What follows is the first chapter of my book about the time I spent in
Malaysia during the 1960s. I am blogging the first chapter for your approval. If it gets some love and requests for the next chapter then I shall blog on. Most of the 52 chapters are short. Some funny and all true.
What can you expect from the following pages?
Some of my Malaysian memories from my time serving with the Royal Air Force military in the Far East Air Force while stationed at RAAF (Royal Australian Air force) Butterworth, over the time period 1964 to 1966. RAAF Butterworth was closed in 1988 but the base remains active under the control of the RMAF (Royal Malaysian Air Force) This project started one morning a while ago while I was thinking about items which I could write about to amuse the readers on a little section of a website to which I follow and contribute.
I'm just your standard guy who served his country and felt the need to get down in writing some of the lighter side of my memories of Malaysia while serving in the Royal Air Force. There will be no boring political ramblings from me, but I have added a paragraph towards the end to explain why we were in Malaysia at that time. Hope you make it to the end, and thank you so much for visiting.
During my 12 years service with the Royal Air Force I served a tour in Malaysia, during the confrontation period with Indonesia.
My base for the duration was the Royal Australian Air Force base at Butterworth on the west coast of Malaysia on the mainland opposite the Island of Penang. I started my overseas tour serving with the RAF (Royal Air Force) 52 Squadron for a period during 1964 - 1966. This squadron used Vickers Valetta twin piston engined transport aircraft.
Our Squadron was responsible for transporting passengers and goods around the South East Asia region and carrying out air drops to the armies of the participating nations and services. Malaysian guard and police personnel located near to the jungle borders with Indonesia. Mostly the aircraft would fly out of Kuching and the Island of Labuan to carry out these air drops. Labuan Island is situated 5 miles off the coast of Borneo adjacent to Sabah and Brunei. Kuching is situated on the Sarawak river at the south-west tip of the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
After 52 Squadron was disbanded I was transferred over to SASS
(Staging Aircraft Servicing Section) Still based at Butterworth, there I would meet, greet, and work on a wide variety of aircraft from many nations, both military and civilian. It was a very interesting time in my service career.
After leaving the Royal Air Force in 1975 I started work at my local water treatment company and it was there that I finished my working life and now retired and doing the things I want to do and that includes putting down on paper my memories of my time spent in the Far East before they fade. It was during my stay at Butterworth and nearby countries that these short memories and anecdotes are written.
This version of the book will be the final one as now any more memories from some 52 years ago have left me for ever. All the original material is included and enhanced. I have also included a lot more material in this version and it is now illustrated with a selection of 52 photos from my own albums. Strange how the number 52 crops up in my writing. 52 Squadron, 52 years ago, and 52 pictures. If I can manage another 2 chapters that would also be 52. No way planned that at all, just the way it developed. I may have a new title for the book. 'The 52 Book' or maybe just 52. I also apologise if some sections seem a little disjointed. While writing I was having memory flash backs and really felt the need to get them down in writing before they fade away for ever.
So, if you are wondering what a lad in his late teens was doing out East in service to his Queen and country give me a shout for chapter two.
CHAPTER TWO Is titled 'THE JOURNEY' coming soon.
I hope you join me for a read and please comment. That way I know you crave for chapter two!
Coming up. CHAPTER TWO
It was Lao Tzu the Chinese Philosopher who said that
“All journeys start with the first step.”
For this particular journey of mine in 1962 it was into the cabin of a Royal Air Force Transport Command De Havilland Comet Mk4 aircraft. Outward bound from the UK to the Far east location of Changi and then a further flight North onwards from RAF Changi to the RAAF base called Butterworth up country in Malaysia. A total distance of some 7,000 miles (11,250) km as the crow flies.
I knew there was trouble with some sort of upraising in Malaysia but no briefing was given to the state of the country or what indeed to expect.
Still in my late teens this was going to be my adventure for the next two and half years. Flying in the worlds first passenger jet liner to the other side of the world and the unknown that waits for me was an amazing start to my journey.
After serving a period with a English Electric Canberra Squadron in the UK the overseas posting came to me.
It was my turn to serve Queen and country somewhere else on this planet. That is why I found myself on this journey into the unknown and seated on a Royal air Force Transport Commands Comet heading out from England.
Modern aircraft in those days did not have the range of our jet liners today, so refuelling stops were needed. Both for the aircraft and its passengers. First stop was Malta. Valetta airport, RAF Luqa as it was known then. Beautiful vistas of the majestic grand harbour as we approached for our landing. A quick turn round of the aircraft with us passengers refreshed in the transit lounge and then off again to the next stop.
RAF Khormaksar (Now Aden international Airport) in Aden was our next stop. The station motto was “Into the remote places.” And that proved to be so correct. It was desert and sand, and oil rigs. You could smell the burn off from the oil rigs as we descended on our approach. Stepping out of the aircraft it was the fierce heat and dryness of the night air that sort of gripped me by the throat. I was really glad I did not have this location for a posting. Little did I know at that time what I was heading into.
It was nice of the authorities to present us with an armed guard on the walkway to the transit lounge. I believe the reason was that the aircraft parked next to us was some sort of sensitive Russian variant that somebody did not want us English military to know about. An eye opener for this lad heading into the unknown.
Once again with passengers and aircraft re fuelled it was another take off. This time the heading was way out over the sea to the Maldives and the RAF station called Gan. What an amazing change yet again. Gan forms part of the wonderful Addu Atoll and the runway is positioned on probably the longest solid section of the atoll. The ends of the runway ending but a few yards from the sea. A most interesting landing that had to be carried out with no room for errors.
Again we were de-planed and deposited in a transit lounge. It was nice to chat with our own RAF colleagues with their one year posting on Gan. Seems the highest point on the atoll was but a few feet above sea level.
A worrying thought if there was any big waves threatening.
