicle quick”; I replied “I will check with the MTO which one I can take” but he said “no just take one.” I jumped into an FFR Landrover (Fitted for Radio) picked up Major Cave who ordered me to drive down the road as fast as I could as the Ration truck had gone off of the road and was laying on its side. We found the truck at the bottom of a steep bank that I ran down and found the Post Corporal trapped in the cab but was OK.
I then searched for the driver and found him lying on his back some distance away from the vehicle. I had completed a first aid course at the BMH in Dekhelia, Cyprus, prior to coming out to Borneo so now I was putting my training into practice. The driver Rifleman ‘Dolly’ Gray had no pulse and was not breathing; there were no external injuries. I gave him external cardiac massage and expired air resuscitation for about five minutes but got no response. I worked out that ‘Dolly’ Gray had been dead for fifteen maybe twenty minutes so there was little hope of reviving him. I ran up the bank and gave Battalion Headquarters a ‘sit-rep’ and they organised for the recovery of all concerned.
C Company later moved to one of the forward bases where we would take part in ‘Hearts and Minds’ patrols and cross border operations. On one of these operations 9 Platoon had been over the border and we were on our way back to base having been tasked with the job of building a Helicopter landing site on the border ridge. We arrived at the grid reference we had been given and set up our bashers and our Platoon Sergeant ‘Evil’ Pete Hollins put out the sentries. Corporal Tony Humphries (Planky) started to place the plastic explosive charges on trees ready to blow them down. As I recall Tony cleared the area and the first trees to go were OK. Then a very large tree fell in the right direction so far and then got pushed back into the opposite direction by a big branch causing it to fall across the centre of the clearing. Several of the Riflemen were hit by small branches and I heard someone screaming.
I saw it was Rifleman Phil Grimes and grabbing my medical bag I ran over to him; he told me he had a terrible pain in his ankle but I found no external injuries or deformity. I decided to give him some morphine; it turned out to be a sprained ankle! Someone then shouted that Corporal Richard ‘Dickie’ Poole was trapped under the upper branches of the tree. Several of the Riflemen from the platoon started to chop away the branches so that I could get to him and check him over; at this point the skies opened and it started to rain. When there was enough room I got beside Dickie and checked him over and found that he was breathing and had a pulse with no apparent neck or back injuries. I told the lads to get a Poncho and roll it up so that we could get it under him and use it as a stretcher to get him clear of the tree. This took some time and in doing so we collected a lot of water in the Poncho. Once clear of the tree I found that he had a couple of fractures in one arm and a compression fracture to the head and was unconscious.
At this point Sergeant Hollins asked me what the score as and I informed him that we had a casevac situation. In the meantime we got Dickie into a sleeping bag to maintain his body heat but his breathing was getting more difficult due to the fluid in the back of his throat. A small two seater helicopter arrived with a stretcher fitted to the skids on the outside that meant we would not be able to do anything for him during the flight. With this in mind I decided to make an incision into Dickie’s windpipe and insert a tube so that he had a clear airway and when this was done I flew back with him to the base at Nibong. The last time I saw Dickie Poole was in the BMH in Singapore when me and some of the lads went to visit him. He had lost most of his speech but now he was in hospital being looked after
R.D.C. writes: From Singapore he was transferred to BMH Netley then on 30 September 1966 discharged from HM Forces and transferred to a civilian hospital, Friern Hospital, New Southgate London where he died as a result of his injuries on 18 November 1966.
Corporal, later Lieutenant Colonel MBE, W. Logdon, (Bill). Reconnaissance Platoon, wrote:
Some weeks later the operation to attack the Indonesian base was made with platoons and artillery moved to the border ridge in support. My Section and a platoon of A Company moved into position at night and took up our fire positions; we were positioned to be the right side fire group a position that gave us a level field of fire between the Indonesian Base and a river which could have been their escape route.
Tucker Barnes and Jim Browning, both holding large leaves with eye-holes up to their faces whispered to me that they were convinced a sentry was staring at them. I just lay there waiting for the contact to start by the Platoon Commander of the main fire group. Suddenly mayhem; it seemed as if the whole platoon fired as one with my section joining in. Where bodies were falling we switched our fire to the huts. A few shots came back at us but they were high and I snuggled a bit deeper into the ground to change my magazine; my Armalite rifle barrel was red hot. The order came for us to bug out and back at the RV a quick check was made to ensure that we were all there and that we had no casualties; the adrenalin was rushing through us all. My section met up with the Artillery fire control officer as we were to provide a rear guard in the event of an Indonesian follow up.
