40 Commando S Coy
RM Plamu Mapu 1965
who came straight out of training and joined us in Borneo was Pat
(Buck) Taylor and he was in Mortars like me. He arrived when we had
moved from the old Plamu Mapu camp into the new one. Equipment we used
was the old pattern OG shirts, floppy hat and trousers with Dunlop
Within 5-10 minutes of starting a
patrol patches of sweat used to start around the arms and middle of
your back on the shirt, like a huge stain. It was very hot and humid.
After maybe half an hour your shirt was soaked with sweat and went a
darker shade of green. Blended well into the jungle back ground. We
never used cam cream much unless on operations as for normal patrols
you sweated so much it wouldn't stay on for long. We only had brown cam
cream at that time.
Dunlop jungle boots had a rubber sole and canvas uppers with lace ups
They only lasted
a few patrols before falling to bits and we had plenty supplies of
them. We preferred the US jungle boot with leather uppers with side
canvas but had to obtain them ourselves.
Trouble with leather in the jungle is
goes slimy and white when repeatedly soaked.
We were issued with a military machete
- alternate names were 'gollak' or 'purang' but these tended to be
short and heavy.
So we bargained with the local Dyaks
or Ebans for theirs which were more effective.
Patrols were constant and lasted
between two to 10 days - depending on mission.
All patrols were 'silent', everything
being signalled by hand.
No smoking, no washing, no shaving
etc. so you didn't give away your position by smells.
Anyone who was there should always
remember the 'wait a bit' bushes. They were like a natural form of
barbed wire and caught on your clothing, hands and neck. Also you had
to watch out for the red ants as they really bite you.
I'll always remember the smell of
those patrols, mixtures of rotting wood, stale sweat, and insect
We always took one paladrine tablet
per day for malaria.
All food was backpacked on patrol
which meant binning all the extras and carrying one main meal per day
supplemented with boiled sweets, tins of cheese, the inevitable
In 1965 the ration packs were of the
European war theatre kind and most food was tinned, which made carrying
it a pain.
Later in the trip (1965) we got the
new style rat packs which had vacuum packed dehydrated meat, noodles
etc. and required mixing with water to eat. I preferred the old style
rat packs as the food was better.
Ammo was minimum of 5 mags x 20 round
(7.62 for SLR) and at least one bandolier of 50 rounds plus the odd
grenade or smoke grenade.
Most grenades used were the old Mill
36 grenade but we all preferred the white phosphorus hand grenade
(designated white smoke) as that really hurt.
Signallers and officers tended to
carry the Sterling 9mm sub-machine gun. All right for up-close and in
my opinion underestimated for jungle work.
With the M15 (AR -15) we would carry
the same mags but extra ammo due to the lighter weight.
The AR15 was much easier to carry
being lighter and shorter than the SLR but you carry a weapon for a
reason. When you really need it, it had better drop the target with one
or two shots and a lot of us were not convinced it would at the time.
Looking back, over time, if I had the
choice I would have preferred the AK47 for jungle work as the bullet
(7.62 short round) punched better than the 5.56 M15/16. People who
really have not been in combat get too carried away about the choice of
weapon as generally it's not the weapon but the individual using it
As long as the weapon is effective,
reliable and accurate then it's okay.
Much like choosing a tool for a
particular job from you kit box General Purpose machine gun team used
to carry extra ammo and sometimes we each used to carry a 50 Rd ammo
belt for them.
I was in Support Company and my main
weapon, whilst in the camp was the 81mm Mortar.
The ammo used, during my first trip
was mainly all old 3 inch ammo which rattled a bit when going down the
barrel. The good thing about using 3 inch bombs in a 81mm mortar is you
could get some twenty mortar rounds in the air before the first one
landed, depends on range.
We liked to use 2 HE rounds followed
by one white phosphorus.
The camps we stayed in like Plamu mapu
looked similar to hilltop forts.
A minefield (claymores, flares),
separated by barbed wire and dug in living quarters, and connecting
We used lots of panji sticks around
the perimeters of the camp. These were sharpened bamboo stacks about 2-
3 foot long.
When we first got to Plamu Mapu we
relieved the Gurkhas, who had taken over from 2 Para.
The place had lots of bullet holes
everywhere from the battle between the Paras and the Indos who had
attacked the camp.
