One Gunung Too Far (Almost)
Easter week end, 1963 Burma Camp Malaya, Home of 40 Commando Royal Marines, “Flap jack” Borneo was brewing up, by Sunday 90% of the unit were ready to go. B coy were already in the Kuching area, when a party of CCO crossed the border and attacked a police station in Tebedu in the Serian district of the first division. C coy flew to Kuching and A coy, "The Saints” boarded Albion.
A coy were a floating reserve, heading out into the Malacca Straits, we had our own wee flap jack, a report of rebels (communist sympathisers ) were grouping on the Malay west coast, “tool up lads there's a landing to night”.
Usual full kit, rations for two days, full mag's, plus a fifty round bandoleer a 36 and a white foss grenade, we sat around on our bunks on 2S mess deck, waiting, then the buzz came down, it's an opposed landing, never mind one bandoleer, some lads had three and nearly every one grabbed an extra grenade, if any one fell in the oggin they would surely sink.
Every one standing up now, checking and re checking kit and weapons, nervousness causing a few involuntary farts, which broke the tension, someone complained about someone else's foul arse, the lads started laughing, “Stand Down” came the shout landings off , thank fuck was the general comment.
That flap apart, life on board was fine, fatigues in the fore noon, physical jerks on the flight deck in the afternoon, best of all was “tot time” after three hundred years the rum ration was still the highlight of Jack and Royals day.
Our mess deck “Bubbly Bosun” was Cpl Roberts, Robbo was a good hand and he knew how to measure a tot, with his business finger in the beaker he ensured that there would be sufficient rum for “The Queens” God bless her.(doncha just love this)
“The Queens” was a ruse to provide a wee bit more rum for “the rum rats” who gathered around the rum fanny and retold tales of daring do, etc.
It came to pass that my 22nd birthday arrived whilst on board, birthday came, and was fated royally by my mess mates sippers, gulpers, and a few sandy bottom's I arrived at my appointed place alongside my compadres at the “round the rum fanny” gathering.
I was glowing to say the least, “The Queens” a full pint, was passed from hand to hand, and but sippers only were taken, the pewter pot was passed to me, “happy birthday Shiner it's all yours”.
Jesus! Thanks lads, my mate Ray (Ivy) Ives, said now you sit here quietly and sup your rum, I'll bring you back a chip and curry sauce buttie from the gally, aw, tha, tha, thanks Ray, me ole mucker , the rum was kicking in.
If anyone has experienced this situation then you'll know that to keep a grip on the situation you need someone to burble to, it helps concentration and prevents your head slapping down on the mess deck table, I managed that.
Ivy got back with my buttie, although I was not feeling hungry (what after a tot, a lot of tot actually) I discovered that I had erroneously been burbling to a bloke Ivy absolutely detested, and I was summarily rebuked for my lack of care and attention.
My response was to stand up, sway a little and apologise, “sorry mate, and now I need to piss” Ivy, observing my less than usual steadiness assisted me to the heads,
the mess deck was air conditioned but the bogs were not.
As soon as the odours hit my snot box , I gagged, then called for “Hughie” in the nearest pistol, just as a naval young pig walked passed, “what's wrong with that man” I heard with my head in the pistol ,”flu sir, he's got the flu” well done Ivy, the officer swallowed that one, and I was hauled back onto the mess deck.
PT on the flight deck was definitely out of the question for me, my comrades in arms placed me in a bottom bunk away in the corner, face down, to prevent choking on possible regurgitated bubbly and placed a spit kid under my head, Jesus man, so good to have oppo's like that(how would know, I was totally blootered.
We eventually choppered in to Lundu and commenced a couple of weeks hard slog collecting weapons from the Chinese farmers who were possibly communist fifth column, Travelling by native long boats virtually a shaped plank of wood powered by an out board engine, relatively comfortable until the tide went out. Our places of investigation always seemed to be up a tributary of the main Batang Kayan river, when the tide went, so did our medium of travelling.
It was portage, dragging the long boat up the now empty, almost, streams apart from sink holes and pools, struggling over tree roots one minute, up to your oxters(arm pits) the next, mud, mud, bloody awful mud, Jesus! That was a knackering experience almost as bad as mangrove, yes we had some of that too.
