Thailand: 1966 - 1967
CRE Operation Crown.
North East Thailand (Leong Nok Tha Province).
In March 1966 I said farewell to Maidstone, and headed towards Heathrow for my flight to the Orient. It was an exiting time as I had never been abroad of flown before. I was off to somewhere called "CRE Op Crown" via Singapore for what was supposed to be a twelve month detachment. (I returned to the UK two and a half years later).
We flew with Britannia Airways on a turbo prop Britannia aircraft with a stop over in Kuwait and Ceylon and arrived in Singapore some twenty four hours later. It was dark when we arrived, and as we were being driven to our transit accommodation my first impression of Singapore was "god its hot and what the hell is that smell" (Deep open storm drains at the side of the roads).
We were guests of I think 54 Sqn or perhaps it was 59 Sqn (memory playing tricks again), for two weeks to get acclimatized, brown our knees and sampled our fair share of Tiger and Anchor beer, then we set off on the next leg of our journey.
We boarded a RAF Hastings aircraft for a flight to Ubon in N E Thailand. This plane was less than impressive, big gaps around the closed door with daylight shinning through and a RAF lad banging "ten bells" out of the engine cowling. When we eventually took off I had my fingers crossed. We didn't get to Ubon but had to land at Bangkok, the pilot of the plane came back and said "That's it I'm not taking this thing any further till its fixed". I looked out the window to see one of the engines covered in black oil. After three days staying at the Royal Hotel in Bangkok all expenses paid by the RAF we eventually made it to Ubon. Then around seventy miles down a bumpy red laterite dirt road and we were at Crown camp, our journey over.
CRE Operation Crown was a SEATO project involving Commonwealth forces constructing an airfield with a one thousand metre runway. The site of this airfield was located near the village of Ban Kok Talat in the province of Leong Nok Tha in North East Thailand. For a fuller insight into the what, where, how and whys of CRE Op Crown go to (History of Op Crown) or one of these 2 external links (CRE Crown) or (11 Ind Fld Sqn RE).
I had arrived when the first attempt to building airstrip with blacktop had failed (too soft in the heat the planes were sinking into the blacktop). The blacktop had been removed and the foundations were being re-stabilised. The construction of a replacement concrete runway was now just starting to get under way. I was put to work servicing and maintaining equipment used for the construction work. Temperatures were daily in excess of 110 degrees in the shade (But there was no shade on the airfield!) Before the start of the laying of the concrete, a new Concrete Batching Plant arrived from the UK. I was tasked with helping with its construction and commissioning. Following on from that I was appointed as a maintenance fitter on the Batching Plants The Team consisted of the boss QSMI Urquhart two Plant Op's, two Electricians and two Fitters, (Can't remember names). We soon fell into the routine of batching concrete to the Soil Labs specifications and I remained at the job for the remainder of my time with CRE Crown.
It was not all work, there was a camp swimming pool which doubled up as the water supply for fire fighting, the NAFFI and a outdoor Cinema. There was the metropolis of Ban Kok Talat the local village just outside the camp with its wooden huts on stilts (some of which had been walled in and turned into bars). The local hooch was a brew called Mekon (supposedly a Whisky) it was well matured if it was more than a couple of days old. We were banned from drinking it but we all drank it, and then there were the Bar Girls (no more to say about that!!!!).
If we had a long weekend we could go down to Ubon. The first thing we would do there is get a decent bath, then off to the American base (The Vietnam conflict had escalated into a full war by this time and the Americans had a base in Ubon from which Phantom 5 bombers would carry out raids on Vietnam). We would have some drinks in their PX buy some cheep bottles of duty free spirits then hit the bars in the town for the weekend, returning to Crown refreshed and ready for work!!.
I didn't return to the UK after my twelve months tour, I was posted to 11 Independent Field Sqn RE a part of 28 Commonwealth Brigade based at Terendak outside Malacca in Malaysia.
Go to Names from Far East
on Concrete Batching Plant
Malacca Malaysia: 1967 -1968
11 Independent Field Sqn RE.
Following my return to Singapore from Thailand, I hung around in transit for a couple of weeks before I was sent by train up to Malaya and on to 11 Ind Fld Sqn at Terendak Garrison Malacca
I wasn't to spend to long at Terendak as within six Months I was back up in Thailand again, this time on Post Op-Crown. The airfield now completed and to keep British Forces within the location the start had made on opening up the area with the construction of a road.
On the Sqn's return to Terendak I was soon off to Kluang.
My time in Terendak as I remember although short did involve plenty of exercises in the jungle along with Hearts & Minds Projects for the locals.
Spare time was varied with many happy times within the Garrison notably the Beach Club, and at the strip just outside the main gates. some weekends were spent in either Singapore or else Kuala Lumpur but with most of the free time in Malacca town with its bars and night life.
Marching orders were received in late 1968, I was now off to 23 Independent Amphibious Sqn in Hameln Germany.
[Me at the Beach Club Terendak1967]
Go to Names from Far East
Kluang Malaysia: 1968
Gurkha School of Engineering.
I went down to Kluang from Malacca to attend my Fitter IC & P A2 course. I was the only Brit on the course at the time, there were 5 Malaysian Army Engineers and 6 Gurkha Engineers on the course with me. Around half way through the course I was recalled to 11 Sqn at Malacca, in their wisdom the MOD had decided that the trade of Fitter IC &P as was to be merged with another trade to become Fitter (Engine) and therefore my trade no longer existed, rather than let me complete the course I was returned to my unit with a promise that at the earliest possible time I would attain a place on a upgrade course at Chatham (as it happens this turned out to be in July 1971)
Go to Names from Kluang