Tuesday, October 27, 2009

December 26th 1963
During the late evening, the 11 Indep Sqn RE advance party, including 9 members of 2 Troop RAE, left Terendak with vehicles and Plant, heading for Singapore, on board the Maxwell Brander.

As the ship was a 4255 ton LST (Landing Ship Tank) built in England in 1944 as LST 3024, taking part in the Normandy “D-Day” landings.
With no Radar on-board, the Captain had to hug the shore line at a top speed of 6 knots, making a long and tiresome journey.
The Sick-bay Medic recalls "The trip to Bangkok was a cracker, I remember all you bods crammed in the bunk rooms (and corridors?), some tried to sleep on deck, but were soon booted below. I was lucky though, being I/C sick-bay and open all hours, I slept there, not many customers though", the lads had probably found that his only qualification, was a Basic 1st Aid Certificate. Only in the Tent City, did the Medic's skills get used, after the lads had enjoyed the "delights" of Bangkok, he was mobbed for De-lousing Powder and Social Desease Prevention Kits!!
The Sickbay even had an Operating table and all the tools, a Safe full of drugs, swivel bunks for rough seas, but best of all - a fridge, full of cool water and food - fresh fruit and Salads!
IThe Medic recalls "lads desperate for food, they 'raided' the Ration Trucks on the vehicle deck, to get compo rations and that is Desperation"!!
The Plant & vehicles were off-loaded at Bangkok and transported by train to Ubon.
From Bangkok the ship arrived at Korat, an American Base, stopping overnight.
Next day it sailed onto Ubon, where the troop were to collect their vehicles and plant.

New Years Eve 63.
Driving from Ubon to Ban Kok Talat 70 miles away on rutted roads, crossing over dangerous wooden bridges, the advance party 11 Indep Fd Sqn reached the village.
New Years Day 64. Onwards
Advance parties from other groups arrived, such as the RAOC (Stores) with tentage and bedding, left in piles where they were off-loaded.
First stores arriving on civvy vehicles

The first job was to check all roads, culverts and bridges and anything else that might impede the movement of heavy plant to its destination of Kok Talat, along a very dusty and outdated road system.
Bridges built to carry 10 tons, not the 20 ton Scammell plus load

3rd January 1964.
The main body from 11 Indep Field Sqn, travelling by rail to Singapore, arrived at Tampin Station.
Several days were spent in the Royal Engineer base at Gilman Barracks in Singapore.
Given half hour notice, they boarded buses to Shangi Airport, boarding an RAF Britannia, heading for Ubon.
Ubon was a major Airport for the RAF, USAAF and Thai Airforce, for incursions and strikes in Southeast Asia.
When the fight arrived in Ubon, it was found that no steps were available, large enough for the Britannia. So the troop had to use the Emergency Shute’s to leave the aircraft.
The troop boarded the local buses for the trip to Ban Kok Talat 70 miles away.
No steps

Civvy Buses

6th January 1964.
It was very late and dark, by the time they arrived at the Camp site and collected their Camp bed, retiring to the couple of tents erected by the advance party.

7th January 1964.
The first tasks were to clear the area, set up more tentage, Latrines and Kitchen area.
The piles of Stores contained tents and marquees, which the Sappers soon became proficient at erecting and over the next two weeks, were erecting 15 tents and 2 marquees a day.
Advance party of 59 Field Sqn arrived with tentage, but no centre poles.

11 Sqn Relaxing before starting tent erecting

In all, 200 tents were erected, plus marquees for the Stores, Mess, Canteen and Administration.
The Tent Camp would house the influx of personnel who would build the Airstrip.
S/Sgt Bing Crosby was instrumental for the rapid building of an efficient Latrine system. By borrowing an RAF Pengo (large diameter pothole digger) and a few ‘Chippies’, he soon had the framework built over several bottomless pits, which served the camp for the duration.
These toilets were not for the squeamish, wide deep holes, with wooden framework, forming toilet seat benches with holes. This allowed two or three to sit side-by-side and also back-to-back, whilst using the toilets.
RAF Pengo digging deep holes Toilets Ready.

