TOM SCARFF REMEMBERS - Scenes from his time as OC HF Troop
 
 
(Taken from an email sent to Jim Clinker in March 2017)
 
     
 

THE START - How I arrived in 249?......pure luck! Towards the end of 1964 I was warned for a 9 month active service tour in 266 Signal Squadron. (AKA No 1 Joint Comcen Labuan) Confrontation with Indonesia was intensifying and a major reinforcement of 17 Division was underway. In January 1965, after emotional family good-byes in Yorkshire, I reported to RAF Lyneham only to be informed that my movement was low priority and that I was to go home and wait to be called forward again, thus beginning an interesting relationship with RAF Air Movements which lasted for several years. About 10 days later I was at 18 Signal Regiment, Dover Road for kitting out and onward movement to Borneo together with QM Paddy Ford. Something went wrong with the early morning call arrangements so we were late arriving at RAF Changi for the Hastings flight to Labuan. It transpired that the reporting time was for breakfast before flying and that we still had 1 1/4 hrs before take off. Reasoning and pleas rejected it was back to Princess Mary Mess for me and a round of golf for Paddy.

Some days later we finally made it to 266 Signal Squadron and OC Maj Henry Hild. All kinds of people wanted to meet us and give tongue about our late arrival etc.....

The OC of the Joint Comcen Troop was a RAF Flt Lt, I was 2i/c as a Lt and the 3i/c was a RN ex 'bunting tosser' Yeoman Sub Lt. Traffic was peaking at over 130,000 messages per month, Flash and Emergency messages sometimes overwhelmed the system and a significant proportion of the manpower wasted their time on 'chasers and stats'.

After a few months the hostilities ended, traffic dropped dramatically and we were now over-manned. I applied for a posting and was delighted to be posted to HF Troop 249 Signal Squadron in June. Eileen and the children arrived in July and we lived initially in an apartment on Holland Road, then a MQ opposite West Point Gardens, not far from Tiger Balm Gardens on West Coast Road.

 
 
 
 

SINGAPORE, MALAYSIA AND THAILAND - I was hardly able to believe my luck, HF Troop, a detachment in Thailand, potential deployments all over Asia and a walk on part at SEATO conferences in Bangkok.

Radios at that time included 6 x D11 and 3 x C15 /C11 with twin Onan and 6 x KVA Coventry Climax generators. The American Collins (VC 102/618T) Brit C15 was interesting and loved by all the operators. (Star Wars when compared with the C11, it had 400 Watt PEP on SSB , dial up frequency and auto tuning) Instant comms, however modular construction and a maintenance philosophy out of our league.

 
     
 

OPERATION CROWN - I well remember my first visit to Loeng Nok Tha via Bangkok, where I was looked after by Capt Tony Boyle (The late Maj Gen A H Boyle) and his wife for a one night stopover. Tony was OC Golden Arrow and the detachment lived splendidly in the downtown Grand Hotel. I think it was then that I became aware of previous emergency deployments by Hunter Squadrons to Don Muang and the existence of a special train in Bangkok, capable of taking wide body loads of British military equipment, over the Thai narrow gauge system.

On to Ubon next day where a Royal Engineer's Bedford from Op Crown met me for the, half blacktop half latterite, journey to Loeng Nok Tha. I should add that I was also acting as custodian for some green boxes for whose protection I was armed with a Smith and Wesson revolver - no ammunition but there were small Union Jacks stenciled on the front back and sides of the truck. Half way to the camp we ran off the blacktop and onto a wide dust track with poor visibility, from the clouds kicked up by the traffic. We drove on for several hours until we began to rise into the teak forest and the road narrowed. Something not right because I had been briefed that the camp was on the plain in paddy fields. Stopped the driver, no map but found out that he was new to Operation Crown and on his first solo road trip. Checked the works ticket and discovered that, from previous journey information, we had overshot the camp by many miles. Sounds of heavy vehicles approaching and suddenly the woods were full of uniforms, an American armoured convoy from their Tropo site on the high ground near the Mekong river. Escorted back to the camp where there was some concern as we had been reported missing because the vehicle traveling after us had arrived a couple of hours previously. (There was a 1 to 1 HF link between Ubon and Crown).

