BACK TO LUNDU
October 1963 - February 1964
by Terry Aspinall
............40 Commando Royal Marines had been ordered back to Sarawak, to undertake a second Tour of Duty in the Lundu area. By now we all knew the routine having been through it several months earlier. Only this time we would be travelling in so called luxury on board HMS Albion a Commando Carrier. It having replaced 'Old Rusty', HMS Bulwark a month earlier because it was returning to the UK for a major refit. This tour is going to be a little harder for me to recollect times, dates and places, but I will do my best. The reason I managed to get my first tour so accurate is that I kept a rough diary of events, but during this second tour, I became lazy or should I say could not be bothered. It is at times like this that I wished I had taken the time to record more accurate information. Because I know that I have left many incidents out of this book.
............Kampong Lundu looked completely different this time around. 42 Commando who had replaced us had under taken a major building expansion around the police station area. Gone where all the tents and in their place was long wooden huts with separate cubicles so each Marine had a little privacy. A very large barbed wire compound surrounded the whole area including the football come make shift airfield.
............However, all the routines were to become the same as before, even to the point that Two Troop were to spend the first month once again, guarding the police station along with A Company Head Quarters section.
............Therefore, it was two hours on and four hours off guard duty, cleaning up this, sweeping up that, unloading boats and refuelling the choppers. The horrible routines that everybody hates doing, that are all part of going to war and anyway somebody has to do it, so it might as well be us.
............Occasionally we did get a couple of trips up river to a Kampong, just to show the flag to the Iban tribesmen, while trying to keep them on our side. I must add that a vast majority believed in Queen Elizabeth when we arrived in their village, but who they believed in when we left I have no idea.
............Life soon dropped back into the boring life style we had experienced way back in March, when we first arrived at Lundu with all our expectations of becoming jungle fighting heroes. Once again we all wanted to be out in the jungle making our own rules and not being tied to the Headquarters group along with all its discipline. It upset us more as we were hearing stories of what B and C Companies were up to. Some of the Marines were making contacts with the enemy, but in that first month, lucky for us 40 Cdo received no fatalities. We had all learnt lessons during that first tour and many deaths had been unnecessary, all caused by not knowing about the jungle and are own hygiene. A connection to rats took a couple of lives, hopefully this time it would all be different. We all reunited our acquaintances with the locals, including the Police, Sarawak Rangers and the Iban Trackers. Mogumbo was still there, but Leo and the Gurkhas had long since gone. His unit having moved to the second division of Kuching.
............The Helicopters that we usually refuelled would undertake many different rolls from moving men around to bringing in supplies. Some times while moving the men around, baskets would be fitted to the outside of the Chopper to carry their kit bags, allowing a little more room inside for the Marines. On one occasion while some of the Marines were being flown back to the Carrier, the Chopper under took a very steep banking manoeuvre and the kit bags rolled out and plunged many thousands of feet into the sea below. That day a few of the Marines came out on top having placed claims far in access to what was actually in the kit bags, because they were never found.
............It always amazed me how they worked out the weight of the load they could safely carry in a Chopper. Most of us knew our body and kit bag weight, and at times we were asked before going on a long flight. But usually it was just a case of try it and see. On one occasion I was last in and ended up sitting in the door way. The Chopper took off trying to gain height, however after struggling to about five hundred feet it spun round and dived back into the landing zone coming down with a very loud bump. The Pilot then shouted back to us "One out", which meant me. I jumped out and the Chopper took off without me. Somebody shouted that they would come back for me. That day I felt quite lonely being left on my own in a hostile place just before dark. To add to my problems all my gear had stayed onboard the Chopper, so all I had with me was my rifle and a few rounds of ammunition. Anyway it was a happy ending as they returned half an hour later.
............One story that we did hear about concerned B Company, who was stationed at one of the forts in land. One of the sections was patrolling the border and walked onto the enemy while they were sitting around on the side of a track, it was assumed that they were having a break. A fire fight took place with three of the enemy being killed, while the Marines received no casualties, so it was described as a good contact. We also continued using what became known as MK’s, as Assault Boats. These were local dugout canoes called long boats fitted with outboard engines.
............Anyway, our four weeks were soon up at Lundu and we were given a new assignment at Kampong Pang-Te-Bang. To reach our new home we had to undertake a boat ride and then a long march through the jungle which took us all day. Everybody was excited as we were returning to the jungle on our own, now we could shake off the shackles of Head Quarters which always seemed to dog us. I might add that there was a little rivalry amongst the Companies and we always thought that A came before B & C so in our eyes we were always the first choice for any assignment. Not only that, our Company Commander, Major Pug Davis was well known for his volunteering at every opportunity. A Company's nick name was the Saints.
Kampong Pang Te Bang
............Pang-Te-Bang had been hard pressed in the last few weeks, having been attacked a couple of times. Fortunately, the Marines had been very lucky and so far the Fort had received no casualties. The camp had been given the nick name of 'Fort Apache', another name taken from an old John Wayne movie of the same name. Up till now it had been living up to its name, with constant attacks being thrown against them, by the Indians as we sometimes referred to the enemy The fort did not have a landing strip, so it was supplied from the air, by parachute drops. While on other occasion supplies were brought in by change over patrols.
............'Fort Apache' was only a small fort, but it was well protected. Later a visiting General declared that it would take an army to overrun and storm the place. In its centre was a main hut, made up of Attap leaves, when built correctly attap is a very good waterproofing material. While spread evenly around the main hut was eight underground mortar proof Sanger’s or bashers as some people refer to them, each holding two men. These were just holes in the ground with cut down tree trunks laid across the top, with mud packed across the logs helping to make it water proof. The mortar proof roof was positioned about two feet above the surrounding ground level, giving the Marines a good all round low field of vision, while still being able to stand up in side. Inside was just enough room for two camp beds with mosquito nets, a few boxes of ammunition and battery operated detonator wires. These ran out to explosive devices hid out the front area of the basher, near the barbed wire perimeter fence about forty yards away. The barbed wire consisted of two rolls of dannet wire, one balanced on top of the other one. Between the bashers and the wire, there were hidden six foot deep pits that were filled with pangy spears. Pangy spears are made from bamboo poles, which are split into about four pieces, the ends are sharpened to a point. The points are then placed into the ashes of a fire, for a short time to harden the tips. Some of the tips are given coatings of poisonous substances that included human excrement. The other ends of the Pangy were then stuck into the earth at the bottom of the pit and covered over with vegetation, so that advancing rebels could not see them.