Attached to Op. Crown, was a section from 16th Commonwealth Field Ambulance RAMC/RAAMC, supplying: Officers, SNCO's, other Ranks, drivers and a Cook.
The 16th Ambulance supplied sections to troops operating in: Borneo, Malaysia and Thailand.
The Medics had a medium sized tent, with 6 beds and a partition, giving a treatment area. With temperatures so high, it was a relief to un-clip the sides of the tent for the little bit of fresh air.
The Medics played a vital role to the Soldiers and also for the Locals from the village, which slowly grew, as other village inhabitants heard of this available treatment.

The Medics held a "Black Book" in the MRS, this had a photo of every local village woman - this was so that you could 'finger' the one who gave you a 'dose'.

One Medic recalled a “trick” learned in Canada, to rid the area of Mosquitos. Utilising a Land-rover, fitted with a hanging Jerry Can, full of Paraffin and DDT solution, in the rear of the land-rover, drip-fed through connecting steel pipes to the exhaust. The rover is then driven around the base, emitting a white cloud of the solution, which killed every mosquito. The only draw back, was the time, normally as dusk fell, which was also the time for evening meals. The solution was very “smelly” to say the least.

After the first week, fresh vegetables became available, through local purchase, but fresh meat was not available until the end of January.
The troop cook, Spr Tom Abberfield did his best, with little to work with, so it was difficult to provide a balanced and varied diet.
The kitchen facilities, like everything else in the beginning, were basic, with just Pressure Field Stoves and one Wiles Cooker available.
Open air basic Kitchen

Because it was too hot to drink Tea in the middle of the day, a cold drink consisting of Lemon or Orange- flavoured powder, dissolved in water was served with lunch.
This concoction was mixed in a large clean metal Garbage container, it was so potent it dissolved the galvanised coating from the can, hence it became known as the “Battery Acid”. When mixed in the right proportions, it was actually a refreshing drink, known by some as the "Stim".
During the evenings, Tiger Beer in cans were available.

15th January 1964
Work started on the access road from Tent City to the Airfield.

16th January 1964
Mukdahan became the base for Crown Advance Party, where Colonel Harry McIntyre MC, was co-ordinating the enormous task of building an Airfield in a remote area, plus obtaining and organising the delivery of Heavy Plant, equipment, supplies and personnel, to be brought in from great distances.
A distance of 115 miles (as the crow flies) North East from Bangkok, is Ubon Ratchathani, which is a USAF base.
All the supplies, airborne equipment and personnel would fly in & out of Ubon.
The Airfield to be built at Leong Nok Tha was a further 77 miles North of Ubon (as the crow flies) with Mukdahan a further 25 miles North of the proposed Airfield.
Initially, Signals were set up in a tent at the Camp, relaying messages to the Grand Hotel in Bangkok. Sapper Mike Thompson was based on the Top Floor of the Hotel, he would relay messages back to Singapore.
Due to the distance involved, a further transmission point was set up in the Ubon Hotel. Radio messages were only suitable for about a 50 mile radius.

The Advance Party from 59 Field Sqn flew into Ubon, including the CRE Padre - Arthur Robinson. The Padre had been posted from the Garrison at Hohne, especially for this major project.
The Padre recalls the journey by road from Ubon to the "Tent City", as "One hour Tarmac and an hour of dust", crossing rough roads and flimsy bridges made of wood, which was not securely attached to each other or the banking. The safest option when crossing a bridge, was to drive as fast as possible across it.
The Padre shared a tent with the Medical Officer - Captain Tony Howard RAMC, who showed the Padre around the Village and onto the proposed Airfield.
The Padre noted that locals lived in wooden huts mounted on stilts, reached by a wooden ladder, or pole with climbing notches in it. He noted that the locals loved to shout "Sawat Dee", the local greeting.
The Padre was given his "Office" tent, with a sign "Padre", made by Mick Allen of 59 Sqn.