Some months later during a dinner night in Princess Mary Mess the OC, Maj Neville Lyons, received an Op I to reinforce Crown as soon as possible with a D11 detachment. (Deteriorating local security situation in the NE) Emergency sea move on either the LST Maxwell Brander or Empire Kittiwake? Pleasure cruise from Singapore to Bangkok Roads where we anchored for about 10 days as there were no berths in the port. Whilst at anchor we were pirated, during supper one evening, by a gang who climbed the stern. They were dealt with by the crew one of whom received a knife wound. Finally unloaded the D11 detachment onto the military train for a weeks free tour of Thailand whilst I went direct to prepare for it's reception. (Does anyone remember that trip?) The CRE was not happy to be reinforced and even less so when I wanted to remove his favorite large bamboo bush and replace it with an 80 foot mast and sloping terminated V antenna, the mast went up. The sloping V was essential to maximize the forward lobe and minimize the back lobe, because we were subject to considerable deliberate interference (carrier). The sappers also had English voice interference on their local VHF net with a female broadcasting names and details of those who patronized the village pubs. For some time the local security situation was rather dodgy and our presence very necessary.

 
     
 

TRAINING AND DEPLOYMENTS - HF Troop trained continuously at RAF Seletar for our air portability role. We deployed in Beverleys, Argosys and with underslung Airtechs on Belvederes. In terms of grouping we were an Airhead Activation Task Force with rear link capabilities and worked in conjunction with 6 TSU from RAF Seletar and a Line Troop from 19 Signal Regiment at Changi.

Annually there was an airhead activation exercise on an airfield in Terenganu, usually involving a beach landing from a LCT. Other live comms involved sending C11 detachments with the SAS when they trained in North Malaya and anchoring the SBS from Singapore. The Hong Kong riots had us taking over the sports field at St Johns school where we split the D11 TX/RX and controlled it via a home grown system. Between whiles we roamed both the East and West coasts of Malaysia training and proving HF comms. We also providing 17 Gurkha Signals with training support on their Divisional exercises as they also had a D11 detachment which I believe was eventually transferred to 249 Signal Squadron

On these airhead exercises we were usually deployed early and recovered last. The NAAFI followed many days later and always fled early. For us canteen facilities were non existent. I found a Singaporean Chinese named Jimmy who was a char wallah and we did a deal, I mounted his team on a Bedford, kitted them out in OG's and the Squadron lived like kings, including non stop fish and chips. Sometimes Jimmy was sub contracted to the Air Force in return for favours. I understand that when I went down with meningitis and missed Exercise Ramasoon in Korat Jimmy and Co flew in officially and did sterling work. That was sometime later in 1967 but, downgraded to P8, I never really went back to the troop which was taken over by Capt Jimmy Cullen, another old friend sadly long departed.

A major Squadron event was the activation and opening of the original asphalt surfaced Loeng Nok Tha airfield which had most of the Squadron involved. This evolved into another phase of Crown because the surface had to be re-laid with concrete when the heavy a/c left wheel tracks in the black top.

Another highlight was a reinforcement ex by a RNZ Signals Medium Radio Sub Troop who were to join us in the event of certain SEATO plans. Great guys and we did our best to make their stay memorable and share all our hard earned Singapore knowledge, mainly because we had been informed that the following year we were going to New Zealand. Alas that trip never happened and neither did the major Australia exercise either. (Secret plans for the complete run down of British Forces in Asia had already been made)

 
     
 

Finally to end - One Loeng Nok Tha incident I will never forget was going down with one of my worst ever doses of food poisoning from the Mess at Crown. In the middle of the night I crawled cross country from the Mess, through the dry watercourse, up the bank, collapsed and hammered on the door of the Medical Centre. Eventually it opened and the orderly growled, "What the f*** do you want ....Sir?" I croaked out my problem between barks to which he replied, "Listen Sir, we have a local bird in here having a breach birth so f*** off .........Sir!". I obliged and crawled back to the DTL in the mess.