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40 Royal Marine Commando

Based at Burma Camp Malaya

1962 to 1966





FEBUARY 1964 - JULY 1964

Terry Aspinall


............Once again Burma Camp became the home of 40 Commando Royal Marines, having returned from a second successful tour of duty in Sarawak. Most of us were expecting a little rest and relaxation during the next couple of months. While a privileged few were hoping that it would be their final resting place before being repatriated back to Britain. Having successfully completing the customary eighteen months service.
............Unfortunately, most of us were in for a big shock, when on our very first day home, it was announced that we were about to embark on a training program of righting several wrongs that had left our lives exposed to danger while in Sarawak. Especially if we were to become a more efficient jungle fighting force. Therefore, it was going to be mainly jungle training from here on, which would concentrate on the laying of ambushes and patrols.
............The life style soon became very tedious, going over and over the same old things day in and day out. However, I guess to be fair to the system it was all designed to keep us alive in the future. It was also evident that it was only those we call the old soldiers, who tired of the dreary routine first. Whereas, the other fresh newcomers, who had just arrived out from the UK, for their first tour of duty in the Far East, saw it completely different. Most of them were new recruits and had a lot to learn in order to be ready for their expected stint in Borneo, especially if they wanted to stay alive. When I and the other members of the 779 squad first arrived, we were thrown right in at the deep end with no training other than what we had learnt back at Lympstone. I must admit that it was hard finding yourself thrown in to a battle condition with no previous training. Although I must say that Marines do look after each other. It’s like being a member of a family and most will help you if you are in trouble. There are also those who take the new guys under their wing and keep an eye on them.
............It did not take us long to drop back into our old routine of going ashore in Singapore, an old Navy term used when you leave the camp or ship. Ginger and I wasted no time in looking up our old haunts and girl friends. Within just a couple of weeks, we were into our old drinking habits, of wine, women and song as they say. Although I might add that we deserved the break after being on constant alert for 24 hours a day, over a period of 6 months.
............It was also around this time that Ginger and I befriended an Australian millionaire called Jim, who we met one night when we were very drunk in a bar called the 'Rosy Dor, We became very friendly with him, usually meeting up with him at clubs and going to his home to drinking his beer later in the night. In fact we were even allowed to let ourselves into his flat and to get at the beer in the fridge, but for some unknown reason we were always told to keep the bottles. We used to think that one of his girl friend’s worked at a bottle shop and that there was a fiddle going on between them.
............In those days it was common knowledge that there were ten millionaires on the island of Singapore, nine of those were Chinese and Jim was supposed to be the tenth. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say very much about the Malaysian people doesn't it. Not one of them were in the rankings, so I guess that’s why they did not like foreigners in their country. At one time Jim even told us that we were protecting his interests in Borneo, although he never explained what he was into. To this day, I do not think he would have had the time for us, if it were not for the Borneo emergency, because during that period we did not really look after our selves. We certainly weren’t the type of people you would take home to meet your Mum. Anyway the crunch came one night while we were all lying around drunk at his flat. Ginger was out of his mind with booze and he asked Jim if he was queer. The incident saw the end of that little friendship and we steadily drifted apart. Poor old Jim he had a lovely Malaysian girl friend and I do not believe he was queer anyway. Still we had two good months with him. Why the hell Ginger said that to him I will never know.
............Ginger and I were becoming night animals with all our drinking and with not caring what people thought of us. At one time Jim had given us some tickets for the South East Asian premier of the film 'Lawrence of Arabia' starring Peter O'Toole. Now to get into many of these events you always had to wear a tie and look smart. Can you imagine Ginger and I in our dirty shorts, tee shirts a plastic tie done up in a rather large bow around our necks. You could usually purchase these for a dollar from the road side traders. Anyway, we were stopped going into the theatre by the doormen and as a result one of us hit the manager. Once they had us under control we were both thrown out into the street. Fortunately, not in front of the hundreds of fans all waiting outside the main front doors to see the main film stars as they arrived. No we were thrown out of a side tradesmen’s entrance, away from the public and prying eyes of the press. It was almost twenty years before I finally viewed the film when it first appeared on commercial television back in the UK.
