Tales of Thailand

Operation Post Crown 1967/68

© Jim Parker

The Back Ground
The British Army, as part of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), sent construction troops to Thailand on Operations “Crown Force” and then “Post Crown Force” in the 1960s.

British soldiers of the Royal Engineers started to build a concrete airfield in 1963 about 70 miles from Ubon Ratchsatani in the North East of Thailand, the 5, 000 foot long airfield was completed in 1966. 

In 1967 Sappers of 34 Field Squadron RE started the construct of a 39 kilometres long, 6 meter wide, all weather, road.  59th Field Squadron took over the task in May 1967, followed in August 1967 by the 11th Field Squadron RE.  Finally in February 54th FARELF Support Squadron arrived and completed the task in April 1968.

This road construction required moving 70, 000 tons of earth.  120, 000 tons of red clay called laterite for a surface had to be provided.  Along the roadway 14 timber bridges were built requiring 336 piles.  93 reinforced culverts including 1,700 separate pipes were laid.  Thought out the period Sappers dug wells to supply water for the local population.  Electricity systems put in place, and there was aid to construct schools. 

It was during the construction of this road that I was present in Thailand, however, I took no physical part whatsoever in these tasks.

Crown Camp was a small base camp surrounded by barbed-wired in the middle of nowhere in the district of Long Noc Tar (or Leong Nok Tha) near a small village called Kop Ta Lak.

We were about 70 miles from the town of Ubon Ratchsatani (known universally by the soldiers simply as Ubon –“Oo-bon”) in North East Thailand close to the Loa boarder.  There was also a work site which I never visited called Hong Khong Camp.

I was once told we were 120 or so miles from the Ho Chee Min Trail along which North Vietnam supplied communist troops in the south.

23981301 Sapper James Edward Parker aged 21 years.

In 1967, just turned 21 years old, I was a member of the 54th Corps Field Park Squadron Royal Engineers, based in Singapore working in the Squadron office as a clerk, and mightily sick of office work.  When given a chance to do so, I went willingly to Thailand

My first tour, between, 8 May 1967 to 10 August 1967, I was attached to the 59th Field Squadron RE, working with the Light Aid Detachment (LAD) Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) as a FAMTO storeman under Sgt Marriott REME.  My task was simply to indent for and then collect pieces of equipment required by the fitters and mechanics to repair vehicles.  I left Gilman Barracks in Singapore at 2 am, flew from the island at 6am and arrived at Crown airfield at 6 pm.

The second tour, 17 February 1968 to 26 April 1968, was with my own unit, (since renamed) 54th Far East Land Forces Support Squadron RE during which time I was a member of the Regimental Police, manning the Main Gate of Crown Camp.  Also on the RP Staff was Lcpl Charlie Quinn my old mate.  This time we may have landed at Ubon as I remember travelling in the back of Bedford trucks on roads that were so rough that we were thrown about and had to stand up and cling onto the overhead structure.

The weather was not unlike Singapore in a word, tropical.  The countryside around Crown Camp was flat, with paddy fields and well-dispersed trees.  The rural Thai population of this Asian paradise were living a stone aged existence, but they were tough hardy people, cheerful and always friendly.  Young Thai woman, were very beautiful.

It is quite difficult to remember when various events happened unless they were directly connected with my particular role.  The tales, I here relate, are in no particular chronological order, although many are linked together if they occurred at the same time

Regimental Policeman, Sapper Parker, outside Crown Camp Guard Room.

Thais greeted each other and us with their hands pressed together as if in prayer below the chin.  They would give a slight bow and say, “Sawadee” or “Sawadee lakhon”, we did the same to them.

Sgt Len Clayton RE was a soldier of the old school and near retirement.  He was known as us in HQ Troop as “The Sarg”.  I never called him anything other than “Sergeant” (Sarnt) to his face.  He was a good sergeant, and something of a character.  The OC put him in charge of all civilian Thai workers.  Each morning when they arrived for work and the Sarg, a Scouse, held a Muster Parade with his lads.  It was a sight to behold.  I am convinced the Sarg completed his parade for our moral.