At that time our section, 1 sec, 1 troop, consisted of Cpl Fagan (arse), Dave
Mathews, Peter (Bodge) Humphries, Ron Twigg ,(all three 696 squad as was I) George McGarry, Denis Shambly( LMG) Titch Underwood, Jimmy (the Red Witch )Howitt, Ray(Ivy) Ives, not only but also, Sgt McCarthy, and accompanying, us the Lundu District Commissioner.
The DC had the list of suspect bodies and locations, also along for the ride a Dyak border guard come policeman. The Chinese, the inscrutable little sods knew we were coming and would hide their weapons up in the tree tops.
They were of a diminutive stature and therefore had a limited reach in terms of climbing any sparsely limbed trees, there was a lot of those, not many of the alternative, we found their shot guns, on one occasion they were actually in the concealment process, their up the tree and the family dog was howling his head off at the base of the tree, well done Spot.
We would spend the night kipping on the front deck of a long house or village basher, the DC did not like Ulu living, infrequently we based our selves in Dyak Kampong's and trekked out to various places.
The Dyaks thought we were medicine men, one day a young mother brought her 2yr old daughter to visit us, the child's ear was a mass of festering puss, I cleaned it with warm salted water(that's all we had) dried off the ear and found the infection was in the fold of the ear.
Later in the campaign efforts were made to fly out local people with injuries or illness but this was early days, what to do? One of the lads had a tin of Germaline,I carefully
troweled the Germaline into the fold of the ear and made a wee bandage of a piece of field dressing, then asked the border guard to advise the mother to keep it covered for a couple of days, and off we went rejoicing,(chasing down the chink's weapons stash)
When we came back to the Kampong there was mum and child waiting for us, not looking forward to this, thinks I, off with the bandage, gently clean off the Germaline and there was clean, pink shiny skin, no more infection, we gave the Germaline to the mother, just in case, we felt really chuffed about that, it was a hearts and minds moment, never to be forgotten.
There was a tale about a certain Dyak old gentleman who had seen Royal helping people with their ailments, as best we could, he hobbled in with a walking stick, almost bent double, so some wag put a codeine tablet in the small of his back with some sticking plaster and sent him on his way.
The next day the old fellah was walking up right, no stick, just walking around telling everybody we were magicians, which of course we were, everybody knows that.
The native people, Dyak and Iban were good to deal with, honest, trusting, and generous, always ready to share their machan(food ) with you.
Ate a few strange things whilst I was out there, my favourite was armadillo, the skin was tough but when prepared and cooked it tasted like boiled ham, (pass the mustard)
On our way back we came back down the Batang Kayan and stopped off at an Iban long house, a big one, Kampong Stungang(I think) Iban's love a piss up and knees up, deffo Royals kinda people.
They (the men) danced and the wemen played the drums to give the beat, not to be out done, Ivy, myself and Davy Mathews shook down with a conga(got fotos) Fagan did his best on the local drum kit.
They loved it, we were talking their language, the DC said they like you all very much, specially the one with the red hair, me. Well it just got better, out came the tuak, local vino, served in an aluminium kettle and poured straight down your gob, by a nubile female, kiss me, I'm in heaven.
Later in our campaign John Grubb went native and got the Iban tree tatoo'd on his throat by the locals, very painful, unless you had a gut full of tuak, cost him a rake of dough to get it removed when he got back to UK.
I digress, the lass that was tanking me with tuak, was a widow, and widows had first shot at any stray males that came within shagging distance(I make no apologies for that crudity but nor did they).
Mucho tuak fevers the loins, and boy did I want to spend the night there, and I was very welcome, but the frigging DC insisted on going home to mama(his mrs) and we could not stay there without him--- Bastard!
My amorata, kettle server, was distraught, as we pulled away in our long boat she dived in and hung onto my hand, Sgt McCarthy grabbed my ammo belt and hung onto me, or who knows what would have become of me, I still fantasise, they can't touch you for it.
So it was Lundu for some rest, one night Ivy suggested a chicken hunt, off we go me and him, night black as pitch, no moon, found our target coop, chickens all roosting asleep, ah , bless em, one, two, in the bag and off, so slick, as we thought.
Back to our billet, away from the coy lines(1 sec was special), we hear a commotion,
Malay cackle, into sleeping bags pronto, Ivy with the chickens, supposedly dead.