............During the early 1960’s, Singapore was a bit of a rough place to be during the evenings, therefore you had to able to handle yourself if you wished to stray from the usual tourist circuit around the city centre. It was not only a case of being able to protect yourself from the locals, but from fellow Marines and also other service men that frequented the night life. On one occasion one of our Marines was visiting a night club with his wife. During the evening another serviceman was becoming louder as the alcohol and night wore on. Towards the end of the evening the serviceman ended up in a full scale brawl with other patrons, during which he grabbed a beer bottle and smashed it on the side of the bar, he then preceded to threaten a couple of people with its jagged edge, including the Marines wife. It just so happened that the Marine was a Karate expert and also one of our best unarmed combat instructors. Without hesitated he just waded in and disarmed the drunken maniac waving the broken battle. Unfortunately it left the serviceman in a heap in the corner complaining about his back. Later in hospital it was discovered that the guy had a broken back and would be confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life. However, the Marine had no qualms about what he had done, after all his wife might have ended up with a mutilated face, if the madman had carried out his threat. The Marine later visited the serviceman in hospital and was quite blunt when he told the guy straight to his face, that he would never again threaten a woman with a broken bottle. You might think that he was hard and callus, but at least he had protected his wife from a disfigured face.
............Most military units will protect its personnel whenever possible, as long as they are honest with them and they believe they can get away with it. It’s a well known fact that in those days if you reported to your Commanding Officer that you thought you had made a local girl pregnant, they would do their best to get you transferred to another unit and out of the area. However, if you were to play around and not tell the truth they would be on your back like a ton of bricks and run you into the ground. On one occasion one of the Marines reported that his girl friend was pregnant and that it had happened just before he left the UK for a tour in the Far East. He requested permission to go home so he could marry his childhood sweet heart. After much debate on the subject, because of the cost involved with flying him both ways, it was finally decided that he could go and they gave him one month in which to get it all settled and sorted out. Unfortunately his plane stopped off in Gibraltar to refuel and he got himself drunk, ending up with one of the local women of disrepute. To further complicate matters he picked up a disease from her. Therefore, upon his arrival in England he could not go through with the marriage knowing full well that he would not be able to sleep with his future wife and keep his little secret from her. The marriage was called off immediately and both parties went their separate ways. However, there was also no way that the Marine could return to Singapore, because he had to wait for the flight he had been originally booked on. Anyway to cut the story short, one month later he finally arrived back in Singapore where he was confront by our Commanding Officer who threw the book at him and deducted every single penny of the trips expense from his wages and in those days it was a lot of money. One rumour had it that it took him over a year to repay the debt.
............In the evenings during the week, a few Marines would make their way to the nearby town of Johore Barhu, just down the road from our camp, which stood on the Malaysian side of the Causeway leading over to Singapore. It was about half the distance to Singapore City and cost half as much for a night out. We used to call it the poor man’s Singapore, but you could still have a good time if you knew where to go. Johore was a rough free for all type of place but I still liked going there, you just had to know when to call it a day and move on. One night a group of us were sitting by a window in a night club about five or six floors up. By his time the table was full of empty bottles awaiting collection by the waiter. For some reason one of the Marines was in a bad temper and was banging on the table with his bottle of beer. I got up and moved away knowing full well that trouble was going to erupt sooner or later and I did not want to be part of it. From my new position over by the bar I watched the crazy guy still banging the bottle on the table. Well finally it burst open and the glass flew everywhere. Then when a waiter arrived at the table to help clear up the mess. The drunken Marine picked up the corners of the tables cloth one at a time. Then once he had hold of all four corners he lifted the lot up into the air, swung his arm around until the cloth was hanging out side of the window, as the waiter pleaded with him not to drop it. The Marine took no notice and dropped the lot from about four or five floors up, without even looking at what it might hit. That incident cured me of going out with some of these guys again. It was just sheer luck that it never hit anybody, but think of the carnage if it had. From that day I used to go out on my own whenever possible, or at least tag on with a couple of the quieter guys.
