I HAVE LIVED IN eight countries/territories that were either colonies or under British influence before independence or hand-over. Some later gained independence peacefully, others after bitter terrorist fighting which I experienced first-hand.
Starting in Cyprus in 1958 I then served in Libya, Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Aden, the British sector of Berlin, the British Solomon Islands Protectorate and Hong Kong, retiring in 1994. This brief journal describes life and work in those places.
During the course of my life I have survived a world war, four active service postings, three shootings and an angry mob. I’ve led an expedition across the Libyan Desert; patrolled the jungles of Malaya and Borneo; caught a serial burglar; guarded Hess, Speer and von Schirach; served as a District Commissioner, Magistrate, and part-time helicopter pilot; written a White Paper; established a world famous hiking trail; and made ‘the biggest and most successful land grab in Hong Kong’s history’.
All this came about because of my fascination with my history teacher’s huge wall map of the world, particularly the pink bits - the British Empire - covering about 20% of the land area. I was then ten.
I studied this map in break times and told myself I would one day get out and explore the world. I collected stamps with the King’s head on them, and read about different countries in lonely school holidays. Graham Greene, Grimble, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Anthony Burgess and Somerset Maugham introduced me to unforgettable characters, some of whom still existed when I arrived in their countries many years later.
After finishing school at Tonbridge in 1957 I turned down a place at St Edmund Hall, Oxford University. Aghast, my headmaster told me ‘I don’t think you know what you have done’. But I did. I wanted to fulfil my dream and start traveling - the sooner the better.
I then went out into the world, lived in 14 countries and visited over 50 others.
Along the way there were a few adventures………
|THERE WAS A huge bang in the middle of the night. A lot of shouting and running about and fire lit up the black-out. Next morning our garage was gone, a direct hit from an incendiary bomb.
Dartford, Kent was in the flight path of the Luftwaffe’s relentless blitz on London, during which nan and grandad’s house at Bexley Heath was razed. They survived but nan lost an eye. Grandad had been a stretcher bearer in the Boer War and later worked at the Woolwich Arsenal whose Football Club the family fiercely supports. Woolwich is my birthplace, born 10/11/38. The war started on 3/9/39.
About 1 million people were evacuated from London. In 1943 mum and I and baby sister Jen, born 4/10/42, arrived in Babbacombe a beautiful seaside suburb of Torquay, Devon. Devon became the family’s home base until 1962.
The war dominated my first seven years. At Montpelier School, Paignton we had air-raid precautions and gas-mask training. Sandbags were everywhere, blackouts were strictly enforced, and barrage balloons provided sensational distractions. Bombing raids were preceded by air-raid sirens growling from deep rumbles to a steady higher-pitched wail. The up-and-down ‘all-clear’ siren provided thankful relief. Earthy smells remind me of the steel-built Anderson garden shelters; food parcels arrived from Aunt Alice in America containing tasty treats wrapped in colourful packets. And daily life centred around our massive wireless, whose tiny grandson still accompanies me every morning at 0500.
In early 1944 the wireless began coughing up cautiously optimistic news about the course of the war. This was supplemented by the sudden arrival of some friendly foreigners. The Americans had come to town - to Babbacombe - to test their sea-landing skills on our beaches. Jeeps and amphibious DUKWs (ducks) were everywhere. So were the Yanks. Frequenting our nearby Carey Park they took over the tennis courts and 18-hole putting course where I used to join them.
‘Got any gum, chum?’ we asked.
‘Sure, kid’ they replied. We scored generous amounts of cookies (new word), chocolate and ice-cream. Older boys got Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes. Older sisters got nylons and company. All this despite the G.Is booklet on How to Behave in Britain, which basically stated ‘Don’t throw your cash about, you earn more than them; don’t pinch their girl-friends; don’t make fun of their British accents; and above all, never criticise the King and Queen’. They were definitely from a different planet and their easy-going nature made them very popular. Who else could you play the putting course backwards with, from hole to tee?
But their relative affluence contrasted sharply with the privations we were suffering. Our dads were away - ours was serving in Britain all through the war, but we hardly ever saw him. And food was scarce, rationed since 1940. We were allowed one egg per fortnight, supplies not guaranteed and we could only buy food up to our maximum number of meagre points. Yet the system was fair, so nobody complained and nobody starved. Clothing was rationed from June 1941 - only one new outfit per year was allowed. Ration books and ID cards were de rigeur. Basically Britain was a poor nation, and the USA was rich - that’s how it seemed to us boys.
Then overnight the Americans vanished. One day they were there, next day they were gone. On 6 June 1944 under General Eisenhower, 5,000 ships crossed the English Channel and landed over 150,000 men, including our Yanks probably, onto the shores of Normandy.
A week later on 13 June 1944 the first V1 flying bomb hit London.
The War Ends
|THE BUZZING SOUND is getting closer. Another of those flying bombs. I pull the bedclothes over my head. It’s getting louder. It’s overhead. If the engine cuts out now, I’ve got time to run downstairs and get under the dining-room table. Wait. Wait. It’s a little fainter. It’s going away. I’m safe!
V1s (Vergeltungswaffe, or revenge weapons) were nicknamed doodlebugs or buzz-bombs. From June 1944 some 10,000 were fired at London. Many were shot down, but 2419 reached their target, killing about 6,000 and injuring 18,000. They were catapulted into our daily lives from launch sites in Occupied Europe, and were a dangerous and annoying embuggerance. German bombers generally left us alone, except for a few jettisoned bombs as they fled back home from bombing Exeter and Bath, our nearest historic cities. But when bombs did hit they caused much angst in our small community. However, the tide was turning.
Slowly the war wound down, and came to an end on 14/8/45 when Japan surrendered after suffering its second atomic bomb attack over Nagasaki. A remarkable Englishman was on that second B29 bomber as an observer. He had already won two VCs by flying 106 bombing missions, well over the usual allowable number of 25. The experience changed him and he devoted the rest of his life to serving the disabled. 34 years later my wife Jane worked for him for 7 years, running the Selangor Cheshire Home he set up in Malaysia. His name was Leonard Cheshire. By 1992 there were 270 Cheshire homes in 49 countries, and his name lives on.
The Second World War will never be forgotten. There were reminders in almost every country I visited. In the Libyan desert burnt-out vehicles and land-mines. Landing barges on Guadalcanal rusted on our beach. Hong Kong was over-run by the Japanese. We guarded three German war criminals in Berlin. I visited the eerie Belsen Concentration Camp, Changi Jail, Kuching Museum, Batu Arang, Malaya, with its old Japanese ‘comfort’ house. And even now, five minutes from home pillboxes still stand guard over our Auckland waterfront.
And most poignant of all, Honiara, where a 1973 Japanese delegation visited me as District Commissioner Central, trying to discover - and they did - what happened to a wartime party of 21 who went missing on Santa Isabel. Indeed, to some old Solomon Islanders on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal, the Cargo Cult (and the war) still lives on in the belief the Americans will return with the luxury goods and equipment that so captured their imagination in the 1940s.
Back in England we boys adjusted to our new post-war lives. There was scavenging and collecting to do......
|WE WERE AT peace but everyone was still very poor. We filled in our time at our nearby twin beaches, Babbacombe and Oddicombe, former smugglers haunts, now famous tourist attractions. These days few seven year-olds would be allowed to roam the countryside as we did. Then, a tragedy. I went round to my friend’s house to pick him up only to find he’d died the day before, trying to gather birds’ eggs on the steep Babbacombe cliff. He had just survived the war only to be killed for a couple of birds’ eggs. It didn’t seem right. But even this did not restrict our freedom, though we were more careful where we went.
Bomb-sites were safe. Our favourite was one block back from Babbacombe cliff sea-front. War-time memorabilia was highly tradeable, not least by young boys. We scavenged successfully and traded. Our currency included cigarette cards, marbles, and sometimes a pre-war Dinky toy. Bomb-site finds included kitchen utensils, pocket-knives, shrapnel - the bigger the better, and when we moved further afield, used shells, ammunition boxes, parachute silk (mums would kill for that) and the occasional live round - to be kept in a secret place. My best find was a complete set of false teeth, swapped for 100 cigarette cards. Luckily they were not attached to anybody.
In the school grounds I supplemented my finds by winning the more valuable marbles, then swapping them with other boys for William and Famous Five books. I pitted my ‘babies’, white with colours on the outside, attractive but cheap, against larger marbles - ‘Shooters’ or ‘King Kongs’ and occasionally the magnificent antique ‘Twisties’ - paradoxically German but perfectly acceptable as boyhood barter. I had to beat these more upmarket marbles three times before they became ‘keepsies’. Some of those marbles are now worth $100 each, but the books I swapped them for were worth much more, for they kick-started my life-long love affair with literature that taught me so much about the world.
Since then I’ve always been a collector. As a boy I collected stamps, cigarette cards, Dinky toys and childrens books. When I returned from active service in Cyprus I couldn’t find my Dinky toy collection. I asked my mother. She said ‘ Oh sorry, I gave them away. I thought you were all grown up now(!). When I retired I collected everything I didn’t have as a boy including another Dinky toy collection; and a cricket book library of 1,000. My new interest is matchboxes and their labels. Collectors are interesting people and I’ve got a lot of pleasure from it.
Back in England in 1952 I finished at Montpelier School. My new passion was cricket, and it’s now in my blood forever. I was in the First XI for two years along with Roy Kerslake, later captain of Somerset, and Richard Sharp, who captained England to 5 nations rugby glory. On Saturdays I operated the giant Torquay C.C. scoreboard, and got free batting lessons from the pro - Freddy Pierpoint in exchange for bowling to his clients at the indoor cricket school. By now I had discovered my history teacher’s map of the world and hoped I could play cricket abroad. In fact these twin themes - the world and cricket - intermingle seamlessly throughout this journal.
But first I had to negotiate five more years of education at Tonbridge, one of the toughest public schools in England.
I boarded the train not knowing what lay ahead.
The Black Adder
|THE CANE MADE a swishing sound before it struck my backside. I didn’t flinch. I had placed my head under the top end of the prep-room table exposing my pyjama’d bottom for an accurate strike by the Head of House, John Kitching, wielding the dreaded yellow-and-black Malacca cane known as ‘The Black Adder’. Four times that cane descended. End of beating.
I had entered the prep-room at 9 o’clock at night with the six house prefects standing along the wall, nonchalantly standing on grubbers (tuckboxes). Silent assassins. I stopped in the drying room on the way back to the dormitory and composed myself. I was the first one of our eight to be beaten, and the others wanted to see the results. They were shocked to see huge bloody weals. They didn’t know what to do, but one of them decided to take a photo for future reference, little knowing it would take 65 years to surface. That photo is as impressive now as it was then.
I had erred by accumulating three house offences in a week – leaving the bath dirty, late for something and not answering a ‘prep-room boy’ call. If anyone transgressed thus, the house praes met, the housemaster was consulted and if permission was given, a beating occurred. This did not happen frequently, I just lacked discipline.
Soon after, on my 14th birthday, a notice went up in the School Hall summoning me to the School Praes Room at lunch-time. This invariably meant a beating and it was now public knowledge. Before lunch my history teacher Chas Bullock goaded me by saying ‘looking forward to your appointment, Lewis?’ and later ‘must be something pretty serious’. Bastard. Later that evening I was caned for breaching a school rule - going out on Sunday without my barge (straw boater) to get a prae a paper. 6 strokes administered by the Head of School, the same John Kitching. During that first year I was beaten five times. I achieved cult status without even trying. But I soon found out that a silk square under my pyjama bottoms would help considerably, so it no longer hurt.
Near the end of my fourth year I was beaten again, wrongly, by Housemaster Stredder no less. This was the only time the Housemaster had beaten anybody all the time I’d been there, so it had to be a very serious offence. It wasn’t actually.
My study-mate Jackson and I had no prep, exams were over. So we decided to play cards, using as counters his sixpences saved up all term in a jam-jar. The Head of House burst in and accused us of gambling. Despite our protestations we were caned - not only humiliating because of our seniority, but also because we were innocent.
Jackson left two weeks later but I was due to be made a prae the next term. It would be my last year, but it was unprecedented for a boy who had been beaten so many times to become a prae. However, on return I was duly promoted and thrived on the added responsibility.
Manor House was the toughest. We had 30-second cold showers at 0700 even when it was snowing. We had to do exercise every afternoon, if you didn’t it was a beatable offence. If there wasn’t an organized rugby or cricket game you had a choice of court games, hockey, athletics, rowing or the house daily run. No exceptions. We were all very fit, none of us were fat. There was a fagging system but there was absolutely no bullying in Manor House.
Discipline was a very important part of life. We all knew the rules, and obeyed them. Later, when I faced harsh times at Army Officer training I was very grateful for the grounding I got at Tonbridge, and even the caning. It made me more disciplined, efficient, reliable, punctual, and readier for challenges. I am one of the few who support caning because I responded to it well, it did me no harm and a lot of good.
After Tonbridge I never led an undisciplined life.
IN 1952 I WAS sent to Tonbridge because it was an excellent cricket school. England’s Maurice Tate was the professional there. Now an avuncular publican he took two steps with his massive feet, then swung the ball right across you in the nets. Colin Cowdrey was a recent leaver and my fellow Manor House novi Roger Prideaux went on to play for England. My Greek teacher John Dewes opened for England in Bradman’s last test match in 1948. Our House tutor was Mike Bushby, a recent Cambridge Blue - even the Headmaster Lawrence Waddy was a dashing batsman. The First XI cricket ground, the Head, was iconic and the whole school oozed cricket.
Tonbridge was founded in 1553. The Queen Mother officiated at our 400th anniversary in 1953. The impressive stone buildings resembled a huge stately home with spacious sports grounds stretching far beyond. 8 boarding houses with 50 boys were situated nearby, plus 2 for day-boys. I always enjoyed the magnificent chapel organ pounding out Karg-Elert’s Marche Triomphale, and Widor’s stoccata in Symphony No.5. An amazing highlight was the whole school’s rendering of ‘Zadok the Priest’ for the 1953 Coronation.
As a scholarship boy with 75% of my fees paid by Barclays Bank I went straight into the third form and ended up with 8 GCE ‘O’ Levels plus Latin and Greek at ‘A’. Greek earnt me an extra shilling a day in Cyprus for translating two EOKA pamphlets.
Our year of eight diverse personalities gelled well. Our pecking order was Prideaux, Clinch, Lewis, Singer, Piper, Rose, Morton and Ross. Only four of us lasted five years. Our last term fees as boarders were £108 (the others), and £27 (me).
I was a court games colour for the last two years (fives). But cricket dominated. In my last year, in the First XI, I did well in the first two matches, top score against the Town, then best bowler, but failed in my third and was dropped. My friends thought this unfair but I hid my disappointment with indifference. Instead of fighting my way back I couldn’t be bothered, and concentrated on club cricket where I was really wanted, my holiday captain at North Devon CC being David Shepherd, a friendly, uncomplicated boy who helped his mum run the Instow Post Office and soon afterwards represented Gloucestershire for 20-odd years before becoming a world-famous umpire.
After leaving Tonbridge I cricketed for another 37 years in 23 different countries, representing amongst others Filleigh, North Devon, the British Army, The Berlin Nonbenders, Malacca, the Stragglers of Asia, The Centaurs, Optimists, The Hong Kong Mandarins, HKCC and Hong Kong. But nothing quite compensated for my failure to represent Tonbridge vs Clifton at Lord’s. I can only blame myself. I was good enough to play - yet didn’t.
It was time to move on. I was bored marking time in the sixth form having had my fill of learning. So it was no surprise when I turned down a place at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. Nevertheless I shed a few silent tears when I left Tonbridge after the moving leavers’ service in the Chapel. Tonbridge shaped my future life and opened doors for me. The last year of prefectship had awoken my leadership and management skills and I was now fully prepared to tackle the outside world. Tonbridge was a fine school and I was very lucky to go there.
There were two last rituals to perform. Firstly I had to burn my barge, the same straw boater that had caused my first term beating. The second was to hand in my khaki Cadet Corps battledress, little realizing that four months later I would be back, wearing Army uniform for the next ten years.
Now a free agent in charge of my own destiny, and after three months Barclays banking at Tavistock I reported for National Service to Topsham Barracks, Exeter on 7/11/57.
‘Orrible Little Man
‘YOU’VE BEEN HERE three weeks and you still can’t make up your bedblock, can you Lewis FOUR-FIVE, you ‘orrible little man!’
There were 12 of us private soldiers in our basic training barrack room. We had joined the Devonshire Regiment (11th foot, formed in 1685). My number was 23431345, and next bed down was my mate Lewis 28. Discipline was hard, inspections, jankers (extra duties), incessant ballings-out and bull. Our diminutive training corporal made up for his lack of size with an outsize mouth that spouted all forms of obscenities. Every soldier was a ‘orrible little man, even though we were all taller than him. I later ran across him in Cyprus and thanked him for training us, and he seemed proud of me. I was relieved.
Some of the lads found the discipline hard to take, so I explained to them it’s just a game, just play it safe until we Pass Out. A few were illiterate so I helped them with letters to home and girl-friends. In return they did my hated cookhouse chores in exchange for their all-night guard duties. Two of the 12 became drivers. One, Harris, was on exercise with me at Eaton Hall, whilst Lewis 28 drove his 3-tonner 20 miles off his route to visit
my outstation in Cyprus. It was good to see him, he was risking big trouble to see me.