20th January 1964
Work started on the access road to the new Hutted Camp.
All roads were levelled rough tracks, later to have Laterite laid.
One driver brought in a 4 foot long King Cobra snake, which he had run over with his Land Rover. The locals cooked snakes and small birds, which they killed using a wooden crossbow, plus insects they killed with a blow-pipe.
Villagers would weave Blue or Black cloth under the house platform, to be used for clothing.
Baskets to carry cooked rice to the paddy fields, were woven at home and sealed with Tree Resin.
Locals relied on Water Wells, which partially dry up in the hot weather. Sappers from the camp improved these.

The large contingent of Sappers, REME, RAOC, PadreSignals, Medicics, Pay Corps and many others , helped to promote the local economy with jobs and purchases of food and drink. Melons, Juices and Laundry being the favourite.

The local people were industrious and friendly and soon after the Squadrons arrival, they were satisfying the Squadrons needs, be it a cold drink or dhobi.
Dhobi girls

The most popular villagers were the Water Melon sellers, from whom the cool delicious melon could be bought for 2 Bahl (10 pence).
The SSM Tom Thornton, decided to bring the Watermelon sellers under “military control”.
He had Table Field Service set up at the entrance to the camp area and priced each watermelon with a crayon.
Soft Drink Sellers waiting

Local Bars that never existed, suddenly "sprang-up" overnight.
As well as Beer, they sold a potent version of Whisky - called Mekong Whisky.
The locals thought it was 'Matured' if they kept it for more than ONE week.
To say it was "strong" would be an under-statement, seemingly a Medical Officer experimented with it, put some into the carburetor of a 3 ton lorry and It Started up!!
Getting back to base after Curfew (22.30hrs) would incur punishment, so a disguised hole was cut in the fence, by the Guardhouse, alas, an Ants nest was under it.

Water, or lack of it, was still a grave concern.
After the first week, all the camps needs were met from the village water well, which had been equipped with a pump by the Squadron. It was however, only a limited supply and in addition to our camp, had to supply the village and their livestock.
Water being scare, water was rationed, causing hygiene to become a problem.
The fine dust and Laterite infiltrated all uniforms and caused skin problems.
An RE Specialist "Washing" Team was brought in, to set up the Shower complex.
Util;ising the maximum flow, the showers forced two rows of lads, crammed in close, to move through the shower tent, allowing more to enter.

One Sapper overcame this problem, using a makeshift tub, using a poncho.

Before the start of Op. Crown, the Thai Department of Mineral Resources had conducted a geological survey of the area and drilling for water was still going on apace, with no success.
In desperation, the CRE of Op. Crown – Lt. Col. Harry McIntyre, agreed to let a 2 Troop RAE member, L/Cpl John Armitage, divine for water, amid derision from the Geologist and the drilling team.
John found water on his first try and this bore, along with another divined by John, provided all the water required for the permanent camp and the airfield construction.
Water Diviner.

The REME had a Marquee to work in, though most of the work was carried out, either where the vehicle was, or outside of the tent.
The majority of work was Steering, axle or chassis repairs, due to the very rough road conditions.

By the end of January, the “Tent City” was completed and work commenced on the main construction site (Hutted Camp), a couple of miles down the road, just opposite the Village.
Tent City was designed to accommodate nearly 900 men in total.
2 Troop first erected a barbed wire fence around the perimeter of the permanent camp area, the barbed wire fence being two rolls deep and two rolls high.
Perimeter Wire.

February 1964.
Plant effort went into the road from Tent City to the new Hutted Camp, putting in Parking areas, drainage and ditches, plus levelling the area for Hut foundations.
Water for construction was hauled from Amat Charoon - 18 miles away.

