Article taken from The WIRE, March 1971
(Thanks go to the Editorial Staff for not only supplying this material but for allowing its use.)
The Corps plays its part in East Pakistan Flood Relief by Major Hamish MacKinlay
Peace and tranquility pervaded the atmosphere that Tuesday morning 17th November 1970 as the Inspecting Officer, Colonel Francis Graham-Bell, wound up our Annual FFR Parade with a jocular rhetorical question, "Are you really ready to go?" We were - we had to be!
The next day dawned, it was a Regimental stand-down. While the less energetic members of the Squadron were 'kipping,' their more unfortunate comrades spent the morning tramping through CK Tangs or taking their wives to coffee or Tiger beer at the Hilton. All the time, unbeknown to them, 'they' were at work in Tanglin HQ. By teatime, husbands, fathers, boyfriends were being spirited away. As one wife put it, "They just came for him." In short, the Squadron was under orders to move to East Pakistan within 36 hours.
This unfortunate country had been hit by a devastating cyclone and tidal wave some days earlier and the British Government were in the process of mounting the biggest external relief effort of all time. Far East Command who were mounting the relief effort (Operation Burlap), had delegated the responsibility for the relief ashore to the Commander, 3 Commando Brigade (Brigadier Pat Ovens), who had placed at his disposal 249 Signal Squadron. After continuous meetings punctuated by coffee, sandwiches and arguments (there is never enough shipping to go round), Thursday night came and a plan was reached.
A few hours later, Major Hamish MacKinlay and Corporal Tony Meikle joined a bleary-eyed recce party for breakfast in the Changi Creek Hotel, at that time so beloved of the Royal Air Force, it was four in the morning. A Far East Air Force Hercules whisked them to Dacca where they were greeted on the tarmac by whirring TV cameras and hordes of enthusiastic press men. Chaos reigned. By midnight however they were sailing down the Ganges on a borrowed launch for Barrisal and Patuakhali in the disaster area. Simultaneously a third of the Squadron, under the umbrella of the Royal Marines, embarked on HMS Triumph, taking with them by mistake a truck that had gone to the Naval base 'just for the ride.'
The Royal Navy, by good luck, had on station both HMS Intrepid (LPD) and HMS Triumph, a converted carrier. Other ships joined the fleet at sea. After a trip of some 20 hours the recce party reached the town of Patuatchali, the seat of the local regional government, where it had been decided to set up the Relief Control HQ. A quick change of name from Recce to Tac HQ and on with the planning of the operation. This included frequent liaison with the Pakistani authorities, who were in overall charge, and representatives of many international relief organisations.
The main task of the UK force was to distribute relief supplies, some of which bad been brought by the fleet from Singapore. With the arrival of the fleet off the Ganges delta on Tuesday morning the distribution of food and supplies and the build-up of the force ashore got under way. Suddenly the horizon came to life with helicopters and small boats - a welcome sight for hungry families.
The mainstay of the communications system ashore was 3 Commando Brigade Signal Squadron under Captain Sam Pope RM, whilst HMS Intrepid acted as a Command ship at sea. 249 Signal Squadron however, deployed detachments at the High Commission HQ in Dacca (Corporal Geoff Williams) and in Chittapong (Sergeant 'Mac' Macdonald) where the crews roughed it in five-star hotels. The other crews ashore were at the sharp end. YofS Bill Donnelly, brought in by landing craft, set up the Force Comcen. Sergeant Sam Kennard and crew having flown into Dacca proceeded to Patuakbali by courtesy of a Thames Television launch. Quickly the communication system took shape as more crews came ashore.
Those who didn't wangle a trip ashore did sterling work on HMS Triumph as loading and unloading parties for helicopters and small craft.
After a week of flat-out work it was decided to thin out the force and withdraw it completely before Christmas. Gradually, by air and sea, detachments and individuals returned to Singapore. The main party cruised home on HMS Triumph where FofS Tony Bateman showed his versatility when he was appointed ship's RSM.
The final party made it home in time for the first of the Christmas parties after a most enjoyable voyage on Sir Galahad. Our reception in Pakistan had been overwhelming -- indeed as one Pakistani put it, "You have achieved as much goodwill by your efforts as in the 200 years of the Raj."