I was soon sent away for Officer training, and on 8/2/58 arrived at Eaton Hall, Chester, a dark and forbidding place. We were met by an impressive Regimental Sergeant Major. True to form, he started by saying......
‘Now lets get one thing straight gentlemen. You are now Officer Cadets. This means I call you ‘sir’, and you call me ‘sir’. The only difference is that YOU mean it, and I don’t! Do we understand each other?’
‘What was that?’
Our two-man room was at the very top. Our curtainless window stared straight out onto the blinding light of the Eaton Hall tower clock-face. Every ruddy hour the clock struck, midnight was the worst. My evening job was to haul coal from the basement 200 steps up to our freezing room where my mate would light the fire. Reveille was at 0530. National Service Officer training lasted only 16 weeks - as opposed to two years for the regular army Sandhurst men.
So training was full on and our strength, stamina, and determination was tested to its limits. Moreover it was the middle of winter, and constant 4 day-and-night exercises on Brecon Beacons were too much for some - they were returned to their units. But this is where my Tonbridge training kicked in and I took everything they threw at me.
Because I was hopeless at bulling of boots and blancoing of our white belts, I copped many extra duties. I had to sort this out and quickly. Every two weeks there was a passing-out parade. When the happy graduates were queueing to hand in their immaculate gear I would swap theirs for mine. Thereafter I would not touch it until the next passing-out parade, and so on. Problem solved, plus no more bulling.
Eaton Hall closed down so we graduated from Mons OCS Aldershot on 5/5/58. I was no longer a ‘orrible little man, but 456949, 2/Lt MJ Lewis of 1 Devon and Dorsets. I was posted to Piddlehinton, Dorset, to await my Battalion’s return from Germany, then took command of 7 Platoon, C Company, and as part of the Battalion Advance Party arrived in Cyprus on 10/11/58, my twentieth birthday.
I was abroad for the first time. It was Active Service, dangerous and exciting.
CYPRUS WAS OF great strategic importance to Britain, being within striking distance of the Suez Canal, and serving as a key military and naval base to its possessions in India and the Far East. Although Britain had administered it since 1878, Cyprus did not become a Crown Colony until 1925. The Greek Cypriots had always seen Cyprus as Greek, and favoured Enosis, or union with Greece. The Turkish Cypriots, 20% of the population, resented this so favoured Taksim, or Partition. Taking a middle line, the British governed with a policy of divide and rule. In 1955 EOKA - the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters was founded, seeking enosis through armed struggle. In the first two years of its terror campaign EOKA killed 203 people, including 78 British servicemen, 9 British Police, 16 British civilians, 12 Cypriot policemen and 4 Turkish civilians. They also set off 1382 bombs. However, 51 EOKA had been killed, 27 imprisoned and 1500 detained. By the time we arrived in 1958 Turkish and Greek Cypriots were using violence against the British and each other. And there were small terrorist cells throughout the country.
This was the situation that 1 Devon and Dorsets inherited. Bombings and shootings were making headline news in Britain, so even though these events were scattered over a wide area we were always on high alert, especially on outstations away from the safe Garrison areas of Episkopi and RAF Akrotiri.
7 Platoon was to be posted to Phassouri Police Station, an outstation and therefore a relatively dangerous place, so I was immediately dispatched there to learn all about the area from 26 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, specifically John Blatchford-Snell the outgoing Commander. He later made his name as a famous adventurer.
Phassouri PS was situated north of Akrotiri in an orange plantation. The owner invited me to dinner, Williamson, also an Old Tonbridgian. This was timely as I’d noticed the plantation came right up to our barbed wire, offering good close cover to terrorists. So we made a wider perimeter and patrolled it. I was also issued with two small books of terrorist photos, learning that to halt someone you had to shout ‘halt, stamata, dur’ three times before you could open fire - i.e. orders in three languages, x 3.
The Police station was commanded by Sgt Mahoney from England, assisted by 6 Greek and 1 Turkish policemen. They lived in the Police station, always on call.
John Blatchford-Snell’s enthusiasm was infectious. He was keen to show me his new piece of equipment which detected holes in the ground and possible terrorist arms caches. We went to an alleged terrorist’s garden and sure enough a ping-ping-ping detected a hole. A sack was dug up, revealing a cache of NAAFI plates and eating irons all nicked from the local camp. Things turned nasty that night when an RAF landrover was ambushed in our area, fortunately with no casualties.
I had got to know our large patrolling area inside out before my platoon arrived. To the south, Akrotiri. To the west, Episkopi. To the east Limassol. To the north, the foothills of Troodos, our boundary Kandou. In between many villages, all Greek. Beyond Kandou another Montpelier boy Ted Gray commanded a platoon at Ayios Amvrosios. Every dawn we opened the roads in our area, checking all culverts for bombs. During the day we patrolled and searched for weapons. There was a night-time curfew so we laid ambushes near known terrorist sympathisers’ houses.
Sometimes we worked with the local Police and threw cordons around a village, getting into position on foot before the Police roared into the village to search a targeted house, often taking away suspects and the odd terrorist.
The local Police chief was Collis Kenworthy. He had a price on his head and was nicknamed ‘the jumping flea’. One such village we cordoned was Kolossi, whose distinctive castle featured on my 3 and 4 piastres Cyprus stamps complete with the King’s head. When I arrived in Honiara 9 years later, Collis turned out to be my next door neighbour and later joined me in Hong Kong. Small world.
One day we found some explosives in a chimney in Erimi. The bomb disposal officer decided to blow them up in situ, so we retreated 200 yards. After debris showered us we looked up and the house had disappeared. No more incidents from that village.
We carried out 93 ambushes and arrested one suspect who obeyed our order to halt. Many ambushes were set up around the Zakaki egg farm, whose attractive owner had a terrorist boyfriend. We didn’t catch him, but there was no shortage of volunteers when eggs had to be bought.
Wells were a favourite place for storing arms caches. Our first well was small, so we chose our smallest man Evans the driver to go down. When he was a fair way down I noticed that the rope was beginning to fray. Sgt Wilkinson was opposite me and our eyes met. I quietly said ‘get him up slowly’. He did so. We jettisoned that rope and always tested the new one thoroughly. For years afterwards I had nightmares about that incident. If Evans had been seriously injured it would have been my fault.
It was then suggested we search cess-pits. I took one look at our first one, and drawing on my Officer training - don’t make the men do anything you wouldn’t do yourself - decided we wouldn’t do it. Non-active service.
We carried out one more large cordon and search of a mountainous village north of Ayios Amvrosious, without knowing the terrain, arriving at the RV at the exact time in pitch black darkness. I was pleased about that. It was a difficult operation.
We all grew up very quickly during these active service days. Sgt Wilkinson had joined the Army before I was born. I had gone to visit him at Exeter before I came out and we had a few beers at the Sergeants Mess. The men had been shy and uncertain at first but were now confident, ordering suspects against the wall and searching them as if they had done it all their lives. Like me they all came from rural Devon, one was our baker’s son - Thake. We were billeted in tents, plus a cookhouse tent and had two landrovers and a one-ton truck. I banned all alcohol, but made up for that by buying extra food which I financed from the sales of NAAFI cigarette cartons of 200 to the Police at inflated prices. Food supplies were also improved by the arrival at the main gate of a wafer-thin Pakistani who begged to become our charwallah. ‘Mucky’ made good strong coffee and brought me two chapattis every morning. He had useful contacts in town too, and I bought a very comfortable pair of non-issue patrol boots off him. Pretty soon the whole platoon were wearing them.
Even our lighter moments were dangerous. Sgt Mahoney kindly invited me to a Sergeants mess function in Limassol in his Police landrover. He over-indulged so I had to get us back despite never having driven before. I somehow managed to return to Phassouri in third gear with Sgt Mahoney sound asleep. There were no other vehicles on the road due to the curfew. We were lucky.
In February 1959 an agreement was reached at a Conference in London between the British, Greek and Turkish Governments on proposals for an independent Republic, also safeguarding the two British bases of Dhekelia and Episkopi.
Cyprus gained independence in 1960, but it looked as if 7 Platoon would lose theirs.
|THE PEACE TALKS put an end to our Internal Security duties. Still at Phassouri, still with two landrovers and a one-ton truck, I decided we should make the most of our time and see as much of Cyprus as possible. We national servicemen had never been abroad before and only knew our own patrol area. I didn’t ask permission, just seized the day!
At first light we took off to the Troodos mountains with their fresh-scented pines; skirting Nicosia to the stunning Kyrenia Ranges; the imposing St Hilarion castle, 10th century (50 mils stamp); and the northern harbour town of Kyrenia itself (1 ½ piastre stamp); down the sparsely populated western part to coastal Paphos; back out east to Larnaca; and all the sights in between. We saw an island of dazzling beauty. In the middle of nowhere we came across an ancient circular Greek outdoor theatre; old churches; significant ruins - all with no tourist guide to explain them. In the same day we donned skis at Troodos (we didn’t know how to ski) and swam at Paphos. We steered clear of Nicosia, Famagusta and the Panhandle - intelligence reported there might still be problems there. And nobody enquired what Devon and Dorset Landrovers were doing so far away from base. If I ever return to Cyprus I will not see half as much as I saw then.
Back at Phassouri I still had to keep the men busy. We played inter-section football and cricket on the Kolossi village baked sand pitch, 4 sections of 9 men. We took precautions, sweeping the pitch beforehand and posting an LMG at each end. Later, as we became more friendly with the locals we even held cross-country runs. One such run got Cpl Hall and I into trouble.
As our stay at Phassouri wound down we decided to run to Asomatos, and if an opportunity arose, snaffle a Greek flag as the platoon’s momento of our stay. But on our approach to the village - it was a very black night - we were mistaken for chicken-thieves. Widespread ululation broke out and we scarpered, just managing to escape into a plantation before a truck sped by full of shouting men brandishing pickaxes and other weapons. We spent half the night circling back to our Police Station via the salt flats and flamingos, and I later traded a flag at another village for a carton of ciggies. I learnt a lesson the hard way from this misguided incident. Ever since then I was paranoid about personal safety both for my men and myself - in the desert, the jungle, anywhere we were not familiar with. This carried on into civilian life where I’ve always followed the principle of being ‘one step ahead’.
Our National Service 7 Platoon had done well at Phassouri and our rarely seen Company Commander was mentioned in despatches - for the work we had done, said the men. We were rewarded with another Outstation posting - this time at Kalavasos Mine, (10 mils stamp) the largest iron pyrites mine in Cyprus, in Larnaca District. My job was to personally issue dynamite to the miners. The men would then accompany them down the long tunnels and ensure the explosives were detonated properly. The North Devon Journal came out and reported on me under the heading ‘His job was dynamite’. The men and the miners formed a very close relationship, but as tensions eased there was no need for further supervision so we rejoined Battalion HQ in Episkopi as one of the 3 platoons of C Company.
We then took part in a Company exercise whose aim was to get across the country from south to north the quickest using any route. 7 Platoon won this hands down. We were all dropped off at 2200 on a dark night. We immediately went to sleep in sheltered woods, whilst the others exhausted themselves marching through the rainy night. Next morning, refreshed, we hiked all day and night up to the familiar Troodos area we had visited on our tourist trips, RV-ing with an old village bus we knew came past at 0700 then riding all the way down the mountains, and walking to the northern coast, arriving at our destination some 24 hours before the other two platoons.
Then out of the blue I found myself in Benghazi, soon to be reunited with WW2.
The Libyan Desert
LIBYA WAS AN Italian Colony from 1911 to 1943 when the WW2 North African campaign ended in defeat for Italy and Germany. From 1943 to 1951 Libya came under allied occupation with the British administering the two former Italian provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica which included the major cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. Libya became independent in 1951, but when we arrived in Benghazi in 1959 there was still a British presence and we were posted to a large military camp.
Brigade HQ had asked for volunteers to go across the Libyan desert to find out whether the wartime minefields were still there and to confirm their exact location. I applied and was chosen to lead the expedition, and my Sgt and men were handpicked from all over the Battalion. Sgt Allen and I took over four specially equipped open landrovers and two trailers for carrying petrol drums, and carrybags slung over the length of each side for personal kit and camp beds. Sand tyres had been fitted and we received instruction on the sun compass, though I preferred my own conventional type. We were issued with 1942 maps notable for their paucity of information - there were few distinguishing features other than ‘cairn’, ‘bush’, and the odd small circle denoting a well. Our journey soon confirmed the featureless landscape - an ideal place to fight a war without bothering anyone else. We set out from Benghazi.
Our route was marked by cairns of stones, sometimes white-washed. There were still burnt-out vehicles, mounds of ammunition, and the occasional unexploded bomb marked with a white circle. We crossed the Jebel Akhdar and motored for days across the desert, sometimes vehicles abreast to prevent those behind being blinded by sand. Twice we nearly ran out of water, only to be saved by stumbling on a well at dusk. We treated the polluted water with purifying tablets, and took measures to ensure that scorpions did not enter our boots at night. I had been issued with syringes and morphine but luckily did not have to use them, though I remember the men catching two scorpions and circling them with petrol whereupon they attacked each other. The desert was hot by day but surprisingly cold at night under the clear stars and moonlight - you could see for miles. Nights were punctuated by the howls of hyenas, and one night I woke up to see a camel’s head looking down at me. On our stops during the day we would pull over and out of the flat barren landscape would appear two locals offering to sell us eggs. Where did they come from and how did they get there? It was worrying to find we were not alone so I posted sentries.
On and on we went passing scenes of former large skirmishes until we reached minefield territory. Sure enough the minefields were there, with barbed wire and scraps of cloth to denote danger. When we reached remote villages the locals told us the mines were still active as animals got blown up every so often. Over three weeks we recorded everything we saw and information we gathered for Brigade HQ, and set off north, coming out of the desert at a town the locals called ‘Gubba’. Showing a police officer there was no Gubba on my 1942 map, he pointed to a place named Giovanni Berti. Ah yes, the name the Italians gave it, where Gubba should be. Problem solved we drove on north to the sea, miles and miles of empty beach and crystal clear water, a most beautiful sight. We swam for hours.
Reverting to tourist mode I swanned to Alexandria to show the men another country - Egypt. Then back westwards along the sea road stopping to see one amazing underwater village of ancient times. Villages became towns and soon we were back in Benghazi. We had had no problems along the way, our 1950s landrovers behaved well, and we had achieved what we set out to do. We had to guard against children stealing stuff from our vehicles - ‘imshi!’ - but that was all.
Later the Battalion went to train in Libya, so perhaps our recce was helpful.
Back in Cyprus my two years National Service was nearly over. But I could not abandon this exciting life. I applied to become a Regular Officer, was sent back to UK, passed the Board, did a stint as Training Officer, then landed in Singapore on 10/1/61.
THE COMET DOOR slid open, wafting in the humid frangipani-laden air, plus a pencil-slim Singaporean stewardess, fresh as a daisy despite our 0300 arrival. These few moments never left me. From then on I could not see myself settling in England.
When I became a Regular Army Officer I took it for granted I would be returned to my National Service Regiment the Devon and Dorsets. Instead I was posted to the 3rd East Anglian Regiment who were short of experienced subalterns. I brooded on this until I realised where they were serving - Malaya. 3 East Anglian were the former Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (16th Foot, formed 1688), and Essex Regiment (44th Foot, formed 1741). They amalgamated in 1958 to form the 3rd East Anglian Regiment nicknamed ‘The Pompadours’- their regimental colour purple, the colour of Madame de Pompadour’s knickers nicked off the washing line during one of their many battle honours.
I billeted overnight at an Officers Mess near Raffles Hotel, then boarded a train to Tampin, thence by truck to Terendak Camp Malacca. I became a D Company Platoon Commander again, this time as full lieutenant. I quickly got to know my brother officers who decided that an officer new to the Regiment should be ‘shown the ropes’.
After the mandatory few beers we arrived at Lily’s massage parlour, where the other four were paired off with their pretty young partners. I was left with my own eastern madame de pompadour, an older girl who led me to her room and immediately stripped to her skimpy underwear revealing assets of magnificent proportions. I took off everything except my underpants. She looked at these disdainfully and said ‘Take off pants’. In total panic I blurted out ‘No, I’m British!’ She smiled. ‘No pants off, no massage’. Since she was more experienced than me I obeyed, and much to my satisfaction I emerged an hour later after being made to feel very much at home. On re-entering the lounge I was met with congratulatory cheers, and was now a more wordly part of my new Regiment, the Pompadours.
Active service had just ended but operations were still continuing. The Malayan Emergency had lasted from 1948 to 1960 when the Communist insurgency was finally defeated. However the Communist guerilla leader Chin Peng and a small band of followers still operated from the jungle around and across the Thailand border. They continued to cause trouble sometimes killing a few Malayans. Though their impact had waned the British Army still had some mopping-up to do, so we were sent to patrol the northern jungles.
It was full-on. We flew all over the northern areas - Grik, Kroh, the Thai border, even the East Coast, Kelantan and Trengganu, and the Slim River further south. Once we manned a road-block on the outskirts of Taiping, and for 14 days existed on bread and beer from the sole local Chinese store. Malaria pills and water-purifying tablets were essential. Air-dropped 24 hour ration packs became jungle lifesavers, including mutton scotch-style and self-heating soups. Jungle boots suffered from a curious osmosis - they let water in but didn’t let it out, turning the underside of one’s feet into pockmarked miniature moonscapes, leading to footrot if you weren’t careful. Though I had no trouble with leaches, some men wore a french letter.