Out of there and onwards again to the next stop in Ceylon. Now the nation of Sri Lanka. I think the airport was called Katunayake. But, I could be way out with that place name.
The difference from our previous stop at Aden and the delightful location in Ceylon was quite staggering. Now it was tropical and humid. I recall a single runway and just one large building. We were presented with tickets which enabled us to refresh ourselves in the transit lounge. The location was lush with tropical growth and very green.
Once again with the aircraft and its passengers refreshed and refuelled it was take off time on our long leg across the Indian Ocean to our final destination in the Comet.
This was to be the RAF Station Changi. Located at Changi, in the eastern tip of Singapore. Changi was the hub in the far east for all the coming and goings that are required to keep an armed force supplied in carrying out its duties in the Far East.
Once again a totally different sensation from all the other stops since the start of my adventure. The Heat and humidity hit me like a sauna.
So, this was the main leg of my journey now over. I now had to travel up country into Malaysia to RAAF Butterworth.
It was to be another three weeks before I finally made it Butterworth.
I was in transit, (just passing through) my billet was a typical military style building with bedrooms for those of us who were moving on, as I was, or so I thought.
There was a blackboard by the main entrance with all the details chalked up for the days movements. Who was going were and which flight with timings etc.;
This was updated every morning. If your name was not on the list then you were free to do as you please for the day.
Every morning I checked the list with no mention of my name anywhere on that board!
This went on for several days. I was starting to get acclimatised and every morning when I checked the board first thing in the morning and observed not a sign of my name. With nothing to do for another day I began to explore the region. With Singapore being the favourite place to visit and see the sites, which I did and it proved to be the only time I did visit during my two and one half years in the country. Sites I remember were Tiger Balm gardens, Raffles, and infamous Changi prison.
Not that I visited Changi Jail, but seen from the outside you just got the feeling that this was a place of evil deeds. It was the notorious Japanese prisoner of war camp which was used to imprison Malayan civilians and Allied soldiers during WWII.
Money was no problem as I had my pay book with me and I could draw wages from the station post office, only at UK rates, but it proved very handy and supplied sufficient funds.
After about three weeks of this holiday, because that's how I treated it, I thought it was time to do some chasing as to why I was still stranded at RAF Changi and not up country at RAAF Butterworth where I should be. Not that I minded at all. It was a decent enough place to spend some R & R.
I presented myself to the transit general office and they had no idea who I was or what I was doing there! The officer in charge got to hear all this and went ballistic, I think the modern day team is for somebody who blew his top and threatened to charge everyone in site! That office suddenly burst into activity with papers being checked and phone calls made.
The outcome was after confirmation that I am who I should be, and I am in the correct location I was booked on the next available aircraft out of Changi to Butterworth which happened to be the very next day. The flight aircraft turned out to be a VIP DC-3 Dakota of the Royal New Zealand air force. Which really just meant that the aircraft had sound proofing inside the fuselage!
Finally, after three plus weeks of travelling with a holiday in Singapore as a break I was heading for Butterworth. An uneventful flight up country, a journey of some 365 miles, all was well except for the final landing at Butterworth. Not sure if it was the pilot that got it all wrong or there was a strong crosswind or maybe a combination of both, maybe he was having a bad day.
The first contact with the runway was a little sideways to say the least. We then bounced off the runway and side slipped in the other direction before again bouncing off the runway. Up in the air again with another side slip in the first direction, and down again. This continued in decreasing amplitude until finally we made it with all three wheels stuck on the runway. Phew. Welcome to RAAF Butterworth. The captain was then spotted rollicking the ground crew because his aircraft was dirty!
After the usual arrival procedures for an RAF station I finally turned up at the Squadron location with not a word or question as to where I have been for the last three weeks! Strange that. I could have extended my stay in Singapore and enjoyed the break even more. In some ways it was handy as I was getting used to the conditions and had a fair tan as I arrived at Butterworth!
It was now time to start my tour of service and my adventures of an airman in the Far East. The photo below shows my space for the next two and half years. Not much to look at I'm sure you will agree, but I was to learn very shortly that there were far worst accommodations in the area. Especially for the army guys.
Not exactly high living. One military style metal framed bed, one mattress, two sheets, no blankets required, a pillow and one mosquito net. One locker, oak, small, on the right with my hi-fi in it. On the left is one built in wardrobe with cupboard above, drop door to shelves. You can see how compact it was. But it was mine for two and half years. Washing and showering were communal. No room for modesty in these situations. That was the bed I was laying on when the roof of our Block was struck by lightning. More about that later. It was also the bed I was sleeping in when my boss woke me early one Sunday morning to go on a search and rescue mission. There's a chapter about that mission later as well.
CHAPTER THREE coming soon.
A few words about the Vickers Valetta aircraft and 52 Squadron.
I know I said in the opening that I would not bore you with mundane information but I feel a word or two about 52 Squadron history is required before we continue with my anecdotes of my time with the squadron.
It was March 1918 that the squadron became part of the then new Royal Air Force when the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navel Air Service merged.
Briefly the squadron moved to several locations, suffered a few disbandments and reformations over the next few years, with many duties and flying a selection of aircraft which included.
Hawker Hind, Fairy Battle, and the Avro Anson.
In 1941 it was reformed at RAF Habbaniya in Iraq as part of a maintenance unit with no pilots but had 21 Hawker Audaxes on charge used for reconnaissance.
It then moved to Mosul in Aug 1942 and once more began flying. Now equipped with Bristol Blenheim's used for survey work over Iraq. To add to the force the squadrons received some Martin Baltimore's in Jan 1943.
