Monday, October 26, 2009

1964 Continued

3rd April 1964
The Thai Prime Minister - Field Marshall - Thanom Kittikachard "officially"opened the Airstrip Construction site, by pushing over a tree with a D8.
First the Monks had to 'bless' the bulldozer and then with help from the Kiwi operator, the bulldozer pushed over the tree, which was purposely left for the occassion.

Hutted Camp

As can be expected, the new Hutted Camp was built to a plan, the main routes were named after the Squadrons 11th Avenue, 54th Street, 59th Street, whilst other areas were named after Officers:- Nash Gate was named after Major Bernard Nash REME, Lens Field was named after Major Len Field RAOC, the road leading to the 3 Officers Messes was named McIntyre Mews after the OC.
The Three Officers Messes were named: - Crawfords Cottages after Major Crawford, Bramwells Bungalows after Major Bramwell and Marks & Spencers after Major Stacy-Mark.
Even the drainage ditch that ran across the camp was named River Ouse, as it oused rather than poured.
Building work on accommodation, stores and other buildings progressed well.
Someone came up with an idea to build "wooden cradles", for roof building, saved many lads from taking a tumble.
Someone designed a Guillotine, using a machete for the blade, this tool cut easily through the 'wriggly tin', making it easier to cut to size.
Carpenters built 'jigs' to produce pre-fabricated side walls for huts.

Between 59 Sqn & 11 Sqn, the following was completed quickly:
The NAFFI, Sgts and Officers Quarterts and Messes, plus the Soldiers accommodation.
SCNO's Hilton Hotel Sgts Mess
The lads made sure the hot air escaped through the roof of the SNCO's huts, by "misses" - nail holes that missed the timber roof beams, but alas, it let in the rain!
Officers Mess
Spr Roy Falconer a Carpenter & Joiner, barely used his skills on the Camp, for "Yakker" Yates decided he would become the Sgts Mess Barman and stayed there for a year. Roy then asked to return to work, which he did for a few months. The SSM was not happy with the replacement Barmen, so ordered Roy back to the Mess. When Roy complained that he wanted to gain his first stripe, the SSM simply stated "Go to the Tailors and get the bloody thing sown on and report back to the Mess".
The new camp had two entrances, the Main Gate and Nash Gate - rear entrance to the local village.
A Curfew was put in place, starting at 22.30hrs.

The Power Station
The Power Station was the responsibility of the Clerk of Works (E), who was WO2 Vic Sharples.
There were 3 x National 120kw diesel powered Generating sets, installed in the Power Station, with overhead power cables supplying the camp. The Power cables split into two sections - North & South distribution, supplied by two seperate 3 phase (4 wire) 415 Volt overhead lines. The lines went their seperate ways at the Main road junction, by the Medical Centre.
The generators ran in parallel, often one during the day and two at night, with one being serviced or on stand-by.
A number of lads from CRE Crown Staff worked as: Electricians/Fitters/Fridge Mechanics or in the Power Station:- Cpl Robinson, Cpl Tony Poll, L/Cpl Brummie Hyde, Cpl Bing King & Sgt Eastwood.
59 Sqn team included: Spr Dave Chapman, Spr Ray Chalkley, Spr Peter "Taff" Nicholas, Spr Jim Machin, Spr George Spicer, L/Cpl Alan Brewer and L/Cpl Brummie Love.

Good Friday
A near disaster occurred, due to a discarded cigarette, when one of 11 Sqn's tents was burned to the ground, with 4 lads still in it.
The tent burnt out in seconds, with the 4 occupants luckily escaping without serious burns.
Nothing was left, the heat was so intense, it melted the aluminium clothing trunks, burning all personal possessions in them.
Whilst watching all he owned go up in flames, wearing just a towel, Arthur "Geordie" Sinclair was berated by the RSM, for being 'improperly' dressed.

