The most expensive training exercise after Dieppe and the UK’s sop to the Yanks to show our support for Vietnam.
My recollections by Cpl. Platt Brian. REME. Attached from “2 Inf Wksp, Malacca”.
Age is affecting the memory now and I think it was July ’64 when I was told to report to ‘Op Crown’ for a six month tour. It was the news that Corporals stationed at “2 Inf. Air Portable Wksp. Malacca”, didn’t want to hear, but it fell to me to relieve the current incumbent.
So off I went to Tanglin Bks, Singapore and then via Changi to Ubon in an RAF Argosy, stopping for an hour at Bangkok to have our passports stamped.
The grinning countenance of those going in the other direction was enough to tell us they were glad to get away and on arrival at Ban Kok Talat we knew why.
It was the wet season '64 and work had stopped on the airstrip. Word must have gone ahead that I was an AKC operator and it wasn’t long before I was roped in to run the camp cinema and because numbers were low I set up the cinema in an empty barrack room instead of the open air one used previously. This meant of course that we could watch in all weathers. I showed the 'Longest Day' seven bloody times including the twenty minute musical intermission, once in the Officers Mess and they graciously allowed me one can of Tiger, free.
If you remember, the villagers were allowed into the camp to attend the cinema, which they did with great enthusiasm, but I am not sure they understood the dialogue.
I soon obtained a paid wife in the village who was called Anne (I couldn't pronounce her Thai name), and I cannot recall the name of the bar she worked in. She cost me the princely sum of 240 Bahts a week (60 to the £) because she was a looker and considered senior ranks only. I poached her off a Sergeant who had to return to the UK. This was considered the best way to avoid the CLAP. Does anyone remember the ‘Black Book’ kept in the MRS with a picture of all the village women in. This was so that you could finger the one who gave you a dose.
As for Mekon 'Whisky' - that got me into real trouble just before I left. It was Christmas and we had a party in one of the Bars. I’m normally a beer man, but this time I got onto the Mekon. I left the party at 9-15 p.m. the intention to get back for curfew. It knocked me out as soon as I stepped out into the fresh air. I know I didn’t turn left like I should have done and didn't remember a thing until I woke up in the guardroom early next morning, without a hangover. Apparently the Town Patrol had found me sleeping it off in one of the village huts and took me back to camp. Try telling that to the CO. He docked me two weeks wages and confined me to barracks for the rest of my stay. I still don’t know if I enjoyed it!
On the operations front; I probably worked with John Docherty as I inspected and worked on the Scammel tractor units after I arrived . We had to scavenge parts off others to get two into working order, mainly the winches, which were like a 'cats cradle' puzzle and seized up.
I was also the designated driver of the Scammel Recovery Vehicle so I was sent out on all the breakdowns.
The reason for the urgency to repair the Scammel’s soon became apparent as they were needed to bring spares up from Bangkok.
It was several weeks later when someone in their wisdom dispatched a Scammel plus Queen Mary trailer with accompanying 2nd Lt. and Landrover to Bangkok without REME backup.
It came as no surprise when myself and Sgt. Moreton, a Recovery Mechanic, were dispatched with the Recovery vehicle at an hours notice to go and meet them on the return journey. We joined them at Korat after a bumpy two day drive.
A few minor repairs were carried out and the next day we set off home.
The first obstacle on the second day out from Korat is shown in pictures 1- 3. On the way down light and with the exit from the bridge in the opposite direction they had managed to keep the inner trailer wheels on the planks - just.
There was no way we could do it in on the way back. The turning circle of the trailer was just too tight. With a man guiding and just the inner part of the front wheels on the planks (Pic 1) we edged over until, with a crunch, the trailer wheels slipped off the planks and
snapped the ends off the cross poles on the bridge. (Pics 2 & 3). In Pic 3 note the stretcher pole under the front wheel. It is bending.
Sgt. Moreton and I tried to shore up the bridge with all that we had on the recovery vehicle, but in the end it was decided there was only one way. Shut your eyes and pray.
All personnel were cleared off the bridge, and with Moreton guiding from a safe distance I engaged gear and went for it. I ignored the sound coming from the rear and we snapped the end of every the cross spar on the nearside of the bridge, but we got across by the ‘Grace of God’ in one piece.
We hastily packed our gear and left the scene as quickly as possible, hoping that no one had seen us.
Pic’s 4 & 5 tell of the next obstacle. As I said earlier; it was the wet season and this diversion was by way of a muddy earth causeway built across the bed of the river. After a quick recce we did temporary repairs and edged the Scammel on to it. Pic 4 shows the front wheels on the mud and the trailer wheels just on the planks at the rear.
Pic 5 shows me checking our repairs as the vehicle edges cautiously across.
