Malaya 1952-UK 1955
In late 1952 I was attached to AHQ Malaya in a staff position and when this attachment eventually came to an end I applied to extend my overseas tour but this was not approved and in June 1953 I returned to England (I had got married in Singapore in February). During the ensuing month’s sea voyage to Southampton I focused my mind on the time I had spent in Singapore and Malaya and my early ‘recruiting’ days there, our Japanese POWs and O’Mara, my Japanese ‘gofer’ at our office at the Kuala Lumpur airfield; my patrolling experiences and a near encounter with a tiger and her cubs; using elephant tracks (shaped like a London Underground Rail Tunnel) at times to avoid slashing one’s way with parangs through the thick jungle; being bombed by Lincolns of No.1 Squadron RAAF whose leading Bomb Aimer was four map squares short of the target - we became the target instead!
My arrival in England began literally with a bang. When I was leaving Singapore a civilian friend asked me if I would take over custody of an unlicenced revolver (Smith and Wesson .38) which he had inherited from an Australian Ship’s Captain. The Emergency Service conditions applying in Malaya-Singapore required civilian personnel to obtain a licence and the Ship’s Captain didn’t want to take it into Australia and had it delivered to my friend, after he had sailed! I agreed to take it and intended having it licenced on arrival in England. As we docked at Southampton, late at night, and due to disembark next morning, an announcement was made that ‘all Service personnel are reminded that carrying private, unlicenced arms into U.K. is an offence and offenders will be punished accordingly’. I decided to ‘dump’ the weapon overboard in the early hours of the morning and got up at 3 am and casually leaning on the rail let the revolver drop. Unfortunately, as it fell its trajectory was inwards and it hit the side of the ship before entering the water. I ignored the ‘God-Almighty clang’ and returned to bed. I assume Customs were used to the disposal of illegal arms from troopships and their divers would search the area. Customs were more interested in the alcohol I had brought in!
I took up duty as Ground Defence Staff Officer I at RAF Northwood, Middlesex, at Headquarters Coastal Command. Northwood, at that time, was a collection of wartime, wooden huts and a magnificent old house which served as the Command Operations Room, Officers’ Mess and accommodation for Officers and I was fortunate to be housed there. It had, at one time, been an up-market bordello. I shared an office with the Senior Ground Defence Staff Officer, Squadron Leader E.J.B. (John) Brown, who was a former Indian Army Officer (Rajputana Rifles) appointed to an RAF commission after Indian Independence. Quite a number of ex-Indian Army people of my seniority were commissioned in the Regiment as it was believed they had greater active service experience (this was erroneous in most cases) and their inclusion led to lack of promotion for those who were not ex-army.
Our ‘parish’ extended from Northern Ireland, north of Scotland, Wales and Southern England, and Gibraltar and staff visits (which we did in rotation to ease time away from home) to various Group Head-quarters took up a lot of our time. In association with the Royal Navy, Coastal Command Headquarters also combined with an organisation called Command Air Maritime Channel (COMAIR MAR CHAN) and enabled me to work as a Duty Operations Officer in the Operations Room when Maritime Exercises were called. It was unusual for an RAF Regiment Officer to do such work but as ex-aircrew it presented me with an enjoyable opportunity to be involved in Air-Sea Exercises, particularly at Command level.
We had some interesting RAF characters on the Coastal Command staff, some with distinguished war records and also some officers with whom I had previously served and this helped us settle into service married life (as mentioned, I had married a Australian girl in Singapore on February 1953).
My staff experience gained at AHQ Malaya stood me in good stead at Coastal Command and also as a Regiment Officer I was called on about four times a year to command Guards of Honour for visiting dignitaries. As in Malaya, I played for the Command HQ Teams in Rugby, Tennis and Squash. Some of our games were with the London Police teams who were big, heavy players, and though no quarter was given I got by with little physical damage
While at Northwood I was selected for Pilot training (and a 5 year secondment from the Regiment) and passed my interview with ‘flying colours’ except for Maths - I had only been given two day’s notice of my selection before interviewing and there had not been sufficient time to swat up on Maths not used since school days. I was advised I could still do the course but would be required to bring my Maths up to scratch out of duty hours and, knowing how tough the flying course was and how little free time there would be, it was evident to me it would be an impossible task. The Board agreed with my assessment!
Another Regiment Officer, a friend of mine Peter Terry, did the Pilot training and did not return to the Regiment at the end of the 5 years, and went on to a flying career, received his knighthood and become Governor of Gibraltar (during which time three Irish alleged terrorists were killed and Peter and his wife were bombed later in their home in England and as Peter told me in his letter, their injuries were such ‘’that we can just about make one body between us’).