Two serious accidents occurred during April, one Fatal.
A cook from 59 Sqn - John Crouch, was badly burned, whilst re-fuelling a pressure cooker, the fuel sprayed all over him and set him alight.
There was no helicopter available to evacuate him.
Plant lads worked all evening and through the night, to "ready" a section of the Runway, for a STOL aircraft to land - Short take-off and landing.
The pilot was not too pleased about landing on the strip, but eventually did so and evacuated the RE Cook.
21st April 1964
A newly arrived Electrician (Tony Denner) was electrocuted, working on the overhead power cables and despite frantic efforts by the Medical Officers, were un-able to save his life.
The Power lines were shut-down, to allow maintenance on the overhead lines in that sector.
Tony was working on the Power lines close to the Guard House, when he crossed the lines, short circuited the system causing his fatal death.
The power surge returned to the Power Station, surging through a shut-down generator, that Peter Nicholas was servicing; the power surge "threw" Peter across the Power Station.
As he gained his feet, the Clerk of Works raced in, ordering the whole Power Station switched off.

26th April 1964
The new hutted camp Mess and kitchen was completed.

Outside the Cookhouse, was a very deep and wide hole and in the bottom of it, was Geordie the brickie, laying a coarse of bricks, to form a Grease trap/manhole for the kitchen.
The temperature in the bottom of that hole, must have been about 150 degrees.
A young troop Officer peered over the hole and shouted down "I hope you are doing that job right sapper". A cement trowel flew up out of the hole, narrowly missing the Officer's head, followed by Geordie's words " NOW.....F--K OFF....SIR", think Geordie was a bit hot and bothered in his hole that day!! (Geordie now works as a Gravedigger)
By the end of April, the new MRS - Hospital was completed, opposite the REME.
The Medical Officer - Capt. Tony Howard set up 'daily' Clinics for the locals, Tony was later followed by Capt. Robin Whitla.
The whole of the hutted camp was completed, though minor alterations were 'on-going'.
Roads had been fully completed, laid with Laterite and graded regularly.
Everyone was starting to get used to opening and closing the window shutters, which could give a serious hand wound, or head wound to a passer-by.
The NAFFI was essential, this acted as a Shop, Restaurant - serving hot drinks and food, plus Beers and Spirits. It also had a Snooker room.
After the NAFFI closed, an all-night card-game would move to the toilets, or even all night drinking sessions.

The interior of the Barrack huts, were light and airy, to take advantage of any fresh air available.

Around this time, it was recorded that at least 17 different Cap badges were serving with Crown, comning from all types of Regiments, all Tradesmen. All working closely together, using a Million pounds worth of equipment.
The base became fully self-sufficient, with its own water and electricity supply, food and drink, entertainment, fuel and vehicles, plus Medical, Spirital and Welfare.

Daily useage figures were:-
Construction used 45,000 gallons of water, whilst domestic use was 25,000 gallons.
The Camp used 199 pieces of Plant - 54 types, it had 125 road vehicles - 17 types, these used 25,000 gallons of Diesel, 11,000 gallons of Petrol and 230 gallons of Engine Oil per month.
More than 20,000 tons of Materials were brought in by Road.

St Peters Church
Colonel McIntyre wanted a fine church built and after consulting the Padre, the church was erected and named after St Peter, who was a manual worker and a skilled tradesman.
The Church was built around Tree trunks, stripped of their bark, the tree trunks were sunk into the ground, which supported the steeply inclined roof.
All tradesmen involved in building the church, were informed to build it with due care and good judgement in its construction. This was to be a dedication to our Religion, given that it was built in a very Religious country.

Major Bernard Nash can be seen on the left, playing the Organ.
The Radio Station was sited in the eaves of the Church, off to one side.
The Padre was very active in setting up Games for the lads, to help them relax.
Hash House Harriers was just one of these, a Cross-country run, in small groups.
Longer races were held, marking trees to show the route.

