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40 Royal Marine Commando

Based at Burma Camp Malaya

1962 to 1966


Padawan Sarawak December 1963

8 Tr. C Company 40 Cdo.

The aftermath of the Cpl. Marriott patrol incident

We left Sapit, which was right on the border, on 27th December to fly back to Padawan for a few days rest. This location was about four and a half hours walking by a fit man to our rear. It was classed as a rear echelon area and connected to the outside world by a rare stretch of dirt track.

The location itself was roughly triangular with the bulk of it being grass and buildings down two sides.

It also has a small population of civilians because there was a schoolhouse and accommodation for students and a large house where the local European farm supervisor lived with his family. Down one corner was a compound in which lived a water buffalo with his own muddy wallowing pool. His main task was to plough the near-by pineapple fields and cultivated areas between crops.

Generally the buildings that we occupied were made of local materials and sat a metre off the ground. The river meandered round two sides of the site in a long lazy loop and the roadway to the outside world stopped just short of the other side of it. You couldn't get a vehicle onto the site and everything had to be manhandled across a bridge made of one enormous log with a very precarious handrail. There was also a wire rope and pulley apparatus for heavier stores.

The whole Border area had been put on alert in the run up to Christmas, since it was thought that the Guerrillas might try something.

On the 30th we were called on to carry out a search of some isolated huts near Koholm, which involved a rope-down from the helicopters while they hovered over the tall scrub, and then a trek back to the Tebekan Road, but in this case nothing was found.

It had rained heavily up river and the water levels rose by nearly eight feet, and complete trees came floating past, some with attached root bowl. Elsewhere there were no reports of trouble and on 1st January we were preparing to go out on another cut-off and search operation near-by.

It was a scorching hot day and we went to check the thermometer that hung on the school wall. It registered 117 degrees and it felt like it. Suddenly on the same day reports started to come in of a large incident involving the deaths of about eight Malay soldiers and the wounding of twice that number.

The location was given as Kalabakan, which we had never heard of, mainly because it was in North Borneo. Details kept coming in when they were known. Because of this, Intelligence now reported that there might well be a concerted effort by guerrillas to carry out further raids elsewhere.

We continued about our chores but with a little more apprehension, which was fully justified when the next day new reports started to come in of another incident in the next area to us here called Bau. Initially they claimed that patrols had gone out searching for signs of guerrillas who had been spotted in several areas, and that one of these had bumped a guerrilla patrol coming the other way. In the exchange of fire a border Scout and one of our Corporals had been killed before the rest of the patrol had had to withdraw, being considerably out numbered. (Enemy killed or wounded were at this point not known).

We went onto a one-hour stand-by and eagerly awaited every morsel of news. Apparently further patrols from 'B' Coy were saturating the area and trying to cut the guerrillas off from escape across the border. By this time the body of Cpl. Marriott had been recovered but several blood trails had been found leading away from the area. By 3rd. Jan there was a great need to get as many extra troops into cut-off positions behind likely escape routes and we were packed and ready and waiting on the grass for transport.

After an hour we heard the 'chopper' coming. It had a most distinctive rotor noise more of a drubbing sound. It came into view and made a circuit and then landed in the middle of the area. It was a Belvedere with twin rotors. Unlike the usual Whirlwind or Wessex these were not painted in camouflage colours and resembled a long thin aluminium cigar with wheels mounted on outriggers fore and aft. They had two doors in the fuselage, one at the front and one at the rear and the usual routine was to enter by one and exit by the other. Their great advantage was they could hold up to eighteen men, which was nearly twice the usual load.

We flew off and sometime later landed in a field in the Bau area, and then made our way along a dusty track through a rubber plantation. Eventually we reached a bungalow, which was to be our patrol base for the next few days. Reports were still coming in saying that there may have been up to two hundred guerrillas split up into several groups. Most were suspected of having crossed back over the border but an unknown number could still be on our side and working their way back.