............While outside of the wire were dozens of hidden booby traps, the favourite being cans of AV gas, chopper fuel, hanging from the trees. These could be detonated from the bashers by battery operated switches or by tracer bullets from our S.L.R. rifles. During the night, a rifle would be laid on the sandbags and lined up with the can of fuel that usually hung above a track. The riffle then had a couple of extra sand bags placed around it, so it did not move. Therefore, in the dark if you thought that the enemy was within the line of shot, all you had to do was just pull the trigger. Another favourite booby trap was the old tin of beans trick, like I used at Samunsam. The whole interior of the compound had been cleared of all trees and bushes to give us all a good field of vision.
............After the long hard slog to Pang-Te-Bang, we arrived about an hour before dark. Giving us time to wash down, the usual method was to dive in the river with all our clothes on. As the river was just outside the camp wire perimeter. At all times somebody usually stood guard on the bank for us. After sweating buckets during our march through the jungle, it became one of life's little pleasures, just to lie in the cool water. As darkness started to fall, everybody would make their way back into the camp from different directions and the two gateways would be sealed up by barbed wire and booby traps. Usually being reopened the following morning around 8 am. Although we tried not to do things on a regular basis. If we were being watched it was not in our interest to give them an advantage to attack us while we were unprepared.
............When the patrol returned from Lundu they brought with them a new replacement Sergeant. Would you believe my old friend Sergeant Nobby Clarke from my training days at Lympstone, on his very last overseas posting, as he was nearing the end of his full 22 years service in the Royal Marines.
............The patrol also brought back a story of a Marine from C Company. Who had been out on a patrol and had camped in a rubber plantation. Next morning he had taken a shave in the nearest stream and had cut his face. It was unknown by the Marines that the plantation had earlier been sprayed with arsenic to kill off the insects that attacked the trees. The arsenic in the air had got into his cut and he was dead within twenty four hours.
............Another Marine from the same company had cleaned his teeth one morning in the local stream. Unbeknown to him the water contained rat’s urine, this had got into cuts in his gums and had killed him a couple of days later. The Marines had learnt the hard way. I’ve mentioned earlier that the jungle can be your friend, but it can also be a hostile place and can kill more people than the enemy if it’s not treated with respect. Because of these accidents it was essential that we learnt from others unfortunate mistakes. Let your guard down and the jungle just gobbles you up and spits you out.
............Not sure if it was A or B Company who also lost another Marine whose name I cannot remember. It was discovered that he had anemic dysentery and a Sergeants delay in getting him back to headquarters and medical help, coursed his death. Even accusing the Marine at one time of being lazy and to faking all the symptoms he complained of. This affected many Marines in that company, so much so the Sergeant was moved to another Commando unit to take the heat off him. Months later I attended the Marines funeral back in Singapore which was a very solemn occasion. As his coffin was being lowered into the grave a local Malayan worker started shouting at us, the Commanding officer thinking he was making a mockery of the whole ceremony, sent two Marines over to shut him up. It turned out that he was one of the wardens of the cemetery and was trying to tell us that the coffin was being lowered into the ground facing the wrong way.
............Another sad event was when a junior Marine died, even though he was by now a full Marine, we still referred to them as juniors. This guy had a body like Charles Atlas the famous American Body builder and was very proud of it. I think at the time he was a member of 42 Commando, anyway he dived into a muddy looking river, not knowing that the water was only about eighteen inches deep. He broke his neck and was paralysed from the neck down, he just lay in hospital with no will to live. His body physique had been his pride and joy, so we all surmised that not being able to show off all his muscles, he had nothing to live for. The poor chap died within a few months, what a tragedy he was only just nineteen years old.
............One morning a few of us got permission from Nobby Clarke to go fishing in the river that ran by the camp, but we did not take any rods and worms, instead we took a few blocks of plastic explosive. We also took with us one of the Sarawak Rangers, who had no idea what we were about to do, but he came along out of interest. We walked along the bank until we found a shallow part of the river, here we left a couple of Marines with buckets. Don Hackett and I walked a little further up the river to a much deeper spot. Here we fixed a short length of fuse wire, about four inches long to a single block of plastic explosive. I showed it to the Sarawak Ranger and took out my lighter, telling him to watch this. I lit the fast burning fuse and waited until it was only about an inch from the plastic and then I threw it into the deepest part of the river. Thump, the Ranger jumped as a large column of water shot straight up into the air. Then as the water settled, we all saw many small fish floating up to the surface, the current carried them down stream to the waiting buckets. We then proceeded a little further up stream and did the same exercise once again. At the third attempt, we let the Ranger throw a stick in, but this time there was no explosion, the fuse had gone out. I believe he got scared and threw it in while the fuse was too long. The art was to try and time the explosion just as the plastic hit the water. Otherwise the water would put it out. I told the ranger that we could not leave it there and that we would have to get it out of the water. No way, the Ranger told me shaking his head. Knowing that it was safe I stripped off and dived in, trying to duck dive and find it on the bottom. Unfortunately, I was having no luck not being able to find my way around on the bottom of the river because the water was all churned up. I knew the Ranger was a good swimmer so I tried to coach him into the river. He was very nervous knowing what it could do if it went off. After all, he had seen the large plume of water heading skywards when the earlier ones had exploded. I had to assure him that it was okay and to prove my point, I swam directly above the spot it had entered the water, to give him a little confidence. Slowly he swam out to where I was and then executed a duck dived beside me. He came up a few seconds later with the block in his hand and held it high out of the water. He then swam very fast with the other hand, breaking all known Olympic-swimming records for Sarawak, in his haste to reach the bank. He then threw it ashore and turned towards me laughing. Don picked up the plastic and pulled out the unburned part of the fuse. With that, we decided that we had fished enough for the day. We would call it a day, so we headed back down the river, collecting the Marines along the way with their buckets full of fish.