The Gurkhas used to cook loads of
boiled rice in their trenches and consequently the place was overrun by
Sleeping quarters for me was next to
the mortar pit so I could go straight into action.
The camp was badly designed as our
mortar pit was next to the main camp entrance and the first barbed wire
fence ran alongside the pit.
I remember I lined the inside ledge of
the mortar pit with mills grenades for quick use.
At night the entrance to the
individual or group sleeping area was covered by canvas sheeting, same
material as the sandbags and we used candles for illumination inside. I
can still remember waking in the night when a large rat run over my
chest - the candle had gone out.
Strange but the sandbags we used were
desert colour and some of the guys who had been in Aden said the ones
they used over there were green.
The locals were really pro-British and
every Kampong we visited was friendly. They really trusted us and
inside some huts were pictures of the Queen’s coronation etc. In some
kampongs were heads cut off victims from past tribal wars. The locals
all had relatives over the border and the impression I got was the ones
over the other side were treated brutally or that may be too strong a
word but they weren't treated good. The drank 'arak' a strong local
rice type wine that tasted awful but would down an elephant.
We really worked on the 'hearts and
minds' approach to them.
When we passed through the villages
most of the young girls (17-30) when doing the washing were bare
All were friendly but off limits for
The unit I joined (40 CDO RM) had, at
that time, a lot of ex-conscription marines who had stayed on. To join
the Royal Marines you had to volunteer but as they were being called-up
anyway some thought it better to go in the Marines. They did three
years’ service not two as the army did.
So we had guys who had fought in
Korea, (Sgt Haywood) others who had been in Cyprus (Nick?) and Suez and
some small wars I had never heard of.
A real tough bunch - brought up in the
forties and fifties but who all helped each other.
A lot of small soldiering techniques
used disappeared when these men left the RM. Such as how to really
build sandbag fortifications and using the mortar tube caps as markers
for the legs of the mortar, in the dark.
They also taught me how to uses the
mortar without a bipod for when your being overrun.
For the rest of my time in the marines
I never saw that taught to anyone else after that.
Every day in Borneo started just
before first light when we had 'stand-to.'
If in a camp you would take your
weapon and sit in your allotted slit trench until after it was light.
If in the 'Ulu' (jungle) you would
take defensive positions until it was light.
So you were up around 4 to 4.30 in the
morning every day.
We also did stand-to a last light
until it was dark.
These periods of time were when we
expected any surprise attacks.
water bottles we had when I first went to Borneo were made of metal
alloy with a metal cup.
We used to put black masking tape on
the lip to stop you burning your lip when drinking tea.
During my 'tour' the water bottles
were changed to green plastic ones with a black plastic cup.
The cup being plastic wasn't much good
as you couldn't brew up in it or make 'scran' (food).
So you then had to carry a mess tin
which was one more item to carry.
Water was purified by letting it seep
through a millbank bag (light green colour bag used as a strainer) and
then you put one white purifying tablet into your water bottle and half
an hour later one blue one to neutralize the chlorine.
The water was always safe to drink
after that but tasted funny, sort of metallic.
Some of the smaller rivers were
crystal clear and very cold - which made great drinking water.
Lots of guys got jungle sores on their
legs that never went away until they returned to Singapore.
Leeches were also a problem sometimes,
depends on the type of jungle you were traversing, usually swamp areas
but I have had them on me in wet tall grass.
You also had to be aware of
Leptospirosis in stagnate pools or slow rivers. Its disease spread
through rat’s urine which penetrates skin and attacks the liver - can
be fatal if not treated.
We lost a helicopter on my first tour.
It had a prisoner on board and I think it was a Sioux type chopper, you
know with a Plexiglas bubble front. I heard from someone who had worked
out there, for one of the oil company’s years later, that the joystick
was found in a river bed and identified. No bodies or anything else
I personally never saw the chopper
take off as it left from the next camp along but everyone heard about
it at the time.
Sorry not much good in the remembering
the name of the chopper types.
We also had a large artillery piece
(5.5inch -if I can remember right) in our first camp that used to make
a large bang when fired.
One day the artillery support teams
were shelling our wire for ranging in case we were attacked and
possible overrun, in Plamu Mapu new camp. When by accident a shell
landed right next to one of the mortar pits. Luckily we were all
In the new camp we also had a group of
dancers and singers come out on tour who visited us, it should have
been Frankie Howard but the weather stopped him visiting.
