Memories from Reg Clark
I remember my first trip into the jungle with Tim Walker (surveyor) and a 15 man escort troop of Malayan Pioneer Corps led by Sgt Yusuf. Our party leader was 2Lt Murray Muir. He was a National Service officer. We were all landed by helicopter on a sand bank in the middle of the Sungei Perak, which was a raging torrent, so it took 3 hours to get all personnel across to the river bank. In the process the radio operator dropped his transmitter in the water, so we had no communication with the outside world.
That first night remains etched in my memory. In the tropics it gets dark about 6:15 PM (and light at 6 am) every day. The tree canopy also limits the daylight and, as it gets dark, the peace is shattered by frogs calling and cicadas screeching. We made camp in a circle, two men to a “basha” made of one groundsheet to lie on and one strung up as a tent. At all times two men would be on guard duty, facing out, with weapon at the ready. Once it was totally dark, I was amazed to see the ground glowing with green fluorescent light, being fungi growing on rotting wood. Anyway, next two days we walked towards our first hill, where the survey was supposed to start and we should get food supplies dropped by parachute. On the third day we came to a vertical wall of limestone and there seemed to be no easy way up. Lt Muir decided we should walk out to a rendezvous point down river. I don't know whether he knew the way as we were not allowed to look at the map! He was in charge, and we were lowly sappers, so not allowed to ask questions. After four days, we ran out of food, carrying only 7 days rations. Next day we came to a bamboo thicket where the bamboo was 10 cms or more in diameter. We were ordered to build rafts using the bamboo and commenced cutting and pulling down the canes until we had about 20 pieces 3 to 4 metres long. These were bundled together and tied with rattan, collected from the jungle. The river at this point was a raging torrent cascading down rapids. Four Malay soldiers piled their gear onto the raft and entered the water, two on each side. Some of us held onto a length of rattan attached to the raft to ease it into the strong current but, when the current took it, we could not hold on and the whole lot disappeared downstream! The rest of that day was spent rescuing the four ‘boatmen' and their equipment. Fortunately, nobody was lost or injured.
The following day, I awoke to find everyone still lying down, and asked the officer why we weren't getting up. He said he had decided we needed a day of rest! That was the time I was charged with insubordination. I think I probably called him an idiot, suggesting that we might all die waiting for a search party to find us!!
The next day we walked four hours downstream then found an opening in the tree canopy where we might be visible from the air. Trees here were 60-80 metres tall. There we laid out some ‘marker panels' of bright yellow cloth and prepared dry kindling for a fire. We heard a light aircraft circling above but could not see it. By the time the fire was lit, he was gone. One more day passed as we made our way down river. Finally the river widened out and we heard, and then saw, a plane circling above. This time the pilot saw our marker panels, and dropped a message. It said there was a sand bank 200 metres down stream and that he would come back in two hours with supplies. We made our way to the sand bank which turned out to consist of huge boulders and tall grass. A clearing was made and the marker panels set out again. Finally the plane came back and dropped a large parcel which detached from the parachute and landed in the river. A number of Malays dived in and it took some time to rescue them again. Most of the food was destroyed on impact! The aircraft returned the next day with another package which this time hit the biggest rock on the island!
The boys, all ravenous after 7 days without food, grabbed handfuls of cheese and chocolate and tinned fish and pork and beef all mixed up with tea, sugar, salt and sand! Tim and I ate some biscuits and chocolate and warned the others to resist over eating. We then had people groaning in agony all night with stomach ache!
A helicopter arrived the next morning, hovered about 6 metres above the ground while a sergeant came down a rope to inspect the site. He said we would need to clear a landing zone, level it and make a mat from split bamboo for the ‘chopper' to land on. In two days very hard work we moved some rocks, piled smaller stones in between, filled holes with sand and laid out a bamboo mat. On the fourth day, a Sycamore helicopter landed and took us out 3 men at a time. Tim, the officer and I were last to be picked up. Whilst we were waiting, Lt Muir mellowed enough to let me off the ‘insubordination charge.'
This was the beginning of many great jungle adventures.
Some photos showing Geordie Craig negotiating some tricky spots in Kelantan during field checking of three 1:50,000 map sheets. One shows him getting his tyres wet in the Sungei Golok.
With thanks to Reg Clark for this contribution.