............As we approached the camp from the other side of the river. We could see an area on the other bank that was used as our toilet. Unfortunately, in those days, nobody ever considered that other people were living further downstream. The locals usually placed a log across the river and would squat on it. Anyway our toilet was on a platform built of bamboo and stuck out over the river, about six feet up off the water. I always thought that it had been constructed this way so nobody had to dig a pit. Anyway holes had been cut in the platform base and wooden boxes, with their own holes, had been placed over the platform holes. Four of these so-called thunder boxes were placed side by side. Marines used this setting to have a chat while they sat around answering natures call. The whole platform had sacking draped around it to give the user just a hint of privacy from the outside world. As we neared the toilet area, I could see Nobby Clarke and another Marine with their backs to us, doing the usual sitting, while having a chinwag. We were on the other bank so we crept up until we were level with them, I stuck a fuse into the plastic explosive we had just retrieved from the river. I lit the fuse and tossed it in the water just below Nobby. Whoosh a spout of water shot up about ten feet high into the air, drowning the Sergeant and Marine, with more than just water. Nobby saw us on the other riverbank laughing and shook his fist at us, while hurling shouts of abuse like "I get you for this Aspinall". Soon the whole camp came down to the river and had a good laugh. I would have to be on my guard now. Nobby or Sergeant Rock (from an American war comic) as we had started to call him would be looking to get his own back on me.
............Most of our supplies were dropped by parachute at least twice a week. During these drops we had to be vigilant, as the parachutes would land anywhere and some Marines had been injured in the past. Sometimes the aircraft flew very low over the camp and just kicked out the load with no chutes, this practice was very dangerous. Anyway, after a time there were many parachutes lying around the fort. The material was a type of silk and nylon mix. Somebody hit on the idea of using it to barter with the locals. This material became worth a fortune to them. Both men and women wore very little clothing and some owned absolutely nothing. So for them to own a few panels of silk material, made them feel very rich and flashy. Nowadays I like to call them the yuppies of Sarawak.
............Later while back in Singapore I took some of the white parachute materiel to clothing shop and got them to make me a couple of shirts. However, the venture turned out to be a complete waste of time, because the material could not breathe. Once you started sweating the material just stuck to your skin and looked like the shirt was full of bubbles of water.
............On one occasion a drop was planned, so the lads could have a birthday party drink for one of the Marines. One of the items to be dropped was twelve packs of tinned Tiger beer, (twenty-four cans to a pack) the plane usually completed a low level run first checking out the wind direction and would then do a second run to complete the drop. Unfortunately on this occasion the parachutes never opened and the crate went straight through the main hut roof and landed beside the dinner table embedding its self about two foot into the ground. Some of the beer cans burst open upon impact, so there was one hell of a mess as the beer flowed freely, especially down a few throats I might add. Luckily nearly everybody was outside to watch the drop, otherwise a few of the guys might have been seriously injured. I say nearly everybody, because the radio operator was still in the hut trying to keep in contact with the aircraft. Lucky for him he was away from where the beer actually landed but it did give him one hell of a shock. Although I might add that he was also the first to sample the contents of the so called damaged cans. Remember in those days cans never had rings on them, we had to use an opener to piece the top.
............The plane then returned on another low run over us, this time out spun Ginger’s monthly National Geographic Magazine, spinning to the ground in its plain brown envelope. Followed by a bag of mail with a red ribbon flapping in the wind so we could find it. One day that magazine will land in the river I used to tell Ginger. It was also nice to read the magazine whenever Ginger had finished reading it.
............A Marine Commando unit stays put in the area it is assigned to for several years. The men are usually changed around after serving eighteen months in the unit, being returned to the UK. However, Marines who bring their wives with them usually stay for about two and a half years, but no longer. The main reason being that the UK government did not like you being out of the country more than three years, because you would then be able to reclaim your past three years income tax back. Because of this system, a Commando unit could end up losing half a dozen of its most experienced Marines at any one time. Then over night, have to replace them with half a dozen mere novices, not knowing one end of a rubber plant to another.
............It was precisely this reason that Sergeant Rock decided to take out a patrol, firstly to aquatint himself with the area and secondly to sort out some of the new recruits, that had just arrived with him. While thirdly to find out just how good his so-called old soldiers were. So one morning a large section of us set out on what would be a long drawn out patrol. I took point with the tracker, a position I loved to be in. We had just recently been issued with Remington repeater pump action shotguns. The Remington Company had sent technicians out to Sarawak to fit us up with them, in some cases they even sawed off the barrels to suit the person using them. The jungle foliage could hang very close to you as you walked along a track, if you swung around the hanging foliage would catch up on the barrel. So it was decided to shorten the barrels to stop them getting caught up. If you were suddenly to turn a corner and walked onto the enemy, one shot with the short barrel would be all you would need, you could not miss especially with the spread of shot as it left the barrel. It would certainly stop the guy directly in front of you, giving you time to take cover.
............Ginger took the rear end of the patrol, Don and Geordie Frith was with us, Sergeant Rock in the middle with six of the new lads plus a Gurkha. The idea was to cut our way up to the border and just patrol the area for a few days. As we left Pang-Te-Bang we formed a long line, because we were well spaced, an important teaching if you walked through an ambush position, a bunched up patrol could all be wiped out in one hit. We were all carrying backpacks loaded with about 56lb of gear, a lot for this type of climate. The webbing was very uncomfortable, I’d heard a story back at Deal that a woman had designed it many years earlier. It’s a pity she did not try walking through the jungle with it on her back. Most of us old soldiers had hacked the webbing about and added what we called a quick release buckle. Made up from parachute straps, in such a way as to ride more comfortable on our backs and I might add that it worked very satisfactory. I use the word quick release because it was designed so that if we needed to drop the heavy load, all we had to do was pull the belt end and it would drop around your ankles as we attempted to run away from the enemy in a record breaking time.
............We twisted and turned our way through the jungle, walking purely on the compass, cutting a track as we went. We made the new boys take a turn up front with me, using their machete's to cut a path through, not a wide track just enough to squeeze through. This was where the shotguns were worth their weight in gold. We walked for about two hours and would then have fifteen minutes off for a rest and a smoke, but we would always get off the tracks when we rested.