Then moving to Egypt it now just supported the Baltimore aircraft and after further moves to Tunisia and Gibraltar it was March 1944 that it again was disbanded. It was 1948 when the as then new Vickers Valetta aircraft entered service with the Royal Air Force. It replaced the Douglas Dakota DC-3 in RAF transport command. During it,s service it saw action during the 1956 Suez crisis and was used to provide transport support for many other British military operations in the 1950s and 1960s with action in Aden and of course the Malayan / Malaysian emergencies.
One of the roles for the squadron in 1944 was to fly air mail over the Himalayan mountains to China. Called the “Hump Route” those trips to me must have been fantastic.
As well as those “Hump” trips it also operated mail and transport services across India and Ceylon.
Towards the end of the war the squadron was equipped with some Liberators to continue “The hump” operations. Also some Beechcraft Expeditor light transport and some small Tiger Moths for use as air ambulances.
After WWII ended the squadron continued duty in India and extended it's routes to Malaya.
When the time came to end these flights (Dec 1945) the squadron had flown 830 crossings of the Himalayas, carrying 3,277 passengers, 1,916,443 lb (871,100 kg) of cargo and 454,834 lb (20,380 kg) of mail for the loss of one aircraft.
It was off to Burma, to a place called Mingladon in Oct 1946 and then onto Singapore in 1947 following a coup and found itself involved in operation Firedog, which in just a few words was a commitment by Great Britain and it's forces to police and win hearts and minds of the opposition to the formation of Malaya. It's Dakotas were replaced by Vickers Valetta's in 1951 and now based at RAAF Butterworth. The squadron continued to ferry passengers between Butterworth and Singapore until the aircraft became unfit to perform this duty but continued to operate, notable from Kuching on air supply drops to the troops in the jungle forts.
Once more 52 Squadron was Disbanded on 25th April 1966 only to reform again on 31st December 1966. Now based at Seletar and now equipped with the Hawker Siddeley Andover (HS780) aircraft which it used until yet again being disbanded on 31st December 1969.
Squadron motto was Sudore quam sanguine
(By sweat and blood)
And how very true that statement proved to be during my stay in the Far East with 52 Squadron.
Battle honours for the squadron are as follows
World war one
Western front 1916-1918
World war 2
Now, some chat about the Vickers Valetta Mk C1 aircraft that I was familiar with on 52 Squadron.
For the technically minded here follows the basic statistics for the aircraft
Wingspan..89ft 3in (27.21m)
Height..19ft 7in (5.21m)
Wing area... 882 Sq ft (82.0m)
Empty weight...24,980 Lb (11.355 kg) And I loved every pound of them!
Loaded weight...36,500 Lb (16,591 kg)
Power plants...Two Bristol Hercules 14 cylinder radial piston engines
rated at 1,975 HP (1,473 kW) each. Fitted with a four bladed prop.
Maximum speed... 258 mph. At 10,000 ft
Cruising at...172 mph
Service ceiling... 21,500ft
Rate of climb...1,275ft/min
It was nicknamed (The Flying Pig)
Yes they could be the devil to work on but somehow I think we loved every one of them.
They had their own personalties. They had that old aircraft smell. Some refused to start, one just refused to carry a full load. One would not fly in a straight line! I'm sure the pilots had their favourites as well. 211 Mk 1s were built and sadly the last remaining example on show in an outside museum in the UK was set fire by an arsonist and totally destroyed. So sad.
After 52 was disbanded I think two aircraft had sufficient life hours left to do some useful service back in the UK and were flown home. The others where broken up by local contractors after stripping off engines and all usable parts that still had some life on them.
I thought I would start on these anecdotes of mine with probable the most boring item in the book, but maybe one of the most important subjects if you are a single military guy in a foreign land. What's the food like, when and where do I get it?
“The mess” A rather strange description of a place to eat. Far from a mess in it's usual sense of the word the mess at Butterworth was superb. The guys there did a magnificent job.
Borrowed from Wikipedia. A mess (called a mess deck aboard ships) is an area where military personnel, socialize, eat, and in some cases, live. In some societies this military usage has extended to other disciplined services such as civilian fire-fighters and police forces. With Butterworth being a Australian base our hosts of course were Australian. With us British from the Royal air Force on site know as the RAF Element. (RAF E) and rather special with it's food. During my travels in the Far east travels it was only beaten by one other and that was at the USAF base Clark Field in the Philippines. There was always T bone, rump, whatever steak you wanted for breakfast and cooked for you on the spot. Not exactly a healthy meal, but a great start to the day.
I always enjoyed an egg on my steak. While waiting I would enjoy a toasted doorstep slice with Vegemite. Vegemite of course is the Australian version of Marmite, never as good and never will be, but it was very welcome all the same and then not forgetting to take a pint mug of tea back to billet to sup while getting ready for work. Not that there was a lot a do to get ready for work. Underpants, shorts, shoes, and a shirt which was usually very soon discarded when the heat and humidity kicked in. And naturally there was always a request for a brew from a workmate who was to bone idle to get out of bed for breakfast! While in the mess one should not forget to take the daily anti Malaria pill. I seem to recall these pills were in large sweetie style jars and looked like smarties. More about Malaria later.
I remember the regular local Chinese Malay chief was on hand to cook up some wonderful creations on the spot. I used to look forward to that.
They served us well during the out of hours periods when they were called upon to provide that extra meal or rations for the away from base flights. My respect to the guys who kept those kitchens going. It must have been exhausting working with huge boilers and ovens. I remember the turbo toasters. That's what I called them anyhow. Huge things about eye level with your bread on a try and the red hot elements above. Those things could toast about six slices of bread in about 30 seconds!
The queues. Meal times had to be timed to perfection if you wanted the best that was on offer. A few minutes late and you could be well back in the queue and miss out on the favourite choice meal of the day.
Christmas meals were always a joy with our officers serving the meals for us. Strange how we never got to serve them their meals in their mess!
Onwards now to the next chapter. The lightning strike.
