Tuesday, February 12, 2008

84 Squadron Bukit Lima 1965

The formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 resulted in a new political standoff in South east Asia initiated by Indonesia which became known as Confrontation. The United Kingdom, having encouraged the formation of Malaysia was obliged to supply armed forces to assist Malaysia in resisting an armed invasion.

84 Survey Squadron RE had interestingly from 1956 maintained field troops in Sarawak assisting Lands and Surveys in the mapping of Sarawak. As a survey squadron these troops operated in civilian clothes. But when confrontation was under way the survey units came under the Army Command and wore uniform. The influx of service personnel had a major influence on the survey operation. Mapping was urgently required for operations. Air support was needed for the infantry and led to helicopter bases being established. The air support had made life a lot easier compared with river travel and climbing hills. A helicopter could drop a party on the hilltop saving many hours.

Although these British troops were seen in Sibu, their actual work was not known to the local population. They were just regarded as keepers of security. while the local people went on their every day life, the few British uniformed personnel were very much left on their own in Bukit Lima which was, at that time, considered quite out of the town.

The troop commandant in Sibu then was Lieutenant Roy Wood who affectionately known by the Ibans as Tuan Kayu. He was to rise to the very top and become Director of Military Survey in the rank of Major General.

The unit HQ was at Bukit Lima. From the HQ, the unit would move to Nanga Gaat, which was about 150 miles from the coast along the river REJANG, the major river in Sarawak. This forward base also housed a company of the resident infantry battalion known as the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, 110 Squadron Royal Air Force and their Whirlwind 10 helicopters and elements of the Police Field Force and The Border Scouts both of which were locally enlisted units.

The unit would travel to Nanga Gaat in a longboat powered by a 40HP Johnson outboard engine and driven by one of their Iban Labourers.

These surveyors would continue to experience travelling in many different forms of transport between Sibu and Kapit like speedboat, the Sin Kapit 1 & 2 Chinese motor launch and by air in a Twin Pioneer.

The Iban labourers assisting the unit were paid $4 Malaysian a day which was considered a big fortune to the local people.

The British forces also provided some medicine at their clinic sessions with the local people. These clinic sessions must have endeared the British to the hearts of the Ibans.

As they were quite interested in local culture, they enjoyed visiting the Iban longhouses, probably getting to know some of the ways of life and experiencing what life was along a river. Besides, many of the squadron were introduced to eating wildlife shot by our Ibans, like monkey meat, which to them was tough but tasty.

In order to celebrate Christmas in 1965, the troop moved back to Bukit Lima for a short break. Christmas dinner was prepared by their new cook Phil Fidler who was newly arrived from Singapore. Besides having their Christmas dinner, the troop attended a party at the home of one of the married troop members, Andrew Thomas and his wife Margaret. It must have been a great evening for all of them.

The troop finally left Sarawak on 20 January 1967.

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