............When we arrived into the area we thought was the border, I say thought because the border position was always suspect, never having been mapped accurately. Here we turned west still cutting our own track parallel to what we thought was the border. The reasons we tried to keep off existing tracks, was so that we did not walk into an ambush or a lethal bamboo trap. These were usually made of bamboo spikes and were very effective in severely injuring people.
............Cutting your way through the jungle is a very slow and very noisy, but it had to be done. On a good day, you could travel maybe up to four or five miles, a lot further and quicker than travelling through mangrove swamp. Sometimes in mangrove, you would be lucky if you could cover one mile a day.
............Around 4 pm after covering about four miles, Sergeant Rock called a halt. Poor old Nobby he was just dripping with sweat and struggling with the heat and insects, he was in his middle forties and was carrying a little extra weight around his waist. He had done well to get this far, most of the new boys were struggling by this time as well, so it was decided to make a camp for the night. The sight chosen was a low area, but clear. Ginger and I paired up, Don with Geordie and together we moved a little way up a small hill. We then built a small platform of bamboo into the side of the hill, about six feet long and five feet wide, (remember training). We then covered it with ferns and leaves, as a mattress. We stretched a string line the length of the sleeping area about three feet above and draped our ponchos over the string to keep any rain of the mattress and us. We also hung mosquito nets under the ponchos. It took us about one hour to complete all of the work. We then walked down the hill to see what the others were up to, most of them had just laid down where they had collapsed and crashed into a heap. If only they knew I thought, they were novices and it showed. Don and Geordie had done the same as us and Nobby had teamed up with the Gurkha who built the same sort of structure as ours, but I must add it was better and Nobby had not lifted a finger in its construction, being absolutely exhausted.
............I told them all that they were wrong in not trying to get themselves up off the ground. I was told to mind my own business and that it would not rain tonight. As we had cut our own track and that our camp area was off the beaten track, we did not bother with a guard, it being a waste of time. Ginger and I headed back up the hill, cutting some small branches as we went to lay them around our bashers as a little camouflage. We ate a quick meal from our ration packs then turned in for the night. It had been a hard day’s slog and tomorrow would be just as hard, so a good night’s rest was essential.
............About three hours into darkness, I was awakened by a very heavy rainstorm, Ginger and I lay there and chuckled to each other. All the new comers were caught out, you would think that with all the training they had received back in the UK, they would have known better and learn their lesson. It rained on and off for most of the night. Then in the early hours of the morning, the shouting started from the new boys. Right where they had lain, it had suddenly turned into a small stream. Now they were struggling to save whatever they could by dragging it up the side of the hill, to find cover for the rest of night. Lying there dry and warm, I tapped Ginger lying beside me, we both agreed that in time they might learn, I then rolled over and went back to sleep and my dreams of Brenda and of what might have been.
............I rose at 6 am and crawled out of my basher, as it had stopped raining. Looking around I could not help laughing to myself at the sorry sight that greeted my eyes. All the new comers were stripped off trying to dry out their clothes. I walked over to where Nobby was sitting amongst a group of the sad looking guys. "If you do not mind me saying", I was cut off in mid sentence, "We do mind" one of the Marines butted in, "I did try and warn you all. I guess you have just learnt a valuable lesson”. I went on to tell them that we had never been through the jungle warfare school either.
............After eating, washing and covering up the camp we set off for another day of following the border, Ginger, Don Geordie and I started out on our own. Leaving the others to tidy up and catch up later. If we were only three miles ahead and the track was cut, they could walk it in under an hour.
............A few tricks we had to teach these new guys was, only cook food that the locals cook Only smoke their home made fags and no washing with soap, no tooth paste and certainly no after shave. These smells travel miles through the jungle. If you eat like a local, there is just a chance that the enemy would not investigate. It was also a good idea to eat one cooked meal per day if possible. One thing we could not change and that was our body odour which made us smell totally different to the local people. We could sit in a river and wash all of our daily sweat from our bodies and because of the humid conditions, within half an hour we would smell exactly the same.
............That night we camped on a small hill by a stream, the new guys did not need telling how to build a basher. Therefore, we left them alone, the tracker had got some good tucker for us to eat during the days march. He picked up a few frogs, with legs on them like bantam chickens. It was decided to just cook it up and not tell the new guys what it was until it had all been eaten. Everybody commented on it being good and once told they did not even complain, these boys are learning fast I thought. That night everybody got, a goodnights sleep and it didn’t even rain.
............In the morning while breaking camp, it was decided to give the new guys a chance to lead, and do the chopping. It was fairly safe as we had not come across anything yet. Our hope in cutting a track parallel with the border was to maybe come across a new track that the enemy had perhaps cut through the border and into Sarawak. We let the new boys chop away to their hearts content. It would strengthen them up or wear them down, you can choose which one. Nobby was quite happy to just take our advice on the situation. At 4 pm we called a halt in a small clearing, this will do for the night, Don told Nobby, knowing exactly where he was. So we started to set up for the night, Nobby asked Don why he had chosen this site and was told that he knew the area well, adding that the clearing was still hidden. He also knew of an existing track about a mile away, that he would show them tomorrow. It was suggested that we post a guard tonight and keep our talking down to a minimum.
............Don Hackett was a very good soldier, early in his career, he had joined the Army, but later he volunteered successfully and completed a tour of duty with the Special Air Service. He then had to leave the service because of his Mother’s health. After her death, he had wanted to get back into the SAS. Which meant that he would have to first join the Army and to then re-apply to join the SAS. However, he worried that he might not be selected and that he would then be stuck in the Army as a Percy Pongo for whatever time he had signed up for. He did the second best thing, by joining the Royal Marines. He was a good military man and did his job well. I would guess that he would make Sergeant one day.