It was one of the two monsoon seasons. Either the South-west monsoon from late May to September or the North east monsoon from November to March. The North-east monsoon brings the most rain.
At this time of the year you just knew there was going to be rain like you would not believe. It was like sunrise and sunset in those parts. You could almost set your watches to it and not be far out with your timing. If you got caught out in rain it was pointless trying to run for shelter as you were soaked in seconds, sometimes that was very welcome from the oppressive humid heat of the day and very refreshing and after awhile one would be dried out but look a little bedraggled and clothes looked like they needed ironing.
On this day I was laying on my bed doing nothing.
Sorry, I should say a little R & R. (Rest and Recreation) The tropical storm was a blowing, as they do, with non-stop rain and lightning. I can still see the image in my memory as if it was only yesterday of the result of the strike on the roof directly overhead. Our accommodation for us single lads was a single storey building something like a stable with each room sleeping usually four of us with very basic furniture. A steel framed bed and small side locker and a larger wardrobe size on the other side and one or two wicker woven armchairs scattered around.
This was my space for the next two and half years except for the detachments to other strange locations. No privacy what so ever with the usual situation of all the louvred windows and doors open to try and keep cool. No soft furnishings for us guys. Oh no. They would only go rotten anyway. One of the ways we could keep our tropical kit clothes and civvies from going mouldy was to keep a wired caged 60w light bulb burning in the wardrobe. Would you believe I had to take all my UK uniform clothing with me and on arrival it was packaged in vacuum sealed bags and stored away in stores ready for the day we left! Crazy.
I diverse, lets get back to the lightning strike. The strike was not over and done in an instant like you maybe think it is. I had a visitor who was sat in a wicker chair at the end of my bed. When it struck he was thrown up in the air and with his feet about two foot off the floor there were sparks from his feet to the ground. The whole room was filled with energy with blue sparks flashing all over the surface of the walls, the floor and the ceiling. I even had time to look outside to see the saturated wet grass covered in the same blue energy sparking across the ground. Quite incredible to experience. And then there was the smell. The over powering smell of ozone.
I think perhaps the gods where smiling down on me that day as I never felt a thing. Thankfully, apart from the shock and surprise nobody was injured. Afterwards we discovered the 2” hole in the asbestos roof where it zapped our building. Even the electric power and my HI FI survived the strike.
It seems a typical lightning bolt contains 1 billion volts and contains between 10,000 to 200,000 amperes of current. Now that's a whole lot of energy to hit the roof and dissipate to the ground through whatever path it finds to be the easiest route.
At levels of current flow exceeding 1/10 of an amp or 100 milliamp s, the heart stops. This is called fibrillation. A person may survive an electrocution if his or her heart can be started again. This is why CPR is such an important skill in the electrical industry. Looking at those figures and doing a bit of math it seems that a bolt of lightning in it's worst case could possible stop the hearts of 2,000,000 people!
Having experienced that lightning bolt I now have no fear of lightning at all!
In fact now I seem to keep trying to take photos of it when we experience the odd storm in the UK.
Chapter 6 coming soon is all about...Pull cord start an aircraft engine!
Pull cord start an aircraft's engine!
Yes, it's true I tell you.
One of the four engined Handley Page Hastings transport aircraft the Royal Air Force used during the sixties amongst it's many duties was to transport our people and families from Changi to Butterworth and return. This particular day was the day many families and single guys were in transit starting their return journey to the UK via Changi. With the aircraft fuelled, loaded and all ready to go and with all passengers having high expectations for a successful start to their journey home to the UK after two and half years in the Fra East.
The crew proceeded with the usual engine start sequence. Unfortunately one engine starting system failed. With no spares to hand we were faced with either disembarking everyone off the aircraft until repairs are carried out which could take some time, or come up with some way of starting that engine. Somebody came up with a plan. A long piece of very flexible strong rope was prepared by forming a loop at one end. This loop was looped over the first of the four blades of the propeller, then the rope was looped over the next blade tip until all four blades were looped to the rope.
I probable thought at the time. “This looks like it could be really dangerous” and decided I did no want anything to do with this! I had visions of bodies and bits of bodies splattered and scattered all over the aircraft and airfield if this activity went wrong. All this happening with the homeward bound families in the aircraft looking out in anticipation with all fingers and legs crossed for a successful start on this errant engine. A lot of the locally employed guys were “roped in” and to get a grip on that rope and pull like crazy when told to do so. With all switches and levers set the order was shouted to pull.
To my surprise the engine rotated as the rope loops dropped off the blades and the engine fired and coughed, but not enough to get a sustained start. Okay, now we need more pulling power, so myself and workmates got to the rope.
Once again the rope was carefully coiled around the propeller blades and on command the pull started and the engine coughed, splattered and burst into life..! I can still hear the thankful cheers and clapping from the families inside the aircraft as they showed us their appreciation. They were on their way safely home to the UK with our blessing. This could only ever happen in the Far East Air Force.
The aircraft was from RAF 48 Squadron based at RAF Changi. A Handley Page H.P. 67 Hastings which was a British troop-carrier and freight transport aircraft designed and built by Handley Page Aircraft Company for the Royal Air Force. At the time, it was the largest transport plane ever designed for the RAF, and it replaced the Avro York as the standard long-range transport.
In service the aircraft had a crew of five and could accommodate 30 paratroopers, 32 stretchers, and 28 sitting casualties, or 50 fully equipped troops.
There we have it. It is possible to pull cord start a aircrafts fourteen cylinder aircraft engine!
Chapter seven coming soon.
Heat stroke on the Vulcan
When I was with SASS (Staging Aircraft Servicing Section) It was our role to greet and meet, service, repair if we could, any aircraft that was not based at Butterworth and was in transit. These could be civilian as well as military forces aircraft from all nations. Single to multi piston engined to mighty transports, jet fighters and record breaking flyers. This day one of our visitors was a Avro Vulcan.