The withdrawal to the ridge was fast; a few enemy mortars fell just behind us but our artillery answered and we made the ridge in record time. Soon after the General Office Commanding (GOC) visited our base to commend those who took part in the operation; a fitting end to a very successful tour for the Battalion.
Rifleman later Colour Sergeant J. McMullan. 10 and 11 Platoons C.Company, wrote:
When on patrol in the Jungle one neither knows, nor cares, what day it is. It is just one more day closer to getting home. Except, that is, when it comes to a special day such as your birthday. (What the hell am I doing out here on my birthday?) Or maybe the Regimental birthday. On the 25th August (Ye Regimental birthday) 1965 I found myself sharing a slit trench deep in the Borneo Jungle with a fellow Irishman, one Danny Shine. “Are you reading this O Danny boy”?
We were part of the defence group providing cover for the Platoon while they manufactured a ‘helipad’ on the mountain top about two hundred yards uphill from us. We faced a natural jungle clearing which gave us a good field of fire should we be attacked. With chain saws and axes constantly in use it was a sure bet that any enemy within five miles could hear us and if so inclined could home in on us. Activities went quiet in the ‘helipad’ industry, usually a sign that the cutting party was preparing explosives to move a stubborn Jungle giant and, or its roots, out of the way. Everything was perfectly still as birds and animals had left the scene because of the earlier racket; or so we thought. From out of the jungle appeared a black fox; pure black with no trace of any other colour and the same size as a fox that you would see in England. We observed it for seven or eight minutes as it traversed the clearing moving methodically backwards and forwards sniffing presumably for food.
Suddenly an explosion rent the air and a Jungle giant came crashing down the mountain side knocking down numerous other trees on its decent. The fox fled. When we were relieved and returned to the Platoon everyone was sceptical, to say the least, of our ‘Black Fox’ narrative. Hey two Irishmen sharing a slit trench in full equatorial sun for several hours; what can you expect, common sense? Never did think to look for the colour of the fox’s eyes; if we had and reported that we had seen a Black fox with green eyes on the Regimental birthday I’m sure that we both would have qualified for an early ticket home!!!
2nd Lieutenant Simon Adams, O.C. 11 Platoon C Company wrote:
There were no early contacts with the Indonesians and incursions, which had been comparatively common during the Para’s tour, ceased. The Battalion started cross border patrolling and ambushes and one of these involved a plan to attack a village occupied by the military. 11 Platoon were now issued with new grenades, the M26, which could be fired from the end of an Armelite M16 rifle using a projectile cartridge. My Platoon Sergeant, Tony Martin, was killed on the range when a malfunction caused the grenade to be initiated before the cartridge was inserted. He tried to pull the grenade off the end of the rifle while the fuse burned down for four seconds. Riflemen Bonner and Thompson were unhurt but Rifleman Baker, who had been holding the Rifle and appeared to be OK was casevaced and we never saw him again. The operation went ahead and 10 days were spent in ambush but the village remained obstinately empty.
Corporal later Major Ken Gray 11 Platoon C Company wrote:
I can still remember landing on the helipad on a small hill which had been cleared of trees to provide bunkers with overhead cover which was to be my home for the next six months. The conditions were cramped, uncomfortable, and smelly, hygiene was going to be extremely important over the coming months. “Hygiene” brings me onto the latrines, which can be best described as extremely primitive. Ours were in a long line with no privacy other than a half cut door to enter and a half cut partition between each toilet. Many a chat with a cigarette took place every morning when in the base camp. I will leave it to the reader's imagination as to what was discussed at these regular meetings.
