Thursday, November 12, 2009


With Christmas and New Year behind, it was back to work, a dead-line had to be met, the Official Opening of the Airfield, in June.
Life settled back into routines, with various Sports being held for relaxation, such as Football and Rugby played on a hard baked Bullock field in 30c.
Other Sports included: Badminton, Volleyball and various athletics.
For the dedicated, there was a 9 hole Golf Course of sorts, only for the hardy.
With the Viet Kong increasing activity in the area, there was the regular "Hash House Harrier", carried out weekly.
This was "sweeping" runs around the local villages, looking for signs of the Viet Kong.
During these overt operations, troops were in full uniform and had Union Jacks all over the vehicles.
It also gave the troops time to hand out Biscuits and Sweets, as part of the "Hearts & Minds" Campaign.

January 1965
The Plant Parkwas becoming full of vehicles and was thus a hive of activity.

Plant Park Road to the Airfield
Local Village
The local populations lifestyle had changed drastically, from new water wells, with storage tank, giving water on tap, to paid work on or off the base camp.
The "western" world now offered a great deal, that the local people had never seen, tasted or dreamed of, including friendship, love and marraige.

New Years Eve
A New Years Eve Party was set-up, the funds having been raised before Christmas, via Church Collections and other individual efforts.
This was a New Year Party, that the locals had never seen before, with food that the Thais had never tasted.

The Padre is on the left, helping to sort out presents and prizes, before the Party.
Cpl Harvey took lots of photos of the events (as well as the progress of the project), his photos show the endless volunteers who helped organise and participated in the games, plus collecting and sorting the Toys, Prizes, etc. for the Party.
Various games were organised, for the Children and Adults of Ban Kok Talat.
There were Running competitions, the girls in School Uniform - White Blouses and Black Skirts.
Camp lads helped with Tug-of-War, helping the boys pull against each other.

An Obstacle was organised, the end was to crawl under a tarpaulin, which had Talcum Powder under it, finishing with eating from a bench, without using hands. A bottle of 7 UP was placed on the bench for each competitor, these children had never seen or tasted anything like this, but loved it.
Prizes were Slates, Rulers and Pencil Boxes. Teachers receiving their prizes, performed the customary Thank You, crouching at the knees, hands clasped together at the waist and bowing towards the giver.
The Cookhouse made up trays of various snacks, including "Rock Cakes" (an English favourite) - which the children were weary of at first, but once tasted, they loved them and came back for more.
Each child was presented with a packet of sweets and a Toy.

February 1965
With the "Howard Train"operation coming to an end, the Barber-green operation was about to start, tarmacing of the Airfield.
The Apron area was nearly completed, with a temporary Control Tower, mounted on the water tower.

March 1965
The Airfield Tarmac programme started.
Two Starmixers were located close to the Airfield, at the far end of the Plant Park, to reduce travel time to the Barber-green.
The Starmixers were towed into place, un-folded and set up ready to operate.
Commonly known as the "Beast".

Drums of Bitumen are stocked close-by, graded from Coarse (300 Pen), Medium (200 Pen) and Fine (100 Pen), also stocked close-by, is graded Aggregate.
The Starmix was not designed to operate for long periods of time, it was designed to repair "pot holes" and short runs of roadways.
Here it was to be used for long shifts. This kept the REME Fitters very busy, with constant breakdowns and maintenance required.

Day Shift - On Parade at the crack of dawn, still dark and a bit chilly as the lads stumble down the strip. Those on the Starmix would wait a while, whilst Lou Rex and his valiant team "kicked, hammered and battered" the Starmix, until with a rumble, a grumble a spit and a fart, it started the first mix, then the Operators moved in to take over.

The "Beast" must have been the dirtiest job at Crown, it would 'spit' hot tar over you, which was fatal to brush off, better to let it dry hard, then it would come off in the shower (plus your skin).
Always could tell the Starmix boys - their skin was covered in burn blotches!!

Meanwhile, down at the Barber-Greene, we would stretch out on the still warm tarmac, laid by the previous shift, we looked like a bunch of Kippers on a griddle, gently sizzling! (It was chilly).
Then the words "Right lads, here comes the first load", the truckie would arrive and skillfully "drop his load" into the hopper, woe betide him if he missed!!
Tippers continually transfered the molten tarmac to the Barber-green for laying, reversing up to the barber-green to fill-up the barber-green hopper, forming a continuous delivery chain.
The Shift target was 100 tons of Tarmac mixed and laid - did any shift hit the target and get the promised free beer?? Or did S/Sgt Pumbton (plumbob) sabotage the Starmix, after all he was paying for the beer???
April 1965
The Airfield Control Tower was built over the Water Tower between February & April.