The jungle was never still. At night it was pitch-black. The quiet dripping was sometimes punctuated by the sudden crashing of a large tree, dead tired of standing upright after all those years. We slept under bashas on poled hammocks under tightly drawn capes, off the ground from snakes. There was no better sound than heavy rain falling on your cape a foot above you as you lay in your dry basha.
By day the sunlight hardly penetrated, and after ten days our brown skin would turn ghastly white. We saw monkeys but hardly any other animals. A small apology for an elephant was once seen running away from us. And in the Cameron Highlands a tiger was spotted in a garden, and we later discovered tiger paw imprints over our own tracks as we doubled back down a ridge. Patrolling all day was tiring, and I was forever indebted to my Malay tracker one evening when, reaching a small waterfall I reckoned I could jump down onto the slippery rocks below. He stopped me and quietly pointed to a nearby vine which I climbed down. If I had jumped I would have broken a leg - a huge logistical problem as we were near the Thai border. This taught me to be extra careful in making decisions when tired.
There were no more terrorist incidents so I then trained the last National Servicemen coming out from England. They were taken to the jungle where they established a defensive position in their dug-outs. I would crawl up to their trenches at night unseen, and listen. They imagined they saw everything - elephants, tigers, terrorists. But as with my Devons they learnt quickly and were soon fit for patrolling.
As with Cyprus, when active service ended life returned to normal and there was time for socialising and getting to know the country better. Cricket was first on the agenda.
I formed a Regimental team and we entered the local league competing for the Doshi Shield. At the start we were still jungle patrolling, so I had to send out messages over the Battalion net to arrange RVs for team members to meet where a 3 ton truck with team kit would take us to matches on Saturdays. Arriving in jungle gear we would change into whites and take the field. Sometimes we would play at the Malacca Club, the town’s social HQ. On Saturday nights the planters and their wives would come into town, and now and then there was someone to dance the night away with during those bibulous times - with a library upstairs which welcomed quiet conversation......
The club pitch itself was below the level of the rest of the square, so an accurate off-spinner could pitch into the side of it and bring the ball back at right-angles. By using these and other ploys we won the prestigious Doshi Shield.
But the mother of all Colonial clubs was the Royal Selangor Club - the ‘Dog’ in Kuala Lumpur. The worldwide Hash House Harriers had been formed there in the 1930s. Batting there for the Malacca Club I hit my good friend Jagdev Singh straight through a closed window near the Long Room Bar. Being six o’clock the patrons came to the window, pints in hand, shouting ‘Do it again, do it again!’ I couldn’t, but made 62 not out before it rained. 2 famous clubs, 1 honourable draw. Time for a Tiger!
1961 was the year Denis Silk’s MCC side played there, with my Tonbridge mate Roger Prideaux performing. It was good to catch up.
Our Malacca State side comprised 7 nationalities. The captain was Portuguese, his brother, an Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and 2 English, 2 Australian and 2 Kiwis. We played two-day interstate matches, beating Johore and Negri Sembilan, then traveled to Singapore for the final. They were almost County strength, with fine players like Reggie Da Silva and the Martens brothers, plus West Indian servicemen Jeffers and Mungrue. On the last day I batted for a long time trying to save the match for Malacca. I failed but the Chinese Cricket President treated our team to the New World Entertainment Centre, and because I had scored 60, introduced me to a stunningly attractive young Chinese girl who took me to a night-club in Bras Basah road. When we entered the band started to play ‘Am I that easy to forget’ - her favourite tune. She certainly wasn’t!
I loved Malaya. It was real Somerset Maugham country. Some of the expatriate characters I encountered were straight out of his books – like the German planter and Sadie Thompson. And Anthony Burgess’ 1950s Malayan Trilogy too, which in the early 60s were particularly relevant - Time for a Tiger; The enemy in the blanket; and Beds in the East. I lived these books. I made friends with a charming Nonya family who had a bookstore/record shop in downtown Malacca and a 19 year-old daughter. And my Indian mate Rajendran who shared his love of cricket with me.
Some images stay with you forever. The whooping of monkeys across a mist-laden jungle valley in early morning Taiping; sullen water buffalo in muddy padi-fields; green and black Rajah Brooke butterflies winging their way slowly up a stream bed towards you; brown river floodwaters swollen with torrential rain; the silence of the jungle. And the magical Cameron Highlands where Thorogood and I were sent for R&R after 32 days in the jungle - its 9-hole golf course; butterfly catching at the 14th mile; the jungle track from ‘Wings’ to the village; Foster’s Smokehouse; Boh tea estate; the tiger; Dr. No; cabbages. Thereafter I always visited the Camerons whenever I could, 42 miles up the mountain to a cooler climate where it rained every afternoon at 3, and even now my most favourite place in the world.
Shortly before 3 R.Anglian was posted from Malaya to Northern Ireland, I was sent to the Brigade depot at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, as assistant adjutant. I had been continuously on the go since leaving Tonbridge four years earlier. I knew Britain no longer held much attraction for me, so the next two years were only a holding period. I had grown up in Malaya and was going to return to the peninsular somehow. And I did.
I returned to UK on 18/11/61. I was just 23.
To Catch a Thief
|‘WHY HAVE YOU been stealing off us for the last six months?’ I said as I jumped down from the loft to my room below with a hockey stick for protection. ‘Sign this’. Pavey signed the confession, having removed the half-crown from his pocket. I said ‘Return everything you have stolen from us by Thursday, or I’ll go to the Police’. I never saw him again.
We had discovered there was a thief amongst us, who stole cash and other belongings from our rooms in the Officers Mess. We had no idea who it was and I was determined to catch him, so one Sunday morning after making a great show of leaving to play golf, I snuck back into my room through the window and up into my loft, leaving it ajar so I could see down. Within minutes our civilian cleaner Pavey came into my room, picked up a half-crown out of 14 shillings on the dresser below and put it in his pocket, causing me to jump down from above. He had not returned to work and the thieving had stopped. Job done.
But then the Police then came to me with some remarkable intelligence. ‘We hear you got Pavey, sir. You do realise, sir, that withholding evidence about a crime is a crime in itself, don’t you sir. Now we need an excuse to go to his house, where we suspect he has been bypassing the electricity for the past two years’. So I told them the story, and shortly afterwards I was summoned to West Suffolk Quarter Sessions – Pavey had earlier pleaded guilty to the two electricity charges but not guilty to stealing from me. The trial was in front of a jury, who found him guilty and he was sentenced to three months jail.
‘Batman who stole 2/6 gets 3 months’ snorted the local rag. ‘Officer watched from loft above’. The President of the local hockey club wrote to me, tongue in cheek probably, accusing me of bringing the game into disrepute.
But justice was done. Courts didn’t muck about in 1962. I hadn’t planned to end up there and my next appearance was as a Magistrate. Thankfully I’d learnt a bit more about the law by then.
Bury St Edmunds
|SOLDIERING ABROAD WAS always intensive. In UK it was much more relaxed. Abroad you received an overseas allowance but the only place you really needed it was UK. Staff work was a breeze. My superior was the urbane adjutant John Hutchings, and our boss Lt Colonel Ben Palmer. Life at Bury St Edmunds revolved around sport.
Colonel Ben would order me to play golf with him every Wednesday afternoon at the Flempton Golf Club. I then partnered him at Army regional golfing events. I also ran the Depot cricket team, playing beery evening 20-over matches against villages. At weekends I was vice-captain of Ampton CC, whose beautiful ground with thatched pavilion lay in the middle of a forest. But the Stragglers of Asia took some beating. Its members were recruited from Far East service personnel on leave in UK.
In my first match in our Aldershot dressing room our captain told us he had lost the toss and we were fielding first. He asked who could open the bowling. It turned out we had 11 batsmen and I bowled left-arm spin. Roy Swetman, ex-England wicket-keeper also wanted to bowl, but he was short. The captain again pleaded for an opening bowler. I said I could do it. He gave me the new ball and said ‘bowl till tea!’ I did. 4-59 off 27 overs, off a long run-up. My fellow cover fielder, Swetman again, asked me ‘where do you play your cricket?’ ‘The Malacca Club’ said I. He shook his head as if I was joking.
Next weekend at a country estate with a keg of draught beer in each dressing room and the pitch in front of the stately home, the captain came to me and said ‘Ah, Lewis I hear you open the bowling. Please take the new ball’. I did. This pitch had a tree root under the ground on a good length. When I hit it the ball went over the wicket-keeper’s head for 4 byes. At lunch the opposition were 230 for 3 as the ground was so small only a single could be run. We had to chase 350 which was no problem. Thankfully in the third match I got to bowl my left-arm spin, a dead wicket so a long spell, 3-81. We always had good batsmen who could score runs, different players every week.
I caught up with mum and dad and sister Jen. My father had just been posted to manage Barclays bank Sunbury-on-Thames, so they had moved from Devon, and now lived at Laleham. He had enjoyed managing South Molton and Bideford, but mum was a London girl at heart, so they compromised. Dad’s great promise as a footballer and cricketer was cut short by pleurisy from which his younger brother died. Jen was at Edinburgh University, and later made a name for herself as Principal Social Worker in Hackney, probably London’s most challenging suburb. Mum lived to 96.
Social life was enjoyable. Suffolk had quaint country pubs in almost every village, none more so than the Rushbrooke Arms, our favourite place for after-hours drinking. Jenny was the daughter of its publicans. However Colonel Ben and Hutchings did not approve of our relationship, and threatened me with a posting to Northern Ireland if I did not give her up.
I fumed and plotted. All overseas postings came to me first and I had seen an opening in the Singapore Guard Regiment for a British officer. I gave up Jenny for a short while to stave off the Northen Ireland posting, secured the Singapore job, woo-ed her back from a fellow officer who had a TR2, proposed to her at The Swan in Lavenham, married her with John Hutchings as best man, and all within the space of about two months arrived back in Singapore on 8/12/63.
Singapore Guard Regiment
MALAYA BECAME MALAYSIA in 1963, incorporating Singapore and the former British North Borneo colonies of Sabah and Sarawak, the latter two being added to balance the one and a half million Chinese of Singapore. President Sukarno of Indonesia opposed this. He wanted a major Malay federation, Maphilindo, comprising Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, and the Philippines, all headed by Indonesia and himself. He was therefore pursuing a policy of ‘konfrontasi’ (confrontation) to fight against Malaysia which lasted from 1962 until March 1966 when he was replaced by General Suharto - whom I later met. During these years there were many Indonesian excursions into Borneo, so British and Gurkha troops had to dominate the jungle by offensive patrolling and guard the border with defensive positions. Borneo was active service.
The Singapore Guard Regiment was a colonial all-Malay infantry-type regiment, staffed by British Army Officers, supported by some younger Singaporean officers. The Commanding Officer was Lt Col Dunlop, a distinguished former Chindit. After learning elementary Malay, I became Training Officer. Colombo Camp, Ulu Pandan was our base. We sometimes trained on Pulau Tekong, an island off Changi, but mainly used our own camp area with hills overlooking the south coast, where we carried out gas training and minor tactical manoeuvres.
We also trained in Internal Security duties to prepare ourselves for the occasional periods of unrest. We were used as back-up for riots later, and Jenny was caught up in one riot but was not harmed as Europeans were not the target.
Malays made good soldiers. They were more disciplined than British squaddies and as Muslims did not drink. Our guardroom was always empty and it was rare for Malays to be charged. They were easy-going, and some had more than one wife, though the Army only allowed marriage allowance for the first one. I conducted training lectures in Malay, though many tactical words were in English. We all wore the red songkok and I was ‘Tuan’. Singapore Guard Regiment was colonial soldiering at its best.
OUR COMPANY WAS suddenly posted to Kuching, Sarawak, to guard the airport. We sailed for Borneo on the Burns Philp ship Rajah Brooke, steaming up the Kuching River three days later just as Rajah James Brooke himself had done in 1841.Our arrival on 8/4/64 coincided with increased activity by the Indonesians. During July alone they mounted 13 incursions into Sarawak, resulting in 34 attacks. As Intelligence Officer I planned and executed offensive patrols around the airport. No arrests were made, but we closed down a huge illegal still deep in the jungle.
We also patrolled up-river, taking over two longboats with high-powered engines, searching Iban settlements. Occasionally we visited border longhouses on ‘hearts and minds’ missions, possibly alternating with Indonesian patrols. On our first such mission the penghulu (headman) laid on some dancing entertainment, after which I was invited to take my pick of six bare-breasted young ladies for the night. I thanked the headman for his generosity, but said it was impossible to choose between so many beauties, and delegating this privilege to my Sergeant, left graciously. I also made sure we were well defended that night, and doubled our guard.
The RAF had every type of aeroplane at Kuching. Hunters and heavy, noisy Javelins were the main jet strike-force. Belvedere and Whirlwind Ten helicopters were the troop carriers. There was a lumbering Valetta (pig) for airdrops, and a RNZAF Bristol Freighter. Also a Hercules - the Indonesians had those also, and Twin Pioneers for short landing strips. Fokker Friendship F27s provided commercial flights, their Rolls-Royce engines providing a reassuring sound.
Then the RAF came calling. They didn’t have enough helicopter pilots to fly to the border. Two were needed, and they wanted me to sit in the co-pilot’s seat, ride shotgun, and bring back the chopper if the pilot was incapacitated. No problem.
OUR WHIRLWIND TEN helicopter of 225 Squadron set off for the Bau border carrying 13 men. As the occupant of the left-hand co-pilot’s seat I had two responsibilities. First to answer fire with my 7.62 rifle if we got shot at. Secondly, if the pilot was incapacitated to fly the chopper back and land it on the runway. Helicopters were in huge demand - there were just not enough to cover the vast amount of territory. And an even bigger shortage in pilots had created a desperate situation. A Javelin pilot friend also volunteered. He said driving a Whirlwind Ten was more difficult than a jet.
During the trip out elementary instruction was given. There was a bubble on the dashboard, and you had to keep it straight. For some reason my bubble was always slightly tilted, so we were never flew fully upright. The most difficult manoeuvre was hovering. With left hand going up and down, right hand moving crossways, and legs going separately, I never really mastered it. But I knew the terrain, could use the radio, and was just about capable of bringing the chopper back to Kuching and dumping it on the runway.
I carried out six missions. On the last sortie my pilot called me back later, and showed me some bullet holes his mechanic had found under the fuselage. We were not aware we had been shot at, but it helped support the desperate need for extra pilots. It also underscored the bravery of the pilots who, during dangerous night missions, and hovering in pitch-black jungle clearings, delivered ammunition during fire-fights. Two DFCs were awarded to young 225 Sqn pilots, thoroughly deserved. As for me, my bright orange jumpsuit was my reward.
Airdrops were the soldiers’ lifeline and I wanted to experience one first-hand. The RASC Captain, a mate, allowed me to act as doorman on an air-drop mission. We set off in the Pig, nickname for a Valetta, with every bolt creaking as we lumbered up mist-laden jungle valleys and rivers, sometimes turning sharply and never far from the treetops. To my untrained eye this was real flying at its most challenging. Soon the cloud grew more dense, but on we went with engines screaming. Harnessed and sweating profusely I shoved the readied gear out of the side of the plane on a given command. By the end of the seven loads dropped I was exhausted, but felt a great sense of achievement as did the other team members.
Unfortunately that feeling did not last long. Unbeknown to our commander and maybe because of the cloud, we had circled the second LZ twice, dropped the third load on the second LZ, fourth load on the third LZ, and so on. The helicopters had to go out and swap them all around with underslung loads, and being active service my RASC mate was court-martialled.
Another air-drop story. Rats abounded in Sarawak. In your washbasin your soap was pockmarked with teeth-bites, and they scurried about camp. But on the border in the trenches - that was rat-heaven! They were huge, black and fierce. It got so bad that we were asked to airdrop some cats to kill the rats. We duly dropped the cats. The next we heard, the cats had been eaten by the rats.
THE CAMARADERIE AT RAF Kuching was inspiring. Our Singapore Guard Regiment was very popular - never more so than when we competed in the evening volleyball league. We looked smart in our matching gym gear, red shirts and white shorts. The games were played between the rows of thatched barrack rooms with spectators sitting on the verandas alongside the court. We won the league to generous applause. We looked a team and we were. I was proud to be part of that volleyball team, the Regiment and the job we were doing.
I completed two active service tours of Borneo, 8/4/64 to 20/8/64 and 20/2/65 to 24/5/65. On our second tour operations wound down, our patrolling adopted a more ‘hearts and minds’ approach, and we became friendlier with the locals.
Sports were allowed again. The Kuching Club sported a 9-hole golf course, and a swimming pool where I won the RAF ‘Golden Balls’ night-time trophy for the fastest length nude. I also played for the RAF hockey team on the right wing. There’s nothing more satisfying than flying down the right wing and centring the ball across, or on the odd occasion cutting into the circle and hammering it past the goalie.
Cricket was played inside the race-track, long-on tracking backwards under a skier, disappearing into a swamp.
And the Kuching open market by the river provided us with the best night-time meals I’ve ever had, washed down with a large bottle of ice-cold beer.
By mid-1965 incursions from the Indonesian border became much less frequent and achieved very little, apart from a major attack on 27 April, about the last real threat of Confrontation. It had been well contained by the British in difficult conditions.
We subsequently returned to Singapore in a leaky old RNZAF Bristol freighter (‘frightener’) during a thunderstorm, whose New Zealand pilot I eventually met on my local Remuera Golf Course over 40 years later - Barry North. Small world.