As part of the service I was on top of the wing doing whatever I had to do.
I remember It was hot as usual, but on top of this huge delta wing it was HOT. Hot and Humid, with the usual sweat pouring off, running down my back and into my underpants. Don't you just hate that! I felt OK until I stopped perspiring. My skin was parched dry and I came over real queer. It was the heat stroke symptoms. 'Heat stroke' I thought, Not a nice place to be on top of this huge wing, under a tropical sun and with all this reflected heat and light.
I shouted for assistance and managed to climb off the aircraft wing and into the section where I probably drunk about 4 pints of juice and water just as quick as I could. I did recover of course with a lesson well learnt. Do as advised and drink at least 7 pints of liquid a day was the advise I was given on first arriving at Butterworth. It proved to be correct.
The definition of heatstroke is apparently when the body reaches a temperature greater than 40.6C (105.1F) and due to the environment may not be able to carry out it,s usual thermoregulation.
The Avro Vulcan was a jet powered delta wing strategic bomber. Operated by the Royal Air Force. One Vulcan XH558 was recently still flying and thrilling air show crowds around the country during the air show season.
Now with a civil registration of G-VLCN and named 'Spirit of Great Britain'
It is was operated by the 'Vulcan to the sky trust' and funded by charitable and UK heritage lottery fund.
It was a very popular aircraft with air show attendee's. With the noise known as the Vulcan howl caused by the intake configuration near to max power and often heard on the take off run, the steep climb out and high rate turns and the thundering noise. Lets hope the spirit of Great Britain survives for a few years to come.
Roy was the chief designer for Avro and was responsible for most of the companies aircraft designs. He will always be remembered for the Lancaster bomber, the Lincoln and preliminary designs on the Avro Vulcan. He also converted the Lincoln design to the Shackleton. A most remarkable designer in the aircraft industry.
Just as a note: It was an Avro Shackleton that I first took my first flying experience.
But that's another story and nothing to do with 52 Squadron and the Far East.
Not runway, but runaway. Well actually a bit of both.
Let me explain.
Labuan is an island off the coast of the state of Sabah. As such it was an ideal base for army and air force personnel for the purpose of protecting the Indonesian, Malaysian, Borneo border against incursions from Fred Sarkanos army.
The place was very basic but the very nature of why we were there kept us all on our toes and very active.
After a long and troubled history the Island of Labuan was restored by the British and the Island Administered under British Military Administration. Labuan then joined the North Borneo Crown Colony on 15th July 1946 which in turn become a part of the state of Sabah and Malaysia.
It become an international offshore financial centre and a free trade zone in 1990. It was from here and Kuching that we would air drop supplies into the jungle to the army guys located at the border forts locations. I had several detachments with 52 Squadron there during my stay. Using two of our 52 Valetta aircraft. It was stressful and some guys could not take the continued threats and constant awareness. One day this guy cracked and could not take it any more. I might add he was not from 52 Squadron!
He was seen running stark naked down the runway apparently shouting for his mother! He was collected by the MPs (Military Police) and duly despatched to Singapore for assessment. Never to be seen or heard of again. I have often wondered if he did this on purpose to get out of the place and back home to the UK.
I suppose it was some form of mild Post traumatic stress disorder, but of course we lads did not know anything about PTSD in those days. Seems it was known as “shell shock” during the first world war and as “war neurosis” in the second world war and as “combat stress reaction” during the Vietnam conflict.
They all mean the same thing. A very real fear that one is exposed to a life threatening moment, perceived or not.
PSP (Pierced Steel Planking) . A very affective temporary surface after a lot of sweat and tears to get it laid and interlocked. Being bare steel it got very hot and one could easily get a burn on the bum if you were that way inclined. Definitely not to be walked on in the heat of the midday tropical sun with bare feet. The other problem was that sand and dirt would collect in the pieced sections and these would be sucked up and blasted by the engines into the air. Most uncomfortable when marshalling an aircraft off the PSP and onto the runway, especially when reversing the huge Beverly aircraft onto the runway. More about that later.
The fireman on base were a bunch of jokers. Knowing that this one guy in particular was terrified of spiders. So, on finding a very large spider on the runway and killing it with a squirt of CO2 gas this spider was presented to this chap. Well, you can imagine he went berserk and is probable still running.
I have just remembered another animal story. Best get it down before I forget. That seems to be the way I am writing this book. Seems to be working for me, Hope it is working for you.
It was Kuching or Labuan that our accommodation had ceiling fans, Yes, it was a form of air conditioning, and very welcome they were to. There was also large flying beetles that looked like frogs. That's what we used to call them, flying frogs. They appeared to have armoured shells as they would fly into the metal blades of the fans with a resounding twang. They would then be projected across the room and then sort of shake themselves down, start flying again and do it all over again! Crazy. And it was these crazy beetles that would send this one guy into a frenzy. If one appeared he was off out of there until the thing was gone.
Sharks and gearboxes.
Ah Yes... the South China sea...full of sharks and other nasties of the deep. It also has a scattering of over 250 small islands, atolls, shoals, reefs, sandbars and cays. (small low-elevation sandy island on the surface of a coral reef)
At it's deepest it is 16,456 feet. More than enough to hide an old aircraft and it's cargo and crew. It has many contended borders and is subject to violent typhoons. This was the sea I found myself flying over on this trip. Those coral reefs and small islands looked absolutely wonderful from the air.
The task was to fly some magnetic land mines from Changi to the US base at Clark Field in the Philippines. The mines were all nicely packaged in wooden boxes which somehow disguised the contents but we made sure those boxes were well secured in the aircraft!
I was the engineer for this trip.
We left Butterworth and headed to Changi for the cargo. Loaded up and headed out to Jesselton, being the capital of Sabah state in East Malaysia.