The Monsoon rains started during April, light at first, but slowly increasing in strength, until in May, the heavy storms started.
During April, the local population celebrated the Rain, by collecting rain in basins or baskets sealed with tree resin, then threw rain over each other.

Should any Soldier walk through the village, they were promptly soaked with water, often with water from the Water Wells that the Soldiers helped improve.

The CRE was granted the use of the Thai Royal Symbol.

The Monarch were held in high esteem, with posters throughout Thailand showing King Bhumipol and his wife Queen Sirikit, who are still on the throne to this day, after 60 years.
The Thai Royal symbol appears in Thai Art and is sometimes connected with the Buddha, who's modern Monks are also highly respected.
Monks were usually given the good seat beside a bus driver, the locals would kneal in-front of Senior Monks, showing respect.

Many men and young boys, spent a period of time in a Monestry, before resuming normal lifestyles.
249 Signals Squadron - Detachment
An un-mentioned but vital part of any large camp, is the Signals, 249 Signals Squadron, which supplied a detachment to Crown - 3 x Telegraph Operators, 1 x Radio Technician - Michael Stevenson and 2 x Cypher Operators, working 3 shifts 08.00hrs to 16.00hrs, 16.00hrs to 23.00hrs, 23.00hrs to 08.00hrs.
The Signals shack, was part of the CRE HQ.
Equipment consisted of: D11 Transmitter with C11 back-up, plus an R234 Radio Receiver, connected to 80 foot masts, with inverted 'V' rig and transformer at the base of the mast.
The main communication was with COMCEN Singapore, though often the signals were being jammed by Laos or Vietnam, resulting in Morse Code being used a great deal, using the Enigma Code from the WW2 era, for Classified or Highly Classified encoding, in the Secure Hut.
RE & REME Signals were attached, to deal with low powered Radio sets, using voice over short distances, of around 50 miles radius.
Spares could be ordered in minutes and within a couple of days, be delivered to Ubon, for collection.
Once the Airfield had been fully levelled out, drainage pipes, culverts and ditches were put into place. There were many of these under the Airfield and camp.
The drainage ran across the runway, into large channels/drains and then through the numerous culverts, down into the lower scrub of the Mekong side of the runway, to divert the water into the Mekong River. The drainage was 5 feet under the Runway.
Storm drains ran alongside the Apron and the camp, guiding water to the culverts.
We were taking it a bit easy and Paddy was having a snooze behind the wing-wall. Suddenly, someone shouted "Snake", we all jumped 3 feet into the air, spun round and there was the snake, "Its a Krait" shouted the section 'know-it-all' (we all had one!). Paddy, awoken by the commotion, poked his head over the wing-wall and mumbled "what crate?" thinking he was going to get a free drink. Following everyones stare and gesticulating, Paddy pointed "That's not a crate, that's a Snake", disappointed that he was not getting a drink, he promptly slid back down the wing-wall and ressumed his snooze. A cool customer - our Paddy!!
The pipe-runs under the runway were 160ft long, so keeping alignment was difficult and perfection required a perfect 'O', looking through the pipe, from end to end.
Two types of pipes - Armco CGI sections and pre-cast concrete sections.
The Armco pipes had to ratchetted together, to line up the holes for the bolt connectors, these being under tension, could 'spring' apart and remove fingers quickly.
The smaller sappers were sent up the inside of the concrete pipes, to caulk the internal joints.
The Wing-walls were put in after. A Troop SGt decided the best time to pour the concrete, was when it rained, to slow down the drying rate. The rain was so heavy, it washed the concrete away!
Then the full work of raising the Airfield, began in earnest, layer by layer.

4th May 1964
11 Indep Sqn, plus 2 Troop RAE, packed up and left the camp, by local buses to Ubon, where a chartered British Airways Brittania was waiting - complete with Steps this time.
After landing at Singapore, they boarded an overnight train (with sleeping compartments), arriving in the morning at Tampin - home base and all within 24 hrs.
Their transport took longer, driving to Warin Chamrap - Ubon, then boarded a trains to Bangkok. Here they re-boarded the Maxwell Brander, which now had Radar and Navigation systems. The journey to Singapore took 4 days.
A small rear party remained at Op. Crown, to pur finishing touches to the MRS, plus take down and pack their tents, ready for transporting.