Debbie - Riot Baby
DURING MY FIRST Borneo tour Jenny had stayed in Penang with Pat and Winnie King. Soon after I returned she gave birth to our daughter Debbie on 23/9/64 at the British Military Hospital Singapore. At the time I was on riot stand-by but managed to get her to hospital before being called away. Because of the internal security situation I could not return for several days. She then had her hands full with baby Debbie but got good help from our young Chinese amah. We lived in the Alexandra Park compound at 7B Hyderabad Road in a sprawling bungalow with separate servant’s quarters and our Ford Consul 315.
After completing my second Borneo tour she returned to England. I was enjoying the soldiering, had the best confidential reports of my career and wanted to continue there. But I now had responsibility for Debbie, so I reluctantly rejoined my (now known as) 3rd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, returning to UK on 8/7/65.
In 8/65 Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia. For years it served as my second home. Whenever I had a week’s spare leave I went there to relax in the downtown area, sometimes at the reasonably priced low-rise Strand Hotel in Bencoolen St.
In 4/16 Jane and I visited our lawyer daughter Kimberley in her Tiong Bahru Estate 1950s 4-storey walk-up. The city is as every bit as exciting now as it was when Debbie was born in 1964. Now a member Kimberley treated us to lunch at the Singapore Cricket Club which still serves the cheapest beer in town.
WE WERE POSTED to West Berlin on 8/8/65. Having bought a new tax-free green Cortina EGT 300C we set off down the autobahn, quickly adapting to driving on the wrong side of the road.
After WW2 Berlin was occupied by the Allies and the city divided. East Berlin became the capital of Soviet-controlled East Germany, whilst West Berlin became a de facto West German enclave, surrounded by East German territory including the 1961-1989 Berlin Wall. East Berlin was therefore the Russian sector, and West Berlin was occupied by the British, American and French sectors. West Berlin remained a military occupation zone until 3/3/90 when Germany was unified.
We were heading to the British sector, with its Charlottenburg, Tiergarten, Spandau and Wilmersdorf districts. Wilmersdorf was comparatively remote, Tiergarten was home to parliamentary institutions like the Bundestag, and Spandau housed a notorious prison.
But Charlottenburg epitomized the West Berlin ‘island of freedom’, this liberal and cosmopolitan city of wealth, education and culture. Here was the true centre of West Berlin with the Kurfurstendamm as its centre of commerce, leisure and night-life, where you could dance the night away to the Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ in a smoke-filled nightclub. By contrast because of the Cold War and the need to maintain the status quo, the soldiering was comparatively low key.
Back on our autobahn, and unlike the immediate postwar days when westerners could not enter East Germany, (West Berlin surviving through the Berlin Airlift), we now drove freely from Frankfurt through East Germany and the Potsdam checkpoint to West Berlin, and our residence in tree-lined Charlottenburg not far from the 3 Royal Anglian barracks at Spandau, and soon familiarised ourselves.
In 1965 the Berlin Wall was a sad place. At a time pre-arranged with the Easterners West Berliners would ascend the high stand built behind the wall, and looking over it they exchanged waves, holding up toddlers for their opposite numbers to see. East Berlin was a desolate place, and it was no wonder that during the 28 years of the Wall’s existence 136 people died trying to cross the border - they were regarded as traitors, though about 5,000 succeeded in defecting to West Berlin.
Another sad place was Belsen concentration camp. We were near Celle one day when my map showed our 3-ton truck was near the camp, so we drove in. It was deserted and overcast - empty huts still standing, and complete silence - not even birds singing even though it was summer and the countryside. It was a gloomy eerie place and we didn’t hang around.
Whilst in Berlin three of us were asked informally if we would join a unit parachuting into Rhodesia. There were concerns about the illegal regime of Ian Smith and his Unilateral Declaration of Independence (11/11/65). I said yes, but we heard nothing more.
I’ve been asked if I ever worked for MI5/6. The answer is categorically no. There are times, like the example above, when you are sounded out informally about going somewhere or doing something, and on other occasions you might help out a colleague by sharing information on a place of mutual interest. But that’s very much on the unpaid old boy network. It’s very different from being paid by an intelligence agency to undertake intelligence work.
We didn’t really get to know Berlin. We couldn’t speak German and the Cold War hardly affected us. We were happy just doing our job in the cocoon of Army life. 3 Royal Anglian won the cricket and hockey leagues. Our Berlin Combined Services cricket team was formidable, and I started an enjoyable officers mess evening team, the Non-Benders playing 20-over matches, 10 players bowling two overs each, and batsmen retiring at 30.
Our lives were orderly but that didn’t last long. Another active service posting was on the horizon.
I WAITED IN THE SPANDAU jail exercise garden for the men with whom I associated sending over the V1 doodle-bugs of my childhood; with the bombing of nan and grandad’s house; and with so many wartime deaths. It was 2/66 and there was snow on the ground. It was against the rules to be in the garden but I wasn’t going to lose my only opportunity for an appointment with history. I had taken over from my sick platoon commander and instead of appointing another had decided to do this duty myself just so I could come face-to-face with the prisoners.
Rudolf Hess came through the outer door first. He was Hitler’s misguided Deputy Fuhrer who had parachuted into Scotland hoping to sell his unacceptable peace proposals to the Duke of Hamilton, not realizing the Duke was an entirely unsuitable representative. His original plan had been, after getting a satisfactory reply to his proposals, for his ME 110 to be refuelled, presumably at the British taxpayer’s expense, and then return to Berlin. But instead of being treated as a bona fide peace emissary - he had come to Britain voluntarily - he was gaoled as a prisoner-of-war. He was furious and became eccentric. At Spandau he was a loner, unpopular and had mental health issues.
He certainly looked eccentric to me. He walked ahead of the other two muttering to himself and when he reached the rose garden started forming swastikas with his boot in the snow. He was the last prisoner to be housed at Spandau, and his continued incarceration was political, as the Russians wanted to keep a foothold in West Berlin.
Behind him together came Albert Speer and the smaller Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth, both part of Hitler’s inner circle. These two were the only ones who denounced Hitler at the Nuremburg Trials, where they were both sentenced to 20 years, von Schirach for his part in sending Jews to certain death in concentration camps in Poland, and Speer for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Von Schirach did not look remarkable but Speer was different. He was tall and erect in a well-fitting greatcoat, walking with his hands behind his back. He had kept himself more mentally and physically fit than the others. He had written his memoirs and had them smuggled out. He had been Hitler’s right hand man, an expert planner and schemer. He seemed in a good mood as he walked towards me, maybe because he and von Schirach were due to be released on 30/9/66 and only had 7 months to go.
‘Good morning’ said I.
‘And good morning to you’ said Speer looking at me straight in the eye as he passed. He certainly had mana, even after all those years in prison.
I had seen at very close quarters, and had briefly been in charge of the three most powerful living members of the Third Reich. One had driven himself almost mad, the other two had
repented. It was time for us all to move on.
Speer released ‘Inside the Third Reich’ in 1970; and ‘Spandau: The Secret Diaries’ in 1976 - from which I deduced from the snow, that my visit to Spandau Jail occurred on or just after 11/2/65. ‘Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth’, written by Gitta Sereny, published in 1995, is one of the greatest works on Hitler’s Germany and WW2.
Hess stayed in Spandau until hanging himself in 1987, whereupon Spandau jail was immediately demolished to prevent it becoming a neo-nazi shrine. In its place arose a shopping centre for British military personel serving in Berlin.
Meanwhile a very different war between England and Germany was about to unfold.
1966 World Cup
‘ROBBED!’ SCREAMED THE Berlin newspapers in German. Outrage, despair, disgust. Every bus in the city carried a huge picture of the football landing on the ground OUTSIDE the goal-line, having first hit the cross-bar. That goal became part of World Cup folklore. Drunken squaddies littered the streets.
The score had been 2-2, and extra time was being played when the controversial decision was made, on the recommendation of the Russian linesman. That made it 3-2 and England scored another before the close, with West Ham’s Geoff Hurst netting a hat-trick, the only one in World Cup final history. Final score 4-2 to England. It had been a thrilling game. Germany scored first, but England were leading 2-1 before Germany scored in the last minute, to force the game to extra time at 2-2.
England is football mad. True, their Premier League is the best in the world and every professional footballer wants to play in it. But their national team is only consistent in its underperformance and unlike Germany rarely threatens to win a World Cup. So this was a very big deal, yet over 50 years later it remains England’s only win since the tournament started in 1930. Germany has won four.
We had watched the semi-final England vs Portugal in the Berlin Officers Club, closed for a public holiday, but accessible via a ladder parked near an upstairs window. England won 2-1. On the day of the final we were playing cricket against 1 Royal Anglian who had bussed in early from West Germany. We started our match at 0900, watched the Cup Final in our long tea-break, then finished our game in near darkness.
Next day I was Officer-in-charge of The British Train, which ran daily from Berlin, through East Germany to Frankfurt in West Germany. At Potsdam station I handed over the passports for my Russian counterpart to check. He was the sort of Russian Hollywood movies love to portray - larger than life, convivial, red-faced, weather-beaten. He was in high spirits, and through his attractive blonde interpreter, congratulated England on winning the World Cup. Through my grizzled Military Police Sgt interpreter I thanked Russia for confirming the controversial third goal. ‘Well, we couldn’t have those bloody Germans winning, could we’ he said, to much laughter from us all. He stamped our passports without even looking at them.
Later that day I arrived back at Potsdam from Frankfurt to find he was still there. He was in a more reflective mood. He confided to me that he was soon to retire and wanted to paint.
‘What are you going to paint’, I said - ‘nudes or landscapes?’
‘Nudes ON landscapes’ he replied.
More laughter as he stamped our passports.
England’s footballers have never won anything since that day in 1966.
BERLIN’S RELATIVE PEACE then gave way to the nightmare that was Aden.
Aden was administered as part of British India from 1839. My KGVI 3 anna stamp depicts a British warship firing broadsides - ‘capture of Aden 1839’ - when Royal Marines were landed to stop attacks by pirates against British ships to India. And my 1 anna stamp shows the harbour, the second busiest port in the world by 1958, and a vital asset in Britain’s worldwide defence network, also protecting British oil interests in the Persian Gulf. Aden became a Crown Colony in 1937. Civil unrest led to the British Army being recalled to Aden in 1955, and continued until independence on 30/11/67 and beyond. On 15/1/63 the Colony was reconstituted as the State of Aden, leading to a worsening emergency, for although the British had long signaled they were leaving, freedom fighters had to be seen to be throwing them out. In 12/66 the Yemen-based NLF (National Liberation Front) restarted their fight for power with FLOSY (Front for the Liberation of Occupied Southern Yemen). They were not only fighting each other but the British as well. Add to this serious ongoing problems from Yemeni raids across the the borders in the 1950s and 1960s, and the stage was set for an ignominious British retreat.
Little wonder then that we soldiers asked ourselves what we were doing there. However ‘ours not to reason why’, and when 3 Royal Anglian Regiment arrived there in 10/66 our minds were focused on survival. We had a job to do and it required all our professionalism to stay on top of the situation and come out the other end alive.
Our battalion was responsible for area North - the largest. The terrain varied from the sand-baked desert to the muddy saltpans; Al Mansoura, Al Qahira; and the main trouble spot Sheikh Othman which posed by far the biggest challenges.
The following statistics are taken from The Dhow of 25/5/67 coinciding with 3 Royal Anglians’ departure from Aden. Our tented Radfan camp was first bombed on 5/12/66, and afterwards 30 mortar tubes were found at a nearby village. Fortunately a faulty wiring system had prevented 18 mortars being fired. Our camp and our patrols suffered another 19 mortar attacks with nearly 100 bombs, 158 grenade attacks, 30 by rocket grenade, 190 by automatic or small arms fire, 16 electronically detonated mines, 6 pressure mines and 7 other devices. In all we were involved in over 430 security incidents during our 7 months there (10/66 to 5/67). We killed 6 terrorist bombers, injured another 11, and made countless arrests. None of us were killed, though several incidents including my own and others at the battle of Sheikh Othman Mosque could quite easily have resulted in fatalities. We had many injuries, but we needed a lot of luck to keep our death tally to zero, though professionalism also played its part and was reflected in the 1966 Colony-wide statistics, which recorded that British Security Forces suffered 218 wounded casualties, with only 5 killed, out of 480 incidents. During that time 32 local nationals were killed and 283 injured.
Being now a Captain I had been elevated from platoon commander to company second-in-command, part of the tactical company HQ organisation overseeing three platoons. But I was needed elsewhere. I was posted to the Police HQ in Ma’ala, downtown Aden, as a police communications officer, coordinating responses to colony-wide internal security incidents, deploying whoever was available to deal with the many daily problems. However I was always called away from the Police when the situation got really bad, as when 3 Royal Anglian fought the Battle of the Mosque.
The Battle of
Sheikh Othman Mosque
THE EARLY-MORNING, CURFEW-IMPOSED calm was suddenly shattered by automatic fire. Live rounds ripped along our 4ft high white balustrade in front of me, raising white dust and shards from the concrete amongst the 6 soldiers crouching under cover behind it. The cylindrical water tank behind me was punctured and water was leaking from the holes. We were under heavy automatic fire, but we couldn’t pinpoint the origin.
We were manning an Observation Post (OP) on the 6th floor rooftop of a mainly empty 12-storey apartment block. To our right front was the main Sheikh Othman Mosque, an impressive large white building with tall minarets on each corner. In front of us open space gave way to another smaller mosque, to our left front further away more apartments. Behind us we were sheltered from danger by an adjoining apartment block, with a joint stairwell in between.
I had been called back from my Police duties because of the 5-day violence resulting from the United Nations Mission visit 2/4/67 to 7/4/67. This had sparked a major attempt by NLF and FLOSY to demonstrate that they alone had the right to be recognised as the representatives of the people and the eventual wielders of power. During the 5-day visit 280 incidents occurred throughout Aden, with 18 British servicemen wounded, some of them ours, and 8 terrorists killed. 3 Royal Anglian were fully deployed throughout Sheikh Othman and our OP was just one of 12.
Our balustrade was formed by fat round white twirly columns alternating with open space topped by a flat ridge of white concrete. I radio’d through that we were under automatic fire, no casualties, when another burst of fire arrived. My reaction was not one of fear, but anger – they were firing at my men!
I rushed to the balustrade, and to get a better view I foolishly put my head over the parapet. This time we pinpointed the terrorists’ position, returned heavy fire silencing them, and were not fired on from that site again.
After things had quietened down a bit, I realised that two of our men were missing – the 2 off-duty downstairs – we were doing spells of 6 on, 2 off. The orders were for the 2 off to come upstairs if we were fired on. Finding the 2 off on the 4th floor in an unlocked apartment with a TV I said -
‘There’s been trouble upstairs, we’ve been fired on. Why didn’t you come up?’
‘Sorry, sir, we was watching Danger Man’.
‘DANGER MAN?’ I exploded. ‘There’s the real bloody thing going on outside. Get upstairs!’
During the next two days we were shot at spasmodically from other areas, but following our first furious response, not with the same intensity. However our building was pockmarked by bullets, particularly the stairwell, which indicated to us that shots had been fired from the main mosque area which was more side-on to us. We returned fire if we knew the terrorist’s position - usually difficult to spot.
After 3 days other units cordoned and searched the main mosque and surrounding buildings but the terrorists had all fled, along with the United Nations Mission. The battle of Sheikh Othman Mosque was over, and my men and I were lucky to have survived without injury. Slowly life returned to comparative normality.
There was a postscript to this battle. Two weeks later the Adjutant presented me with a bill for £20,000 damage to our OP apartment block. He didn’t expect me to pay it, just wanted to see my response. I suggested he forward it to the NLF/FLOSY.
This was the 3 Royal Anglian’s most major Aden engagement. A later grenade at Maxim’s restaurant was a minor event, though even now I still prefer to sit facing the door in a restaurant and dislike loud noises. But I’ll easily trade these idiosyncrasies for surviving the ‘Battle of the Mosque’ as the National Press termed it.
I CONTINUED WITH MY Police work but every so often was called back for an operation. We were called out one night to investigate an explosion. On arrival we found a terrorist had blown himself up with his own bomb, killing two associates also. My soldiers were initially transfixed by this grim night-time scene - burning flesh, severed fingers, dying moans. But the possibility of a remote controlled secondary device was very real, so I shouted them away as there was nothing we could do for the victims.
Then there was another period of intensive operations which lasted for 128 hours, after which I went straight to my friend’s house at 2200 on New Year’s Eve. I never saw in that New Year. I slept in the spare room for 15 hours. When I woke up it was 1967.
Another time in my capacity as company second-in-command I was hurriedly despatched with a platoon to Mukheiras near the Yemen border to protect the RAF Radar Station. There was fighting going on just across their border which threatened to spill over into our territory, and the RAF Station was pretty much defenseless. We needed to shore up its defenses and patrol day and night to ensure there was no new encroachment.
The landscape up in those mountains seemed a throwback from biblical times. During day-time patrols we visited primitive stone houses, villages named Ur and Og, and local Arabs on tired ponies whose idea of ‘good morning’ was a shot across your bows with an ancient rifle, a practice that caused some concern to landing transport planes.
On night-time patrols under the moonlit sky you could see for miles across featureless valleys. When darkness replaced the moon the silence was broken by loud explosions across the border not far away. It sounded like artillery, 25-pounders. This would continue for two hours, then stillness again. There were no attacks nor incursions whilst we were at Mukheiras, but you never really knew what was going on.