When a local who we’ll call Eff Yu got himself a job he was paid eighty bhats for his labours.  He then found himself another higher paid job.  He “sold” his first job to his mate Tin Can, who paid him half the wages, forty bhats back each week.  Then Tin Can found second job and sold the first job to Bing Bong for a quarter of the wages.  Bing Bong was now working for twenty bhats.

The Sarg started his Muster Parade, like all Muster Parades with the Roll Call.  He would sing out the names of those officially employed by the British Army.  So Len Clayton read from his list and shouted out “Eff Yu!”  Bing Bong thought for a moment and remembered that Tin Can had got his job from Eff Yu and waved weakly to the Sarg.  The Sarg informed him he was to shout “Here Sarg!” and once again shouted “Eff Yu”, the worker replied “Here Sarg!”  Len moved on to the next name on his list.  “Ar So!” someone nudged Ung Dong, to remind him he was working for Willi Wonka who was working for Ar So.  And so it went on, every morning.   Having completed the Muster Roll, The Sarg then started to inspect the men as if they were about to go on guard at Buckingham Palace.  “Dirty flip flop!”  “You get a hair cut!”  “Stand properly to attention!”  I have proof of these parades, because I have photographs of them!

Rugby Linesman.  I heard some lads were going to play Rugby. I asked if I could go and jumped in the back of a 3 ton Bedford lorry.  The game was against Australians service men.  I have no interest in Rugby.  I was there for the beer.
 On arrival I was hijacked into being “our” linesman; the bloke who runs up and down the touchline to assist the referee.  I was given absolutely no time to tell anyone, least of all, the referee that I didn’t know the rules!  I’d seen my Dad acting as linesman at football matches, he ran about holding the flag pointing to the ground.  With a beer in my hand I did just that.  One of our players ran near to the line, he ran off the field but the ball, was inside the line.  So I didn’t wave.  An angry Aussie asked why I hadn’t waved and I replied quite honestly, because the ball had not gone over.  He scornfully explained that was not the rule in rugby!  Later an Aussie did exactly the same thing and I waved.  Oh well, perhaps he shouldn’t have told me!  One side scored a try and the referee indicated I was to stand under the “H” goal post.  All the players went quiet as the kicker prepared to boot the ball over the cross bar for a conversion.  My dilemma was I didn’t know if I was to wave for a conversion or for a miss!  In all events it was such a wide miss that everyone groaned.  So I did nothing.

Driver TrainingThe nearest large town was Ubon which I wanted to see for myself.  One of the MT drivers was taking a vehicle to Ubon to collect store from the railway yard and I asked if I could hitch an illegal lift.  He wasn’t willing to take me at first, as the sergeant at Ubon was a stickler and would want to know why I was in the cab.  He eventually agreed to take me, but warned, “If the Sergeant asks tell him you’re on driver training.”  This would indicate I was perhaps, a learner driver getting some experience.  However, I did not know how to driver!  I had taken a few driving lessons in Aldershot and been throw off the course!

On our arrival at the railhead the sergeant stabbed a finger in my direction demanding to know what I was doing in the cab.  The driver shouted, “He’s on driver training!”  The sergeant then gave instruction to the driver who jumped out of the cab.  The sergeant then came around to my side of the vehicle and said, “Right, turn her around and back her up against that wagon!”  I clambered over to the driving seat and sweating like a pig, wondered what on earth I was to do, without getting the driver and myself into trouble.  I started the engine and fiddled about with the gear stick.  “Come on,” the sergeant shouted from somewhere.  He was probably waving directions had I looked in the mirror.  His head suddenly appeared level with my ear.  “What’s up?” he demanded, making me jump.  “I can’t get it in gear!” I replied trying to look suitably annoyed.  “Get out, let me try!”  He had the vehicle turned and backed up in a trice, and the driver reappeared soon after.

Sick Parade. Each day at specific times the front and back gates of the camp were opened for local civilians to visit the doctor in the Medical Centre. 

  I’m told the diseases and injuries were something to behold.  In some cases, the injuries or disease had gone beyond anything normally seen in Europe.  It was said to be excellent training for any doctor.  As many Thais had no sense of time, they often arrived too late and were not allowed entry until the next day.