Follow up operations had discovered shallow graves and captured a lot of equipment including the first Armalite rifle to be recovered. It was not long before rumours had this rifle with its super high velocity round able to kill with a near miss to the head.

Further rumours reported two bodies found on stretchers which had been left by them and a water bottle with a paratroops insignia. By this time most of the border crossing tracks were guarded and patrols were inside the cordon trying to flush out any one inside. We were towards the southern end of any possible route they might take to get away. It was a fair bet that anyone still in the trap would be aware of the likely sequence of events to cut them off and would therefore try and cut their way out avoiding our likely positions.

We were to start patrolling the next day with the intention of searching for any signs they may have already been in that area, such as trails, footprints or good intelligence from locals.

Sat 5th Jan '64

We went out on an all day patrol along a track towards a place called Tegora. We were given wrong directions by a local and ended up lost when the track ran out. After much hunting around we resorted to a compass bearing and after wandering through a lot of rubber plantations eventually found the right one. What did not help was the route was not marked on any of the maps, but this was not unusual. We waded a river and tried several routes out from here, but they all petered out in further rubber plantations.

On the far bank of another river we came across a derelict little hut with whitewashed walls and decided to stop for a meal break. Inside the hut, half the floor had been gutted by a fire, and in large black letters on the wall was written "Kilroy was here!" followed by various obscenities that Kilroy could do. British servicemen are not noted for their subtlety. it seemed each successive visitor had added a highly imaginative remark, plus his unit and date. On completion we appended ours but with only the date. After being out all day we returned to base extremely damp and exhausted.

More information had come in. It seemed that one enemy group had managed to get out near Gumbang but amongst the items already found had been marked up maps with the intended routes on them for the targets to be attacked. What must have been somewhat alarming for the intelligence boys was the intended target for the raid was Kuching Airport, some considerable distance inside the border. It seemed they then intended to capture transport and drive to Bau and attack one or more locations before nipping smartly back across the border. There was analysis too of some of the equipment captured - a Czech rocket launcher and the Armalite rifle.

The other patrol had had more luck. They had come across a freshly cut track on the limit of their area and thought this was worth another visit. So the next day a large patrol left to go and check this out. We had been travelling for about two hours through flat terrain with the river well below us and on our left when we suddenly came across two large over grown metal pillars, one either side of the track. It was quite astounding, for there right in the middle of nowhere, was a suspension bridge. It spanned a two hundred-foot gap and was about eight feet wide. The decking was made up of rotten boards, many of which had long since fallen through leaving gaping holes through which you could see the river over a hundred-feet below roaring over narrows and rocks. The whole structure was so precarious that to move too quickly caused it to sway alarmingly. However, crossing one at a time, and with some very neat footwork, and a few more broken boards we all crossed safely. We supposed it was a relic from the Japanese occupation for there were several mines in the area.

After another hour we reached the site of the freshly cut track. Here we stretched out into extended line and proceeded at right angles to our own track to carry out a sweep. The area was mostly tall elephant grass and light vegetation. After advancing about four hundred-yards we discovered some freshly cut piles of firewood and the track petered out. This was obviously a dead end but when we tried to contact base with the news the radio reception was non-existent. This was a general problem in Borneo and many was the time that you could not contact base from the moment you left until you got back.

We continued on further down our original track but no sign of anything and it was decided to return. We negotiated the bridge again and whilst crossing an area of low scrub an aircraft came over several times broadcasting in Malay and Chinese, for any guerrillas to come in and give themselves up. After several more hours we reached the bungalow. It had been a long day and we estimated we had travelled about twelve miles, which was quite far enough when walking in jungle boots.

The other patrol had found sets of foot prints and investigated these, but it turned out later they were made by another patrol who had strayed into our area and probably missed each other by about an hour and thus avoided some anxious moments. It was decided that we were not going to find anything of interest so the next day we were flown back to Padawan to await a return to Sapit.

© Copyright Patrick Walker 2006....All Rights Reserved

This article is also published on the Britains Small Wars (Borneo) website