Thursday, June 20, 2013

225 Squadron: Konfrontasi In Kuching And 6 LPs

Dear Andy,

I realise that the military service and medals have no place on your blog, but I only mentioned them as an indication of the enduring love and respect I have for Singapore and Malaysia.  I fell in love with the people, the food, the climate (after acclimatisation), the history, the young ladies whose company and families made me feel so much at home.  I certainly wasn't a war hero, although several others were, especially the young Ghurka who won the Victoria Cross.

Music meant a lot to servicemen who were many thousands of miles from home, many of them fighting in defence of their Commonwealth allies.  Konfrontasi was a low-key conflict and there were virtually no war correspondents or photographers or TV companies covering it. We had no gung-ho! DJs on the Changi Broadcasting Service or British Forces Broadcasting Service, because our conflict was a hearts-and-minds affair.

Towards the end of Confrontation, one particular song summed up the weariness felt by many of the front-line troops: "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" by The Animals.  When I was at Kuching in mid-1965, there was no television and  I lived in a basha with several other airmen, one of whom had a record-player and only 6 LPs...


Allan Thompson who served in RAF Changi Singapore in the 1960s, is a regular contributor to this blog. Here is another fascinating insight where he relates his experience again with the Indonesian Confrontation as background.
Music, when soft voices die, Vibrates in the memory; Odours, when sweet violets sicken, Live within the sense they quicken.   Percy Bysshe Shelley. Read on...
Kuching 1965:

"It was about May, 1965, when I went on detachment to 225 Squadron at Kuching in Sarawak for a week at the height of the Indonesian Confrontation of Malaysia.  The Commonwealth forces shared the airfield with Malaysian Airways, and a military base had been built, consisting of accommodation bashas with attap roofs and various other buildings for the squadrons, workshops, stores, sick quarters, messes, etc.
 The  225 Squadron Whirlwind helicopters' role was to transport troops and supplies to and from the various front-line positions along the long border.  The RAF also had small detachments of  Hunter and Javelin jet fighters and the army had a small contingent of helicopters on the base.  When I was there, a contingent from the Singapore Guards was also in residence. The entire site was surrounded by a tall wire fence with tall watch-towers at intervals. 

When I landed, I was issued with dog-tags which was a reminder that I was now in a combat zone.  I was accommodated in a room in one of the bashas with about eight ground crew members of the squadron.  There was no bed available for me so I was given a camp bed, sheets, pillows, and a mosquito net.
 I wrapped one end of the net around the bottom of my bed and tacked the other end to the top of someone's wardrobe.  At least I wouldn't be bitten, I told myself.  I was right about that, but when I awoke in the morning, I was covered in cockroaches which had come up through the gaps in the floorboards! 
After work each day, I joined the rest of the groundcrew in a game of volleyball in a shallow, square sandpit near the edge of the runway. After that, we went for dinner and then relaxed on our beds, smoking and reading, before washing and going to the NAAFI for a few beers. 
 During this period, one of our number who had a record player would plug it in and bring out his record collection. This consisted of six LPs: The Red Army Ensemble; Bo Diddley's Greatest Hits; South Pacific; The Kingston Trio Live; Francoise Hardy; and 12 x 5 by The Rolling Stones
Sometimes he would ask us if we had any preferences for which order he played them; other times he would shuffle them and play them in the order in which they ended up.  It was very exciting for us, not knowing what song we were likely to hear first! 
There was no television in Sarawak in those days, but occasionally we had films which were shown in a long building with a sloping corrugated roof and metal cross-beams inside.  A projector would be set up at one end of the room and a large white sheet was hung from one of the cross-beams, half-way down the room. 
Song Selections on Right Bar >
The audience sat on either side of this makeshift screen so that half of them saw the film in reverse. This was all right unless it was a foreign film with subtitles or if signs appeared in the film.  We soon learned to read backwards.
 The Other Ranks had their own NAAFI bar which was a large bleak room with tables and chairs and little else.  I remember one evening when a soldier suffering from battle-fatigue laid into the plaster-board wall with a bayonet, hacking chunks from it while no one tried to interfere.
Occasionally the beer ration would run out but my new friends had found a way around this.  Hardly any of the Singapore Guards drank alcohol and they very kindly allowed a small number of us at a time into their canteen to buy some of their allocation of beer.
 An alternative to this was for us to buy a bottle of brandy or rum between us, at a rock-bottom duty-free price, and spend the evening sitting at the end of the basha beside the Coke machine, putting 20 cents in whenever we wanted to add Coke to our glasses of spirits.  An Indian gentleman, assisted by his grandson, would come along during the evening with a large urn of kopi and a box of cheese and onion banjos which we tucked into as an alternative to alcohol some nights. 
A couple of times a week, a Malaysian Airways Fokker Friendship would stage through en route from Hong Kong to Singapore, and several of the airmen would put on smart clothes and wander along to the airport building shortly before it landed.  They would buy a soft drink, a beer, or a coffee in the lounge and wait for the passengers to disembark, hoping that there might be some pretty European girls among them to admire and ogle. Truly, There is nothing like a dame... (South Pacific).

