Friday, 15 October 2010

Introduction - Part 5.

The security of the station was in the hands of the Army, but the bomb dumb was the RAF responsibility, so each had to take their turn guarding this dump. Some of the chaps were told to sweep and clean the hangars, others sorting and stacking ammunition. We began to have the attitude that if this is what is expected of us, then that was fine.

We asked if we could go for trade training and was told 'An interview with an officer was necessary, wait until you have been here a while so that we can assess you'.

Talking to some of the airmen who had been at Aloa Star much longer than us, the question was raised, have you done the bomb dump guard yet? Various remarks like 'You will enjoy that', 'A new experiences for you there', we did wonder what was different as no one was willing to volunteer information.

The time came when Bill and my name was on the notice board for our turn. A mosquito net on the hat was required along with long trousers and mosquito cream. We had an early breakfast to relieve the guards at 8am. An RAF estate car took us 7km down a dirt track where we arrived at a very high fence with gates made of iron and very heavy chain link fencing, this is it, we were told.

The airmen who we were going to relieve were all ready to go. Shown into the hut saw there was a bunk, table and two chairs, lunch and dinner would be brought to us at normal meal times. One was to stay watching the gate, between us taking it in turn to patrol the perimeter fence. With that, were left to our duties.

The large wooden sheds containing bombs and ammunition had earth blast walls up to the roof, thick at the bottom tapering to the roof height. I took the first walk round the perimeter, mainly to find out how far it was – it took nearly half an hour, the heat was overpowering, away from the gate and hut creepers, bushes and trees made it near impossible to see it from above, the path was uneven and slow, I had not taken my water bottle with me and was gasping for a drink on return, I had not thought the boundary was that long.

Bill was sweating it out in the hut, which was like an oven with the door open. I said you had better take a walk round in daylight to see what you are in for. I sat down and watched the gate, could get duty officer calling.

Night came after we had a pleasant sit down and a meal with a lower temperature in the evening. A dark night, no moon but we had a powerful torch, I thought I would go first, then rest.

Outside it was just blackness, can't say I liked the noises coming from the surrounding jungle. What is making the noise, I switched on the torch, didn’t want to tread on a snake, a 2.7 metre python was found lying in the sun near the medical centre a few days ago, I could see around my but in the distance the light was reflecting on dozens of eyes looking my way, that was enough, it was back to the hut for Bill to accompany me, locking the hut up we set off, we did it once more during the night, that was enough.

Our change of guard arrived ready to take over at 8am, for us it was breakfast, shower and to bed with the day off.

My 21st birthday came four weeks after arrival, my friends insisted we go to the NAAFI in the evening for a drink, I wasn’t keen on the Tiger beer, it was so gassy, I was not teetotal, previously being at Locking in Somerset enjoyed a glass of cider, anyway I had more beer than was good for me and said that was the last time I was drinking that beer.

Now we had a tan and felt like other airmen we felt at home in the camp, told by other airmen we could buy and wear made to measure trousers and shorts of much lighter material than the service issue for going out in town, issue trousers would have to be work on RAF duties and parades. Alor Star had plenty of shops and interesting buildings, it was the capital town of the State of Kedah, it was a new world to us, the British wives of planters and government officials ran a club for servicemen, made cakes and tea, newspapers to read if you wanted a break from the sun in the afternoon. There was a cinema in town, that showed only Asiatic films.

On the edge of town, Malay cafes sold food for our tastes, Bill and I when in town had a chicken with chips and salad, a bottle of ice cold Fanta made our day, a bus service back to camp was run by Indians, a 60mph journey with all the windows open and still it was warm.

A short distance from the camp was a village on the side of a small river the Malay name for village was Kampong, nothing was sold there, how the Malays shopped I don’t know, maybe they bartered what they grew and reared, goats, pigs, chickens and ducks ran around.

Now and then, three of us hired a dugout canoe with paddles to go on trips along the river, it had a small current going to Alor Star so you only had to work one way. Larger canoes than ours did carry fruit, a man at the stern with a long oar steering it, the cargo was usually bananas, asking one of them to stop, gesturing that we would like some bananas, he motioned ‘help yourself’. Ken our other friend went to break a bunch off a stalk, he did not want that, take a whole stack with several bunches on it, holding out a handful of money, he took about 10p, nodding his thanks, off he went, we had enough bananas that day, took some back to camp left the others in the boat.

I mentioned earlier that there was a cinema in the army camp at Jitra, this was the best entertainment by far. The cinema was in the open, part of a previous rubber plantation before the camp was built. Trees had been cut down to seat height and planks screwed to them for seats, a small brick projection box, a screen on a frame, the film being shown had moths, insects and fireflies in it, as they were attracted by the light. No matter what film was shown, it was a farce, drama, cowboy or comic, I had not enjoyed films more than these showings, the soldiers would shout out comic details to the actresses lack of virtue and their past history, actors, told of their faults and failings, detectives were informed what to do, sometimes told what was about to happen, all with a liberal amount of swearing included, in loves scenes the females really came in for cat calls to say she had been around was putting it mildly, add the swearing and there was no doubt, no matter what film I saw there, it was hilarious, always worth the walk.

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