In comes the orderly officer, “have any of you been stealing chickens” no sir not us sir, then a fucking chicken comes back to life and starts squawking, (Ivy was shite at wringing their necks).
He thumped them inside his sleeping bag and we all started clucking to cover it, “all right you smart arses, cut the cackle(what a cracker sir, young pigs, no sense of humour) if I find out you bastards have chickens that do not belong to you, you'll all be in the rattle).
We were very care full when plucking and cooking our ill gotten gains but boy was it worth it, gently simmered in an onion and garlic enfused broth, egg fried rice and lots of chilli, oh mother, was that a risk worth taking, (hell of a job swallowing all the feathers).
Where to then, we were in so many places, barely had time to find out the names of the Kampongs but we got lots of guns 2836 out of a possible of 3227, we did get some help from other companies of course.
Pug gets punched.
We were Kampong sitting somewhere in the Bau area, usual stuff, laying ambush, patrolling etc, supplied by air drop. A volunteer was requested to butcher fresh meat, that would be me, it was still half frozen, rib of beef, as I boned it and cut it into friable portions, I ate it raw, it tasted fantastic, fresh blood, in 24 hrs it would taste like shit.
Amazing though it may seem, the drop consisted of fresh meat, offal(liver, kidneys) bacon and eggs, eggs! By parachute, yes and none were broken,
The offal had to be eaten there and then, meat had to be water proof bagged and anchored in the river(that was not navigable), 24 hrs in the river the meat still came out with a greenish tinge, the reality was eat as much of the fresh as you can, then cook the rest to stop it going off.
We were in a troop position, 1sec up on a higher ground under a village basher, the remainder closer to the river in a smarter basher. Our revered, and much admired company commander Maj P J Davis came to check us out, Pug was a wee bit of a WW2 hero, fighting with the Yugoslavian Partisans(Tito) in the Adriatic.
Pug comes up to our position, he congratulated me on my percentage pass on my exams which would see me through to the rank of MGRM(nice to dream) I had been encouraged to "take up the tools” by our coy sergeant major after hearing me express my opinion of a certain officers lack of navigational prowess i.e. “ I could do better than that wanker with my eyes closed”
Pug then proceeded to bollock me for not writing to my mother, who, having not heard from me for some three months, had set the Royal British Legion, The
Salvation Army and SSAFA, looking for me. I did explain that due to my being dumped in Mombasa after being blinded courtesy of B coy my mail was up crap
(Patience, were getting to the Gunung bit). Suddenly there was a shot, I knocked down the tilley lantern, we closed up, weapons cocked, Pug had arrived unarmed and tried to grab our LMG, Denis Shambley had taken over as No 1 as I was now lead scout, thumped Pug and got the gun up on the sand bags, loaded and ready to fire, all was quiet, then a squeaky voice piped up from below,
“oops sorry accidental discharge”,(how the fuck do you get an accidental discharge cleaning a weapon)
Pug gets up and said to our Denis, “that's a hell of a right hook Shambley”, well done lads, a brilliant stand to, I'm recommending your section for a ten day leave in Hong Kong at Christmas, aw shit hot sir (didn't happen, typhoid epidemic in Honkers).
Och, well life go's on. Don't know how this happened but me and Jimmy Howitt got volunteered to escort/body guard, two army bods who were mapping the area, they had a bit of kit to carry and wanted porters, five bucks a day, three bods required, one to carry the radio and act as guide and two for their kit, we said we'll do it for four, no not possible we need you as mobile as possible., job went to grinning locals.
Off we trot, me lead scout, Jimmy tail end charlie, Jimmy, an Aberdonian, red hair just like me, a couple of “gingers”, his claim to fame was that he could hear the fiz of escaping gas from someone opening a bottle of Tiger beer at 500 yrds, Jimmy could take his bucket in ale.
We thought this will be a pleasant change from laying in ambush all night, where you got bitten to bits by mosquito's, or got inside your poncho, which was like being in a sauna all night. The mozzie's would attack in squadron formation so it was the rubber sweat box for me every time, leeches were not fussy either they latched onto any think living.