............Back at Burma Camp we all received a lecture on the problems of sexual diseases, it being very prevalent in Singapore. At one time it was reported that 40 Commando had almost fifty cases. However, it was also very easy to cure, just three penicillin injections per day in your bum, over the period of a week. Then a blood test, plus another blood test in six months and usually you was given the all clear. On any Monday morning, you could usually see a small queue of Marines outside of the camp sick bay and then a fortnight later you would see the same old faces once again. Most of the girls of Singapore usually carried medical certificates with them, unfortunately that meant absolutely nothing as there was a thriving forgery industry as well. We were told that after a certain amount of time on penicillin, it got used to your system. You would then have to move on to another drug known as Streptomycin. There was only one final drug that they could use and then you were on your own. According to the experts there was nothing known to man that could help you. This lecture slowed up many Marines and made them thinks twice, I can honestly say that I looked after myself and that it never affected me, at no time have I ever parted with my money. While some Marines were so worried that they totally refused to go with any girls, the whole time they were in Singapore. I might add that just because I stayed with the girls, it did not necessary mean that I slept with them, usually I was to drunk and would just fall asleep.
............In the evenings during the week, we would usually go for a beer in the camp NAAFI Club, but it would close at 10.30 pm. Most of us had Dhobi buckets with us, so at 10.30 pm we would fill these up with draught Tiger beer. Once this had all been drunk most of the Marines would make their way back to their huts for a sleep. Leaving a hard core of drunks behind all looking for something else to drink. When the bar was shut, a wrought iron grill would be lowered and locked in position to keep us out of the bar area. On the back shelves there were rows and rows of full bottles of beer. It took us a considerable amount of time, but we eventually came up with a way to get at the beer. We hollowed out a length of bamboo and then passed a string up through the centre. Leaving a loop out the other end and then brought the string back down the centre. So now, we had a loop of string at one end of the bamboo and two string tails hanging out the other end. We then passed the bamboo through the wrought iron and placed the string loop over the top of a beer bottle. We would then pull the other string ends tight, so that the loop held tight around the neck of the bottle. Then while still holding the string tight we would slowly walk back wards bringing the bamboo pole back through the wrought iron grill, and getting a rush of adrenalin at the same time, as to what we had just achieved. Not only did we drink the contents of all those bottles of beer, but we also had the cheek to replace all the empties with their lids replaced back on the shelves. Well if we were going to be caught, we had to have something to laugh about later. Oh and by the way, we were never caught and to this day, I do not think they knew exactly how we achieved our little feat. Only about six of us knew and we were keeping it as our little secret.
............Towards the end of May, 40 Commando attended an exercise held by SEATO. (South East Asia Treaty Organisation), in the Philippines. We were all packed on aboard H.M.S. Albion and amongst a fleet of one hundred and twenty ships. From the air it was a spectacular sight, something that had not been seen for many years. The fleet consisted of American, Australian, New Zealand, Philippines, and British etc etc. For the exercise the Americans had placed frigates as an umbrella around the outer most edge of the Convoy, as an anti submarine defence net. While a couple of British submarines were used as the enemy.
............Not only did the British submarines get through the defences undetected, but they also surfaced beside HMS Albion on our Starboard side. The American flagship a very large vessel was positioned on our Portside. All our crew came up top to cheer the sub. The Americans did not even know she was there.