The Padre was running a Sports Store in a Marque tent, with a Library and a supply of records, to be used in various Messes.
Church Services were first held in the NAFFI tent, then moved to a Church tent, where the Altar Candles would slowly 'fold over' due to the intense heat.
Church music was by a portable Harmonium, issued in the UK, then transported to Thailand, by a series of surprised Quartermasters.
Roman Catholic Services were conducted by a willing Priest - Father Martin Boonruang, who could speak some English, but highly profficient in Latin.

Camp Fuel
Due to the amount of vehicles and Plant, a camp fuel station was set up, initially an artic-trailer, until underground tanks were installed, which fed Fuel Pumps.
At a later date, the fuel area was improved, as the Hutted area was improved.

2 Troop RAE then started building the Workshops, which consisted of 8 steel Romney
Assembly was difficult, due to transit damage, but also with temperatures up in the 104F heat, the galvanised sheeting and steel frames were almost too hot to handle. Add to this the glare and dust, but in spite of this, the buildings were completed by the end of February, complete with concrete flooring.
Also during February, the troop poured the footings for the Braithwaite Water Tank stand, for the camp water supply.
Pouring concrete at Op. Crown had its own special set of problems. The aggregate was more of a shale than gravel and very difficult to work with. The parched soil, high temperatures and low humidity, meant the mix set almost as soon as it was poured and to add further to the troops woes, it was suspected that the cement supplied, was of the quick setting type, for soil stabilization.

Under the Command of Major Chris Bramwell, 59 Squadron had left Shorncliffe to Thailand, via Singapore, spending 10 days taking over from the advance party (arrived Dec 1963) and equipping, ready for the move to CRE Operation Crown.
For two weeks the Sqn geared up for the move to Thailand and Op. Crown.
Leaving Singapore at the end of January, vehicles and Plant went by LSL to Bangkok, enjoying 4 days cruising the South China Sea.
Then driving for 3 days from Bangkok to Leong Nok Tha - Op. Crown.
The remainder of the Squadron flew to Ubon, by Beverley or Argosy Aircraft. Then using local buses to Op. Crown.

At the start of February, 59 Field Squadron arrived, plus the other Units, the “Tent City” soon filled up.

59 Composition:
Major Chris Bramwell - OC
Captain Terry Hardy - 2i/c
WO2 'Yaker' Yates - SSM
1 Troop - Lt. Roger Hume (S/Sgt & Sgt ?)
2 Troop - Lt. ??? , S/Sgt Farnworth, Sgt ?
3 Troop - 2nd Lt. Hilary Nash , Sgt John Welby (S/Sgt?)

Signs made on the Base by Mick Allen.

Work began on two fronts, the permanent Camp and the Airstrip.
This was going to be a “round the clock” operation, with teams split into ‘shifts’, giving a 24 hour operation. Each troop will work a 5 day week, overlapping each other, day and night.

The Squadron split their forces as thus:
Carpenters, Joiners and non-tradesmen - Hut Construction.
(50% of 2 Troop allocated to Hut building)
Electricians & general Fitters - Electricity supply, Power Station, set-up Generators vand Poled supply.
Plant Operators - attached to 54 Sqn, to clear Airfield site.
Plant Fitters - attached to REME Workshops.
Troop Fitters - attached to LAD or Power Station.
Combat Engineers - Culverts & Drainage. Concrete teams = Cpl + 6 men.
Plumbers - Laying cast iron pipes around the camp and linking to the Braithwaite Tower.
Drivers - Regular trips to Ubon - bringing Petrol, Spare Parts, Food and other stores.

Going to work in the morning, trudging across the dusty, dry Paddy & Bunds, to get to the Hut building site. Racing back each night to the Shower Tent queue.
One lad was stung by a Scorpian, whilst putting his boots on, the Scorpian was quickly shook out and stamped on. The Doctor asked what size and colour was the Scorpian, he was shown the flattened, gooey mess, "Hmmmm" said the Doc "Give me a clue".
The next morning, instead of hearing the Birds singing, only boots being being furiously bashed on the ground, could be heard.
Trees had to be cleared, plus undergrowth, with temporary camp roads cut through.
Large areas had to be cleared and with the extra heavy plant from 54 & 59 Squadrons, work commenced quickly, instead of Trees and rough scrublands, the area became a massive building site.