June 1964
The CO was replaced by Lt. Col. Ken Orrell, who with his ACRE Major Warren Crawford, had the technical task of creating a surface for the Airfield, in the limited time left, with the resources available.

Harry McIntyre issued a Special Order to mark his departure, thanking everyone for their hardwork.
The CO had a good sense of humour, which showed on the last day, when the WO's and Sgts escorted him, enthroned in the bucket of a Tipper truck, to a farewell party in the Mess.
When the Monsoon hit, it brought the biggest storms of Wind & Rain the British had ever seen.
Work became impossible, except for the REME Workshops.

Lt Col Ken Orrell & Officers

Crown Officers plus visitiong FARELF Officers.
The Camp relied on Thai Interpretors, who were usually Soldiers or Police by trade, for dealing with the Thai Government Agencies, Local Authorities or Local Contractors.
At a lower level, all Officers were encouraged by CO Ken Orrell, to learn the Thai Language.
Thai is not easy to learn, for when it is written down, there are 44 letters which we call consonants; several symbols indicating vowels in each word should sound; plus 7 more signs showing where your tone of voice should rise or fall. It is difficult to read, as all words are joined up, such as Loeng Nok Tha is just one long word.

July 1964
59 Sqn returned to Singapore for R&R, leaving a rear party to cover daily maintenance.The Monsoon season had just started and it was deemed too wet to continue.
After a couple of weeks, the rear party became frustrated, as the airfield drainage worked so well, that during the "dry" periods, work could have continued.

The lads returned to Singapore, to loved ones, many were new wives and not used to long seperations from their husbands. This was compounded by being abroad, although on a British Base, but far from immediate families. A network of help is available from the Welfare system, plus many experienced wives , would set-up daily meetings, to give help.
The Padre returned to Singapore, just as his future wife arrived from America. They were married a few weeks later at St. John's Garrison Church, in Pasir Panjang.
The Padre's wife Betty, worked as a Physiotherapist at the Military Hospital in Singapore.
Betty also became involved with Op. Crown, by recording messages from wives and families, which would then be broadcasted over the Crown Radio, from the Church.

Cpl Brian Platt was seconded to the Cinema, which now had a poor attendance, due to weather.
Brian moved the Cinema into an empty Barrack hut, which permitted all weather viewing.
August 1964
Lt Col Harry McIntyre was replaced by Lt Col Ken Orrell.
Camp Chaplain is Padre Arthur Robinson.
During the Monsoon period, very heavy rain fell, often non-stop for days.
Roads turned into skating-rings, bridges were damaged, or just washed away.
Being only temporary roads to start with, made out of Clay and topped with Laterite, with planking over bridges, the roads became very potted, or disintergrated completely.
The bridges would turn across the river, or the approach and exit to bridges would turn sharply.
This made it very difficult for the Scammells, with limited turning circle, to stay on the road, or on the planking.

Local authorities had Graders operating non-stop on these roads, plus bridge repair teams.
With roads stretching for hundreds of miles, these teams lived and worked in their vehicles.
No matter which road you were on, one of these teams would be operating there.
John Docherty was released to Op. Crown, from 36 Engr Regt, he was attached to RASC (later to be RCT), as an MT driver, driving a Commer Tipper.
Along with Brian Platt, work on the six Scammells began, as only one was serviceable.
Slowly all six were made serviceable, relieving the REME situation, of having to "borrow" from other vehicles so much.