............English Buccaneer aircraft were also used as the enemy and on one occasion, they attacked the fleet flying very low hugging the waves. As they flew past the HMS Albion we were all standing on the flight deck. I could not believe that we could all looked down at the pilots as they flashed past. This exercise also had a run of bad luck with several accidents that created many casualties. On one New Zealand ship a boiler exploded killing a couple of crew members. A couple of Aussies were lost, but I can't remember why and a couple of American planes came down in the sea losing one pilot. At a later de-brief we were told that the Americans usually allowed for at least two percent casualties, that’s injury’s not deaths.
............Halfway through the exercise 40 Commando joined in with the American troops for some very large beach landings, after which we headed inland to take some sort of objective, quite exciting at times. The exercise lasted one week and towards the end, a number of British Marines that included myself, ended up in a US Marine camp, as prisoners and starving for something to eat. An Officer directed us to a very large heap out the back. There we found an eight feet high heap of discarded and unwanted food from US Marines ration packs. I could not believe it, this was all unwanted food, tins of fruit, cans of bread, as you opened them the bread rose up from the tin. Tinned steak, apple tarts and so on and so on. Most of the tins also had a means of heating the product within, by just pulling a tag. Seconds later you had a hot meal. Now if you know anything about English ration packs, this stock pile was sheer luxury for us. All we ever got in our packs was a small tin of stew or some other type of meat. A few hard tac biscuits and a bar of chocolate and if you were really lucky a tin of cold treacle pudding.
............The day the exercise was completed, we were all told at 6 am to return to our ships and to sail away. HMS Albion reloaded all our gear and we sailed at 11 am that morning. While the American troop carriers left two and a half days later. I have never seen so much gear in my entire life. You name it and they had it and if they didn’t at least they could get it. A few days later the whole fleet met up once again, in Subic Bay Naval Base, where we were all allowed a run ashore together.
............Subic Bay had one of the largest NAAFI Clubs I had ever seen, it held thousands of service people and 99% of them were drunk. The Jukebox was continually playing Beatle songs. The Beatles were just starting to become very popular in this part of the world. So for a stunt four fellow marines found the cleaner’s cupboard, and grabbed four mop heads to be used as wigs, and four broom handles to be used as guitars. Then they jumped on the tables and mimed to almost every Beatle song that the juke box blared out. That night they went down a storm and it became one big drinking binge that we all thoroughly enjoyed.
Later a group of us went out of the base and into the local nearby village, just outside the main gate. Changing our American dollars into Philippine currency, we then went to a local strip club, come drinking houses. Jock Stone jumped onto the stage and joined in with the girls removing his cloths. He looked a sight once all his clothes had been removed. Because two weeks earlier, he’d had a circumcision operation and had a bandage around his private parts. The laughs continued the following day when Jock told everybody that he had lost his bandage. Anyway when we tried to re-enter the American base they would not change our money back to American dollars. They reckoned they did not want our Mickey Mouse monopoly money as they called it, as it was not worth the paper it was printed on.
............The green berets we wore were a sign of a Commando and were highly prized and sought after by American serviceman, who was paying big dollars for them. Most of the Marines on board HMS Albion ended up selling them. I think the price at that time was about $30.00 U.S.
............Trying to get back on board our ship was a bit of a hazard, can you imagine one hundred and twenty ships in that Harbour and only one jetty, with dozens of boats trying to ferry us all to the correct ship. The Duty Officers were standing on the end of the jetty trying to keep some sought of order as the rabble approached them. When we arrived there seemed to be thousands and thousands of service personnel milling around ahead of us and I doubt one of them was sober. Anyway a group of new arrivals just started pushing forward, soon more joined in and the end result was that hundreds got pushed off the other end of the jetty in to the sea including the duty Officers, what a mess and incredibly no one was hurt or drowned.