Acting Corporal later Sergeant P. Trevithick, (Maverick), 11 Platoon. C Company wrote:
On arrival in Borneo our first taste of the Jungle ‘real’ was being ‘choppered’ into A Company’s base at Nibong about mid-day. We collected ammunition, grenades, rations and our tracker Unyong. Two hours later we were on our first patrol securing the camp area. After dark we made camp, ate a cold meal, posted two sentries, joined a circle for security (not homosexual activity!!!) and got some sleep. At about midnight “Rocky” (2nd Lieutenant Simon Adams, the Platoon Commander) got up to check on the sentries and trod straight on Unyong’s face who let out a blood curdling scream, as did the platoon thinking that we had been ‘bumped’ by the enemy. It took the platoon sergeant, Sergeant Martin, an hour to calm Unyong down and talk him out of shooting Rocky with his shotgun!!
Rifleman later Colour Sergeant T. Evans. (Tommy), 11 Platoon, C Company wrote:
The centre section, also primary jungle with a low, ill-defined border, was "A" Coy responsibility based in Nibong. The western section was the responsibility of "B" Coy at Gunan Gajak, was very different. It had again an extremely steep sharp border ridge, backed on both sides by subsidiary but equally steep lateral ridges in many places, even to the top of the border ridge, the local Land Dyaks had in the past cleared the jungle to plant hill paddy, leaving large areas of hot dense 20ft. tall secondary jungle, lallang and bamboo, this proved most unpleasant country to operate in and movement was either very slow or confined to local tracks. Both Nibong and Gunan Gajak when we took them over were strong but incomplete, both contained underground Bunkers with overhead cover and unprotected buildings, surrounded by wire and "panjis".
Each base was 2,000 yards from the border and contained an 105mm. gun complete with crew, 79 (Kirkee) Commando Light Battery, R.A. with whom we become firm friends. Neither base had any road connection with the outside world and so depended either on air supply by parachute approximately every four days, or on helicopter transport usually provided on request by a single R.A.F. Whirlwind stationed at Balai Ringin with two R.A.F. pilots.
During the previous 4 months the Parachute Battalion had dealt effectively with four major incursions, each in company strength, culminating in a strong night attack on Plamon Mapu, the base to the west of Gunan Gajak then held by the Parachute Battalion but since taken over by the Gurkhas. It looked as if we were in for an interesting 6 months.
Rifleman later Acting Corporal Mick Mizon, 11 Platoon C Company wrote:
The Battalion left the JWS and sailed by troop ship on the HT Auby from Singapore arriving in Kuching, Sarawak three days later. We were ferried by three toners to Battalion Head Quarters at Balai Ringin and then on to Gunan Gajak, our forward base camp, by Belvedere helicopter where we were shown our living accommodation and given a tour of the camp defences. During this tour I ripped the back of my hand on the corner of a sheet of corrugated iron and reported to Tony Haines our medic for treatment. After cleaning the wound he bandaged it up with a white bandage and then painted it green! It looked like I had one green sleeve longer than the other. When I got back to our defensive position I was told that we would be going out on patrol in one hour.
It wasn’t long before we set off on our first patrol with my section in the lead. The pace was slow and I found that being a lead scout was hard work both mentally and physically. Having been told during our training that the chances of bumping the enemy would be head on it tended to sharpen your concentration so I was always ready to get off the first shot if we made contact. Billy Lavin and I always carried our weapons at the ready the whole time we were in Borneo. At the end of that patrol I felt that Billy and I had learned a great deal and our training had paid off. As we patrolled more often we moved at a more fluent pace and on one occasion I said to Ray Truscott, our ‘tail end Charlie’ “how was the pace at the back” and he replied that it was just fine; we were learning all of the time.
At the end of a days patrolling we would stop in a suitable area and form an all round defensive position inside a perimeter ‘wire’; we would then set about making a meal before ‘stand to’. If either Billy or I were put on sentry, which meant going outside of the defensive circle by about twenty yards to guard the camp, the other would get the meal going and then relieve the other. Billy had a habit of eating his meal leaving mine where he had made it and relieve me with a mug of tea in his hand; he would take up his position and sip his tea while watching and listening. We made this last drill our first amendment to the training manual but only if we were allowed to cook and brew up.