I heard was that a Thai was out hunting using a muzzle-loading gun.  His bullets were probably stones.  As he climbed a tree he dropped his weapon which discharged and shot up his chest seriously injuring him.  He got to the ground and stopped the bleeding by smearing mud on his wound.  He made his way to the main road and patiently waited for the next bus.  He arrived at Crown Camp more than 24 hours after the accident and waited for the gates to open for “Sick Parade”.

Have You Got a Light?.  I was on duty one night at the back gate, Nash Gate we called it, when an agitated family pushing a child on a wheelbarrow arrived in the dark.  They kept saying to me the word I recognised to mean, “Give me a light,” when asking for a match to light a cigarette.   I thought they were asking for a cigarette, and I waved them away.  But they persisted pointing at the child who appeared to be sleeping.  Then it dawned on me, the boy was badly burnt.  I phoned the Guard Commander, who called the doctor and allowed me to let the family in the camp.  Someone came to escort them to the Medical Centre.  The child had 70 or 80 per cent burns.  The doctor gave him painkillers and thought he might live for only a few hours.  The poor soul hung on for a few days.  Had he been in Singapore or the UK he might have survived.

Noot was a Thai prostitute who plied her trade at the back gate of our camp.  She frequently came into our Medical Centre for prolonged treatment for venereal diseases.  I thought anyone who went with her must have been crackers!  Due mainly to heavy drinking I once almost had sex with her, but didn’t.  That story is told elsewhere.  Local prostitute could be hired, for a week at the princely sum of 80 bhats, about one pound thirty pence!  Each prostitute had a card, which, was signed by the Medical Office in black when the woman was found to be clean and red with “sick”.  We were told, if it is true or not I do not know, that the Thai police shot prostitutes with a “red” entry.

Two Drivers?  I was in charge of several Thai civilian labourers.  A very large transport aircraft had landed on the airstrip and a young Thai boy came with me when I wandered across to speak to the aircrew.  The Thai indicated by gestures that he would like to have a look inside the ‘plane.  I asked an RAF chap stood nearby and he cheerfully led the two of us into the fuselage.  He led us up a spiral staircase and into the cockpit.  I had never been in a cockpit before and was quite impressed, the whole of the roof of the cab was covered in dials and instruments, and we were some height above the ground.  I had of course seen films of the working end of an aircraft, but never close up.  My Thai friend touched my arm, he waved at the seats and with a puzzled look on his face, “Why two drivers?”

Visit a Thai family.   A fellow Sapper had taken Thai language lessons, and got on very well with the Thai men with whom he worked.  A Thai had invited my friend to visit him on his day off.  The authorities said he could not go alone (we were about 120 miles from the Ho Chee Min trail in Laos).  I agreed to accompany him.  Why neither of us thought of taking provisions I cannot say.  We did however wear our issued jungle boots, and may perhaps have worn uniform I don’t remember.  We met the family; the Thai lad, his wife and a small child in the middle of nowhere by their paddy field.

They were as with all Thai cheerful and friendly.  Apparently we were there to assist in rice planting.  The weather was tropically sweltering, we planters, my friend, the Thai, and me stood about ankle deep in smelly mud, leaning forward from the waist.  From a bunch of rice plants carried in the crook of the left arm, we selected a single plant and pushed the root with a twist wrist deep into the mud.  Simple you may think!  It was until then, the hardest work I had ever undertaken.  After an hour or so, my friend and I were somewhat distressed and very thirsty.  Neither of us would admit we wanted to stop. 

The wife called across from her “hut”.  Well not exactly a hut, four posts, with roof, and the Thai indicated it was time to eat.  I was gagging for a drink.  The lady had the meal laid out on a piece of bamboo matting.  She had a metal jug containing milky white water.  We had been warned over and over again never to drink local water.  I took a few sips and then a few more.  So did my friend.

The food consisted of what looked like a piece of wood, a small smelly fish and a fruit, which looked like a dried out green tomato.  She had a wicker container that reminded me of a small tom-tom drum that contained rice.  I ate a small handful of the rice, which was very tasty.

A typical wooden barrack room in Crown Camp.
(Washroom to the left and urinal to the right.)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jim,
    Lovely memories,especially those of Ban Khok Thalat. 54's contribution to the Crown projects was immense. Those of us on the road and airfield projects are thinning out as the years roll by. RIP all those guys no longer with us from, 54, 59, 34 and 11 Sqns.


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