............Don suggested one man on guard for two hours and cooking down to a minimum. One of the new guys wanted to know where the water was, there is no stream he said. Don took him over to a bamboo clump of canes, he counted up from the ground five notches and cut it off with his machete. The lads could see it was full of water and it was pure, remember five up but do not sleep near bamboo. It usually houses the bamboo snake and they are very poisonous. Don then took them over to some vines hanging from the trees. He grabbed hold of one and cut a three-foot section away, showing it to all the new guys that water was running out in a trickle. About half a litre enough to survive on, telling them not to let the vine touch their lips, because they would become covered in very nasty sores. He also told them that they could also crush up a banana trunk and strain it through your neckerchief. Training over we all set about building our bashers for the night. With each of us taking a short guard for the night, we got as much sleep as possible.
............In the morning, we broke camp early and arranged to keep the noise down as low as possible, while slowly and carefully we made our way up towards the track that Don said was there. We gave Don the Remington and he took lead point with the Tracker clearing the way. This time we going slower as we were being more careful not wanting to walk onto the enemy unprepared.
............We found the track about midday just where Don had predicted, Nobby mounted a guard just near the track and the rest of us withdrew to make a plan, about two hundred yards back into the jungle. Nobby had decided to lay an ambush on the track during the night, we had a short briefing in which he outlined that we would be laying in a patrol order. That is Scout (1) Bren Team (3) Riffle Team (3) and tail end Charlie (1). A trip flare would be laid across the track, furthest from the border, as we were only expecting the enemy to come down the track from the border side. We would also cut a way to our lying positions from behind and not enter it from the track. You do not enter from the track, as a good tracker would spot these marks, so you must always enter from the back. We will all have vines tied to our wrists as a communication link, one tug for somebody coming, constant tugging to withdraw. We would open fire when the trip flare goes off, also try and place large leaves in front of your eyes in the direction of the flare, so you’re not blinded when it goes off. No talking, no smoking we will get into position just before dark and we do not move out until my order comes, after daybreak. One of the new guys asked about sleep you just cat-nap, but do not all fall asleep some of you snore. We got into our positions at around 6 pm on the straightest part of the track, wanting to ambush as many of the enemy in one go as possible. However, we would only be covering about a twenty-yard area of the track. Everybody's firing area or ARC as we call it would over lap each other’s, an ambush should only last about two or three seconds by then it should be all over. With each Marine only having to shoot one of the enemy, or maybe two at the most who are in his ARC of fire.
............About midnight the vines tugged on my wrist, I lay there waiting to see what came into my line of fire, which was on the left of the patrol furthest away from the border but near the trip flare. I heard noises of somebody moving down the track but I could see nothing. Although I knew somebody was definitely moving down the track and towards us. You could hear small twigs snapping and brushing sounds of the boots in long grasses that sometimes grow alongside these tracks. Suddenly BANG, BANG, BANG, somebody started shooting, but at what I was not sure. I could see nobody in my ARC of fire because the flare had not gone off, what the hell had gone wrong. Being dark, nobody moved and no signals came along the vine to give me an indication.
............It was a long wait until morning in order to find out what had actually happened. At first light it was discovered that two wild pigs had been shot, both had died instantly. We withdrew into the jungle for a debrief. Nobby was very critical of the actions the night before, we had only shot two pigs and that was before they had even activated the trip flare. If they had been terrorist whoever had panicked and fired first would possibly have let about a dozen others escape. They should have let as many pass though the trap as possible. It’s quite scary letting the enemy walk past you into a trap because they are so close to you. Because of the thickness of the jungle you are laying very close to the track. It takes a little nerve knowing that if it was daylight they only had to look down and they would be looking straight into your eyes. Even the most hardened of Marines would be a little nervous at times although you do get used to it. However, getting used to it only comes when you are lying next to Marines you know well and can trust that they will not panic. Its times like this, that you must trust your opposite number and know that at all times he will protect your back. Because this ambush had been set off early there was a chance that it could have gone wrong and that some of our own could have been injured. It was not worth trying to find out who fired first, what was done was done, we could not alter it, but hopefully all the new Marines had learnt a valuable lesson. It would not be any good hanging around this track now, as our position had been compromised and it would be about two months before the terrorists would use that area again.
............One of the other companies had a similar experience while laying on their night ambush. Hearing people approaching their position the officer had jumped out on to the track and challenged them with a, "Halt who goes there". The terrorists just turned around and fled, end result being, no kills and a total waste of an evening’s work. These two incidents changed all of our ambush tactics. General orders went out to all units, to kill as many as possible, after allowing the maximum number of terrorists to get in front of the ambush team, before the trap is sprung.
............We only set night ambushes, the reason being a curfew was in force during the night and anybody found wandering around after dark was fair game. Nevertheless, I felt sorry for the non-English speaking villages they had not a clue what was going on around them, they just did not understand and still carried on in their old traditional ways.
............We walked back into the jungle, back the same way we had come. Along the track we had cut the day before for about half a mile to the East and then turned ninety degrees and started cutting a new track north. The tracker very carefully covered up our exit point on the old track, not wanting to give our position away to anybody. We did not want unwanted guests to find our new track. We travelled for about two and a half miles and decided to camp by a swollen river for the night. Nobby advised everybody to boil their water as the river was a funny colour, but the old hands would look for vines or bamboo. We used to also carry a small green canvas bag that was used to strain and purify water. Once topped up we hung it in a bush so that the strained contents could dribble into our water bottles. Once full we added a water purifying tablet and then anther tablet to take remove the taste of the first tablet. Once that bottle had been shaken it was okay to drink. I once saw a demonstration in Burma Camp when an instructor topped up his green bag from a sewerage stream that ran past the camp. Once he’d added the tablets and shook the bottle he drank the water. I might add that there were not many people to take up his offer of a drink that day. However, it’s nice to know that an idea like that, will keep you alive if you can’t find any drinkable water.
............That night we all got a fairly good night’s sleep, after being awake for most of the previous night and it was most welcome. As we needed to top up our batteries just a little.
