TTGU, Ep. 2, Ch. 16 – Our Comrades
BORs (British Other Ranks) were not the only soldiers on our camp. We had a couple of locally recruited Chinese boys who’d joined the British Army as a career: Woon Tien Tat (“Johnny Woon”) and Chang Wah Yu (“Johnny Chang”).
Chang was a bit of a recluse and an Elvis fan. He would do his best to make his Army-coiffured hairstyle look like Elvis’ hair-cut. Off-duty and wearing civilian dress, he would somehow draw Elvisian sideburns – we called ‘em sideboards, being British – on his cheeks and wander round the camp. When he went to KL looking like that, he believed he would attract all the young ladies.
Johnny Woon was a good-looking, smart and pleasant lad. We learned a lot about the Chinese way of life in those parts from him. He was an intelligent lad, though he would never get on in the British Army of those times. Even as a British soldier, his race would be against him. And, without trying to look “hip” like Chang did, Johnny would attract all the girls all the time.
Stationed with us were members of The Brigade of Ghurkhas, great little blokes who treated every British soldier with great respect. Most of them had “bahadur” in their name: it means “brave warrior”. They often seemed more British than the British. They were allowed to carry their traditional kukris: big, curved knives and very sharp. Once a year, one of their number would be chosen to behead a bullock – with one swipe – as part of their tradition. They would not draw their kukri without drawing blood.
One day, an off-duty Scottish cook became very drunk and burst into the billet where the off-duty Ghurkhas were sleeping after a hard night’s duty. He shouted a raged and tried to make the Ghurkhas wake up and sell him some of their Army-issue rum. He was asked, politely, to leave so that they could sleep. He refused and kept ranting.
Their Corporal rose from his bed, went to his locker, took out his sheathed kukri, and withdrew it.
“Please go away, Jock” he said quietly.
Jock left suddenly, seeming more sober.
The Corporal made a slight cut on his own finger to draw blood and put the kukri away.
If one was on guard duty with Ghurkhas, one knew that they would do what they were told without question. They obeyed even the humblest British private as if he was a commissioned officer.
With one RP on duty in the guard-room by the camp gates, the Ghurkhas would be stationed a little way beyond that point and told to ask everyone coming in stop and show their ID Card. Late one night, a bunch of slightly tipsy Tommies got out of their taxi at the gates and the RP let them in without asking for any identification (and probably wrote “SPD” in the log-book). The lads walked a little way into the now-dark camp and one of Ghurkhas went through the procedure he had been taught.
“Halt! Who goes there?” called the Ghurkha.
The lads kept walking.
The Gurkha repeated his challenge.
“**** off, Johnny!” came the reply.
The Ghurkha repeated his challenge once more. He received the same response.
The lads heard the bolt of the Ghurkha’s rifle as he put a live round up the spout. They stopped dead in their tracks, hands up . . . and turned round very slowly. As they carefully approached the little soldier, they took out their ID Cards and showed them to him.
The Ghurkha’s smile beamed. “OK – thank you”, he nodded and they went on their way still sweating!
On occasion, our camp would be invaded by bunches of Aussies, usually in transit to their next Malaysian postings. Not for nothing do the Kiwis call them “The Yanks of the Pacific”. But the Aussies humour was all of their own: droll and unsmiling.
The British lads were always happy to have the Aussies on their flank when patrolling the jungle. These Commonwealth allies were hard as nails. They bragged that, when they’d taken terrorists as prisoners, they would put them through vile tortures and take photos to send home to Mum. The Aussies did tell me a few of tortures, but I will not nauseate you with the details here
As my Mom and Dad had met and married in Australia, I feel an affinity to that continent. They’d mentioned to me several of the places where they’d lived and, when the first Aussie soldier I met wandered into our billet one day looking for his own (!), I told him about Mom and Dad. The only place I could remember at that moment – and still don’t know how to spell – was Twumba.
“Do you know Twumba?” I asked him.
“Yes. Do you know Twumba?”
“Twumba,” he beamed. “Do I know Twumba?”
I nodded and smiled.
“Do I know Twumba! You ask if I know Twumba. Do I know Twumba!”
I looked at him expectantly.
“No . . . I don’t know Twumba . . . “
Also billeted at our camp at one time was a detachment of Kiwis on their way to their new posting. They were very different in temperament to the Aussies: more like the British. But they, too, seemed as hard as nails.
We had highly poisonous sea-snakes in the waters round the Malayan Peninsular. At dusk and dawn, those creatures would swim very close to the white-sanded beaches and the warning to all troops was “Keep Out Of The Sea At Dusk And Dawn. Poisonous Snakes. You Have Been Warned.”
But the Kiwis had a sort of competition – unofficial! – as to who could swim out and touch one of the snakes.
There were two Maoris in their ranks. Gordon was a big, gentle giant and obviously well educated. We chatted together a lot. His mates told us that he had killed a man in civvie-street, so was given the option of a spell in jail or a spell in the New Zealand forces.
“Iggy” – nobody ever used his real name – was a short, chubby chap always joking and always cheering up his mates. He was well respected for both is soldierly skills and for his way of handling people. He had reached the rank of corporal in a very short time.
There was no colour-prejudice by the white, European-blooded Kiwis towards their darker-skinned Maori compatriots. The Aussies, however, seemed to look down on the Aborigines, “black fellahs”, and there were no Aborigines in the Australian Army at that time.
The other group who were based on our camp were the ADPs – Army Depot Police. This service comprised only of locally enlisted Sikhs, strapping big fellows with wondrous beards. They were proud of themselves and of their service, wearing the ADP badge at the front of their turbans. On duty, they carried loaded carbines all the time: weapons of a different design to our .303s. I came to understand Sikhs and found them to be totally honest and trustworthy. It offends me deeply to hear them – or anyone from the Indian sub-continent – called bad names by the ignorant people of Britain.
There was, too, a Royal Malaya Regiment, the Federation’s own service. They wore rather posh uniforms but never seemed to actually do anything. It’s worthy of note that The Royal Malay Air Force comprised one troop-carrier and three spotter-aircraft.
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