Cat D8’s, Gainsborough wheeled dozers, open-bowl scrapers and specialist equipment were now available, such as Euclid Scrappers, Gainsborough's operated by 5001 RAF Airfield Sqn.
As the Euclid scrapper came to a halt, it required a "push" to completly fill its scrapper bucket.
Gainsborough or Tractor, Wheeled, Earthmoving, Medium, Gainsborough Mk1 or 2, which came into service in 1960, it had a Leyland AU680 six cylinder water cooled diesel engine.

The Plant lads un-covered a huge boulder, whilst removing the top soil. Capt. Hardy came over to blow it up. He calculated the amount of explosives required to blow it up and then added 50% to be sure - common Sapper practice!
The explosion went well, with small pieces of rock flying straight up - very high!
As the dust settled, the centre of the boulder had blown upwards, leaving the outer shell, the bore holes were obviously at the wrong angles.
It was said that "Lumps of rock landed in near-by Laos, where the Yanks were accussed of bombing again", ha!
Capt. Hardy was supposed to have offered the Plant lads, 100 Baht to find another huge boulder.
The West Indies lads, scrounged empty oil drums and made a Steel Band, not quite Notting Hill, but good just the same!
The Kiwi Hut, adorned with strange Maori symbols, giving the impression of ancient rituals, no one even dared to look into their tents!
One lad broke into the explosive store, then wired up the Officers Mess and the Golf Course, but was caught.
The RASC lad who tried to run his Officer over with his tipper - full of Laterite of course!
Mick McGawley with his "Improvised Still", could not get the temperature right, he only had a blow-torch which could not be controlled, the 'brew' tasted awful.
The “Borrow Pits” became organized and leveled out.
The 650,000 tons of fine dust and soil was removed first, then 550,000 tons of Laterite from the Borrow pits was laid and compacted, to form roadways.
Why "Borrow" pits?

Because the land was previously rice paddy and reasonably flat, large amounts of fill were required in some areas, to ensure adequate drainage.
The camp roads levelled, plus the area for the permanent camp had to have drainage.
An area set aside for stores arriving, was paramount, as Stores built up fast. With no space in the Marquee, store piles were neatly arranged near-by, with heavy lifting equipment for bigger items.
Stores depot

For a week, the weather plummeted, to freezing cold winds blowing from the Northwest, reputedly from the Gobi Dessert. Troops had arrived with no cold weather clothing and suffered, but fortunately, by the end of the week, temperature climbed to 100F.
The nearly completed Helipad was given its first try out, a Thai Air Force Wessex landed, to casevac an injured lad to Ubon, his back injury was too bad to go by ambulance, due to the poor road condition.
The Plumbers worked hard, fitting Cast Iron pipes around the camp.

The Braithwaite Tower was finished, supplying the camp with free flowing water, Canteen and Mess facilities were improved quickly, being over-burdened, though the new Shift patterns of rotating troops, would ease the burden on the kitchen.

The swimming Pool was dug out & concrete lining started.

Captain Malcolm van Gelder from 11 Squadron had carried out extensive reconnoitering in the Laos/Cambodian border region, before Op. Crown had started.
This was continued and Capt Gelder had no shortage of volunteers to accompany him, on his frequent jaunts around the area.
The jaunts also had a side that would help the workforce, by locating bridges that required attention and most of all, areas for R&R purposes.
Timber Supply
With timber being hauled from Singapore to the Airfield, it was always in fairly short stock.
When lads were found to have built Tent Furniture, such as tables, shelves or cupboards, these were pulled apart and the timber returned to the stock pile, for building the Hutted Camp.