Jesselton was to be our overnight stop on this route. It was Burns night. (January 25th) That celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns.
We had an invite to attend the local flying clubs Burns night party. What a night that turned out to be. Not to many details can be remembered. Anyway, back to the story. The next morning things were a little fuzzy.
After I had carried out the aircraft pre flight checks we departed, took off and set heading for Clark Field in the Philippines a journey of a mere 680 miles to Clark after leaving Jesselton, our second stop on this trip with our load of magnetic land mines. After much coffee and cleaner, cooler air at 10,000 feet I had the awful feeling I had forgotten something during my pre flight checks of the aircraft.
Yes, I suddenly remembered. Oh no. It was the oil levels in the engines gear boxes. I probable thought. Well, if we go down with the cargo we are carrying we will take out a few sharks when we hit the sea! We made it of course, or I would not be here writing about it! After checking the gear boxes there was some oil, but they did need topping up. Moral of this tale is. Never drink whisky the night before you fly.
Returning to the Burns night event at the local flying club back at Jesselton.
It was the most unusual sight and experience to see the piping in of the haggis in such a far flung location.
After much drinking of the spirit and exchanging flying stories we were invited to take a flight in some Cessna's they owned. Of course we had to make our excuses and head off as we had an early start in the morning. I dread to think where we would ended up if we had taken the club offers on a boozy Burns night flying trip.
The flying club is still there, now known as the Sabah flying club, and still based at the old international airport terminal 2 in Koto Kinabalu.
In the next chapter I also write about another event on this trip.
Coffee at 10,000 feet
We all learn by our mistakes. One of mine was during the previously mentioned flight above to the Philippines with our cargo of deadly magnetic land mines. As is usual It was my turn to make more coffee above the South China Sea. The hot urn, coffee and in flight supplies where stowed at the rear of the aircraft. The aircraft was not pressurised and at 10,000 feet altitude it was a delight to have a window open in the cockpit to input some cool, fresh air.
Not sure why but the air movement within the aircraft was from the rear to the front. This is very relevant to what I am about to tell you.
Do you remember the dry powdered coffee in the large jars? You may still use it. You know there is a foil seal across the top to preserve the freshness?
These are installed at sea level in the factory that manufactures the product.
Well, the pressure at 10,000 feet (3048 metres) in an unpressurised aircraft is considerable less than at sea level. On punching a spoon through this foil seal a vast quantity of the contents burst forth from the jar and travelled towards the front of the aircraft.
It was just as well the autopilot was on as with the pilot and co pilot chocking on fine coffee powder we could have had a situation if there was an emergency. The air soon cleared and we continued on our way. What a trip this is turning out to be. Another tip for you today is always unseal your coffee jar before you take off. For the techies amongst you (The air pressure at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level is 10.1 psi. At sea level it is about 15psi.
Bit of maths if I have it correct: Difference in pressure acting on the underside of that coffee jar seal is about 7 times greater then in the aircraft at 10,000 feet!
Next chapter details yet another incident on this trip.
Clark base was a US Air Base in the Philippines. I say 'was' because it no longer exists as a US air base. It was a forward base used extensively during the Vietnam war.
Located on Luzon Island this American military facility existed from 1903 to 1991. This place was huge at a massive 14.3 Sq miles with a further military reservation extending north that covered 230 Sq miles !
It was another location with a chequered history. It suffered extensive damage from an eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano. Leases were not negotiated and the base closed in 1991. Shortly after It was systematically looted and left abandoned.
It was one of the largest bases overseas anywhere. At it's peak there were 15,000 folk living and working on the base. What I can remember while flying over it was row after row of bungalow style houses and many huge military establishments and many, many aircraft. We probably flew half way down the runway before our wheels touched down it was that long. I since learned there was a multitude of concessions and facilities, base exchange, a large commissary, a small shopping arcade, a branch department store, cafeterias, canteen centres, a hotel, miniature golf, riding stables, zoo, and other concessions. The Americans certainly knew how to look after their overseas people. An amazing place which was a huge contrast from the RAF bases back in Malaysia.
Because of the explosive nature of our cargo they parked us miles from the usual parking areas, which I thought rather strange as giant B52 bombers were fully loaded with their cargo of deadly bombs destined for Vietnam far closer to the airfield buildings then we were. After landing and parking up the flight crew left leaving me to help with the off loading, post flight aircraft servicing, and re fuelling ready for the return trip to Butterworth.
I continued with the post flight checks, not forgetting to check those engine oil levels, and making doubly sure the seals where broken on the coffee jars! Rest of the flight crew bussed off to somewhere leaving me waiting for the refuelling tanker. After awhile this monster of a fuel tanker turns up and this guy starts to draw out a huge hose with a quick coupling on it. The type you see connected to an aircraft underwing refuelling point. “Not one of those I say.” You see, the Valletta was fuelled over wing through a filler cap a little larger than a car and the filler nozzle was similar, but larger. With the fuel tanks not venting other then through the filler cap one had to be careful to let the air out as you put the fuel in. “Not used one of those for years bud,” He manages to pull out a hose from a large reel located behind his cab with a sensible looking nozzle on it.
“Take it real slow with the pump” I shout.
With the fuel going into the tank the only way the venting air could come out out of the tanks was through the filler. Therefore it was important to control the fill rate. I tenderly squeeze the trigger and before I knew it dozens of gallons of fuel went into the tank with a fair quantity of it coming back out the filler hole.
Guess who got the worst of it? I was drenched and stinking with high octane avgas aviation fuel. It does evaporate but does make your skin sting a bit.
Finally the tanks were filled and our cargo off loaded. The Tanker guy said
“I'll radio a taxi for you” A taxi on a US military base? That was new to me.
Off he went with his giant tanker and left me alone stinking and now getting sore from the fuel dose and burning up under a hot sun.
