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My Personal Testimony


I was 9 years old at the end of World War II and can remember watching the spitfires flying over Guildford chasing the doodle bugs and turning them back out to sea by tipping their wings.


I joined the Queen’s Army Cadet Force when I was old enough and got to the rank of CSM, which was a great help to me when I joined the Queen’s Royal Regiment as a regular soldier at the age of seventeen and a half  in 1954 signing on for 22 years. I did my first 8 weeks training at Stoughton Barracks Guildford Surrey which was close to my home.


I was best all-round recruit of my intake, helped by my army cadet career, and was sent on an NCO’s course and I got my first stripe. Being a Lance- Corporal, I was put on the training staff at Stoughton Barracks and was training some of my school pals who came in on national service.


After nine months I was made a full Corporal and then served in the Malayan Emergency from 1954 to 1957. We sailed from Southampton on the troop ship Empire Fowey which took 21 days to reach Singapore via the Suez Canal. We then went to Selarang Barracks in Singapore where we were kitted-out for jungle warfare.


 Next was Training in a training camp at Tampin Malaya it was tough training for jungle warfare. Our job was to the clear the jungle of all the communist terrorists who were trying to take over Singapore and Malaya. Jungle patrols could last from ten to twenty one days, depending on whether you were following up a contact. The weather being quite humid and hot, you could go into the jungle with a new set of clothing, and after twenty one days you’d come out and it’s rotting off your body.

Apart from the energy-sapping humidity and the feeling of vulnerability, the incessant noise from all the insects is very wearing and takes a lot of getting used to.


When you’ve been in the jungle for two or three months, you get used to it. It goes into the background and you don’t start worrying about the creepy crawlies and the different creatures that are in the jungle, such as snakes, tigers, wild boars, monkey, hornets, leeches and lots of others. At one time I had twenty six leeches over my body and as I did not smoke, I couldn’t burn them off so I use salt instead.


We carried five 24-hour ration packs and were well armed. When we were getting low on food and ammunition, there were air drops from Dakota aircraft.


When on a patrol in the jungle, we slept at night in a spaced-out circle with a vine attached to each solder’s arm. We had to be very quiet: only the vine would be pulled if any terrorists were heard. Two men were two lookout guards on a two hour rota. Sometime wild boar would run through and we were woken up. As it was very cold at night in the jungle we were all given a tot of free rum each night.


 On patrol no one like being ‘tail end charley’ as you were very vulnerable to being popped off by the Terrorists. You also found there was a lot of comradeship when you were actually on active service in the jungle. Colleagues all pulled their weight and supported each other. On one occasion, when we were on patrol in the jungle, we found some food and tin cans and following it up, we actually make contact. When you opened fire on the terrorists, they normally dispersed in all directions into the thick of the jungle, rather than return fire and give away their positions. Sometimes you were able to catch a couple from a group of six or seven but the rest had gone. Another time, I remember getting caught in an ambush by the terrorists. Naturally, this was a hair-raising situation but your training takes over straight away and you sort of get control of it. You might try to bury yourself in the ground for the first few seconds but then your training takes over and you handle it quite well.


Another bad time was patrolling the mangrove swamps near Johor Buru in Malaya. We had to sleep in homemade hammocks made out of ground sheets suspended in the trees putting on a dry set of clothes. Then, at day break, we put our clothes back on and jumped down in the swamp, If you did not always keep a dry set of clothes you would be put on a charge!


We used helicopters to get into the jungle clearings and ferret armoured scout cars to follow logging tracks which led from the edge of the jungle. After that, you go on foot. We all carried machetes to cut our way through the thick jungle, especially the bamboo: it used to take a long time to go a few yards.


I volunteered to go in a helicopter over the jungle. It would hover while a group of us would go down knotted ropes to the jungle floor. There our job was to clear an area to allow helicopters to bring in the patrols.


We also had to protect rubber plantations and pineapple estates, patrolling to check that their workers were not supplying the terrorists with food or money, which often happened. Sometimes, we would get a call that the terrorists were attacking the estate managers' living areas. They had their own guns but needed backup. So a patrol was sent out and we cleared the area of terrorists.


During the Malayan Emergency, a lot of fenced-in kampongs (villages) were set up on the edge of the jungle with lockable guarded gates and Sims lights on the posts. At night, a curfew was set up: anybody outside the village after 7pm was shot on sight. This was to prevent the villagers from supplying the terrorists with food and other goods.


We were recalled to Singapore during the riots. Patrolling the streets during curfews was very dangerous as the insurgents tried to cause chaos by rolling lighted oil drums down at us. We did our best to contain the situation and it soon came to an end. I was then promoted to Sergent.


After a long patrol, when you did get back to your main camp, you were allowed four days rest time.  I used to volunteer to guard the train to Singapore which gave me a free trip and I could spend my four days there with my pals. We had good time: there was a cinema, night clubs and we stayed at the Union Jack club, which was very cheap.


We were attached to the 17th division of the Gurkha Regiment and, I took Gurkha patrols into the jungle. They were great soldiers and I felt safe with them they could also make a good curry out of the 24-hour rations pack.


  We returned home from Singapore on the troop ship Empire Orwell but, due to the Suez crisis, we were diverted round the Cape of Africa calling at Durban, Cape Town, Las Palmas Canary Island. We arrived at Southampton after thirty four days at sea. When coming into Cape Town, there was a lady on the quay side with a megaphone singing Rule Britannia. Apparently, she had done this during the Second World War but we were the first troop ship to call at Cape Town since then.


Once home, we were given three weeks leave and I was able to see my girl friend again for the first time in three years. While I was in Malaya we could only send love letters to each other. At the end of my leave, I was posted to Iserlohn Barracks near Dortmund in Germany. This was considered to be a ‘home’ posting, which meant a return to the parade ground with training and square bashing - not so good as being on active service.

 

I had been courting my girl friend for a total of five years and she was very upset that I was going abroad again.  I asked if she would marry me but she said she did not want to be an army wife. So I eventually bought myself out of the army (as I was on a twenty two year contract) at a cost of £68 in 1958. In August 1959 I married her and we settled down to civilian life and had two lovely daughters.

          



         Sgt Bob Hatcher

         Queen’s Royal Regiment

          Now a Veteran.


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