February 25, 2015

Pirates of Ng.Gaat

What was it like in the 1965 period of Confrontation. We were all in Form Four, My father had just passed away suddenly. Life was hard for most people and the streets were full of soldiers in uniforms. Some were from Malaysia, some from overseas. The air was often disturbed by helicopters flying areound.

All was not well on the ground and in the air.

Even though most poeple said that life had to go on as normal, it was not the case for MOST people. War is not an easy situation .

The voice on the short-wave intercom was that of

Lieut. Tim Donkin, 25-year-old Royal Marine
commander of the Royal Navy's helicopter
detachment at Nanga Gaat, which ferries the
Paras to their lonely outposts along 400 miles of
Sarawak's remotest and most primitive jungle
border with Indonesia.
I was sitting strapped in the deck of Lieut. Jimmy
James's helicopter. The two pilots were ferrying
Para patrols to an area sparsely populated by the
nomadic Punans, who still hunt with blowpipes
and poisoned arrows.
Down below, in a tiny clearing amid the dense tall
trees, I could see an orange parachute laid out as
a signal. I saw a man in jungle green shoot a
smoke signal into the sky. I saw another run
forward to gather up the parachute. We were
hovering, sinking on to the pad. I unhitched my
harness. Darby Allen, the young ginger-haired
aircrewman from Leeds, gave me a thumbs-up
And, there I was, standing 500 yards from the
border, facing four of the most disconcerted
young Paras you ever saw.
When one found his voice he said; " Are you the
lot? Aren't we getting any blokes and grub today?
I said I sincerely hoped so. I had a vested interest
in the arrival of the second helicopter.
It came within minutes. Quickly they off-loaded
their four blokes, their grub for a fortnight, their
bulging rucksacks and self-loading rifles and
ammo, watched me climb back in and waved me
a cheery farewell.
The newcomers would stay on border patrol here
for six weeks. The other four, with four weeks of
patrol completed, would be picked. up in two
weeks. As I looked down on those eight young
faces I thought of what one of them, a lad from
Fife, had said the night before at Nanga Gaat:
“Do you know what's the loneliest sound on
earth? He had asked me. " It’s the sound of a
chopper moving away from you after a drop."
I now had a glimmering of. how he felt. For six
weeks his job would be to search the Sarawak
jungle borders for signs of the enemy, to track,
him, assess his strength, hide from him and live
to report his whereabouts. And this in a terrain
where an enemy can hide a yard from you and
you never know. .
He would sleep for 42 nights in a hammock slung
between two jungle trees, live on field rations of
rice, tea and tinned meat, cook with smokeless
fuel, sprinkle his clothes and hammock with
Insect repellent. yet get scarred all over with
bites. He would eat monkeys, mouse deer and
wild pig, slaughtered for him silently by Punan
blowpipe and poison dart. He would tread where
no white man had ever trod before.
And all the time he would five with the sure
knowledge that, if captured, he would be killed,
slowly and cruelly The Indonesians disembowel
and decapitate their prisoners.
These men, all volunteers, all in their late teens
and: early twenties drop in with instructions to
identify themselves as closely as possible with
any local natives they meet, share their way of life
and enlist their aid as trackers. Some have
interpreted this so literally they have horrified
their C0.s by emerging from the jungle with their
hair shaven and fringed native fashion, tribal
tattoo marks. on their throats, wearing Punan
loincloths instead of Jungle greens and carrying
blowpipes and poison darts, instead of rifles and
ammo belts. That they are doing a superb job in
public relations was demonstrated on the next
pad we visited. To this pad had come 40 Punans
—the shyest and most primitive people in
Sarawak. They had come to bid farewell and
bring gifts to the four British lads who had lived
among them for six weeks—the first white men
they had ever seen. To Tim Ashton (23) from
Stockton-on-Tees, they gave a parang, a
blowpipe and darts and some tobacco wrapped to
palm leaf.
He told me they had shot much game for him
with their blowpipes. " Stewed monkey tastes just
like mutton," he said. " It's a smashing change
from baked beans.”

He said the Punan hunters became very
distressed when they missed a pot shot with a
blowpipe. " They blame their ghosts. They're very
superstitious. My tracker had his own personal
ghost and used to hold long whispered
conversations with him at night to allay his fears.
His personal ghost was represented by a stick
and some leaves and he carried them about with
After completing our Para
dropping and collecting mission,
we came to the very roof of
Sarawak, to a 5,000ft. mountain on
the pinnacle of which was perched
a little plastic-roofed bamboo
It contained two young surveyors
of the Royal Engineers, who had
been winched down on to it from a
helicopter to take readings for the
first accurate map of Sarawak.
We dropped them their rations for
the next two weeks and mail from
The mountain was Bukit Dema 5212 ft. The
young surveyors were Michael Pooley & Brian
All this happened on the last day of a memorable
weekend I spent with the most unlikely
detachment of the Queen's Navy—the so-called
“Pirates of Nanga Gaat."
Their correct title is 845 Naval Air Squadron; their
ship is the commando carrier H.M.S. Bulwark.
Their base is 150 miles up river, at a junction
where the Gaat joins the Rajang. The junction is
of the Batang Baleh & Sungai Gaat
When the emergency began they offered to take.
sole responsibility for running a chopper service
from Nanga Gaat to move troops and supplies
over an area of impenetrable Jungle the size of
Wales, They expected to be relieved by the R.A.F.
after a few weeks and return. to fleet duties.

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