by Mike Bryant
Stumbling across the Tengah section of the Seletar web site, and seeing a couple of references to Kuantan, re-kindled some memories of the time I spent there in 1966. I was a sergeant armourer at Tengah, and being single was apparently deemed to have volunteered for any detachments to primitive locations. To be fair, I was excused detachments in favour of the “scalies” (married, accompanied personnel) when it came to real hardship locations like Hong Kong and Australia. Thus, I “volunteered” to spend a few months at RAF Kuantan.
By the time I arrived, the threat from Indonesia, known as Confrontation, had subsided and the station had been reduced to little more than a care and maintenance basis. The RAF staff consisted of about 35 airmen, 5 or 6 SNCO’s and one very junior officer. There was, thus, no need wear berets to distinguish between non-commissioned and commissioned ranks, and uniforms were rarely worn. In addition, there was quite a menagerie of animals – 2 monkeys called Pop and Flo, 2 ducks called Whisky and Soda, and a small dog that I think was imaginatively called “Dog”.
Life was fairly undemanding and the major excitements were the frequent dropping in of an amazing assortment of aircraft, ranging from small helicopters to 4-engined transports. The best visitor was undoubtedly the weekly Bristol Freighter of 41 Sqn RNZAF which delivered mail, newspapers and 16mm films. There were usually 6 of these so one was shown each night with the best (ie the most salacious) being repeated on Sunday.
Big or small, we saw them all
The best – Bristol Freighter of 41 Sqn RNZAF visiting Kuantan
The tent-to-staff ratio was very high, showers did not depend on the monsoons, and the food was excellent, perhaps because the cooks swapped “compo” for fresh rations in the local town. Female companionship was, of course, lacking except for those brave enough to risk the “bones” in Kuantan town, but I recall that the worst sufferer from this predicament was the duck Whisky. Soda had died after ingesting anti-freeze leaking from a truck (in those days, scientists were predicting the onset of another ice-age!) and Whisky (actually a drake) developed a fetish for flip-flops. Thereafter, anyone wearing flip-flops in Whisky’s vicinity risked a rape attempt.
It wasn’t always hot and sunny – Monsoon weather
The dense jungle surrounding the camp was home to numerous monkeys, wild pigs and other animals but, although their sounds could often be heard in the distance, they could seldom be seen close-up. However, what was claimed to be tiger tracks along the tent lines were found one morning, there was at least one cobra lurking in one of the bomb dump tents, and the photo below shows a reptilian local (the one without the shorts).
Eat your heart out Crocodile Dundee
I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity of an experience that seems more like a throwback to the age of Empire than the jet-age. In many ways, it was an idyllic interlude although there were faint signs that it hadn’t always been so at Kuantan as I recall being shown a brick wall, pockmarked with bullet holes, somewhere on the outskirts of the camp where it was said that POW’s of the Japanese had been shot.
The notes above are my best recollection of a great time but, after 5 decades, I cannot guarantee great accuracy. Please contact me through this web site if you find any errors or have any comments.