............In the morning after a good breakfast, Nobby was asking for ideas on how to cross the swollen river. Not everybody in the section were good swimmers, so we decided the best way was to attach a rope on the other bank and to used it as a hand rail, so it could be used to help you pull yourself over. We had tested the rivers depth and discovered it was about four feet six inches deep, not too bad. I was one of the best swimmers in the unit, therefore I volunteered to get the rope across to the other side. I tied one end of a rope to a tree in an area that we wanted to cross. I then walked up stream as far as I could, with the other end tied around my waist. I then slid into the water, not wanting to dive just in case I hit a submerged rock and swam for the other bank. The swift current carried me down river to the area we intended to cross and by this time, I was already over near the other bank. I climbed up and tied the other end of the rope to the nearest tree. Most of the Marines had taken off their backpacks and also some of their clothing. Then they wrapped all of their gear including their riffles inside of their ponchos, to try to make them floatable and waterproof. One by one they pulled themselves across the river on the rope with their poncho covered gear attached to them floating behind, at all times we had someone on guard on each bank just in case. Ginger brought my gear over when it was his turn, we only allowed one man on the rope at a time. Last man over untied the rope from the tree and just hung on to the end. As we pulled him over to our side of the river.
............One of the Company's had lost a Marine at a river crossing much like I have just described, but unfortunately he was washed away. He was very young and not a very good swimmer, he was not only washed away, he completely disappeared. Later a chopper pilot spotted his body a couple of days later on a sand bank near the estuary of the river. A patrol was dispatched to recover the body, but it was already in a bad state of decay when they found it. Two days in the sun had seen to that, along with the fish and animals.
............We cut our track still heading north and made a camp at around 4 pm. While most were getting organised, the tracker took Ginger and me into the jungle. He was searching for and found an old and rotten tree. Slowly he peeled back the bark and exposed a very white soft inner core, full of large tunnelled holes. He then picked around until he found what he was looking for and then showed us what to me looks like a very fat long grub with a brownish head. I would say it was about three to four inches long and about as fat as my thumb. The tracker put it straight into his mouth but kept hold of its head, he then bit the head off and threw it away while the body was still wriggling on his tongue. Not for me I thought looking at Ginger wondering what was going through his head. The tracker smiled and swallowed it, apparently it is the top jungle food you can eat being full of protein. Ginger had a taste of one, wringing his face about a little, as he swallowed it. After seeing that, I declined, whilst feeling a little bit of a coward. Anyway the tracker collected up a couple of dozen of these grub type things. Back at camp, somebody was cooking some sort of stew for us. Ginger leaned over and dropped the grubs straight into the pot, the end result was it tasted pretty good. There was not one complaint, as we all enjoyed them cooked. Mind you, I often wondered how many of the guys would have eaten them raw. I don’t believe I would have been alone that day.
............Another thing I have not mentioned yet is Leeches. The strange thing about leeches is that you will never feel them on you, it’s as if they are invisible. Every day after a long march, you would usually be covered in them, mostly from the waist down. You must not pull them off as the heads stay attached to your skin and will turn septic. Some people sprinkle salt on them. I preferred to burn them off, by just holding the hot end of a cigarette up against them, they would just roll up and drop off. As a protection against them, some people would also place salt around the tops of their jungle boots, although this doesn’t usually work and can course further problems if salt gets into your boots and down to your feet. When they first latched themselves onto you, they would only be as thick as a pin, but when they are full of blood, they would become very fat. If you had them on your back, you would usually pair up with somebody and together you would get them off each other. If they were in an area of your body where the clothing chaffed, or was folded they sometimes burst open, letting all the blood seep through your clothing. Looking a little scary but a lot worse than it actually was.
............On one patrol I went on, in a an area known to be bad for leeches, I counted thirty-two leeches on me. All in my under pants area, so my under pants were covered in blood. Where some had gorged themselves on me and my walking motion had burst them open. It was very frightening the first time I saw it, but like everything you get used to it.
............I was later told a story of one of our lads getting some in his underpants and one had got inside the end of his private parts. It turned out to be quite a delicate operation in trying to remove it, so it did not leave its head stuck in his flesh. He had been lucky, when one of his friends used a cigarette to burn it off safely.
Next day we still headed north until we found another track, here we decided to lay another ambush, only difference this time we did not know anything about the track, where it came from or where it was going.
............That night we decided to split up the new boys amongst the more experienced of us, which I think was a good idea. Most of us wore a sweat neckerchief which was made of a mesh material and camouflaged in colour. During the day, we wore it around our necks to soak up the sweat, but on an ambush, it was ideal to place over your head and face to keep the mossies and other insects off you. Trying to be quiet, you could not keep swatting your face. Anyway, the night was fruitless and at day break I noticed the guy beside me had not used his net over his head, in fact I do not think he even had a net. His face was completely distorted with lumps and bites. How he had tolerated this biting all night and had not made a sound, was beyond me, because he looked a mess. Funny thing was, I had lain right beside him and at times I had removed my net and I had not one single bite. Proof that mossies are a bit choosy of whom they bite. Full credit to the Marine for keeping silent right through the night. It is a well known fact that insects are a little choosy and will home in on a certain people, whether it’s their blood or body odour I’m not sure.
............After a feed, we set off on the track that we had just laid our ambush on. After a couple of hours Don started to realise where we were, taking us on to another known track which lead us back to Pang-Te-Bang and 'Fort Apache'. So we could catch up with our mail and a few hours sleep. During some of my more lonely hours, I would try and talk somebody into writing to my American pen friend for me, after all she was taking the time to keep in touch with me. During the next few months I received quite a few letters from her. Funny but I can’t even remember her name, although I do have a couple of pictures of her family farm. At one time I believe I sent her a Chung Sam dress that I bought from Nee Soon on the island of Singapore. During that time, I did get some nice letters and information cuttings from her. She sent me a Dallas (Texas) newspaper with the headlines of Kennedy's Assassination. Would you believe news did not filter through to us very fast in those days. Kennedy had been dead for about a months before we even knew about it. In fact we read it all in the paper I had been sent. Unfortunately somebody stole it from me, which is a pity as it would be worth a fortune today.
............I was suffering headaches once again, at times very bad ones. At times I was taking about four tablets of codeine every four hours, although now the headaches seemed to be a little more frequent. Some attacks would last two days, but I just lived with them. While not letting too many people around me know, especially the officers. I could have been a liability on guard, but I must own up until now I never had been.