Unfortunately they had to make a run
for the chopper, you should have seen the panic on their faces, when
the alarm went off and artillery support was called for by some of our
patrols on the border. The chopper, a Wessex, actually flew into the
path of the firing but the shells went over the chopper. If I remember
right, the border was less than one click (one thousand yards) from our
camp position by map.
Oh by the way the equivalent of Top of
the Pops when I was in Borneo (1965) was Nancy Sinatra -Those boots
were made for Walking. My mum had given me a transistor radio and I
still remember listing to that while sitting in the mortar pit
I got four days off during my first
tour and went to Kuching for R & R.
Can't remember much about it except I
was very drunk.
We also cut a lot of chopper pads out
of the Ulu on that tour, close to the border for future operations.
Used plastic explosives sometimes -
and the stuff we used was old WW2 plastic explosives nitro-glycerine
Sometimes we used C4 or PE 4 - I think
we called it PE4 and the yanks c4.
White colour plastic explosives.
One patrol I went on had to re-cut an
old chopper position on the border, in fact it was just over the border
by about 500 yards and when we got there we found the Indo army had set
up an ambush previously around the old chopper pad.
No one was there when we got there and
it was obvious that the ambush had been set months before.
The trees had some Indo names carved
on them and there were well sited slit trenches they had dug.
Patrolling was a mixture of boredom
with exhaustion but you couldn't relax and had to be alert all the
Incidentally they (Indos) were using
the AR15 before us and we found some of their used cartridge cases on
You could always identify their
footprints because they wore small size US jungle boots which leaves
different sole print that our Dunlop ones.
One thing most people don't really
understand about that part of the world, unless they have been there,
is how humid and hot it is.
Not the dry heat of the desert but
this heat drains you, as you’re just dripping sweat all the time.
One raid in 1965 was done from our
camp using a mixture of Alpha and Bravo rifle companies (40 Commando
RM) that were based at Plamu Mapu. They had apparently caught the Indos
bathing in a river at first light, early morning. They had actually got
close to the Indo camp the night before and moved in before dawn.
Our lads shot about thirty five of
them in the river. They had sighted a 50 caliber machine gun on the
hill overlooking the river in a basha but couldn't depress the machine
gun, which was on a tripod, enough to hit our lads.
Anyhow one guy fired an antitank
grenade from his SLR, (and for the love of me I can't remember the
grenades name but I trained on it). The grenade hit the basher and
knocked out the gun.
One of our lads, I can still remember
his face but not his name, was hit in the back by a bullet which landed
on the GPM ammo belt he was carrying.
One round in the belt exploded and
took of a small part of his ear and also left a nasty carved scar on
I picked all these details up from the
lads after they had returned to our camp, so this bit is not first
I also nearly shot a 'green Howard'.
Our mortar pit was close to the wire,
in Plamu Mapu and the 'heads' (toilets for a dump) was in a hut outside
the first gate and in between the wire.
Stupid camp planning I know.
After about a month a bunch (4) of
'Green Howard's' walk into our camp.
They had been doing recce work over
the border and we all knew they were SAS.
That night one of them decides to go
to the 'heads' for a dump.
When he got to the first gate the
sentry was just changing out with me. So I didn't see him go outside
but I certainly heard him when he came back.
Though he wasn't making much noise he
got quite a surprise when I shoved a SLR into his head.
Luckily I had been trained to be sure
of my target before firing and when my rifle barrel poked him he made a
noise which was distinctly British. At the time I was sweating badly as
I couldn't work out where he had come from. So all ended well but when
I reported what had happened the next day the routine for going to the
heads was changed.
My second and last trip top Borneo was
At one stage a big raid was planned
but called off as Sukarno went after the CCO and the Indo offensive
It called for a planned attack on an
Indo camp at least eight clicks over the border using a lot of troops.
It was planned we would take the
mortars to within 3-4 klicks of the enemy camp and uses para flares to
illuminate the target during the night attack.
If I remember rightly the assault, by
the rifle companies would be over rice paddies which meant us also
giving smoke and He support. There quite a few body bags brought up
when we were preparing as we expected to take casualties.
Anyhow it was all cancelled.
This would be around - maybe beginning
of Sept. 1966 - I haven't thought about this for a long time so I
apologies for my memory.
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