RAEC - Royal Army Education Corps
At least one member of the Education Corps was present, to teach the Thai teachers how to speak English.

RAMC - Royal Army Medical Corps

The Medical Corps was very busy, treating Soldiers and Locals alike.
The main problem being the Laterite dust affecting eye sight, plus the VD situation.
A normal daily routine, was working shifts - 8am to 4pm, 4pm to 11pm, 11pm to 8pm.
Village Locals

Lt. Col. Ken Orrell visited the Local Village Headman, where they inspected the new water supply, built by the Sappers and discussed any other way the Sappers could help with the village.
REME - Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers
After a year of working in the fine Laterite dust, nearly all of the tippers had ground to a halt, many were buried where they stopped, more economical, than recvovering them to Singapore.
Tight fitting steering sockets, would become elongated by the abrasive dust, the steering would become loose and dangerous to drive.
Even the D8 engines were wearing out badly, but labour cost to re-build them on site, was cheaper than shipping in new engines.

Add to this, the 24 hour operation, especially on Plant - which constantly worked in dust clouds and engine re-building became the 'norm'.
Cpl Lou Rex (RE), received a BEM for his effort in competently re-building D8 engines and welding new "tetth" on the Starmix (most nights), as no spares were available.
Even the straight Track Pins (about 1" thick) on track-laying plant, had been worn into a figure 'S' shape. Whilst removing one of these pins, using an hydraulic press, a sudden loud 'report' was heard, followed by the 2 foot long pin flying upwards, barely grazing the side of a Sergeants head, before denting the overhead 'H' girder, supporting the roof - the Sergeant turned pale, it was his "lucky" day.

"Borrowing" became normal, removing parts from the last vehicle to enter the workshop, knowing that by the time that vehicles original fault had been repaired, the borrowed parts would have arrived.

A good example of this: Batteries were required for a repaired piece of Plant, but none were in stock, so the Fitter "borrowed" them from a Gainsborough, that Lou Rex was re-building an engine on, by the time that Lou had re-built the engine, new batteries were in stock for it.

On another angle, a Fitter called Peter Ascot, paid children to scavenge for different snakes, the children searched everywhere and eventually a collection of preserved snakes in jars, was collected. This collection was handed to the MRS, for all to identify the snake that bit them.

An enterprising Sapper, not wanting to miss the World Cup Football match, could not obtain a good signal at ground level. With many following him and the portable radio, they watched the Sapper climb up a Coles Crane jib. To the amazement of the REME Fitter (working on the Jib load sensor), the sapper climbed to the very top of the jib and perched on the top 'like a bird', shouting down a "running commentary" on the match.

LAD - Light Aid Detachment

The REME Workshops was mainly for Heavy Plant, thus the LAD spent its time with the operational road vehicles, repairing and maintaining them, in a separate area.

FAMTO Stores - First Aid Motor Transport Outfit.
The Storesman indented for parts, organised and distributed the spares to the LAD.
Stores would be initially be loaded into 2 x Thomas Bins, mounted on a Landrover & Trailer, designed to be Air Portable and used as a Receipt & Issue account.
When placed with LAD, the Stores would be reinforced with an RE Fitter or REME LAD, with RAOC Stores Section Sub-Account (10/12 Thomas Bins plus minor assemblies), for deployments or major exercises.
On Camp, the FAMTO Storesman, would collect Indented items from the QM's Department, then placing them in stock in his store. Sometimes, it meant a trip to Ubon, to collect larger items.

RAOC - Royal Army Ordance Corps
The RAOC was in-undated by indents for spares, from fuses to full wiring looms, batteries, magneto's, dynamo's, FFR Radio's, headlamps through to engines, axles.
As a general rule, the Warrant Officer would drop a list of spares required, to the radio shack, who would pass the list back to Comcen Singapore, the spares would be collected, then forwarded to Thailand by aircraft, or by LSL. Generally, stores arrived within 2/3 days of the request being received in Singapore.

