The following report was published in the North Borneo News, about 1960:
A recent fire here could have been serious but for the leadership of Mr Jack Holliday of the
Department of Civil Aviation in fighting the fire.
The fire occurred near Tawau airstrip and was a raging inferno by the time the fire
brigade arrived. This was at just past 2 pm. The battle lasted three hours and it was not
until 5 pm that the fire was really under control.
Apart from the police members of the fire Brigade, there was hefty Gregory Ang of the
PWD, and the Boy Scouts of the First and Second Tawau groups were also seen lending a
hand in putting out the fire. They all did a fine job, and were tired but happy when they left
the scene of the fire after they had managed to put it out without serious damage to
anything or anybody.
Three or four times a year all the airfields or airstrips throughout the Borneo Territories
were inspected by the DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) Operations Officers.
This was to ensure that airstrip markers were in good repair, that documentation and
instructions from Head Office had been updated in manuals and that all Verey cartridges
held in the tower were in a good state and ready for use. Verey cartridges sweated with age
and dampness and the compressed cardboard sleeve swelled and would not go into the
pistol barrel. When they reached this stage they should have been given to the OCPD
(Officer Commanding Police District) or, in his absence, buried in a reasonably deep hole.
So it was at the end of a specific tour I landed in Tawau, a most delightful spot on the
north-east of North Borneo.
On this occasion I had found a couple of suspect cartridges, one of which could not be
used due to swelling while the second was marginal. I told the local controller it
probably would not fit in the barrel. Well, it did! I further told him that if I put the 'fire/
safe' catch on 'fire' and pulled the trigger it would not go off.
The Borneo Airways aircraft had departed twenty minutes before and was safely away
from our control, so I pulled the trigger, facing the pistol over the parking area.
The pistol fired and the red flare from the cartridge curved a lazy arc high in the air and
hit the ground before bouncing into the lalang (long grass). There had been no rain for two or three weeks and fire sprang up. Immediately I turned and said, "OK, let's make a
fire fighting exercise out of this". The fire-pump was still connected to the Landrover so
it was swung into action, but by the time it reached the scene the fire was burning on a
twenty yard front and spreading rapidly in all directions!
Obviously, the pump could neither contain nor extinguish the fire. I rang the town fire
brigade, the police and Public Works Department. Eventually, the above organisations
and the Boy Scouts (running through the scrub with lengths of suction hose over their
shoulders), managed to control and extinguish the fire, mainly due to the exceptional
supply of water from two large open wartime bomb craters. The resultant water enabled
us to hose down the scrub and jungle ahead of the fire and ensured no further problem to
the Tawau townsite.
In the evening as I enjoyed a quiet ale or two. Lew, the OCPD, said to me, "Jock, the
next time you are coming on an inspection, could you send me a signal," and on being
asked why he replied, "well. I'll make bloody sure I am off station!"
No pleasing some people, I suppose!