Sneaky bastards leeches, didn't need to be near a river, these little sods were tree and ground dwelling, arm pits and groin were their favourite target areas, if you were fortunate to spot them on you by regular checks, you could salt them or get an oppo who smoked to light up and zap them with a fag, if you were unlucky, the chaffing of your clothing and equipment severed the body and left the head attached to you and it continued to bleed and in some caused infection, nasty little bastards .
Chance to do some sight seeing we thought, persons not familiar with the rain forest will not appreciate that there's not much to see but tree's, tree's tree's and more tree's. No wild life, they keep out of your way apart from ants, they are always about.
Fire ants there the worst, Jesus! They sting when they bite, I recall a lad called Taff Goss(Welsh he was, there's lovely) he was hacking a way through some secondary Ulu got snagged on a Wait- a- While palm it was swarming with the acid mouthed little bastards Gossy was going berserk, finally got free but he was bitten all over, light duties for a week, no sweaty jobs.
The only other beastie that could cause severe pain was a hornet, the sting is ten time worse than a wasp. When we were training in the Jungle Warfare School, issued with our jungle machete, we were told not to play at “Jungle Jim” and take random swipes at trees as we went along, you guessed it, some idiot did just that.
Down they came out of their mid day slumber, you did not realize they were there until you got stung, Oh Fuck did that hurt, we scattered, some of us jumped into a stream, poor old Cpl Fagan got stung on the temple and he passed out, in a bad way for a few hours, rumour had it that some people actual died from hornet sting, went into shock, and I can well believe that.
Not for me and Jimmy, a casual stroll through Ulu land, wet nursing a couple of pongo's, sleeping in a kampong basher, no ambushes, no patrols and no guard duty, but this trip, god it was bloody boring.
Start stop, poles out and theodolite levelled, heights and distance check, twas monotonous to say the least, highlight of the day was to see what the next kampong was having for evening scran.
Got to one place where the head man and his oppo's had just returned from a wild pig hunt, it was a big bastard, huge head, lucky me I was kipping at the basher of the guy that killed it, with a bloody parang.
They flush it out with dogs and gradually surround it, when it makes a brake for it, the nearest hero takes a slash at it, trying for the base of the neck to sever the spine. This particular pig was over three feet at the should, that means it was almost up to the waist of the hero, and hero he was, he had to get close to about 200 lbs of charging pig who did not want to be dinner.
All night long the hero's family were chopping and cutting, scraping every morsel of meat from that head, then they were smoking it to preserve it, all the kids were helping all five of them, I was fascinated and knackered in the morning, off we went
to our next trig point to be logged.
Gunung Rhia(at last)
Well I think that's how you spell it, we came out of a clearing, there in front us was girt great hill, looked like that mountain in Close Encounters, Percy said, “ I'm afraid we are going up there” Fucks me! Expressed our Jim, up there, it's almost a shear climb, don't worry said Percy the guide tells me there are steps cut into the side of the
hill, just like climbing stairs.
He was bloody wrong, nothing like climbing stairs, stairs don't go up a thousand feet, we were really glad Percy did not accept our offer to carry their kit.
It was the most difficult accent I have ever made, yes there were steps cut into the hill, it was very steep, you had to grab on to grass and foliage to keep yourself balanced or it was over the edge and straight down, wallop!
We were fit, Percy was fucked, but those wee Dyaks, pocket dynamos, they could carry weight we would never dream of lifting even on level surface never mind up a bloody cliff, admittedly we did take a few breathers, it was a killer, the Dyaks kept all their loads on, no where to put it down, and your muscles ached until you got into your stride, so much so that we did not want to stop.
Cannot remember how long it took us to get up there but we were mighty glad when that was over, time for a brew, mess tin out, solid fuel burner going and a refreshing
cup of black tea no sugar, a sit down, Jimmy had a fag, Percy said this is the highest
Dyak village in Borneo(tell me about!) apparently they came up here to get away from Iban war parties who were continually taking slaves and a few heads to decorate their living room,(couldn't they afford some nice pictures, says Jim the wag).
Whilst were yarning and sipping our tea I noticed a bit of a commotion and caught the words Orang(man) and Snappang( gun).The Dyak guide came over and said there are men, soldiers coming up the other side “oh fuck” said Jim and I, as we went to take a shufti down the hill.