............We had a medical officer visit the camp because quite a few of the Marines were complaining of different ailments and problems. Therefore, he thought he had the answer, the first thing he made us do was to fill in the underground bashers and to build new ones above ground. Some Marines had been bitten in their sleep by large black rats that infested the camp. While living underground and laying on our five feet nine inches long camp bed and covered by a mosey net. We usually ended up with our feet hanging out of the bottom of the beds. This site must have looked a little tasty to the local rat population.
............When we pulled these bashers down, we were all amazed at the size of these rats that appeared and ran off. The guard dog Bella got a couple and a couple were killed with spades. The holes were filled in and what timber could be salvaged was recycled. See we were even recycling in those days. The bashers that we built above ground were much the same, with double log sides full of earth, all about three foot thick and about three foot high. However, this time there was no roof protection from mortar attacks. Just a dark green tarpaulin cover, not very bullet proof but at least it kept the rain out. We had placed the bashers further away from the main hut, nearer to the wire fence. I used to tell everybody it was so the parachutes had a better chance of hitting us, when they dropped our supplies. We also paced duckboards as walk ways between the main hut and the bashers, so at least we had a dry and non-muddy path, because it rain almost every day. Otherwise the camp would have been turned into a quagmire of mud. Now at least we could keep our feet dry for a couple of hours a day and not take mud into our new homes.
............Our arrival at Gumbang was very low key. The fort was positioned a kilometre from the Kampong so it was possible to come and go without the locals knowing too much of our activities. It was also a very quiet fort and to date it had not seen any action. Therefore I guess we all went there expecting a very quiet relaxed life style and we were not disappointed. I would also say that we were very lucky, because later when 42 Commando relieved us, Gumbang became the centre of a lot of action. On August 17th the 21st and 23st, one week after we had left for Singapore. Indonesian raiders led by regular troops, attacked the fort of Gumbang, which was only about two hundred yards inside the border. The fort was defended at that time by a riffle section from L Company 42 Commando and was under the control of Sergeant Alistair Mackie, along with a section of locally trained border scouts. They fought and beat off every attack that was thrown at them and with no casualties. On the 23rd, they set an ambush near the border and caught about sixty raiders on their way to the Kampong to attack it, killing many of them. L Company had a lot of kills to their name, including Limbang in Brunei and also later at Rassau, fortunately they lost very few of their own men.
............We were also told of a patrol that had walked through an ambush, the point man and a local scout got through. Unfortunately Riffle and Bren parties were all shot, but the tail end Charley and a Gurkha survived. As the ambush was executed, everybody dived into the jungle, the opposite side to that of the gun sounds. The two at the front and the two at the back lay in the jungle all day not daring to move. They finally crept away in the fading light of the day, taking a complete day to cut their way through the jungle and back to a safe fort. All four got back but it took another full day to mount a search party. When the search party finely went out to locate the bodies of the dead, all had been booby-trapped. Hand grenades without their pins had been placed under each body. Fortunately, all were very damp and luckily none went off. After the first grenade had been discovered, ropes were then attached to the bodies to roll them over slowly. Luckily, as I said not one of the grenades went off.
............The only bit of excitement we had was while on a patrol with McGinty and Sheba the war dog. Was when Sheba suddenly sat and pointed at an open area that we were about to walk across. Cautiously we fanned out to check out the whole area. We found a spot flattened by somebody who we supposed had been laying in wait for us. Luckily, for us Sheba had alerted us and I think scared whoever it was away. After two weeks, we were relieved and told to make our way to Kampong Bau a good days march away. However, in Sarawak every destination is always a good day’s march away.
............Bau was B Company's strong hold in Division two and known as a safe area. Therefore, it was great to be able to just lie around and to be able to talk and take it easy. Not knowing what our next assignment would be. Yes Bau was a holiday camp compared with what we had been used to.
............We were all excused guard duties so it really was a rest area, the camp was situated beside a very large lake. Pass times included canoeing, swimming, volley ball, football and of course sun bathing. In those days, it was the in thing to do, not like today with all the stories of holes in the ozone layer etc. During the first two days, most of the section just lazed around and caught up on some sleep. By about the third day we were starting to come alive. Ginger and I took a stroll down to the Kampong for a look around, mind you we still had to carry our weapons with us, just in case.
............The Kampong was built into a square with the stores all being open fronted, we just casually strolled from store to store looking at this and that. Most sold a collection of local foods especially dried fish, which stank to high heaven. Soon we found one that sold bottled beer. Walking inside we found a few tables and chairs, so we took a seat and ordered two bottles of Anchor beer, costing about four Singapore Dollars. $1 is equal to two shillings and four pence at the 1962 exchange rate. Anchor was a lager style beer, which I enjoyed at that time. It was brewed in Singapore, the only other choice was Tiger, once again brewed in Singapore, but it was usually in draught form. Anyway Ginger and I were sitting back enjoying a nice beer.
............Sitting a couple of tables away were three men dressed like locals and speaking the local language, all had long hair and beards, but looked a little tall. Suddenly they started talking in English, Ginger leaned over to talk to them and after a few minutes he was very surprised to find out they were in fact British. It only took a few seconds to realise that they were members of the Special Air Service (SAS), after being invited we joined them at their table. We all ordered another round of beers and the general conversation was around jungle survival. Each giving his views, apparently these three had been in service in Norway and had been flown direct to Sarawak. Being briefed on the plane during the flight over and then dropped straight into the jungle. The speed and skill for them to adapt to the jungle conditions had to be very swift. Just so they could blend in and not be noticed is just incredible. After all, both Ginger and I had thought they were locals. Their main task was just to stay undetected in the jungle, for recognisance and surveillance work. Between the three of them, they had to know every subject under the sun and I do mean everything. They each spoke three different languages and had to have the ability to pick up other languages and subjects when required and on top of this, they also had to be very good jungle fighters.
............After a time a few stories started to emerge, one they told us was of a helicopter full of high-ranking officers flying around North Borneo, checking out the British Forts. It developed engine trouble and came down in the jungle crashing into a very thick area of trees, ending up badly smashed up. Most of the occupants survived and scrambled out, getting clear just in case of fire, but one man was trapped inside (E. D. Smith). A branch of a tree had broken through the side of the chopper and pinned the man’s arm. It was very badly crushed and nobody could move him or the branch. One of the Officers was a surgeon but had no instruments with him. Thinking the chopper would catch fire at any moment he made a quick decision and amputated the man’s arm with a service issue jack knife, it being the only tool available. He must have done a good job as the man made a very good recovery. We had about three hours with these guys and enjoyed their company immensely, but soon we had to make tracks back to our campsite. E. D. Smith went on to write a book about the Borneo Campaign, called 'Malaya and Borneo' Counter insurgency Operations:1, of which I have a copy.