September 1964
59 Sqn returned to Op. Crown.
Work continued on the Airfield and improvements carried out on the camp.
The Howard Train first worked on the camp roads, before moving to the Airfield.
With the Airfield levelled, the Howard Train moved in to stabalise the soil.
The Howard Train is pulled by a D4, the front scraper lifts the top 9 inches of soil and laterite, mixes it with Lime and Cement in the hopper, the mixture is then re-laid and pounded down by large mechanical hammers in the rear. The Train is followed by Roller, with forward water sprayers for cement hardening and further compacts the soil mixture. When cured, it forms a solid base for tarmac.
This style of soil stabalising, had been used on the M1 & M6 Motorways, but never used in Thailand, so the Thai Government was very interested in it.

October 1964 ?
A near possible disaster occurred.
A Scammell & trailer, escorted by heavy recovery, on return from Ubon, had this experience:
Two days out from Khorat, the Scammell carrying a Grader, approached a bridge, that turned on the approach, making it extremely tight for the Scammell to "line-up".
The Scammell required more room to swing onto the bridge, but had none, resulting in the trailer "missing" the planking.
The trailer wheels rested on the cross timer ends of the bridge, causing them to snap.
The team tried to reinforce the bridge, with what they had, but to no avail.
It would require a crane to lift the trailer round.
With no way to recover or reinforce the bridge, there was only one thing to do,
clear everyone away from the bridge, set one person on the far side to give
directions, then 'floor' the throttle and "Pray" that it reached the other end.
The noise was horrendous, as each cross beam snapped, but the Scammell
reached the other side.
With no-one to witness the incident, it was time to move away quickly.
Further along the route, they came across a damaged bridge, which had
been partially washed away. The authority teams had bulldozed a 'bank'
across the river.
Once again, this was difficult to get on and off, due to in-sufficient room to
manuevre the vehicle, without running off the banking.
The pictures show the Scammell front running along the edge of the banking,
whilst the trailer runs along the opposite side.

Once onto the bridge, concern was for the safety of the "repairs", would the
causeway and bridging hold the weight.
Having passed safely through these two hazards, the Scammell approached a
village and decided to park up for the night.
Driving into the square, with intentions of turning around and parking up,
facing the way out.
The road edging was wet and the vehicle sunk to its axles, requiring extra
heavy recovery, to get free and a full day at that.
November & December 1964
Work on stabalising the Airfield continued, despite the regular breakdowns of the Howard Train.
The Howard Train was designed to repair Pot Holes and not for continuous working, that they did complete the 3-4 months of continual work, is testimony to the REME Fitters.
During the year, on at least two occasions, Pathet Laos insurgents were seen to travel through the village. Those on Guard Duty at the camp, were armed with 3 rounds each, not a lot to protect such a large camp.
Rememberance Sunday
A service was held close to the Airfield, where Lt. Jack Castle (59) sounded the Last Post and Reveille from the Plant Office verandha, which was close to the Service.
Major Bernard Nash played the Harmonium and the Thai Roman Catholic Priest - Father Martin Boonruang, was courageous enough to give two prayers and the Blessing in English.
Christmas Eve
A Carol Service was held in the Church, with 95 attending the Service, a record for a voluntary service.
The Padre's wife Betty arrived that day and played all the Wife and Families Messages on the Camp Radio.
During the months before Christmas , collection boxes had been put out and raised 5,000 Thai Baht, for a New Year Party at the village school in Ban Kok Talat.
Christmas Day
During the Christmas period, work ceased and only essential people worked, such as Guard Duty.
Decades of tradition was carried forward, Officers and SNCO's would serve Lunch to the Soldiers, which always ended in a "food fight", where the Officers and SNCO's were pelted with food, then ending in a free for all as the Officers and Sgts beat a hasty retreat.
Those hungry, would hide below tables, picking up discarded thrown food.
The Party went on for several days, with plenty of Beer and Spirits to enjoy.
Some can recall the Australian Entertainment Group that came over to play for the lads.
The Aussie Entertainment, dedicated a song to the Camp - "Tar & Cement".
Many though, can recall sitting around the Camp log fire on Boxing Day evening, drinking.

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