Living – In ” A Home from Home “
by John Jackett
From T.A. to L.O.A in War Zones
5 Inf bde PURE, Tidworth / Borneo – Aug 65 to Dec 67
I was promoted to Sgt on posting, arriving at Jellalabad Bks Tidworth, I was quite surprised at a sense of isolation as the only Postie in the Brigade WOs & Sgts Mess, up until this point I had not served with anyone else. Now I was surrounded by R Signals, RMP, RCT, REME etc etc – Senior Rank representatives of all the Units that make up a Brigade Headquarters. Our OC was Capt Frank Lea with whom I found a very easy working relationship and baby sat at Ludgershall for them on many evenings. I saw Sgt Reg Peacock at the office but he was married and we left him behind, to be replaced on posting by Sgt Bill Skeel when in November, we set off via Singapore for Sibu, Sarawak.
To occupy our time before then, Brigade exercised us to make sure of our role, we knew what ours was – Sigs were OK back in camp, 4 miles down the road, parked in a wood was a very different matter – sorry no coms! On Wednesdays we just had enough in the Unit for a soccer team, leaving a duty-clerk behind, we enjoyed ourselves, it was certainly team-spirit building, besides that we went on carefully constructed map reading exercises, ensuring there was a pub lunch at the half way stop.
We were to be called HQ Mid West Brigade once we arrived, being the advance party, Capt Lea and I flew from Changi to Sibu, via Kuching in a wave-hopping “Bristol Frightener” ( I think that’s nearly the right spelling !) With 19 Bde occupying all of the Airfield Camp accommodation until the MV Auby arrived with our main party, one off / one on – so that we could move in, in the interim we were put into air conditioned hotels in down-town Sibu ! Once the FPO lock stock and barrel was ours and the Auby was at the dock, the exchange was made, our 12 months unaccompanied tour had begun.
The working day was 6.30 am until 3.0 pm unless our mail plane was late, it was considered to be too hot after that, at Sibu we felt reasonably safe from the Malaysian / Indonesian war that we were on the fringes of, however our Unit detachment at Simmangang received his mail via the local bus service as it was too dangerous for military convoys to go up and down on a frequent basis.
In Sibu town the resident Regiment was a KOSB Regt and on New Years Eve the Bde Mess was invited down for Hogmanay celebrations, as the popular Postie (I hope we all were, wherever we served) I was treated very well. Another social occasion that we enjoyed was a Mess outing to see “ The Sound of Music “, for a small town in the middle of nowhere, it boasted 3 modern hotels, a cinema with air-con, an Olympic sized swimming pool, which we made much use of with transport almost every day.
Christmas morning saw the traditional serving of tea laced with rum by those Mess members not on duty; we followed this with a Sports Day, our WOs and Sgts Mess versus the Officers Mess. In the Tug-of-War we managed to tie our end of the rope around the bumper of a strategically placed Land Rover and duly pulled the Officers through the mud hole that was the entrance to the MT lines. Whilst the Brigadier ensured all got ready for the Christmas Lunch, it was my turn to go the Airport to collect the inward Air Mail, I was allowed to tell the Brig. that the UK connection at Changi had missed that morning, so there was no Mail on Christmas Day, I successfully dodged the flying Tiger beer cans as I beat a retreat!
After Christmas, R & R leave was available and once again the Auby put in a regular appearance, 2 days to cross to Singapore – unnerving to watch a Western Movie on the open deck under the starry skies when the ship is rolling along. Onto the night sleeper train to Kuala Lumpur – don`t confuse this with anything you may have been on in the Western World – 40 mph top speed, curtains for privacy for your tiered wooden slatted beds, arranged lengthways down both sides of the rail-coach, with newly joining passengers twitching them to see if yours is empty, I don`t think many of us slept much – maybe we had had a drink to calm our nerves and we didn`t know about it anyway! Changing trains at KL we finally reached Georgetown Penang, for the NAAFI`s very own Sandycroft Leave Centre, the bar hours were very well organised – 10.0 am to 3.0 pm, then that one shut and the other opened 3.0 pm to 10.0 pm. When I returned to duty I went to another detachment on Labuan Island so that Bill Skeel could go for his R & R, they had their FPO and accommodation in a private house on the edge of the Military camp.
In August 1966 Malaysia and Indonesia signed a peace treaty, as a result we were given just 3 few weeks to pack up and get out! What we, as a Brigade could not shift, we buried. The Auby duly arrived and RSM Simpson made me the Orderly Sgt on my birthday, just to keep an eye on me as we sailed down river, then on towards Singapore. We stayed in Nee Soon Transit camp for 3 weeks whilst Britannia Airways organised some aircraft for us, we waived goodbye to the Brig, his chief of staff, half of the Sigs Sqn and so on, only 2 days later it was our turn to wave to them in Kuwait – they had broken down half-way home.
Capt Lea was replaced by Capt Colin Pawson, a rally enthusiast, so as his volunteer navigator, I took on some interesting duties in 1967! Brigade life resumed and we exercised all over UK, especially remembered is the wettest I have ever been in South Wales and a chance to see Sunderland play Notts Forest when we visited Otterburn Ranges, slipping up over Carter Bar and crossed the border for a cup of Scottish Tea in Jedburgh. The daily mail runs to / from Newcastle were augmented with the collection of freshly baked pies, the pick-up was in Gateshead, duly authorised of course. The Pies were for eating after the evening film show and paid for by the PRI, needless to say the driver / courier had one each for going, as well as a pease-pudding sandwich!
On posting to Hannover, just before Christmas 1967, I took delivery of a left hand drive Ford Anglia, I had to have white, the only colour available – the reason being that 3 weeks later they unveiled the Ford Escort!