............Later Bau was to become well known to all Marines when 3 photos were handed around and copied amongst 40 Commando. They were of a head of a terrorist that had been brought into the Bau fort by a local Dayak Tribesmen, claiming that he had kill the terrorist that had earlier shot down an Army light aircraft (believed to have been a Beaver) that was patrolling along the border. The local had brought the head back so that the military could identify the terrorist and wanted to claim some sort of reward. I do not think anybody argued with his claim, and as for the reward I'm not sure if he ever received one. The photos were of great interest as they also included a group of Marines from B Company taking turns in holding it up by its hair. It had been cut off at the neck and mud had been packed into the cut to keep the blood in and I suppose to stop it from going off quickly. I also have a copy and they are displayed in Chapter Eight photo gallery on my website. I never did find out if it was the vicar’s plane that they were talking about.
............Next morning I went down to the lake for a swim and found Ginger running around with a net, trying to catch butterflies. All around the banks of the lake, where the mud was very damp were thousands of butterflies of every shape, size and colour. When disturbed they made a terrific splash of colour as they flew away. Ginger had started a collection and had been pinning them to his hut wall. Unfortunately the night before he had lost a large part of the collection by scavenging rats so here he was trying to replace a few of the species. Ginger stopped his collecting and joined me in the lake, as did, Dal, Don, Geordie and a few others, a great day’s horseplay followed. This was great way to let your hair down and to forget our trouble for a couple of hours.
............During the evening while sitting around the hut drinking our couple of beers and swapping stories. One of the Gurkhas took out some photos and explained to us a ceremony that was celebrated back in Singapore. While I had heard it all before and seen the pictures, it was still fascinating, so I listened to what he had to say. He went on to tell us how they chopped off heads of lambs, goats and oxen. It was something to do with their religion, using their world famous knife the Kukri, the head had to be chopped off in one blow. Failing in this brought some sort of disgrace to them. I hated the fine detail, being an animal lover, although I had heard it all before at Lundu, but I did bring home some photos of the ceremony.
............While at Bau many of the Marines acquired some sort of pet or section mascots and they ranged from snakes, Iguanas, to several varieties of monkeys and a civet cat. The civet cat even made it back to Singapore against all the rules. It was smuggled back but died at Burma Camp a few months later, having hung its self on its lead. I had a grey snake about three feet long, it made a great pet. Unfortunately, I was ordered to get rid of it in the end. One of officers was dreaming one night and dreamt I put it on him in his sleep, but I did not. Sometimes I wish I had, if I am going to be blamed for something, it's better that I did the deed in the first place. I do not mind the blame if I have enjoyed the prank that I was accused of.
............One of the other sections had a rather large monkey called Rosie and everybody liked her. Unfortunately, when they knew we were going back to Singapore and that no pets were allowed. Somebody tied a large piece of rag on her like a parachute and dropped her out of a chopper as they were being flown to HMS Albion lying of the coast. Poor old Rosie she had been a faithful pet and most Marines had thought it a bad thing to do to her. It might have been better putting her out of her misery first.
............All too quickly our short stay at Bau was over, and so it was back to the action station once again. From here we were to go to Kampong Stass.
............Kampong Stass had a bad record, it had been attacked quite a few times in the past, not a place to drop your guard. We had to march there and it took all day. We also had to radio on ahead to let them know we were coming, just in case they thought they were under attack once again. It had been decided that the outgoing section would stay a further two days, just in case we had been seen coming. It would only take a Monkey to work out that a changeover was taking place and that the relieving section usually came back the next day following along the same track. A good time to lay an ambush, in fact it always surprised me that it never happened more often.
............Stass’s fortifications were about as good as those at Pang-Te-Bang. It would take an army to get through but it paid to keep on your toes and to help we had McGinty and Sheba with us. Sheba would be on guard twenty-four hours a day, she was our ears and we also had two night sights that were also very welcome. Most Marines by now had a good idea how they worked and welcomed their assistance during the night time guards.
............The villagers seemed quite friendly and I befriended a young girl who would do my washing for me. We never took off all our clothes, as I have said before we were not going to be caught without trousers down, our weapons were always ready for use and sometimes cocked, one in the breach or up the spout as some prefer to call it. Although I might add that it was not a normal practice to have one in the breach. I guess by today’s standards it would not be considered as a safe working practice.
............We did lay a few ambushes at nights, but somehow nothing ever happened. I guess you could say we were lucky or unlucky whichever way you look at it. One night five of us were laying an ambush, we had a new Marine with us and because of the very wet ground we all lay on our ponchos. On this particular night we were late getting into position, it being almost dark so nobody could see much, anyway this new guy heard a scratching noise all night from under his cape that he was laying on. Plus it was moving, but lying on flat rocks, he just had to leave it. Nobody was to move until daylight, we found out later that he and his partner who had been lying beside him had been very worried through the entire night. In the morning and daylight, they jumped a mile when they moved the cape, he had been lying on a small snake and they never knew if it was poisonous or not. It was brown in colour and did not take many seconds to disappear off the rock and into the undergrowth once it saw daylight.
............While on another patrol Sheba picked up a blood stained bit of rag, but it did not mean anything. It could have belonged a local who had just cut himself on some bamboo. It was not even worth following up, so it was just thrown away.
............Stass would not always this quiet, about a year later it was attacked by about four hundred raiders, with several being killed on both sides. At about the same time Biawak was also hit by a large number of raiders. The Royal Marines and Gurkhas killed many of the enemy during both of those confrontations that was called operation Dragons Teeth.
............February 1964 soon came round and we were back on board of HMS Albion, then within the week we were settled back into Burma Camp.
© Copyright Terry Aspinall 1994 ....All Rights Reserved