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40 Royal Marine Commando

Based at Burma Camp Malaya

1962 to 1966


40 Cdo 4-Man Patrol

By Pete Cairns

Here is the story that lies behind the photograph of a 4-man patrol in Sarawak, Borneo, in 1963.

Whilst deployed at Sibu, Sarawak, No.1 section of 'A' Troop were allocated a task; we did not know what it entailed. Corpral Roberts was handed an envelope with the details inside, which was not to be opened until we were well outside the area of the eyes and ears of the villagers.

I led the patrol because I was the Lead Scout, followed by Leo the Iban interpreter/tracker, then corporal Roberts who was in command of the patrol, who was followed by Marine Tom Minnock and then there were the other seven members of our patrol.

At a position deemed free from local eyes and ears, as ordered I halted the patrol; who immeiately all took up all-round defensive postitions. I then went to corporal Roberts to see what our instructions were; he opened the letter and read it and then passed it to me. I read the details and passed the letter to Leo who had also joined us.

Corporal Roberts asked: "any suggestions," I looked at Leo and then decided I needed to say my piece, I said: "if we go as a patrol we will never succeed in doing what we are being asked to carry out."

'The objective was to go over the Indoneasian border and bring back an Indoneasian soldier who was home on leave in a kampong close to the border.' Corporal Roberts asked me: "why we would fail?"

I replied: "as lead scout I am always the first person to enter a kampong when we go out on patrols. So I am the first person to get an opinion of our reception, and in most cases I get the feeling that the locals knew we were coming to their village way before we arrived there."

Corporal Roberts turned to Leo and asked: "what would you say,"

Leo replied: "he is right."

Corporal Roberts then turned to me and asked: "have you any suggestions," I replied: "If we take a 4-man patrol and run all of the way to the border and the kampong we might stand a chance of catching our man; if not, I feel we have no chance."

Corporal Roberts looked across at Leo who nodded his approval of my idea, Roberts asked: "why 4-man?" I answered: "1-man for each side of the basher so that our target cannot escape." "Are you prepared to run all of the way," he asked, I nodded and when he looked at Leo he also nodded.

I took up my position while the corporal gave instructions to the rest of the patrol to make camp and to expect us back just before dark and he came back with Tom as our fourth-man; the photo was taken just before we set-off.

I led at a steady pace and we crossed the Indoneasian border and reached the kampong just before mid-day. On arrival we surrounded the basher on the diagram in our letter and then Leo shouted out an order for the man to come out; if he did he what was asked of him he would not be harmed.

A lady came out and said: "he is not here,"

Leo looked at corporal Roberts for instructions who replied: "tell her if he dosen't come out we will burn the basher down with a phospherous grenade," which he held up for the lady to see.

Leo explained the situation to the lady who immediately turned her head and I believe she said to her man: "they are going to burn our basher down."

The man slowly stuck his head out from the doorway and peered at us to see what was happening; Leo explained to him what we wanted and the man aggreed to come along with us.

We ran all the way back to our grid reference where the rest of the patrol we waiting for us; and reached it before darkness set.

We gave the prisoner some rice and water and handcuffed him to a tree.

Tom and I, did not have to do any sentry duty that night; we cooked our rations and turned in after stand-too.

The next morning we unhandcuffed our prisoner and the patrol walked into base camp having fully achieved the objective they were allocated.

After two-days the Indoneasian soldier was allowed to walk back to his kampong.

But The Story Does Not End Here

About 18-months later I was lead scout for 42 Cdo Anti-Tank Troop, at Lundu. We had a very keen young officer Lieutenant Christie Miller, who volunteered us to go out on patrol on every occasion he could; our troop spent more time on patrol than any other troop or section in the unit.

We had just come in from one patrol and had washed all of our webbing and kit that we had taken with us; I was standing in the shower when the Troop were told we were going back out immediately.

We put our wet clothes and webbing back on (the heat in the jungle is very exhausting for newbies until they learn to adapt to that enviroment) which really didn't matter about our clobber being wet, and we made our way to the airfield.

We were airlfted out to a clearing in the Jungle and were getting organized to set off when another helicopter which came from a different direction landed and dropped off our Tracker.

When Leo stepped out of the chopper he recognized me and I him at the same time. We shook hands when he said: "Corporal Roberts patrol," "That's right," I replied. Christie Miller was annoyed he said: "Cairns, I want to get this patrol moving." I answered: "Sir, if you let me and my friend completed our introductions I can assure you we will lose no time."

The Lt. was amazed that I knew Leo. we went over to him to see what we had volunteered us for. 'Information had it that there was an armed group on the edege of our sector heading towards our base camp Lundu. We had to locate and deal with them them as seemed fit for the purpose.'

I could see instantly that the distance on the map was not reachable by our patrol by nightfall. I said to Leo: "you do understand where we have got to get to don't you?" he answered: "I know where it is." I asked: "how long will it take us to get there?" "Four hours," he replied, "is there another route we could take which would be quicker?"

He thought about it and said: "yes," How long weill it take us?"

I asked: "two hours," he said. I was fully aware that an Iban's hour would be different to the hour we understand; but it was logical that the two hours should be the shortest distance.

"Can you show me on the map where we would go," he ran a finger across the map which did not make a lot of sense, "it is a main road," he replied. My experience told me there was no main road as we know it to be; which meant it had to be a special track.

I said to Leo: "if we go via your main road, will we reach our destination quicker than if we go by a compass bearing," "yes, the terrain is better," he replied.

I said to the Lt I have been discussing our route with the tracker and he says that if we follow him he can get us to our destination quicker." I didn't want to mention main road.

Christie Miller took my advice and we went via the main road through the jungle. I didn't take me long to realise that although I could not see a track or any damaged vegitation, that this was truely a very important track for those who know of it.

On the hour we stopped for five minutes; it was jungle routine, which allowed time to check bearings and map references.

Each time Leo showed me something that only Iban's know; how to read the track. The first stop he asked me: "can you see anything unusual," "no," I replied. he pointed to a sapling and said: "this is an old track," "how can you tell," I asked.

"When a native passes along this track they sometimes snap off a sapling about every twenty paces and leave it pointing in the direction they came from; then if they want to come back this way in the dark they feel for the saplings and carry on with their journey. When the sapling regrows it always grows on the side of the break. now you can see what I see."

I was amazed how something so simple could be so effective, as I passed along the track I noticed where the other saplings had regrown.

Further along the track Leo pointed to a sapling that had been sliced at an angle with a sharp jungle knife, he asked: "what does that mean?" I thought it might mean something different; so I just gave a blank look, he replied: "that is also the direction that another person was taking using a different method.

Even Further along the track he showed me a sapling that had again been sliced with a sharp jungle knife; but this time there were two slices; one angled and one straight across a fork of a sapling. "What does this tell you," asked Leo, again I was at a loss for an answer.

"The angled slice is the direction you need to take and the straight slice will lead you to water, but you need to come back here to complete your journey, the short stem to the straight slice means water is close by, if it were longer then the water would be further away," said Leo.

The next time we stopped Leo showed me another fork of a sapling which had two angled slices; this was self explanitary after seeing the other forms of communication; obviously from here the track went in two directions.

When we arrived at our destination we found some caves but nobody had lived in them for years; the information Christie Miller had received had been a false alarm; but the knowledge I had learnt was very pleasing.

© Copyright Pete Cairns (684 Squad) 2012...All Rights Reserved


Photo from Terry Aspinall