Rifleman later Major J. O’Shea, (Jim) Reconnaissance Platoon wrote:
Our Platoon Commander was Lieutenant Sam Sheppard and Sergeant Mac Cameron was our Platoon Sergeant, who introduced me to the rest of the platoon where I was made to feel most welcome. Names I can remember include; Bill Logdon, Tom House, George Blackburn, Bill Lendrum, Bill Munroe, Jack Paine, Arthur Cushway, Pete Bond, Ginger Bracket, Mick Byrne, Tucker Barnes Jim Hayes, Jimmy Browning, Bill Bingham and Tony Lockton. (My apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten) One of the first items of equipment that I was given on my arrival in the platoon (by Pete Bond) was an A510 HF radio, attached to an equally heavy battery. He told me not to worry about how to use it, as the Platoon Commander would use it when necessary. Months later, on completion of our tour, and having lugged the dead weight of the radio about the jungle, Pete asked me for the radio. When I asked why, he told me that he had to hand it back into the stores as he was the platoon signaller, and as I was the NIG in the Platoon, I had been stupid enough to carry it for himfor five months!!!
Corporal later Colour Sergeant Trevor Anderson, (Geordie) 12 Platoon wrote:
Borneo was the single most intense experience of my life. Without friends and a bunch of very tough, resilient and humorous characters, the tour would not have been as memorable as it was: I think of when I was seconded to 11 platoon for an operation, seeing Rocky Adams falling off log bridges and on one occasion, tripping up, grabbing at, then swinging on a vine face first into a gigantic tree. His enormous pack compounded the problem by smacking his head with greater momentum into the tree. His John Lennon’s were smashed, his nose was bleeding and a lump the size of an egg appeared on his forehead in seconds. Guys were dropping their rifles in uncontrollable laughter. He got up after moaning a bit and got on with it. (God he was tough!).
I think of Jim Hitches in his sarong. Jim was permanently in camp (these guys were called base rats and that was not a term of endearment) and our Entertainments Officer, NAAFI Manager, Barman (not that we had a bar but we were allowed two cans of beer a day in camp) and in colonial times he would have been the local plantation boss.
I think of Peter Hibbert, fresh from working at the Battalion HQ joining our platoon and as no one had told him otherwise, he had taken his blow-up airbed for a comfortable night’s sleep, (we never carried these as they were too heavy). His first night out, we put up our bashas on the down slope of a mountain having found ourselves at last light still marching down a huge mountain). As usual it was rather wet and slippery. We had settled in our bashas when a piercing scream split the night as Hibbert went tobogganing down the mountain at 30mph on his airbed until he crashed into a tree.
I think of making rum punch made with melted down boiled sweets (rum rations appropriated from air-drops). I think of my basha buddy, Frank Moss. We shared all our meagre rations and ate half each of what we threw in together. Also, I remember him hilariously smoking illicitly with his head inside a canvas water bag which at the end of the tour looked like a sieve. I had no option either but to share my mail from home with Frank, as I often found him sitting on my camp bed back at base reading my letters!
I think of going through kampongs where speaking a little Malay, I could hold a simple conversation with people. On one occasion an old man told me he had a “sick head,” (headache I supposed) so, using some masking tape, I stuck a water sterilising tablet on his forehead. A week later he still had the masking tape on. He was headache free and delighted!
These and many, many other memories, far too numerous to mention. Turn the clock back and do it again? Not half!
Lieutenant later Brigadier MBE John Taylor, OC 4 Platoon A Company wrote:
At last the day of departure arrived; the familiarization patrols with the Durham Light Infantry had been completed and our few possessions were packed into kit-bags. The journeys by helicopter to Balai Ringin and by road convoy to Kuching were soon over. We were quickly embarked on the LSL Sir Lancelot and slipping down the narrow, palm fringed river to the sea. For the first day I enjoyed the games of deck quoits on the helipad in the stern but, despite the almost calm South China Sea, the flat bottomed Sir Lancelot rolled slowly and inexorably so that eventually I had to retire to my bunk to nurse my queasy stomach. As we sailed into the Singapore docks we could see a welcoming party awaiting us. We peered over the side as the ship edged towards the quay and ropes were flung out to the stevedores. A Gurkha band stood smartly at attention on the quayside and, as the ship finally came to rest, a cry came from among the massed ranks at the rail, “Well, play you buggers!” Instantly the band struck up with a regimental tune and we had arrived. We were back in civilization at last.
Home, Sweet, Home. In a fortified bunker beneath ground level.
R.D.C. writes: Sadly those below lost their lives as a result of the battalion’s tour in Borneo. They will be long remembered.