They were happy days, after a fashion, and I don't think many of us would have missed them for the world.  But we were lucky.  The fighting men of the SAS, the Gurkhas, the Royal Marines, the RAF Regiment, and the various Army Regiments all had a tough time in the jungle playing sometimes savage cat-and-mouse games with the Indonesians.
A pop song of that era quickly became an anthem for these brave men: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place by The Animals. 

Images from Google.
Article by Allan Thompson (Copyrights Reserved).

Singapore on 19 June 2013, a result of forest fires from Indonesia.
The haze from Indonesia has made a terrible impact on the air quality around this region. At its worst it registered hazardous at 371psi last night . Is this another 'konfrontasi' from our neighbour? They have never been able to permanently resolve this problem have they?
Image from Yahoo Screen 20.06.2013.



I have also attached some contemporary shots of Kuching.

There is an excellent book by Roger Annett, called "Borneo Boys" which is all about RAF helicopter pilots in action during Confrontation, 1962-66. It was published in 2012 by Pen & Sword, and it is very well illustrated.

(You can read all his articles if you click his name above).

Andy Lim* said...

Allan you are too kind. I wish some more Singaporeans would contribute articles like you do. I have approached some of them but they are not keen.


Hi Andy,

Please contact as I have some photos which are my property I would like to send to you. No copyright problems whatsoever.

Very best regards.

Andy Lim* said...

Thanks Barry for your contribution of photographs and story. I shall publish them as soon as I can.

(Barry Walker was from a few groups that played in Singapore 60s. He was in Singapore on a recent visit meeting old pals and music buddies.)

B HUNTER said...

Hi Andy,

Just back from Switzerland. And we went to Malta. Also going to Paris for a few days in October. Next year, September, we`re having a week in Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls then a week in Durban.

We have 4 dance shows to film in Birmingham followed by shooting “Princess Ida” by Gilbert & Sullivan then another big dance show!

What about yourself? Best wishes
To you & your family.


Formed from 481, 482 & 483 RNAS Flights in Italy in Aug 1918 but was disbanded that Dec. It saw Army support service in WWII from Oct 1939 at Odiham when it formed from 614 Squadron, A Flight with Lysanders. It served in North Africa, Italy and France with Hurricanes and Mustangs before disbanding in Italy in Jan 1947.

On 1 Jan 1960, the Joint Helicopter Unit was raised to squadron status and 225 Squadron took on its Sycamore HR.14 and Whirlwind HAR.2 at Andover. It moved back to Odiham in May 1960 and received its more powerful and capable Whirlwind HAR.10 in November 1961. It sent 4 of its Sycamores to Kenya (transported out and back by RAF Beverleys) the same month to assist in relief operations for the severe flooding experienced. It retired its Sycamores and Whirlwind HAR.2 by Feb 1962. The unit was sent to the Far East to assist in the Borneo campaign, first to Singapore (Seletar - WSSL) in Nov 1963 and on to Sarawak (Kuching - WBGG) in Dec, where it disbanded on 1 Nov 1965.

HAPPY TAY said...

I've decided to write a short note to you, especially after reading the article from Allan Thompson.

I don't recall relating to you of my experiences with the RAF during the '60s, eh?

I had then signed up with the RAF as a Police Officer immediately after school (think I was 18 years old then)...

Andy Lim* said...

Read more about Happy's assignment in his next posting soon.