Finally a vehicle did arrive and I caught up with the rest of the crew and headed for our accommodation for the night to clean up, eat and drink.
The day came good in the end with the base entertainment centre putting on a Beatles show performed by a local Filipino group and with plenty of St Miguel beer to wash away that smell of aviation fuel and food on offer and a good stage show I forgave the over zealous tanker driver and his haste to get our aircraft refuelled.
One other memory I have from Clark Air base is waiting at the end of the runway just before our turn to take off and watching a B52 bomber fully loaded taking off and heading for, I assume, Vietnam. It took ages, a lot of runway and nearly disappeared from sight in a cloud of black smoke from it's eight jet engines before lifting off and heading away. Frightens me to think of that load of death and devastation that aircraft was carrying. Joining us at the end of the runway was a C-97 Stratofreighter. A large four piston engined transport.
Now I thought our Valletta's were quite a size but this thing towered above us. I think the crew took pity on us as a crew member popped out of a hatch just behind the cockpit and polity waves us on to the runway! Maybe they thought the wash from those huge props would blow us away!
I also recall that the in flight rations I picked up from Clark field before departure where absolutely superb. Chicken, chicken and more chicken. Very welcome on the long haul home. I cant recall if we had any stops on the way home, could be it was a direct flight returning to Butterworth.
Chapter 12 is 'Candles are not good'
Candles are not good
Located along the jungle border between Malaysia and Indonesia and to protect the border from incursions there were located a lot of 'Army Forts' Basically these were Army bases in the thick jungle from where the guys could patrol and protect the border. The Indonesian army had threatened Borneo with a force of 330,000 men, a lot of those forces were positioned close to the border. British troops and their allies were defending the border and started to make incursions into Indonesian Borneo.
Gurkha's, those incredible fearless soldiers from Nepal who selfishly serve the United Kingdom also served in this arena. I meet some Gurkha's while at Kuching. Their backpack size was almost as large as themselves! I maybe exaggerating a bit but you get the picture. Amazing strength and fortitude for such a small race of people. I am so glad they were on our side.
One of the tasks that 52 Squadron had been performing for many years was to supply them with all their needs via low level air drops. This was really fun but dangerous low level flying. One risk was being shot at, usually by small arms fire from across the border. Still possible to down a aircraft if it is hit in a vital location. The DZ (Drop Zone) was usually marked by a balloon or two on a string high enough to be seen above the tree line.
Our aircraft would fly in an oval circuit when possible with the drop taking place on one of the long straight legs. The large doors on the side of the aircraft were removed for this operation. A square of plywood with handles on two corners was positioned over the opening. The idea was that the package to be dropped was already fitted with a parachute and the load had to be humped onto the board, hooked to the static line, wait for the go signal, heave on the two handles plus one other lifting from the rear and the load would slip down the wooden board and into the slipstream with just enough height above the ground to deploy the chute.
Next, if a second drop was required at the same fort would come a high G turn 180 turn to run back the way we had come before doing another 180 for the next run. It was during the level run that the next load would be positioned on the board and hooked up ready for the next drop. Hot and difficult with the aircraft been being thrown about the skies. It was just impossible to move any load during the turns. So, things were going well with loads dropping on the DZ. Until, for some unknown reason this particular parachute did not open correctly and the load hit the ground far faster than it should have.
It candled, as the saying goes. The bigger problem was that the load we dropped was the guys beer rations! It sort of exploded all over the jungle!
I swear to this day that I could hear some foul abuse coming up at this during our next pass.
Sorry guys. I really am.
Remember back in the 1960s our Valletta's did not have any high tech position equipment or bomb aiming gear (that was basically what we were doing but with parachutes)
One way of doing this over the DZ was the pilot would draw a previously calculated line or two on the front windscreen. He knew that when his eyeball, that line on the windscreen and the balloon were lined up it was time to drop. Simple, clever and it worked.
There is a suggestion in chapter 51 for a really good video to view. It shows a 52 Squadron Valetta carrying out these drops. It was filmed by Pathe news but was a few years before my time with 52 but it seems to me the process did not change.
Vulcan blast and visitors.
There were many visiting aircraft during my stay at Butterworth as required by the ongoing situation that required services from the RAF, RAAF RNAF, Navy, Army and a host of civilian aircraft drafted in to supply troop movement and transport services.
I had the pleasure to work on quite a few types from lots of the world's Air Forces, airlines, and also small civilian types. After 52 Squadron was disbanded in 1965 I moved over to the SASS (Staging Aircraft Servicing Section.)
It turned out to be a very interesting time during my service career.
Before any aircraft left us we would always ask the crew if they would give us a bit of a beat up. This often happened as the Air Force in the Far East at that time was a lot less health and safety conscious as they may be today and certainly less so then back home in the United Kingdom. I suppose it was a good moral booster as well. On this occasion it was a Avro Vulcan bomber. After asking the pilot and seeing him safety on his way the aircraft seemed to vanish from site. But no, there he was, fast and at very low level coming in across the straits between the mainland and Penang Island. What an incredible site with this Vulcan bearing down on us and wondering if it would be wise to move rapidly or to hit the deck or to stand and admire the thrill.
Over the airfield boundary fence and finally pulling up right above our heads. Amazing. It was like an earthquake with the volume turned up. It was great to experience events like this with our pilots showing their flying skills. It was the days when low flying really meant low flying. The only time I did hit the deck face first because of low flying aircraf was back in this country when myself and a mate were nearly run down by a Red Arrow when they were flying the Folland Gnat aircraft at the time. It happened at the end of their take-off run. Not sure what we did to upset the pilot but it was a once in a lifetime experience and I would not have missed it for anything, especially as it was totally unexpected.
There was a story going back to the 60s probably, that a Vulcan flew right across the USA without being detected with all their high tech kit they had at that time. That really embarrassed them, apparently.