I’D ALREADY BEEN shot at in a helicopter and on a roof-top. Now I was shot at in my car.
When I was first attached to the Police I bought a black Rover P4 off the SAS for £50. It was only one of two Rovers in Aden - the other was a taxi with a yellow stripe - but mine had been compromised. The risk in continuing to use it was compounded by a missing window on the driver’s side. It would have been relatively simple to rig a bomb inside it, even though I always parked it right in front of the Police Station. I held my breath when I switched on the ignition but it always started first time and never exploded.
The number plate was 2386, but when I opened the boot there was a jumble of plastic numbers kindly left by the SAS, so my registration number could have changed daily. But I kept it 2386, then parked it next to my RAEC mate’s car, also 2386. I then told him his car must be stolen, and showed him the two cars side-by-side. He was very worried, so I had to tell him the truth and he was so relieved we repaired to his Mess.
One evening I was driving back from Steamer Point through Ma’ala to Radfan Camp. There had been trouble that day, and the curfew-empty streets were filled with rubble and rocks. On coming down the hill into Ma’ala straight I was fired on - the crack-crack-crack seemed very near. At the bottom of the hill I mounted a roundabout and drove straight across, carrying on right up Ma’ala straight, crunching over rocks as I went, reaching Radfan in record time. The Rover was none the worse for wear. It was built like a tank, was never affected by the heat, never needed maintaining, and never once let me down. If that Rover had been stopped by all the debris I would have presented a sitting target. It possibly saved my life.
I wanted to ship my Rover back to England, but our Regiment wasn’t even taking its own vehicles back. We auctioned them for fire-sale prices and the locals drove them away up the beach. 1-ton trucks and landrovers £10 each, so I heard.
So I sold the best car I ever had to the camp barber for £55.
EVEN ON ACTIVE service we always made time for other activities. I wrote poems about our operations some almost readable, others politically cynical, about George Brown the British Foreign Secretary, perhaps the only poems written about the Aden emergency. Some are in the appendix.
Two cricket matches I recall. One was in Aden - only remembered
for going from 28 to 50 in one over - 3x6s and 1x4. Much more entertaining was the game at Mukheiras up on the Yemen border, remarkable for the fact that 88 runs were scored off one ball. A batsman on our side had scored 7 when he hit our only ball down a shallow dry well within the boundary. The fielders could see it but couldn’t reach it, so we yelled out to the batsmen to keep running, and shouted out the score to keep them going. When the boundary-line cries got to 37…… 38…… 39…… FORTY they had pretty much slowed to a walk. Eventually the ball was retrieved when the batsmen, by now on their knees, had run 88.
Both batsmen then retired knackered in the 45 degree heat even though the striker was now on 95. It must be a world record but Wisden has not yet been informed.
Officers always had designated extra jobs within the Battalion. In Aden mine was Education Officer. Menial tasks brought me in contact with the RAEC (Education Corps) and its friendly fellow captain. He had to close down his office boasting a large but unread library, which was not returning to England. So knowing of my love for books he said I could take any book under £5 worth for myself. I thought this was a great idea for setting up a Battalion library when we returned to UK, so I stocked up well - they were all new. Next week he offered me any book over £5. Again I filled my trusty Rover, crated them all up, and set up a library in the Company armoury on return to Tidworth, Wiltshire, our next destination.
I was lucky with my social life too. I was able to meet civilians at the British Club at Steamer Point, which I accessed through my job with the Police. When on outstation at Mukheiras my inamorata sent me a pre-arranged record over the radio - ‘there’s a kind of hush all over the world tonight’ by Herman’s Hermits. That was a lovely gesture, but five minutes later the damn 25 Pounders wrecked the hush all over the world, and started their noisy pounding all over the border.
Change of Career
I WAS NOT SORRY TO leave Aden. Unlike Cyprus, Malaya and Borneo the British left Aden without dignity and without peace. Continuing unrest destabilised the country long after it became independent on 30/11/68. Since 1963 57 British servicemen had been killed and 651 wounded, and there was nothing to show for it. This was not how a British possession should be handed over. It was a complete shambles. The soldiers’ name for it was ‘the asshole of the earth’. It was hard to disagree.
Jenny rejoined me at Tidworth, Wiltshire, a Garrison town. As Aden was an unaccompanied posting she had spent the last seven months working as a nanny for the Marley Tile family at Sevenoaks, with Debbie at her side.
But Aden had made me restless. Military exercises on Salisbury plain were boring, and my Commanding Officer said I would soon be posted to a staff job because I had spent the last nine years mostly overseas on active service.
Although I had passed my captain to major exams by correspondence course, I set myself a goal of getting abroad again by the end of 1967. It was now June 1967. I achieved this goal.
First I applied for an Army job - Second-in-Command of the Mauritius Special Mobile Force, a paramilitary outfit that specialised in internal security and duties in aid of the civil power. I was well qualified for this, but was unsure whether the coming staff posting would trump Mauritius.
Then three non-Army jobs - Manager of an open-caste diamond mine in Sierra Leone; General Manager of the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club; and Administrative Officer in the Western Pacific High Commission, with a Ministry of Overseas Development ten-year contract.
None of these four applications elicited a reply. But a brother officer, Mark Adkin, who had also applied for the WPHC job was called for interview, so I rang the Ministry who had not received my application, but told me to come anyway and bring my CV.
There were 400 applicants for the ten vacancies which had specifically stated the necessity of a degree - which I did not have. But Mark and I managed to fill two of those ten vacancies.
I had joined the Army on 7/11/57 for two years National Service. I left it on 21/11/67 with a small gratuity. I’d served in 9 territories and was just 29. Having thrown away a career and a pension I was starting at the bottom all over again.
Two days later Jenny, Debbie and I were circling over the mist-laden jungles of Guadalcanal. I had been posted to Honiara, the capital of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate on a ten-year contract.
THE BRITISH SOLOMON Islands Protectorate was formed from 1893-1900. When we arrived on 23/11/67 it was part of the Western Pacific High Commission, which also had responsibility for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu) and the New Hebrides, an Anglo-French Condominium (now Vanuatu). The Japanese occupied the Solomons in 8/42, until withdrawing in 2/43 after some of most bitter fighting in the war, especially around Henderson Field. 24 major ships were lost by each side, not counting transports, and the last instance of battleship firing on battleship occurred at the battle of Savo.
I had been posted to Honiara, the former logistical HQ of the US Army, on the island of Guadalcanal, a name that oozes war. To many islanders WW2 happened yesterday, and you could not escape the daily reminders - from the landing barges outside our front lawn; the fuselage still standing by the side of the road; trenches exposed by recent fires revealing weaponry, helmets and mess-tins; in the jungle a hitherto undiscovered parachutist still hanging from a tree; and the odd villager getting blown up by a grenade when lighting his fire.
On my very first weekend there I was taken to the underwater I1 Japanese submarine, with its large on-deck 125mm gun still intact, that had rammed itself into a reef whilst being chased by the New Zealand corvettes Kiwi and Moa. Australian diver Wally Gibbons dived on the wreck, entered the hold and later presented me with part of a dark blue sleeve of a Japanese sailor’s uniform that still had the rubber band intact at the wrist. The gun later salvaged and renovated, now stands outside the NZ Navy Museum at Devonport, Auckland.
The first and lasting impression of Guadalcanal was that of a very beautiful tropical island. Coral beaches and clear water on calm seas that stretched forever, with the volcanic island of Savo to our west, and the Gela Islands out front, home to the pre-war capital, Tulagi.
Beneath the swaying coconut palms the scent of frangipani filled the air and hedges of different coloured hibiscus vied with multi-hued bougainvillia. Rolling green hills gave way to secondary jungle, and on the south side was the Weather Coast. There was no TV, no newspapers, no computers so we made life interesting by house-hopping - living in very senior officers’ houses when they were away on five months leave. These had swimming pools and excellent views of the ocean and jungle behind.
The population was 160,000 - with such a huge land mass 12 people per square mile. Only 7% of the population worked, the remainder were subsistence farmers relying on the rich soil for their crops, the sea for fish, and the land for housing materials.
My first job was Assistant Secretary Finance, in charge of the budget, working 0800-1600 in the Government Secretariat. The recurrent budget was financed by taxes and stamp sales, the capital budget for building, road and other projects by UK Grant-in-aid. I progressed to Senior Assistant Secretary with additional responsibility for Post and Telecommunications, including Chairman of the Postage Stamp Committee, which entailed choosing themes for next year’s stamps, then getting the Crown Agents to design them. Amazingly, I was now selecting a country’s stamps I collected as a boy. We gained international recognition through a simple Christmas stamp showing the night star of Bethlehem over a palm-fringed lagoon, the winning result from a nationwide competition; and there was a discussion over whether the Queen’s head should be replaced with an ER and Crown - yes; and for the 1969 South Pacific Games stamps whether our footballers should wear boots (yes), rugby players (no).
There were the usual Government Departments, some with only a few staff. Public Works was by far the largest. Police Force second, Agriculture, Prisons, Co-ops, Marine, Treasury, Posts, Education, Geology, Forestry, Civil Aviation, Stores, Legal, Lands, Judiciary, Customs, all headed by expatriates. Government HQ was the Secretariat, an easy walk from our house. The only tarmac road fanned out either side of town – on the eastern side to the 9 hole golf course (sand greens), the only hospital called ‘namber 9’ from wartime days; KGVI school and the airport; and on western side 25 kms to Tambea. No public transport, buses came later.
Honiara’s main street included a large store, ANZ bank, a market and a cinema in a Nissen hut. But there was also a Chinatown where all the main business was done, down by the Matanikau River. The Guadalcanal Club provided social company, a swimming pool, tennis courts, billiards, dancing and the occasional musical revue or marital spat. Opposite the club there was a large open field with a huge banyan tree.
Our neighbours were the Collis Kenworthys, last seen in Cyprus. Our house came with an outrigger canoe, so large and heavy I gave it away. Our house-boy had separate quarters and cooked, cleaned and bought provisions. Debbie didn’t wear shoes until she was six, and thrived on the environment. Jenny started a kindergarten that quickly became a nice little earner, with Debbie attending, but got a shock one day when she found two little mites playing with an unexploded mortar bomb exposed by heavy rains.
I loved this South Pacific setting. Here was a country I could live in, not just for a few months but as long as I liked. I could help run the islands and grow my administrative skills. With a family to support now a life of fast-paced action was not for me. Moreover Jenny and Debbie were very much at home in Honiara. So I decided to build my own house.
I bought some land on the sea-front close to town, two doors down from the Bishop’s house, and next door to the recently retired Accountant-General Peter Smith, an alcoholic who famously left 178 outstanding files on his desk. I got some PWD plans for a Government servant’s two-bedroom house, penned some alterations on them including a swimming pool directly in front of the lounge; got two bushmen to clear the jungle; put it out to tender, accepted a AUD $7,300 bid, and built it in 78 days. I planted a garden of multi-coloured hibiscus, and a hedgerow along the road. My roadside name painted LEWIS downwards in white was mounted on an upright propeller salvaged from a downed US fighter on the ridge above, the only propeller of three still attached to its prop housing. I assumed this plane had only just been discovered exposed by a recent bush fire, but because it was so close to Honiara it might have been found when originally shot down in 1942/3. My propeller had one bullet hole right through it, another had not penetrated.
On the first night we moved in next-door neighbour Peter Smith’s radio continued all night. I went round to see him at 0700 next morning. Sitting in his lounge chair he said, ‘Have some breakfast’ and handed me a near-empty bottle of rum.
Our first tour was over. Regulations said you now had to take 5 months leave. They hadn’t caught up with the fact that in 1969 you didn’t now have to go home by ship!
MY SECOND TOUR started with a new 1970 Constitution establishing a single Governing Council, with five new committees set up, chaired by prominent local politicians. The Education and Social Welfare Committee was headed by Willie Betu, and I was appointed his advisor. We now began actively preparing Solomon Islanders for taking over Government, and I insisted that my capable colleague Baddeley Devisi share my office next to Willie’s so that he was aware of every current event, and was available to Willie if needed. Baddeley eventually became the first Governor-General of the 1978 newly- independent country, with another colleague Peter Kenilorea as first Prime Minister. This fledging system of local involvement was the first real break from the colonial yolk, and overnight the Secretariat became much more localised as we civil servants prepared policies for our political Committee Chairmen for submission to the Governing Council. Times were changing.
I also had other duties. There were 99 different languages throughout the Solomons, and only one bound the islanders together - pidgin English. Pidgin was made up of bastardised English words put together with their own nuances and grammar, and spoken quickly with conviction. There was a limit to what you could be taught, you really had to hear it in everyday life at the market or in the villages. All expatriate administrative officers had to take an exam in pidgin and I had passed, so was now able to listen to a headman speaking impressively about a land problem, or understand what was being spoken in court. For court now became an important part of our lives, and we had to understand pidgin to conduct cases.
All six new administrative officers had to become part-time Magistrates. There was no one else to do it - it was an extra responsibility we all had to share. We studied for and passed six basic law exams, civil law, equity, tort, etc. As the only one without a degree I had a point to prove, so came top. We were now Magistrates First Class.
Sitting below a faded 1954 picture of our Queen my first case involved a man who had taken peoples’ radios for repair, receiving a deposit, but neither repairing nor returning them. I could not get him to plead. I kept asking him ‘wisway, you doim or no more’? Nothing, he just stared straight ahead, not looking at me. Then a little voice piped up from the back of the court - ‘Ear blong him no good, ya!’. Oh my god, I thought - this joker’s deaf, how do I deal with it - I don’t want to lose face adjourning the court on my very first case and finding out how I should proceed. So I got the defendant right up under my perch, and with the prosecuting officer shouting in one ear and me shouting in the other, we got a nod of the head, whereupon I recorded ‘pleaded guilty’ and proceeded. The remaining cases were easy, apart from one where a prostitute complained of being raped in the Government House hedge right opposite the Police Station. There was conflicting evidence and I had to seek guidance.
Sometimes your own friends were summoned to court. They would send me a message asking what they should do. I would send a message back suggesting they plead guilty by letter. They did and I fined them. Another message would come back - ‘that was a bit steep, fining me $25 for overloading my truck!’ And it was. But I couldn’t be seen to be letting my expatriate friends off lightly.
A tricky one was having to judge a fellow administrative officer, a local officer. The case against him was clear and I found him guilty and fined him. Our relationship was never the same after that, but I had no option, there was nobody else available.
The crime rate was not high though, partly because nobody drank much in those days, and also the churches were a good influence. Catholics, the Melanesian Mission, SSEM, SSEC, SDA, United Church and others had divided the country up into their own little parishes, built churches, educated children, tended the sick and taught artisan skills. I met many dedicated missionaries some of whom hadn’t returned to Europe for 40 years. They were a thoroughly helpful stabilising force.
I ALSO RESURRECTED CRICKET in Honiara. Since the turn of the century a form of cricket had been played in some villages, with batsmen using palm fronds, and bowlers using limes. There was also a disused concrete pitch in the middle of our big central playing field with a huge banyan tree at the side. There was some interest from the Fijian foremen and older islanders, so I sent letters begging for kit to MCC and all the Australian states. To their credit they all responded positively and we started a six-team league. Our first match was officiated by High Commissioner Sir Robert Foster using the banyan tree as our cricket pavilion.
Solomon Islanders are natural hitters and in the first match John Wilikai started hitting me all over the park. He was wearing no pads, no gloves, no box and no boots. I decided to stop him by swinging the ball in to hit his massive toes. I did so, but the ball after hitting his toes went over slips head for 4 leg-byes. He didn’t even feel it. Another big hitter Billy Boso hit our best bowler, Fijian Wilson Vave, for 6x6s in one over, all of them over my friend Dudley Cook’s house on the mid-wicket boundary.
Dudley entered cricket folklore later in the season without even playing a game. During a match one day he came dashing out of his house onto the cricket pitch, wearing only a sarong, closely followed by his polynesian partner wielding a gilbertise fighting stick with sharp sharks’ teeth. They came right across the field, round the banyan tree and back into his house, where much shouting and banging continued. This was not an unusual occurrence. Dudley had previously completed two tours on our remote central pacific Christmas Island as District Officer. As a 25 year old bachelor and the only white man on the island he acquired a partner and two children, then was posted alone to Honiara. His partner soon followed him but her wild conduct became a liability. She crashed his VW beetle and burnt his only black suit. He turned up as Clerk to Legco next day with his suit full of burn holes. She was returned to the Gilberts and he married an English nurse who helped him through a very serious tropical illness.
My second tour ended. I had completed two tours of staff work in the Secretariat, now it was time to prove myself in the field where an entirely different set of leadership and man management skills was needed. I got my wish and returned for my third tour as District Officer, Central District, based in Honiara.
United Nations Fellow
I COULD NOT FACE THE prospect of another five months leave - I had to be doing something. So I applied for and was granted a United Nations Fellowship at the UN Asian Institute for Economic Development and Planning in Bangkok. The Institute was a regional staff college for senior officials concerned with economic development in their own countries. My aim was to see how the three-month course on Social Development and Planning could better assist our Solomon Islands economy. I also wanted to gain some insight into how the UN operated. At the time I was a very inexperienced civil servant coming from one of the world’s smallest economies suddenly elevated into the sophisticated world of international planning.