Sure enough, there was somebody coming up approx a couple of hundred feet below, we watched and waited, we had time, progress up the side was very slow, Jim and I had a wee opps meeting(you've got to laugh but this was serious).
Our plan was to lay in wait either side of the track and shoot down from both sides Jimmy taking out tail end charlie and then bring his shots up to the next in line and I would shoot the front man and do likewise down the hill.
Whilst we waited we sent Percy and the Dyaks to watch our route of accent so they could leg it if we did not finish the job, couldn't see why not, we were in a cracking position.
The assumed the enemy was now seen more clearly, they were in a karki coloured uniform with khaki floppy hats none of our forces wore that colouring and they were definitely brown skinned, hated just waiting, six men were now clearly visible, we
could pop them off no bother, Jim you fire first when they get to the next turn in the steps about 100 feet below us.
Watching them, I started to feel guilty and some sadness, they were sitting ducks, never shoot a slow flying bird or one that was flying low, that's what I was taught, give them a fighting chance.
Here we are, going to blow them away, just like that, they would not know what hit them. If the roles were reversed, they, whoever they were, would be jumping for joy at chance like this, to blast us into oblivion, big feather in their cap, big piss up, a celebration, fuck em! I got a grip of myself and became patiently angry.
We're sitting on ready, when I noticed the lead man had a black curved scabbard on his belt, and the next man, they all had kukris, Jim their Gurkas fucking Gurkas, what the fuck are they doing here.
Johnny Gurka! Hey Johnny Gurka, we called down to them. Boot necks beat you to it, they looked up and waved, great guys the Gurkas, probably the best soldier in the world, when given an order they carried it out no questions asked.
Heard a story about some Gurkas who were to be trained as parachutists and they were in a Dakota air craft on a familiarization flight, there senior nco went into the cockpit and said to the pilot, my men are prepared to jump but could you go a bit lower, bless em.
I was on a life saving course at Sembawang at the army PT school, six Gurkas were on the course, they were told by their officer every Gurka will pass the course. The Gurkas are not renowned swimmers and these guys were no exception.
They were amongst the weak swimmers, when it came to rescuing a supposedly drowning man the rescuer dived in got the subject in the correct manner, then subject and rescuer sunk down into the water and were continuing to swim under water, the instructor told myself and Dickie McArdle to dive in and get them out before they drowned each other.
We helped them out with their swimming after work and they all passed and got their medallions, bloody brilliant little chaps.
I said to Jimmy, don't think we would have been mentioned in dispatches for knocking them off, we spent the night up there, dining on tins of processed cheese , strawberry jam and pussers hard biscuits, you can’t whack it.
The Pongo's had a radio to keep it touch with what was going on in our area, as far as we were aware there were no other patrols around. The Gurka corporal told us they were on a sort of day out, sight seeing, day out! Day fucking out! It was nearly your last day out, poker faced they just shrugged their shoulders I don't think they got it.
The decent, you forget, it's always much harder going down that going uphill, your muscles are working in the least efficient manner, your balance is off, slipping and sliding on a damp surface, must have said “fuck this bastard” a thousand times.
It was much slower than going up and more pain full, legs like jelly skinned elbows, bruising from your rifle slamming into you side, finally we were down, the local Kampong had a wee shop, no we don't want any dried shrimp's.
The Pongo corporal said hey they've got Tiger, we aint got no dough, don't worry say's he, think you deserve a drink on us, it was warm and wonder full, in litre bottles Jimmy and I were grinning like we had lock jaw, cheers Percy, to all army map makers god bless em.
It was back to base, no more gunung's to climb for now, just patrolling, ambush in the evenings, guard duties, cleaning weapons, oh yeah, and writing home to my Mum
Happy snap of me and James Howitt Esq(he's got the fancy beer mug) catching up on our two cans a man daily beer ration, boy it was great to get your boots off, note the green feet, not enough sweet corn to finish the job, ho, ho, ho.
Note, the Gunung Rhia, famous highest Dyak village is no more, flattened to make way for a dual carriage way, I'm told Lundu is unrecognisable as we ( we happy few, we band of brothers, beg pardon Horatio) remember it, the only place that looks the same is Kuching, never got there, I was probably ambushing, patrolling, doing me dhoby, oh yeah and writing to my Mum
© Copyright David A. Wright 2012 ....All Rights Reserved