Meanwhile, back in the SASS section I had the pleasure of meeting Sheila Scott, the British aviator flying her Piper Comanche 260 called, Myth Too. She was passing through Butterworth on her 2nd round the world trip. During her flying career three times she flew around the world solo and I understand some of her records still stand today. She and Myth Too had to divert to Butterworth while on her way to Singapore. It was radio issues and fierce winds that forced the diversion. She stayed the night and continued her journey the next morning. A most amazing flyer.
I will list all the military aircraft types involved in the conflict in a later chapter. There was quite a few.
Amongst the many visitors staging through Butterworth were three US Air Force Republic F-105s passing through and these aroused a good deal of interest on the airfield. As usual we ask the pilots to give us a show or beat up the airfield if possible as they left.
Well, things did not quite turn out as expected. All three lined up on the runway, full power powering down the runway and then with afterburners selected to on, one unfortunately did not light up correctly. Without the afterburner on there was simple not enough power to reach lift off speed on the runway. Before the pilot knew it his aircraft was off the end of the runway waiting for us to reach him with the recovery vehicles and drag the aircraft back to the flight line and safe standing. I understand that this little mishap cost those US flyers dearly in the Officers mess that night.
The Republic F-105 Thunderchief aircraft was a supersonic fighter-bomber used by the United States Air force. Used extensively during the Vietnam conflict the F-105 proved able to reach speeds of Mach 2.15 (1636 mph) it became the main strike aircraft of the Wild Weasel roll. It was probable these features as to why they attracted so much attention from us guys used to pistons and props.
“What is a afterburner?' I hear you ask.
Basically a jet engine is just a lot of turbines spinning on a central shaft which suck air into the engine, heat the air by using aviation fuel injected into chambers. With the hot burning gases turning more blades. More fuel, more speed on the blades, more cold air sucked in, more hot air blown out the back and more thrust. Simple really.
I would like to say a big thank you to all the good folk that have viewed my work who live in the USA. You are by far viewing more then any other country. I'm really pleased and appreciate your custom. If you wish to purchase any items from Len2Print based in England then please just ask the team and they will come up with a solution. If you have any queries please reply here and I shall do my best to help. Thank you.
Are you a gardener? Do you use small seed pots to germinate those seeds. This video of mine will show you how I make seed pots from old newspapers. After germination the pots with the young plants can be planted directly into the ground with no disruption to the roots. A perfect example of reusing our planets resorces.
Click on this line will take you to my utube channel. Thank you.
Do you have any gardening tips to post?
As I live in Yorkshire I thought you might like to know some fun and historic facts about the County of Yorkshire and it,s people? Read on. I have collected some FAQs from various sources for your edification.
You have decided to buy a framed canvas print from Lens2Print. It may be a reminder of a favourite holiday location.
A superb brightly coloured abstract to cover that blank space on that wall. Maybe a fantastic animal print?
You have spent ages deciding which to buy and when you have, your product is ethically and lovingly produced.
Now, how to care for it so it stays a worthy addition to your home or office?
Lens2Print only use 100% cotton canvas with a thickness of 340GSM (more about GSM later)
Canvas prints are mounted using wooden frames.
Now wood is alive, even though it's been a living plant, chopped down, processed and manufactured into a frame.
It likes steady climatic conditions.
Too hot and humid it may absorb moisture and distort.
Too dry may do the same.
What to avoid to keep that canvas in it's best condition?
Try not to hang it above a radiator or a fireplace.
It may warp or even burn.
Save that location for your mirror.
Cotton and wood are a natural absorber of moisture. So avoid hanging works of art in a bathroom, cellar or even a attic.
If by chance the canvas appears damp just move it to another room.
If it gets dusty, and it surely will in time never ever use any cleaning fluid of any kind. Oh no. Use a brush or a duster or try just blowing it off to start with.
All the above does sound a little bit of a off put, but with some gentle care your canvas should last as long as the Mona Lisa.
To show off your beautiful canvas picture at it's best, soft natural light appears to be best option.
GSM! What's that about then?
Lens2Print use 340 GSM meaning grams per square metre and is the metric measurement of the weight of fabric.
This weight and of cotton fabric seems to be one of the best choices for your chosen picture.
ADVANTAGES OF CANVAS OVER PHOTOS
. Photos under glass will suffer from reflections and spoil your viewing pleasure. Edge to edge canvas prints do not.
. They certainly weigh less then glass framed prints.
. Large print sizes are far more economical.
So there we have it. I hope you have been educated as much as I have regarding the care of canvas prints.
Finally...Now you know all of the above please pop over to Lens2Print.co.uk and browse the many thousands of quality pictures. You are sure to find one that suits you.
That's my second Blog finished.
Any comments will be very welcome. Feel free to sound off.
What are we talking about here. A buzz word at this time used by many companies and organisations. What is it all about?
I have been studying this subject and have discovered it is such a large, complicated subject to cover and has many grey areas which I do not fully understand.
When it comes down to the final statement I would suggest what it means in four words is:
(Doing the right thing)
What is the ethical way to sell things? To supply a service or information?
Many a philosopher has pondered this and so far there is no defined answer, but, in recent years ethics and ethical has become a big buzz word and companies and the service industry have experienced higher returns through it's use.
Ethical marketing is less of a strategy and more of a philosophy.
It is not a hard and fast list of rules but, a more general set of guidelines for both marketing organisations and the buying public. All for the good of all parties concerned.
My conclusions are ethics or being ethical in its simplest form can be simple listed as:
1 Our rights and responsibilities
2 Recognising right and wrong
3 Moral decisions and behaviour
4 Living a good life
In four simple words...(Doing the right thing)
The plan for my next blog is. How to care for your framed canvas print.
Feel free to comment and lets make this blog worthwhile.