At the 3/72 welcoming cocktail party it was suggested I get a ‘temporary wife’ as advertised in the national newspaper just above ‘tradesmen’. I politely declined.
I soon found out that most participants had no real interest in the course, especially those whose English was poor or who had just come along for the allowances. The only ones who worked hard were three Malaysians and myself. No surprise then when we were appointed group leaders. After a series of lectures on planning and development and a tour of NE Thailand, the four groups were tasked to produce plans for community development, health and welfare, education (my group because it was my responsibility in the Solomons), with the fourth group (macro-planning) overseeing the other three. No-one else in my group was remotely interested in helping, so it was left to me alone to draft a future plan for Education in NE Thailand. I did this; it sailed through our macro-group; and as the course ended was scheduled to be shown to the Ministry of Education, then completing their part of Thailand’s Third Development Plan.
My planning techniques fell back on those learnt in the Army, namely - the aim; factors affecting the aim; options for achieving it - with arguments for and against; and the conclusion - proposed way ahead. I’ve since found out that, no matter how you dress it up in different jargon, management methods of solving problems mainly produce the same results as the Army’s, whether its McKinsey-speak or Government-speak.
Out in the field there were some impressive self-help land-settlement schemes at Khon Kaen and Saraburi, which also had a demonstration farm and marketing co-operative. Visits to homes for the aged and boys approved centres were not inspiring. Homes for Socially Handicapped Women - mainly prostitutes - produced results. (In Bangkok alone there were 70,000, 62% of whom had primary education). They were gainfully employed learning many trades in these Homes.
The most impressive document I saw was the Second Malaysia Development Plan (1971-1975), prompted by their riots of 13/5/69. The main objectives were national unity and a more equal distribution of income. A dynamic example of a developing country tackling its problems rationally, with large capital resources at its disposal.
I was the first Solomon Islands representative to attend the UNAI. They had limited information about us so I sent them copies of our annual report and Development Plan. Other countries had much larger problems than ours, but there were some useful ideas we could adopt like low-cost housing. It had been a worthwhile experience preparing my educational plan for NE Thailand, and some planning techniques came in handy later. I submitted my report to the Chief Secretary on return which was received favourably.
I was now a United Nations Fellow, and as Michael Caine says - not many people know that.
AT THE START OF my third tour (7/72) I became District Officer, Central. My duties included overseeing the services Government provided to the communities - health, education, transport, power and water; allocating projects to VSOs; and also solving land and other disputes and dealing with matters of the day. For instance when I toured Savo, the volcanic island close to Guadalcanal’s north-east tip, minor tremors had suggested that a possible eruption might be imminent, but because the sand turtles had not moved to the sea, the locals thought there was no danger. They were right.
There was also a site needed for a new airstrip on Bellona, which I reached in an hour’s flight to Rennell, its sister island 236 kms south of Honiara. These two islands are Polynesian outliers with a population around 1500 each, Rennell with steep cliffs surrounding it. Rennell figured prominently in WW2. Both the Japanese and the USA used it as a flying boat base. The battle of Rennell was the last engagement between Japanese and US naval forces in the campaign, the Japanese inflicting enough damage on the Americans to allow them to go on and immediately evacuate all Japanese servicemen from Guadalcanal in March 1943. Our trip to Bellona was successful.
By comparison trips to Gela and nearby Yandina were routine. Yandina contained a large Lever’s plantation managed by my friend Joe Walton, raconteur extraordinaire.
Santa Isabel was a different proposition - the longest and third largest island in the Solomons. It covered 3,000sq kms but the population was only 6000 then. I had to circumnavigate it twice by boat for the elections, first to set out the ballot boxes and voting slips; and again to regather the full boxes. This took me 13 days. I thought of a colleague, Adams. Also sailing around Isabel he went missing. He went to the boat’s rear to pull up a bucket of water and was never seen again. He had a bad back which may have hampered his efforts to keep afloat.
I had almost finished the second circumnavigation when we went on a reef. Luckily we were in a lagoon and although I had visions of having to swim ashore with all the ballot boxes stringing behind me, we somehow slid off backwards like a bar of soap. Fortunately there was no damage. Against the sunset we saw the magnificent sight of the ‘Hawk’ entering the lagoon, the iconic sailing ship owned by my friend James Wang and skippered by Tom Elkington. I went aboard for a beer and a yarn. The Hawk ran for over 100 years. The ballot boxes were returned safely to Honiara.
However when it came to touring there was nothing like landing through the surf on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal. There was no road from north to south of the island, and no airstrips there, so the only way to get there was by boat. The weather was generally bad and the seas were very rough. This necessitated some hair-raising encounters through the wild surf. We would leave our Government vessel bobbing around outside the reef, debunk into a longboat, the experienced locals would wait for exactly the right wave to catch, then away we’d go through a small gap in the reef, the powerful surge carrying us all the way up the beach.
The villagers ‘custom-houses’ stacked with skulls headhunted long ago, were ‘tapu’, but they showed me one. They were part of the Cargo Cult who, on appointed days still assembled on the shore waiting to unload American ships which never arrived. We had a mutual respect for each other, but once back outside the reef I felt more secure, away from the non-stop pounding surf and this primitive world with strange beliefs.
HAVING NOW BEEN promoted to District Commissioner I took the opportunity of visiting other Districts. I had already been to the Western District, with its centre Gizo looking out over its myriad islands - to help select an airstrip site - we chose a nearby flat coconut-laden island. I then took the opportunity of visiting the beautiful Roviana Lagoon, Munda passage, and lastly Rendova whose wartime base Lt JF Kennedy and his crew eventually reached safely on 8/8/43 after his PT109 had been struck by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri on 1/8/43, necessitating a long swim to Plum Pudding island. Luckily he had been a college swimming champion and he pulled one of his men behind him. No doubt this war heroism helped his election.
I visited the once dangerous island of Malaita where so many different languages existed because head-hunting had restricted people from moving out of their immediate area; where in 1928 the District Officer had been clubbed to death by coconuts as he sat at a table collecting taxes; and which now peacefully housed our Agricultural Research Centre with its fertile soils competing for the ultimate commercial crop.
I also went to the Eastern District - Santa Ana and Santa Catalina where I got dumped into the surf when landing, luckily with only minor reef cuts.
Back in Honiara the war still would not go away. My District had the largest obsolete ammunition dump in the world. It was on Guadalcanal - Hell’s Point, situated in an off-limits, fenced-off, overgrown coconut plantation. There were many thousands of bombs in very bad condition. We had to clear it, and although I had blown up mortars and grenades this was a huge job. We recruited a Sergeant-Major from UK, and he eventually slowly and carefully got the ammunition onto a barge, making many trips into very deep water.
Then an official Japanese delegation arrived seeking permission to visit Santa Isabel to ascertain what had happened to a party of 21 Japanese soldiers missing on patrol there in 1943. They had a very good track record in honouring their war dead, and Japanese had been found in the Philippines jungle years after the war. The delegation only found out what had happened on their very last day, when an impeccable source revealed that the local villagers had befriended the Japanese, got them all thoroughly drunk, then killed them whilst asleep.
For the islanders had remained loyal to the Allies throughout the war. They had provided constant information to the Coast Watchers who in turn radio’d the Allied Forces. Some even worked for the US Army, Sgt-Major Vousa being the most famous. Two islanders who helped JFK to safety were also part of those units.
The Gurkhas then arrived for jungle training. After the ‘21’ incident I didn’t want the villagers behaving in an unfriendly manner, so I patrolled the bush villages, showed pictures and told them ‘youfellaeveryone you no killim Gurka, himi fren blong yu,ye’. The villagers asked ‘dispela gurka, himi likim mary too muss? I assured them they would not want their women. The Gurkhas were a huge success and helped with a road-building project on the Weather Coast.
Housing was becoming a problem. Honiara was now attracting more workers and we could not house them. So we instituted a Low-Cost housing scheme around the southern fringes of town. This proved to be quite successful though we had to ensure the houses didn’t morph into ghettos.
I still had our house by the sea. I had let it out to geologists and we were now living in a bigger Government quarter. During a cyclone the sea had surrounded it, filled the swimming pool with junk and the garden with grenades. Our house was not damaged but the house next door was demolished. I later sold it to Bruce Saunders, the same guy I had fined $25 for overloading his truck. He and his wife had been living in a Nissen hut whose intended life was three months - a temporary Officers mess that lasted 30 years.
Then a Royal visit was announced for 18-21/2/74. It was to include not just the Queen and Prince Philip - who still has his cult following on the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) but also Princess Anne and husband Mark Phillips - on the Royal Yatch Britannia.
As District Commissioner Central I had to draw up a District programme for them.
I LEFT THE SOLOMONS BEFORE the Royal Family arrived. Six years there was enough.
There were no outlets for women’s fashion in Honiara, so Jenny started designing dresses, and did very well using bright Pacific colours to match the tropical environment. She was also still running her kindergarten successfully. At the start of our third tour she stayed behind in London and completed a dress designing course. She could dream up designs then effortlessly draw them on paper. It was clear she had outstanding talent and when she returned to Honiara asked whether we could be posted to Hong Kong where she could really further her career.
I myself had achieved just about everything I could do in the Solomons and was also seeking fresh challenges. So I applied to the Hong Kong Government, was interviewed by a visiting Foreign Office official and received a letter from the Hong Kong Government offering me a contract for 2½ years which I accepted.
My parting letter from the Solomon Islands Establishment secretary stated that ‘purely as a Gentleman’s agreement, if at the end of your planned period of duty in Hong Kong you wish to return to the Solomons, and providing vacancy/ localisation situations present no difficulty, consideration would be given to reappointing you with seniority and increments as for unbroken service.’
As it turned out my planned period of duty in Hong Kong lasted 20 years.
As I continued planning for the Royal Visit I reflected on some Solomons characters I had met. In Gizo there was Father Meese, business-man extraordinaire who reminded me of a quartermaster sergeant who could get hold of anything at any time for any price. Joe and Jenny Walton on their Yandina plantation complete with horses and huge gardens of hibiscus, now my favourite flower. They were ‘shoe-ins’ (ha!) for the Royal visit, with Princess Anne and her husband’s love of horses, not to mention HRH. James Wang, Shanghai plantation owner whose elegant Swiss mistress Idlette visited him every year for several months, and who battled me once in a 5-set tennis match until we both stopped exhausted at 2 sets all - so nobody won the money. Chan Wing Motors in Chinatown, which stocked everything except motors. And the hugely entertaining John Pepys-Cockerell, ex-Eton workmate, who would shuffle off to the loo carrying his bible, hollowed out for his hip-flask. When DC Malaita, his hilltop house was 200 steps up the hill. At dusk every night his lamp could be seen ascending the hill from the bottom, with another lamp simultaneously descending from the top. The two lamps met in the middle, his houseboy handed over the double-scotch, and the two lamps then ascended together.
But the most extraordinary character of all was another Old Etonian, Commander Ninian Scott-Elliot. After a distinguished naval war record, he established a plantation on an overgrown island (Rendova), employed over 300 men, with conditions they could never have dreamt of, looked after them superbly and behaved like a benevolent 19th century laird, importing his luxury goods from England. He ran a tight ship and discouraged visitors. Somebody should write a book about the way he conducted his plantation life, there’s certainly enough engaging material.
These were the 1920s characters I had read about aged 15 and they were still here!
I came to the Solomon Islands knowing nothing about colonial administration. I left an experienced operator not only in staff work but also in the field. I learnt it was useful to combine these two disciplines no matter where you work or what you do because you gain more experience, you keep on your toes and are less likely to get caught in a rut. You become a much more rounded character.
We flew out of Honiara on 24/12/73. But was I ready for the big smoke?
More Countries Visited
DURING OUR THREE-TOUR Solomons sojourn this was how we spent our two five-month leaves.
Our first leave starting 11/69 was dramatic. We went from two years in a sleepy backwater to the overwhelming hubbub of a Hong Kong stop-over. It was a sober re-awakening to the real world and I found it hard to adjust. Moreover England’s cold and grey winter compared unfavourably with flip-flopping off to the showers in Honiara. I immediately started planning our return. The answer was to travel by sea. I booked a cabin on the Northern Star, 24,000 tons, Russian crew, one class round the world to Sydney and beyond, our companions being young couples seeking a new life in Australia for ten pounds. On a rainy 20/1/70 dad drove us to Southampton and he and mum waved us goodbye. Debbie was then 5.
We visited Las Palmas; Sierra Leone (not allowed to go ashore as our Captain rightly refused to pay the ‘charges’ demanded); St Helena (Napoleon’s grave); Cape Town (where Debbie had her appendix removed onboard); next - an extra stop to compensate for Sierra Leone - Durban where I saw Graham Pollock hit 274 out of 622-9, with Australia 48-4 at the close; Fremantle, Melbourne, and Sydney; by plane to Norfolk Island; boarding Burns Philps MV Tulagi, the only ones to get out through the surf to spend a night aboard the bucking ship, all alone except for the drunken Chief Engineer; on to New Hebrides (Vila and Santo); disembarking in Honiara on 6/3/70. It was great to be back in familiar surroundings.
On our second leave starting 3/72 I attended the UN Course alone. I flew to Bangkok with stopovers in Port Moresby (PNG); Sydney; Perth; then Singapore at the Shangri-La Hotel, visiting old haunts Colombo Camp; the Gap; Alexandra Park 7B Hyderabad Rd - most houses now deserted; Jurong, now with 244 factories; and Jalan Bukit Sedap where the Bangkok train ran through our 1964 garden.
After the Bangkok course ended I went to Penang for a month at the International Hotel - $M 89 only; on to Colombo for golf and socialising with Nimmo; then back to UK where Jenny had started a design course, with Debbie schooling at Suffolk with Sue, Eddie, Rachel and Emma. I caught up with David Thorogood at Arundel and Horsham; and mum, dad and sister Jen. New traits in UK in 1972 were Chinese take-aways, self-serving petrol stations, long hair, N.Ireland disturbances and drugs. I saw ‘Hair’ and ‘Oh, Calcutta’.
From UK I went via Dubai (sand greens) and Sharjah (great market) back to Singapore, this time visiting HQFARELF, now the British High Commission, the nearby Botanical Gardens, the Tanglin Club, Orchard Rd, the Raffles Hotel where I dossed in a $99 staff quarter with swing doors and rats, and finally the Singapore Cricket Club for a good curry. Then by bus to the Cameron Highlands for two weeks, staying at a Brinchang Hotel, playing golf - now 18 holes, re-hiking my old walks, Boh tea estate, and back ‘home’ again to Singapore by communal Mercedes taxi.
From Singapore I joined a coach trip from Sydney to Cairns via Brisbane and various towns up to Townsville including Hayman Island; thence to Port Moresby and back to Honiara for our third tour starting on 7/72 described in the preceeding chapters.
It was actually very disruptive to spend five months away from work. Although I had re-established links with England I had already decided I wasn’t going to live there. Now that we were leaving the Solomons we didn’t have a base we could call our own. But that all that changed when we reached Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Adjustment
ON 1/4/74 I FACED the biggest challenge of my working life, for there was no greater contrast than moving to the world’s most vibrant city from one of its sleepiest towns.
Some comparisons. In Honiara I had been a free-wheeling District Commissioner setting my own agenda over a vast land mass of many different islands. In Hong Kong I was now one of three lowly Assistant Secretaries (Security) in a tiny office, the most junior of four levels of seniority in our small Secretariat branch. I had started at the bottom again, and was a ‘retread’ from another territory amongst the young guns.
In Honiara I walked to work acknowledging the odd passing car. Outside my Hong Kong office grid-locked diesels belched out fumes between canyons of high rises. I looked out over Kowloon hardly believing that every Solomon islander could be accommodated in 1 square kilometre of Mongkok’s housing estates.
Instead of a big fish in a little puddle, I was now a minnow in a sea of sharks. I had to change from country bumpkin into city slicker - and fast. Not easy initially because I knew hardly anyone, an outsider with no friends. I initially lunched alone at nearby Maxim’s, on its large round central bar, munching anonymously amongst the throng.
I adjusted gradually. I was the Secretariat Officer working to the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. Happily, the very capable Secretary for Security Bim Davies had been my Chief Secretary in the Solomons. I had served with other Police forces on active service, so felt comfortable in my new role. The Force was vast, 39,000 when I left, comprising 29,000 regulars, 5,000 auxiliaries and 5,000 civilians. In addition to normal policing, responsibilities included marine police patrolling, internal security, riot control, and a large training school. Its budget was huge, an ongoing building programme for new police stations, transport and patrol vessels, specialist equipment, bomb disposal, and very costly recurrent expenditure. But this money was well spent. Hong Kong was one of the safest places in the world.
I gradually built up a relationship with senior Police Officers, acquainting myself with their operations. My first major exercise was to acquire funds for the new Police Beat Patrol Radio programme. Being very costly we had to ensure good value for money, and sell the project by proving it could work efficiently. After some initial teething troubles, we got this funded - an essential aid to efficient policing.
Security Branch was then faced with a new and very difficult problem that took 20-odd years to overcome - the first arrival of 200,000 refugees, who all had to be placed in new camps, then looked after and eventually resettled. On 4/5/75 danish freighter Clara Maersk had steamed into port, unloading 3700 unwanted visitors on our shores.