............Back on board HMS Albion, it soon became evident that not many returning Marines had their Green Berets with them. It became so bad that our Commanding Officer got involved, apparently there were only a couple of spares on board in the ships stores. Reluctantly he did a deal with the military police of Subic Bay. They went around just taking back every Green Beret they could get their hands on. Bringing four sack loads back on board. Not only that, we all got our correct beret returned, because we had our names printed inside the head band. So many of us had lost them, that no charges were laid against us and to cap it off, we had also made thirty dollars out of the deal. Not bad!!!
............A couple of Marines went AWOL while we were in Subic Bay. One I saw brought back on board had a few of us in stitches. He was a little guy and his escort was a six foot six inch coloured military policeman. After boarding the ship and arriving at the top of the gangway, he ended up standing in front of his Military Policeman escort, while confronting the ships Duty Officer. He could not resist making a remark to him, "Look what I found Sir, can I keep it", pointing to the military Policeman behind him.
............Upon our return trip back to Singapore we had to sail through the tail end of a Cyclone. This was also a first for me not having experience one before. During are free time on board a carrier we would usually walk the deck as we called it. Most of us would meet up in groups and just walk from one end of the carrier to the other a couple of dozen times. This particular day most of us still took up the challenge. And challenge it was, as the Carrier was bobbing about in the sea like a matchbox. These ships are very big and some have what look like wings attached to the sites under water line, that help to stabilise them in rough weather. However, as we walked forward at times we were looking up at the sky and next we were looking down at the water. At this time the sea look as if it was high above us. Something I will never forget.
............My twenty-first birthday occurred just one day out of Singapore. Unbeknown to me all the guys in A Company had been saving their two beers a day. Along with some of their daily rum ration, although it was an offence. Somebody had also been down to the officer’s galley and had a cake made for me. It was a great surprise and I had a good time. Something I have always remembered even though I am not a birthday celebration guy, but I did not mind getting drunk on that particular day. Next morning we docked in Singapore and we all had to line the deck, as is the custom of the Royal Navy for entering a harbour. I believe it goes back to the old fashion sailing ship days and is a display to the people of the port that you are not hostile and down below aiming your guns at them. It’s a drill that looks spectacular to the people waiting on the dock side. However, I was excused as I was still badly hung over, I even had to have some help getting off the ship. What is the old saying, 'Oh Never Again, Never Again'.
............We were back at Burma Camp for only a couple of weeks. Then in July it was off to Borneo once again, but this time we were going to be deployed in a different area. Although, his time the transport was not going to be as pleasant, as we travelled on board the M.V. 'Auby' an old converted cattle boat and that's about how we were packed in, like cattle. At one stage a competition was run, to guess the mileage covered in a twenty-four hours period. I can remember going to the bridge and taking a look at a map and working out what distance we had covered the previous day. Where we were and where I thought we might be the next day. Somehow, I managed to win and received a large carton of Tiger beer. Mind you my friend made sure that I had a lot of help getting rid of it, as I was not allowed to store it up or take it a shore.
............The Auby docked at 'Jessleton' to give us all a run ashore and stretch our legs, and the town never knew what hit it. Seven hundred Marines converged onto the local yacht club, situated on the shore of a very nice sandy bay. For a start no money was allowed to pass over the bar, we all had to buy books of tickets at the door and then so many tickets bought you one bottle of beer. It only took about three hours to drink the place dry, so with nothing else to do, the drunken Marines headed for the beach. Within the bay were many very small boats that were all anchored a few meters out. By the time we left, all had been sunk or were at least upturned, because of our horse play and search for a crazy laugh. It did not take long for questions to be asked and we were all rounded up by our military police and herded up just like cattle and made to re-board our cattle boat and to get us out of that place as fast as possible. I’m sure the local people were glad to see the back of us, as we sailed out of port. I wouldn’t mind betting that the whole town gave a big sigh of relief. I'm thinking that the local newspaper headlines read might have read, 'The animals have departed and with luck, they will all be sold at market'. They must have thought that a Cyclone had just hit them.

 © Copyright Terry Aspinall 1994 ....All Rights Reserved