1st March 1964.
A water source was developed alongside the river (6 miles away), two local aluminium 300 gallon tanks were obtained and mounted on 3 ton lorries, only one was ever used.
Camp Tannoy
Some lads gate-crashed the Camp tannoy and began singing "Do we bore you" over and over again. Everyone started getting bored with this, until a choked scream came over the Tannoy, telling everyone that 'Yaker' Yates was "on the case". This type of incident never occurred again.
The Free Thai Airfield
With the influx of Heavy Plant equipment, with 54 & 59 Sqns, a detachment of light equipment was released for this project.
The site was 15 miles North-west of Op. Crown, at Ban Sawat.
Known as The Free Thai Airfield, it was actually only a Drop-zone, built during WW2, so that Arms and Medicines could be parachutted in.
Under Command of WO2 Dixon, a contingent of 9 with 3 lads from 2 Troop RAE.
Their total Plant consisted of: Two Fowler light bulldozers, One Aveling Austin Grader, One towed multi-wheeler roller, One Foden Water tanker, Two Commer Tippers and a Land Rover.
Even with this limited equipment, the Team cleared the 15 miles of Ox track, forming a road 20 feet wide through the forest, complete with side drainage.
They camped on site each night, close to what-ever village lay near-by.
During this period, the Team became used to the Thai meals, being invited into villagers homes for meals.
Some were invited into local Schools, to present pictures of some of the Countries they had visited.
Where required, the Team also carried out First Aid for the locals along the way.
After reaching the Airfield site, the Team set up a more lasting Camp site, with a Tent, cooking area, Latrine and Shower areas.

Being without a front-end loader, the Team made a Chinaman adaption, using timber from an old bridge they demolished. The chinaman proved effective for loading the tippers, unless it rained hard - with no exit for water, it had to be pumped out.

The team cleared and formed the 700 yard Airstrip, laying it with Laterite.
At one stage, they took 3 days to remove a large tree, having no "heavy" Bulldozer available.
In addition to the Road and Airstrip, the Team built a 9 hole Golf Course (Orders of CRE).

One festival they became involved in was: The Water Festival, held about mid-April.
This involved everyone throwing Water over each other, to wish good luck to everyone.
The Team joined in, bringing up the Water truck and spraying everyone, including the Monks, who were not very pleased.

The first plane to land on the Airstrip, was a New Zealand Airforce Bristol Freighter, with the Thai Prime Minister on board. They had seen the strip and decided to "drop-in".
Shortly after the plane landed, it was welcomed by crowds of locals, who just appeared from the surrounding bush.
The Airfield was "Officially" opened by the Thai Attache Minister a few days later, in a De Havilland Dove.
The Dove Pilot treated the Team to an over-flight of the Airstrip, so the Team could appreciate what they had built.

During late April, with all tasks completed and insurgents becoming active in the area, they returned to Op. Crown base.

A team from 2 Troop RAE, 11 Sqn travelled to Ubon, to play a game of Aussie Rules against the RAAF. It was a bit one-sided, the RAAF won 7 goals 11 to the troop’s 1 goal 5 but a great time was had by all.
Members of 11 Sqn had also constructed a wooden volley ball court, in their own time and games were played regularly, against all comers.

The FAMTO Store and Power Station buildings were completed.
Most Troop’s had by now, been reduced to 5 day working and could now spend their days off in Ubon or Mukdahan.
A contingent of New Zealand Plant Operatives and Carpenters arrived on site.

Outdoor Cinema
An Outdoor Cinema was set up, subject to weather. Date this Started?
This was situated close to the rear gate (Nash Gate), near the NAFFI.
The local civilians were permitted to view all the films.
The film 'The King & I' was shown several times. This film was banned in Thailand, as it be-littled the King, being an un-true film designed by a romaticising female. It was still shown and the locals seemed to like it.
Open air Cinema

Is this True?
A few lads stopped over at American bases, where they were treated extremely well.
Here they had fresh Milk and Vegetables, compared to the powered Milk and very few fresh Vegetables at the British base.
The Americans had offered to supply the British base with these "luxuries", their offer was refused by the CRE, on the grounds that the British lads were happy with what they had.
Was the CRE anti-American, or just being "British".