Meanwhile Jenny and I had settled well into Hong Kong life. We had a large 4-bedroom flat because more senior officers spurned living in our block next to the infamous 16/6/72 Po Shan Road landslide, which collapsed flats and houses, killing 67 and injuring 20. And we had joined the Hong Kong Cricket Club in the city centre, so I could now lunch in more leisurely surroundings and even have a mid-day net. Debbie was installed at a nearby school, and Jenny gave birth to Giles on 15/11/74.
With my first contract renewed, the four of us went on leave as Hong Kong people.
ON 10/5/80 THE SOUTH China Morning Post (SCMP) stated that I ‘was likely to be remembered as the man who made the biggest and most successful land grab in Hong Kong’s history, laying claim to about 40% of Hong Kong’s territory, designating 21 Country Parks totalling 41,780 hectares, putting a cordon sanitaire around them, then blazing the 100km MacLehose Trail through them’. This exercise was known as the Country Parks Crash Programme and was an extraordinary piece of Town Planning.
The Governor Sir Murray MacLehose was a man of action. In the 1970s not many locals hiked or went to the beach. Hong Kong was known for its high-rise buildings, but the New Territories and Hong Kong Island had many areas of outstanding natural beauty. In true Hong Kong fashion ‘instant countryside’ was needed so its citizens could escape from the city’s crowds and stress. And we needed it done quickly. An advert was placed in the SCMP requiring a forestry professional to head the project. Lack of qualifications had never bothered me before so I applied for the post and got it. Due to the results it achieved, it became the most satisfying job I ever had. I started on 1/9/77.
When a Hong Kong Governor had a pet project, funds became available very quickly. Three landscape planners soon arrived from UK, and we had an engineering section for minor roads and building projects. To the first planner who had been working on one picnic area on Dartmoor for three years, I said ‘right, this is your area. Within the next two months I want 20 picnic and 10 campsites from you, and recommendations for hiking trails, and what we can do at these six beaches. Then we’ll start building, so better get cracking’. We built 6 management centres for our staff who administered the parks, staying overnight, essential for our fire-fighting, 24/7 at bad times, aided by helicopters with underslung buckets, sometimes carrying staff to the sites. Being familiar with choppers I helped ease the men’s initial flying fears going with them on some operations. We also arrested 6 illegal immigrants walking in single file on a Lantau water catchment and handed them over to Police.
We had to safeguard the future of the countryside by designating each park after firming up their boundaries. This meant drawing a legal line around the edge of them and submitting each one to the Executive Council for approval. No development was allowed inside the boundary of a country park, but excisions were made for some village areas within parks so that village houses could continue to be built.
By 1980 we had designated 21 country parks, 16 in the New Territories and 5 on Hong Kong island. These included 2 on Lantau, and 2 other remoter island parks. We also designated several special areas, including Tung Lung fort, and renovated an old village complete with its farming implements. As the parks became more popular we also built Information Centres at key areas and established a ranger service.
The 100km MacLehose trail, which I planned in detail myself, traversed the New Territories Country Parks, with 10 stages of varying difficulty. Opened in 26/10/79 by the Governor himself the National Geographic on 4/5/16 named it one of the best hikes in the world.
Supported by my excellent teams we completed the crash programme in 1980, two years ahead of schedule. They became more popular than we ever imagined, and people flocked there. The SCMP was right - I was remembered for that. People have come up to me in the most unlikely places - eg. Sicily in 2011, and thanked me for it.
BY 1980 JENNY HAD three shops, the first in Swire House, which I found empty one lunchtime, the other two in Ocean Terminal and Ocean Centre. She had found a niche market designing stunning upmarket silk cheongsams which both Chinese and European women could wear, selling also to Harrods and Harvey Nicholls in London.
Debbie had left school at sixteen, and her engaging personality earnt her special responsibility for the many VIP customers, among them Honor Blackman - the original Avenger and James Bond’s Pussy Galore - who opened one of the shops; Stephanie Powers, Bobo Fung, and many other Chinese and Japanese film stars. Jenny worked hard and when on a roll could design all night. She was fashion Royalty in early 1980s Hong Kong.
In 1981 we spent our last family holiday together in Hawaii/Bermuda. Debs was 16, Giles 6.
I attended my father’s funeral in 1978. He was 70. He failed his wartime medical, but because of his maths prowess he was wanted for important radio location tasks. He bounced around between RAF and Army depending on whether we were defending or attacking, but growths in his back gave him terrible pain, leading to an operation and discharge. Later our family doctor got him an almost 100% disability life-long pension. He lived the rest of his life in pain, and I was only rarely able to connect with him.
Three exceptions stand out though. Firstly at Montpelier he turned out for the parents vs the boys, batted number 11, but scored 32 until he had to retire for hitting a six. He couldn’t move for three days after that, but I could see how disappointed he must have been when his promising sporting career was cut short by pleurisy - an opening bowler and centre-forward. Secondly he took me to see Charlton vs Rotherham at the Valley. We arrived late as we couldn’t find a carpark. As we left the car there was an almighty roar - Charlton had scored in the first minute. Dad then broke into a run, a first, as we raced for the entrance. We won 4-3. Thirdly he took me to see Kent vs NZ in 1949 at Canterbury, with Bert Sutcliffe getting out for 40 to Doug Wright. I met Bert in Auckland 50 years later - he remembered the match and the iconic tree inside the boundary line. Dad always came to see me play at Filleigh where I started club cricket at 14, grabbing 5-29 in my first match, and the headlines.
I had also met a couple of Royals to whom the Governor liked to show off his Country Parks programme. The first was Princess Alexandra, a very handsome and likeable lady. The second was Prince Charles, with whom I spent a couple of hours in 1979. On approaching a roadside BBQ site and seeing 1000 people there he asked me ‘do they know I’m coming?’ I replied ‘no sir, this is their way of getting away from it all’. He then asked the first man he saw the same question. ‘Of course I knew sir. My brother works for the Country Parks’. We smiled. We were in the country on a beautiful day. At one point he looked down to the sailboats below and said ‘that’s what we should be doing, isn’t it?’ He was very natural with me, two ex-servicemen together perhaps.
The trouble with the Governor was he would ring me up and tell me to meet him at a remote place for a walk and an update. He would then arrive by helicopter, with me walking two hours to get there. But I didn’t mind. I loved that job.
With Jenny and Debbie working full-time to fill orders, and being now security-cleared for China, in 1978 I visited Canton, then by train all across the country to Beijing, via Changsha, seeing how people worked from sunrise to sunset. Thence to the Great Wall, and down to Shanghai. Tourism was then in its infancy, and we had several run-ins with over-officious and inexperienced guides. But as team leader of the group I explained our needs to them diplomatically.
CRICKET-WISE, THESE WERE my halcyon days - pre-helmet and pre-sledging. I turned out for HKCC Optimists on Sundays; and the close-knit Centaurs on Saturdays, for whom many of us played for 20 years. In the 1970s we won the league, but in the 1990s we were labouring under the false impression we could still play - a 50 was a trip down memory lane. 43 years on I am still in touch with them. The Optimists were a strong batting team for whom I bowled many overs of left-arm spin but usually batted no. 8. We won the league twice running in the late 1970s.
I toured Manila; Yokohama - the first cricketers to visit since the 1920s earthquake; Chiang Mai; North America/Canada; South America; and UK with the 1976 Hong Kong side which played against MCC at Lords, dismissing Cowdrey, Dexter and MJK Smith cheaply but getting hammered by the ground staff in an honourable draw.
The Manila tour provided the most memorable occasion. We went straight from the plane to a reception notable for the beauty of its women. Things were going pretty slowly, so to break the ice the mama-in-charge told the girls to remove everything except their undies and handbag. Our most senior cricketer - Sir Denys Roberts, Chief Justice - arrived late, to be met at the door by the Manila President and a stunning lady dressed in hardly anything. The President introduced her saying, ‘I don’t thing you’ve met Nancy, Sir Denys’. The CJ turned to her and without blinking an eyelid replied ‘my dear, how lovely to meet you’. After that most of the team signed into hotels as ‘Denis Roberts’. I was there to play cricket, but points were not awarded for that.
The redoubtable Deacons lawyer Peter Davies organised our two HK Mandarins Americas tours. On the first - to North America and Vancouver - we arrived at San Jose to find the field was ankle-deep in grass. No batsman could hit a four until a burly West Indian came in. He made 109 with 15x6s and 1x4. Facing about 160 I opened the batting and we only needed 10 to win when no. 11 came out to join me. He promptly ran me out, to raucous cheers from my own team. My stodgy 56 had proved too boring and no. 11 had been ordered to put them out of their misery. On that tour I came across the most beautiful ground I ever played on - Brockton Point, Vancouver, forested, with huge freighters passing by back-dropped by snow-capped mountains.
South America was the Mother of all Tours. Our average age was 45, and as we only had 12 players we dared not practice in case we injured ourselves. However we had a strapping young guest fast bowler who did the most terrible damage to opposing teams, sending them reeling with damaged forearms and the odd broken nose. We only lost one person, who injured himself three times - car accident, falling down steps, and sunstroke - a hapless judge.
We toured Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. We visited Macchu Pichu despite the Shining Path guerillas, we survived Brazil - a dangerous place, we saw the impressive Iguassu Falls, and enjoyed the quasi-British clubs in Chile.
But Argentina was the most interesting country, with its largest British population outside the Commonwealth having fought for Argentina against the Crown.
Most of our team were British and the Falklands War had just finished. We were uncertain what reception we would get, so we got our visas through the Manila office. We need not have worried - the Argentinians played sportingly - in the best tradition. They seemed to respect the British more than their former fair-weather American friends.
Starved of good cricket since Berlin, I more than made up for it in/from Hong Kong.
Clean Hong Kong Campaign
‘THE STRUGGLE AGAINST filth is a battle of endurance, persistence and stamina.It must be pursued in accordance with careful plans and relentless vigour’.
Lee Kuan Yew had transformed Singapore into a spotless example of what a city could do if it really tried. Foul open monsoon drains had given way to clean streets. Littering attracted instant fines. Endemic spitting in public was gradually eradicated. Long hair was outlawed, with the Rolling Stones having their locks trimmed immediately after touch-down. Cleanliness suddenly became fashionable. The whole nation got behind the campaign, driven by pride in their new city and its breath-taking, fast-rising resettlement projects. Fervour replaced nonchalance as its dirty roads gave way to tree-filled avenues, no longer choked with traffic under stringent rules forbidding the entry of private vehicles to the city centre.
Our 1981/2 Clean Hong Kong Campaign did not reach Singapore’s high standards. For one thing the average Hong Konger did not have the same pride as a newly independent nation with one of the world’s most charismatic leaders. But we made a big difference. We had manpower and money to commit to our considerable problems, which included 500,000 squatters, 63,000 hawkers, 106 high-rise estates, 39 temporary housing areas, a flotsam-filled harbour, and filthy NT watercourses. Having gazetted 40% of Hong Kong I was now tasked to spruce up all 100%.
As Co-ordinator CHKC I divided the campaign into 8 phases. Phase 1 - planning - i.e. priorities, problems, deficiences, aim, phased strategy to achieve aim, funds and resources required, implentation. Phases 2 to 6 - rolling implementation phases targeting different areas - streets; housing; New Territories; squatters/ harbour/ tree-planting simultaneously; and beaches. Phase 7 - the mop-up phase targetting unsatisfactory results and unsolved problems - eg. abandoned vehicles. Finally phase 8 - Campaign assessment and recommendations for improvements and maintaining ongoing momentum. Governor MacLehose launched the Campaign on 25/10/81, and his continual backing and on-the-ground support was crucial. For my part I welcomed the opportunity to tour every part of territory, encouraging and exhorting all involved.
We needed full-on media support too. A publicity co-ordinator and six-man team was appointed. Our logo was a pair of beautiful female eyes and the slogan ‘Hong Kong is watching’. These eyes appeared all over Hong Kong, most prominently on the front (each side) of our huge 150 seater double-decker buses. TV advertisements supported each phase, anti-littering commercials producing the best results. 11/81 saw 481 offenders fined $806K, and the Police charged another 2973. Magistrates supported the campaign too, and the average fine rose from $106 to $166. The widespread decrease in littering got us off to a great start.
Momentum grew from then on. Each estate, each squatter area, each city block, each area on land and sea, all implemented their own Operational Plan. In the New Territories alone 778 roadside refuse control points and bin sites were rebuilt, 133 toilets were built or refurbished, and 617 villages upgraded.
Quantifiable standards of key services were improved, and most deficiencies were rectified by improvements to services; additional projects such as the dredging of 5 heavily polluted areas along the Kam Tin River; and purchase of new equipment such as 3 new waterwitches and 2 harbour sweepers for the Marine Department’s scavenging fleet. 5 million trees were planted, one for each person in Hong Kong.
It was a massive HK $40 million territory-wide universally accepted programme. It took a lot of coordination and during the implementation phases I concentrated on the more difficult areas like waterways and known black spots. But gradually we began to see results and the final wash-up figures in the Campaign report confirmed them. However we couldn’t stop there if we wanted to maintain these higher standards. They had to be permanent.
My 12/82 report contained great detail on the planning, implementation and results of the Campaign. It also recommended that a scaled down campaign should follow in 1983. Government implemented this proposal.
Rehabilitation of the Disabled
REHABILITATION OF THE Disabled was very much a piecemeal subject in 1983. Involving 11 Government departments and 60 voluntary agencies it lacked direction and there was no overall plan. After a year’s Secretariat experience working on the rehab schedule I was appointed the first Commissioner of Rehabilitation on 24/5/84. This provided a clearer central identity for rehabilitation of the disabled, enabling me to better coordinate the planning and executive action of all Government departments and Voluntary Agencies involved with the physically handicapped, blind, deaf, mentally ill, and the mentally handicapped (mild, moderate, severe). This was my third consecutive new project, so I had already spent several months out in the field familiarising myself with the many different aspects of rehab I had never experienced before.
My first task was to develop a five-year national Rehabilitation Programme Plan (RPP) covering all five disabled groups. The Government Departments involved were Medical and Health, Social Welfare, Education, Labour, Transport, Housing, Building and Development, Legal, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Information. I was also to coordinate all relevant Voluntary Agencies into our planning through their HK Council of Social Services.
At my first press meeting I was asked what our biggest problems were. I answered - access to buildings for physically disabled; a lack of speech therapists; a transport policy was needed; increased employment opportunities; more places in schools for the mentally handicapped; and half-way houses for the mentally ill - an unpopular move which took time and understanding to overcome.
To formulate the RPP for all the five disabled groups we adopted a well-tried methodology useful for any part of national planning. It had 8 stages.
First (1) we decided the PROGRAMME AREAS - objectives, general service to be covered, tasks involved, who does what etc. Secondly (2) we forecasted DEMAND either from international prevalence rates, or known cases, or both. (3) We then determined NEEDS - eg. a new school for the mentally handicapped needs many professionals. (4) We defined EXISTING PROVISION, thus (5) IDENTIFYING SHORTFALL. We then (6) evaluated ALTERNATIVES. (7) Decided on COURSES OF ACTION - ie. chose the best alternative. And finally (8) - IMPLEMENTATION, outlining specific actions to be taken, who was to take them, and by when. There was robust discussion within and between the VAs and Government on priorities (ie. alternatives) before the RPP was passed in 1985.
We then began to implement a coordinated plan covering medical (prevention and rehab), early education training centres, preschools, child care centres, special schools, vocational training, employment, sheltered workshops, work activity centres, residential care, half-way houses, social welfare schemes, access, transport, housing, recreation, legislation, rehab engineering, training and recruitment of teachers, paramedical staff, speech therapists, occupational therapists, etc, and also a major publicity campaign on integrating the disabled into the community. The Government planned to spend US$110 million annually on rehab, with VAs running RPP services being subvented 100%.
Other countries got to know what we were doing and I was asked to present papers on the RPP (and did) to 6 International Conferences, including the 10/85 Abilympics in Bogota, where I was in charge of the HK team, Jakarta - meeting President Suharto, Lisbon, Bombay, Israel and NZ. My opposite number in China was the wheelchair-bound Deng Pufang, son of Deng Xiaoping, who visited Hong Kong on a fact-finding mission. I hosted him at the Hilton Hotel and we exchanged information.
Having completed the ‘setting up’ phase for coordinated rehabilitation with a sound basis for progress my successors were able to take forward the RPP, and the improved coordination of all the many different services became much more effective. The high standard of professionalism in both Government and the Voluntary sector contributed significantly to this improvement. It was a highly rewarding three years.
A Pair of Legs
AS I LOOKED ALONG the row of attendees I saw this very shapely pair of legs. Our eyes met and we got acquainted. The legs belonged to Jane Chong, the Matron (boss) of the Selangor Cheshire Home. The occasion was a Sheltered Workshop seminar at the 1983 Rehabilitation of Disabled International meeting at Kuala Lumpur. She had a thriving Sheltered Workshop at her Home, and since I was due to speak about my newly completed report on the way forward for Hong Kong’s Sheltered Workshop programme, we had a common professional interest. As part of the Malaysian delegation Jane also helped host an evening drinks party run at the house of her influential board chairman Peggy Marjoribanks. We became friends at that conference but I didn’t see her again until 1/86 when she visited me in Hong Kong.
By that time I had divorced Jenny (3/7/85) who had decided to ‘find herself’, and had rented a rooftop flat very close by, still running Jenny Lewis Fashions. No third party was involved, and no money either. We had joint custody of Giles, now aged 10, who stayed at Jenny’s house or mine whenever he wished. Debbie had by now married James Mayhew on 2/3/85 at the Houses of Parliament chapel in Westminster, her father-in-law being Lord Mayhew, a former Foreign Office and Navy Minister.