The Stores became a web of 'mystery', a man could get 'lost' for hours, walking around the thousands of spare parts stored, for the entire myriad of equipment, from Plant, Vehicles, Refrigeration units, wood & metal (huts), not to forget Office supplies.
The Stores were very busy, but manned bu only a dozen dedicated storesmen, led by a Warrant Officer.
Due to variation of vehicles, stores became very diverse, trying to locate spares for "one-off's", such as the solitary Albion Clansman - 3ton - 6x4 truck.
Many newer vehicles were not in service with any other Army units.
These un-sung heros, did find the spares somehow and in doing so, kept this project moving smoothly.

25th April 1965 - Anzac Day
This is traditionally a Dawn Service, to commemorate the arrival of the first Australian and New Zealand Troops, under their own Independent Command at Gallipoli on the 30th April 1915.
At 5am on the 25th April, The Australian troop and the New Zealand troop, plus a British troop, formed up three sides of a square, facing a wooden Cross decorated with wreaths and guarded by four sentries resting on reversed arms.
The Service began in the dark, , the Cross illuminated by a Land Rover headlights.
Then, in a memorable way, the dawn broke behind the Cross.
Afterwards, was Coffee and Rum in the Cookhouse.
Anzac Hymns were: 'Rock of Ages' and 'Abide with me'.

May 1965
Another visit to the School at Talat, to present equipment, purchased from Church Collections and other Individual collections.
The School was presented with Desks, Latrines, Drinking water jars and Games equipment.
The Latrines were installed by the Sappers and no doubt, the desks were made by
A Film show was put on in the School, powered by a generator.the Sappers.

Desks being presented by Lt Col. Orrell (facing forwards with arms at his side) , with the Padre looking on, the Teachers are on the Left.
A Sapper fitting and wiring-up the School for the Film Show.

Won (called John) an Officers Batman, holding the Pony that the Padre purchased. The Padre found the Pony (he named it Mongkut after a King of Thailand) was terrified of the noisy Plant and vehicles, he found it quicker to walk.
17th June 1965 - Official Opening of the Airfield
As with all Official Grand Openings, a table of events was produced, the programme was written in English and Thai, to mark the Ceremony.
In honour of this occassion, the Scots Guards based in Terendak, came over, providing a Guard of Honour, plus the Bands from the Scots Guards / Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. Adding to this, the Thai Band and Guard of honour joined in the parade.
The Parade area and around the Salute Dias, was swept by Mine Detectors.
The Airfield Apron became very busy with 22 Aircraft sitting on it.

Out on the Airfield, 11 Saffron Robed Monks were blessing the Runway.
After lunch, an ex-RAF Pilot (ex-Battle of Britain) flew an Argosy with 50 passengers, on a flight around the Airfield, in a very "hairy" fashion. The Argosy is a large aircraft, not really designed to do Loops and Barrel Rolls. Photographs were taken from the forward observation windows.
Peter Woods heard a loud noise and the felt the floor vibrate, so running out of the Battery store to investigate, he was amazed to see this Argosy, almost at ground level, flying straight at him.
Diving to the floor, the aircraft roared overhead, climbing to miss the building, but narrowly missing the roof. The Monks must have blessed that aircraft!
That day it poured heavily, an inch of rain fell in 12 hours.
It was noted that the Tarmac became soft, aircraft taking off, just reached the speed required to take off. The tarmac also showed signs of wheel-ruts, with small pot-holes appearing.
After the Ceremony finished, the workforce was informed that the Tarmac would have to be lifted and replaced by concrete.
Looking at the Workforce, the CRE could see that a collective feeling of tiredness, had encompassed all.
The Reason for the failure was simple, Lt Robin Carr and other Junior Officers on the 'Young Officers Course' at the RSME, were given the reason for such failure:-
The initial Recce used sandbags, to collect samples from the local laterite sites, these were transported back to the UK, for the TRRL to design the laying mix.
Unfortunately, the the Recce Officer had failed to notice that all the fine particals had escaped from the sandbags and what was left, was pure laterite nodules, so the design was based on that.
The real laterite was simply too "dirty" with silt and fines to make satisfactory earthcrete, when the laterite was mixed with cement.
A very expensive mistake.
When Lt Carr arrived in Singapore during January 1966, he assured 2 Troop that they were not to blame, or indeed, the Squadron.

18th June
The CRE decided to let the workforce party, before starting to strip the tarmac.
Many went to the Sowardi Bar in Ubon, where the partying got under way.
A large built Sapper walked up to the local guitarist, who smiled and offered his guitar to him, the bar went silent, wondering what was coming. The Sapper then started to play The Shadows tune - Apache, followed by a wide repertoire of music, including: The Rolling Stones, Elvis and Nancy Sinatra to mention a few.
The Partying lasted for two days.