The real problem here was getting on the causeway and getting off at the other end as the turning circle was quite tight. In between you hoped that the cross members and the, by now waterlogged embankment, could take the weight.
It did, and unfortunately the photo’s run out at this moment, because down the road awaited a proper recovery moment.
That evening a piece of open ground at the front of the local town hall compound was considered ideal to park up for the night. The grass was knee high and a lush green (Wet Season) and probably would have grown rice just as well.
The plan was to drive through the gates, down the gravel drive and circle clockwise to park inward facing the drive. Need I say more!
The following morning Sgt. Moreton and I planned the best way to drag a Scammel and trailer, plus load, wallowing axle deep in mud, back to safety. We were not happy bunnies and a certain 2nd Lt. kept a low profile although he did volunteer and unload the grader.
There was a lot of hard work preparing a 3: 1 winch line pull from the recovery vehicle (it meant hammering 60 x 3ft. spikes into some dry ground) and a lot of digging under the grounded vehicle to free it from the cloying mud with the whole town watching ( Try telling a few hundred people to stand back in case the winch rope snaps when you can’t speak Thai).
We managed it after a couple of hours work and were soon on our way. Another overnight stop in Ubon and home the following day.
I have no pictures of the next trip to Bangkok a month later. It was just as interesting, but for different reasons. Sgt. Moreton had returned to Malacca in disgrace for an alleged incident arising from his time in Op Crown, so I was volunteered again, this time as second in command with a different 2nd Lt. who had instructions to keep an eye on spending as the previous trip had overspent their allowances.
Our convoy was two tractor/trailers, one Recovery Scammel plus a Landrover. A recovery mechanic accompanied me while the rest of the group were a mixture of Regiments among them RA. The journey down was straightforward and we reached Bangkok late on the third or fourth day. However it became obvious that we (Other ranks) were going to have a hard time on the allowances we had been given. Our sleeping quarters were camp beds on the balcony of the YMCA (no comments, please) and we had to eat out at a bar/restaurant by the dock gates, but prices only allowed for one meal a day so we had to dig into our own pockets.
As the senior NCO. I first went to see our Officer on the second evening who was living in 5* luxury in the Grand Hotel. He wasn’t pleased to see me but did hand over some more allowances, however the next morning I tackled him again and tried to explain the price situation and he refused point blank to give any more.
I blotted my record good and proper when I lost my temper with him and with a rush of blood hurled my beret across Bangkok docks. I did apologise, but it would never be forgotten.
Our return loads were a Generator and a large weird shaped Hopper assembly for a concrete mixer. This caused a problem from the start as the only way to load it was with a five foot long arm sticking out on the offside of the trailer at head height. We had a red light we could attach to the end of it, but it meant we could not travel after dark.
Things went smoothly and our first stop was Korat. However, early on the third day the clutch gave out on the Tractor unit pulling the Generator. No Problem; remove the front-wheel drive propshaft and tow the whole shebang. The plan was to go on ahead and let them make their own way. This changed just a few miles down the road when the fuel pump gave up on the remaining tractor unit.
Because of the trailers we couldn’t tow in tandem so there was nothing for it, but to send for a new fuel pump. Three of us stayed with the broken down vehicle and the towed one made its own steady progress, while the Lt. went ahead to phone for the spares.
I loved working on the Rolls Royce diesel fitted in the Scammel Tractor units and the fuel pump was stripped out in a little over half an hour. Then we had the long wait at the side of the road until the spare pump arrived the next day. Food was the next thing and one of our number was dispatched on a passing bus to the nearest village. He duly arrived back with ‘Fried rice’ with an egg on top, wrapped in banana leaves and some fruit. This meal was to have a resounding effect on all three of us. We boiled up a brew and settled for a long uncomfortable night.
The spare pump was delivered early the next day, the driver having driven late into the night before taking a break and we were soon on our way again. We kept going until we reached Ubon after dark and we stayed overnight with the Aussies who fed us well.
Kok Talat was reached without incident just after lunch, but by nightfall three of us were in the MRS with amoebic dysentery contracted no doubt from the food and fruit we had eaten by the side of the road.
I won’t go into detail, but I lost nearly a stone in weight over the next fortnight, which I couldn’t afford to do as I’m a natural skinny and only weighed eleven and a half stone to start with. I enjoyed two weeks R&R after that down in Pattaya to help me recover and I used the experience there as the subject of a short story I wrote for a magazine.
I was getting demob happy by now and life just dragged until the Mekon incident at Christmas. January saw me back in Malaya and not even the inducement of a third stripe could keep me in the Army, a decision I have lived to regret, but then again I would never have met Jenny, my wife.
22967504 Brian Platt. REME.
Aka. JB. Woods, author of ‘Stolen Birthright’ ISBN: 978-1-4092-0062-8
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