Disaster (that was waiting to happen)
As the Scammell approached the bridge, with Paddy driving, John decided to leave sitting in the D8 and climb into the Scammell roof, near the cuppola..
Sitting on the roof, John noticed the Bridge was moving, being pulled away from the Bank, by the trailer wheels.
Swinging into and dropping through the Cuppola fast, John landed on top of Paddy, just as the bridge fully detached from the banking.
The Scammell swung about in various angles, before finally settling, with the nose facing upwards.
When everything came to a halt, both climbed out through the cuppola, neither were injured, or even scratched.
The Scammell was being held up, by a 12" piece of angle iron (toolbox lid), jammed against the concrete bridge parapet.
It took 3 days to finally recover the Scammell and its load.

Even the Coles Crane, heading for the bridge site, had problems of its own, it slid of the planking
whilst crossing the river. After being recovered its self, the crane then set-up and recovered the Scammell and D8.

Once the Scammell and D8 was recovered to the bank, 54 Squadron moved in and built a new wooden bridge, alongside the old one.

Considering the Scammell had sat an angle for 3 days, it was surprising that it started up on the first attempt.
The only damage was a broken king-pin on the trailer and a broken fuel injector pipe on the Scammell.
The recovered Scammel then crossed the new 10 ton bridge, once lined up, it was put the foot down and pray. The bridge sank 8" as the Scammell crossed, just like the other wooden bridges.

After un-loading the D8, his next job was to collect a Starmixer from Bangkok.
Normally no problem, but it was the wet season and roads were very bad down South.
On the way back, John found one bridge had been washed away; a long detour would take much too much time, delaying the Airfield work.
Finding a fairly shallow point,, not too far off the road, he tried to wade through, only to become stuck on the far bank.

Un-loading the Starmix from the trailer, to reduce weight, which allowed the recovery of the Scammell to dry banking. The Starmix was then towed across and re-loaded.

The main communal toilet became 'over-powering', so the Australians, billetted close by, decided to set up a new toilet, being in their interest to do so.
They dug brand new deep holes, set up a toilet block, which they sectioned into individual cubicles, with seating.

When the Monsoon started, washing away bridges and roads, it also washed away the holes (probably too close to each other), causing a major collapse, which finished with the seating and the hut, following into the hole. Good try though!

August 1965
Due to the volume of vehicles, especially Tippers and due to the expected long delay in completing the Airfield. a Fuelling Station was set up.

Camp Radio
This was located in a corner of the Church.
Cook "Lenny" would double as a DJ.
The Padre used a C42 - based local radio station, for the amusement of the camp, when they were not working or down at the brothels. (When the VD rate exceeded 100%, someone in Singapore asked what the percentage sign meant, so it was not as bad as the rate appeared to suggest)
Every week, the Padre put on his version of "The top of the Pops", aided by other DJ's.
After a time, the Padre started getting requests in from Ubon, Saigon and other areas; the Americans were picking-up his broadcasts and relaying them all over the far east.

The Thais love the Global game of football and so did the Crown men.
If they were not playing, they were watching, cheering and drinking.
The picture below, shows the Start of the Official match between British and Australian teams.
This game seems to be a pretty formal affair, for it starts with an Official opening.
The game was played by Brits, Aussies and Thais.
The majority of the teams, were made up from Op. Crown.
Miss Ubon 1965-1966 kicked off the game, what a lovely girl!
Standing to her left is an Australian Airforce Officer.
To her right, Storky has his eyes fixed on the ball, instead of Miss Ubon, lack of concentration no doubt!

302 Postal Service Unit
No Soldier would be happy without mail from home, these lads made sure Crown lads received letters and parcels from home, as well as sending mail back.
Postal Services
Crown Camp Lament
Just off the Loa Border,
Crown camp is a desolate spot,
Slap in the middle of no-where,
In a land that God forgot.
In among the snakes and chit-chats,
Up where the men get blue,
Stuck on this ruddy Airfield,
Ten thousand miles from you.
We sweat, we swear, we blister,
We don't think life's so grand,
We're not a bunch of convicts,
But, defenders of the land.
Late at night, the mossies bite,
The rain comes tumbling down,
To bed we wear a poncho,
To ensure we don't drown.
In this our Thailand Paradise,
There is no time to play,
All we seem to do is work,
From day to endless day.
And when we get to Heaven,
St. Peter he will yell:
"Let in the men from Crown Camp,
They've had their share of Hell!!"