So when Jane arrived on her holiday on 1/86 she found me single, much to her surprise. She then went back to KL, handed in her notice to the Cheshire Home and returned to me in 3/86. We married at Cotton Tree Drive Registry Office on 16/5/86, Giles playing ‘here comes the bride’ on his watch. Daniel was born on 20/12/86, William on 10/2/88 and Kimberley on 3/3/90.
This is why we married and had three children. One day after lunch we were in the foyer of the Hong Kong Club, about to leave. The Church of England Bishop of Malaysia was also leaving and recognised Jane who introduced me. The Bishop said to me ‘Ah, Mr Lewis. I hope you know who you’ve got here. Jane is a very special lady’. This remark stopped me in my tracks. I had not contemplated getting married again. 21 years was enough, and there had been no shortage of female company since Jenny moved out in 9/84. Moreover I was still very busy with my rehab work. Yet Jane had blown all opposition out of the water, and the Bishop was right - she was very special. I thought ‘if she’s good enough for the Bishop, she’s good enough for me’.
I went home and listed all the Pros about her (16), then the Cons (3). The Pros were - attractive; no hassle; good sex; very acceptable work background; happy; good-natured; loving; cares for others; companionable; good personality; lively; comes from a country I like; young; cheap, not grasping; can work, efficient; got guts. The Cons were - kids; space; loss of independence. It was a no-brainer.
So I asked her - ‘Will you marry me?’
‘Yes, but I want kids’
‘How many do you want?’ (inwardly groaning)
‘Maximum 4, minimum 2’.
‘How about 3?’
So we got married and had three kids in three years. I then got the snip, leaving Jane with her hands full for the next six years. I bought a sunny 2-bedroom flat at Villa Verde adding a tiny room for Giles - an architectural miracle of my own design. We later moved to nearby Guildford Gardens - a 4-bedroom apartment on The Peak. I was then promoted to Deputy Secretary level.
Jane was and is the love of my life. And still has a nice pair of legs.
FROM 1987 TO 1992 I SERVED as Deputy Secretary Lands and Works, later being responsible for the Environment. In my early days there I oversaw the Shell Oil Depot Removal Scheme, and was also responsible for ensuring Hong Kong had enough water, constantly obsessing over the rainfall figures during dry times when water restrictions were enforced and we had to seek extra supplies from China. But they never refused us - even in the troublesome 1967 riots our water still flowed.
When I took over the Environment portfolio it was obvious we were in big trouble. The most visible problem was air pollution with our community generating 600 tonnes of sulphur dioxide daily, 300 tonnes of nitrogen oxides and 200 carbon monoxide, mostly from factories belching smoke and vast numbers of uncontrolled diesel vehicles emitting toxic particles endangering health.
50% of our wastewater was being discharged without treatment into the sea, leading to deterioration of our inshore waters and inland watercourses.
Our daily 22,500 tonnes of solid waste faced serious shortfalls in disposal facilities and we were being overrun by rubbish. And two million people were being exposed daily to unacceptable levels of construction noise; one million from road traffic noise, and 500,000 from airport noise. In short our fast-paced economy had outgrown its ability to deal with the fall-out. A radical action plan was needed fast.
The answer was a White Paper on Pollution. The normal course of action was to issue a Green Paper first for consultation. But there was no time for that - urgent action was needed. I set about this quickly.
Using the same RDD methodology I substituted the 5 disabled categories with the 4 pollution areas of waste management, air pollution, water quality/sewerage, and noise. It took 6 months to draft the 50-page ‘White Paper - Pollution in Hong Kong - a time to act’. Launched on World Environment Day - 5 June 1989, it also coincided with the Tiananmen Square massacre. As I addressed a lunchtime gathering those present were concentrating on more important issues.
We overcame the problems by legislation, enforcement, and provision of additional facilities and new projects. The following were our major initiatives - there were many others. We declared Water Control Zones at Port Shelter and Junk Bay and later extended them; completed sewerage master plans for unsewered areas; completed a sewerage strategy study, then decided on options for territory-wide disposal of waste-waters; commissioned 3 NT landfills; started construction of a chemical waste treatment centre; commissioned Kowloon Bay Refuse Transfer Station; declared air control zones which covered all of Hong Kong; reduced air pollution from vehicles by effective control of emissions; introduced lead-free petrol and catalytic converters; reduced reliance on diesel vehicles; introduced regulations to further reduce smoke from chimneys; and implemented provisions covering noise from construction, piling, rubble disposal and other sources.
Over 10 years an extra 950 staff were needed, and the whole programme was expected to cost HK $20 billion, including $12 billion for our inadequate sewerage system and $5 billion for a comprehensive network of new landfills and refuse transfer stations.
Para 1.10 of the White Paper stipulated that a Review of Progress must be submitted to the Governor-in-Council every two years. I was still in post when I submitted that 50-page Review of May 1991. Most objectives of that two-year period were met, and it was satisfying to see the results achieved particularly the reduction in air pollution. It showed that it was possible to make improvements if the territory really put its mind to it. Money was never a problem.
The Royal Hong Kong Police
FROM 27/4/92 TO MY retirement on 1/12/94 I worked for the Royal Hong Kong Police Force as the Police Administrative Officer. In 1974 I had started my HK service as the Secretariat Officer working to the Police. I was now finishing it off with them. Moreover I had started my 1957 working life in one disciplined service and was now finishing it in another. I had come full circle.
My PAO post was equivalent to a civilian deputy, but it was not appropriate for a civilian to be given a deputy title. There were 3 other deputies – Deputy Commissioner Operations, Deputy Commissioner Staff and Director Special Branch. We and a few other high-rankers formed the Chiefs of Staff.
My role as PAO was that of a corporate planner responsible for overall financial and planning management. I was the principal adviser to the CP and the Force on liaison with Central Government especially in financial and planning matters. I therefore represented the Force’s views to the Secretary of Security, and vice-versa, and was the link to Central Government especially when they did not see eye-to-eye. The Secretary for Security at that time was Alastair Asprey who had collected me from the airport on arrival in 1974. Being a member of the disciplined services himself - he was a part-time Government chopper pilot - he was always supportive of the Force. Li Kwan Ha, the Commissioner of Police and his successor Eddie Hui were my bosses.
I was responsible for financial and planning management of this 39,000 strong Police Force, 5,000 of whom were civilians directly under my control. These were mostly executive, accounting and clerical staff but also included professional civilians working in the forensic and bomb disposal fields. The Hong Kong budget for Security in 1994 was HK $17,000 million, most of this for the Police who had wide-ranging responsibilities for marine as well as land policing, and also Internal Security duties.
The Police Planning and Development Branch headed by a Chief Superintendent also worked to me with a vast building programme which needed close monitoring. I had ample opportunity to visit the whole territory to check on projects with officers on the ground. Now a senior Government officer with a record of active service behind me it was easy to fit into the Police way of life, and I felt very much at home in the Senior Officers’ Mess where I hosted my civilian Government colleagues in my ‘link’ role.
The only spat I had with central Government was over the Commission of Police’s number plate. Traditionally, going back to earliest motor vehicle times, the CP’s number plate was 1. He was the top dog and his number plate was a symbol of law and order.
But in order to raise revenue the Financial Secretary who held the number plate 2, decided to put 2 to the weekly lucky number auction organised by the Commissioner of Transport, and 2 was sold for a very large sum. The FS then demanded that CP abandon his 1 plate and auction his. This would have been a terrible loss of face. We did not want some rich criminal winning the auction and lording it over CP, and it would break a long-standing tradition which all members of the Force supported. But in the end tradition won the day, and CP kept his number plate.
The Police were extremely professional and my civilian staff all very capable, so the PAO job did not extend me. But I was very proud to work with the RHKP, one of the largest and most efficient Police Forces in the world and it was a fitting way to wind down my career.
Where to Next?
IT WAS NOW time to take stock and plan for our future. No longer on contract I had become a permanent and pensionable member of her Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service from 7/10/83. I then bought back my pensionable service to 1/4/74, thus giving me a higher pension when I retired as an Administrative Officer Staff Grade B1.
I was also a JP and briefly served as a member of the Legislative Council. I also had a British Council Certificate for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
Before Jane came along I had always intended to remain in Hong Kong, with perhaps one more overseas posting before I retired. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had already turned me down for Deputy Governor Bermuda - they wanted to appoint a FCO person, and although Administrator of Montserrat was on the cards I didn’t apply, which was fortunate because a volcano blew up the whole island on 18/7/95.
Now we were a mixed race family of five it became essential to establish ourselves in another country the children could identify with, and give them their own nationality. Jane had already become a British citizen from 24/2/92, so we all had British passports. Jane and I wanted to live in each other’s countries but neither of us wanted to live in our own, so that ruled out Malaysia and UK. That left Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Singapore was too difficult, and Australia wouldn’t have us because I was too old.
So in 3/94 I checked out New Zealand by playing my way into the RHK Police golf team on their two-week tour, visiting Auckland, Tauranga, New Plymouth, Rotorua, Taupo and the North Shore. NZ was perfect for our needs, and when I saw roses and hibiscus growing side-by-side in Auckland this city became our new home.
On return to HK I gained entry to NZ through the Business Category by putting funds in a NZ Bank, finessed an earlier retirement under the golden-handshake Limited Compensation Scheme and Colonial Regulation 93, and sold our Guildford Garden flat. I then made a second visit to NZ in 10/94 and having bought the 39th house I saw out of 47, returned to HK for my final month before taking the whole family to NZ in 12/94. This military-style operation proved to be the second best decision of my life.
Before we moved I reflected on the past 20 years. Much had happened since I arrived in Hong Kong in 1974 with a new Chinese name Lui wai-si, wary of previous (unwarranted) warnings that a brown paper envelope would be placed in my desk when somebody wanted a favour; struggling with my Cantonese courses and forgetting all 700 characters; one child in 1974, five now - all educated at the German Swiss School; surviving 110mm of rain in one hour and the accompanying landslide cutting off the Peak; Dan gaining his swimming cert at the HKCC - the naughty, untrained William doggy-paddling behind; Sunday lunches at Deep Water Bay; Jane’s kiwi tennis team practising at Government House; Jane avoiding a ticket because of her tight skirt; dealing with the press, speaking on TV, running 3 media campaigns; safety 24/7, no burglaries; Jane selling Usborne books; beggars with radios listening to the races; instant tradesmen when something needed fixing; chauffeur-driven car; Dan’s obsession with superhero outfits; Eenie - William’s imaginary friend; ninja turtles; Giles’ handmade racing cars; Cathay Pacific theme tune; Roots; Fanling golf; Lunch-time wall-to-wall people; Jane’s pregnant hankering for Kentucky Fried Chicken; our game in the car - 10 points for a Rolls-Royce (me), 1 point for a Mercedes (the boys); Dan pinching pencils; Peak tram; Peak walk; Star Ferry; Hughes pinching my Prince Charles autographed photo; szechuan food; King Kong 1933; The Creature from the Black Lagoon; Sheena; Joji; Dolores; ‘its time to tidy up’; St Nicholaus; the enormous turnip; and finally our leaving party at HKCC.
As for my career, it was an honour to be part of the Hong Kong Government, a formidably efficient civil service that effectively ran Hong Kong, our last major colony. I am grateful to my superiors for tasking me with so many varied projects - there was nary a dull moment as 20 years flashed by.
And what extraordinary place to work in - a city that never sleeps, where there’s always an urgency to produce results no matter what business you’re in. Its competitive environment was stimulating - if you were tired of Hong Kong, you were tired of life!
But 1997 was looming. Talented, younger local officers were much better equipped to deal with the Hand-over to China. It was time to move on, as I had done so many times before. But this time it was different. Hong Kong was my home. It was a big wrench to leave it, but nostalgia gave way to necessity - I now had to settle in a new country for my young second family. And what a great place this new country turned out to be.
Some Cricketing Memories
OUR FLIGHT TO Auckland brought down the curtain on my cricketing career. I had just scored 18 not out in my last Centaurs club match vs HKU, better than the two ducks I started with as a 14 year-old. Back then I couldn’t hit the ball off the square until I was 16, incurring the wrath of ex-England spinner RWV Robins by scoring only 34 of NDCC’s first 128 runs. I’d never experienced sledging before, or since.
Just a few incidents - returning home one night with a bloody face having been hit in the nets when wagging a piano lesson. Mum and dad argued and piano lessons ceased; The Mad Major at Tonbridge blasting me for scruffy turn-out - ‘you may not be a good cricketer, Lewis, but at least you can look like one. Get your boots whitened!’; listening on the radio to Tyson ripping through the Australians; receiving bad news in the jungle when Benaud did the same to us in 1961; our 58 year-old NDCC wicket-keeper collapsing and dying after running a short single; at Bury St Edmunds instead of getting extra Orderly Officers after transgressing, getting banned from cricket for a week; chasing water buffalo at night down through the Malacca sergeants’ mess outside bar, after celebrating a big win; hitting the six through the window of ‘The Dog’. God, what memories!
But my most poignant cricketing story concerned apartheid. At Durban in 1972 cape coloured pair Geoff Pandy, 28, joined us on the Northern Star with his wife Helene, 22. Geoff was paid 15c per hour as a non-white doctor - much less than white doctors’ 40c. Even Helene’s pay was higher than Geoff’s because she looked white and held a white woman’s secretarial job. I persuaded Geoff to join me for deck cricket - he wasn’t used to playing with whites - and we became friends. After cricket one night he invited me to join him on the deserted deck. Saying he wanted me to witness something, he pulled out his South African ID card, tore it to shreds and threw it overboard, saying ‘there is no future for non-whites in South Africa’. They settled in Australia and South Africa was banished from world cricket until apartheid ended in 1991.
Next, an unbelievable conversation I overheard between Harold Larwood and Bert Oldfield sitting together in the dark linseed-oiled dressing room of the old HKCC in 1975. Larwood had sent Oldfield to hospital in the 1932/33 bodyline series and they obviously hadn’t met since then.
Harold: ‘Back then Bert, I were too quick for thee’.
Bert: ‘No you weren’t Harold, I hooked you onto my face’.
(top edge actually). And on the banter went, two old foes discussing one of cricket’s most infamous incidents which caused international outrage. Pity I didn’t have a tape-recorder.
Other memories. Deceiving Bobby Simpson with a chinaman - he had only scored 103, then bowling two more perfectly pitched on left-handed Rod Marsh’s legs, which he didn’t read but paddled for 4. The game on the Yemen border; Brockton Point, Vancouver; and those tours especially South America.
As we fastened our seatbelts for landing at Auckland, it was sad to think my 41 years of club cricket had finished. But I had a cricket library to collect, and two young boys to coach. My innings was not over yet.
ON ARRIVAL IN NZ in 12/94 Daniel was still 7, William 6 and Kimberley 4. All three went to King’s College as boarders to prepare them for independence. Retirement enabled Jane and I to play a full part in their lives. 23 years later this was the (very much abbreviated) result.
Daniel graduated from Auckland University. An early career in advertising led to his favoured job running Boxing Alley, before working with Saatchi in London on anti-extremism.
William left Otago University with degrees in Media and Marketing, both of which he put to immediate use at Mediaworks in NZ, then Foxtel in Sydney with great success.
Kimberley attended Law School at Victoria University (also tutor/published author) and Lyon France, working in 5 territories before she was 25 - NZ, Hong Kong, China, Melbourne and Singapore.
Debbie, the baby born in the Singapore riots, was 30 when we reached NZ. She and James raised Emily and Grace in Normandy, France. Emily has held responsible positions with the UK Government in London, and Grace is a fluent Japanese speaker with Mitsubishi Bank in Tokyo. Debbie separated from James in 2017 and now works for Joan Plowright, the widow of Sir Laurence Olivier.
Giles was 20 when we arrived in NZ. He had graduated from Leeds University, then lived in China and married his Shanghai-based Italian wife Graziana in Sicily in 2011, with all of us attending. They now live in Chiang Mai, Thailand with Giles still working to his Shanghai WPP English-teaching College.
Meanwhile Jane and I had not been idle. Jane came 8th in the 2017 World Masters Golf Tournament in Auckland. She has 2 holes-in-one, and has won many Tournaments, captaining her Remuera Golf Club Pennant team to victory in 2008, and now their Manager and Selector. She was awarded an International Olympic Committee Diploma in 2001 for turning the struggling Eastern Suburbs Gym Club into an extremely successful enterprise, raising funds for a NZ $1.3 million building, recruiting overseas coaches then achieving great competitive and recreational results. This was also recognised by the Auckland Council through a Good Citizen Award in 2002. Her various voluntary duties include the Tree of Remembrance and St John visits to the Marian Rest Home with Chopper (who had taken over from Biggles as the sixth member of the family). She is a skilled cook, gardener, popular dog organiser, and an Adele fan - attending her fabulous 2017 Auckland concert.
I coached boys cricket and captained our Kohi Tennis Club Presidents team to victory in 1996, with Jane the MVP. For many years I helped run the huge Lions Club annual 24 hour Bookfair. I support the Dove Shop, the All Blacks and Arsenal, and am in the top 83% of all NZ golfers, with one hole-in-one. My only golfing success was partnering Jane to Dempsey Plate glory in 2011. A cigarette card collector and philumenist, I still enjoy books, all genres of music and childlike banter with Jane.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve gone through the back door of every institution I joined. I entered unaffordable Tonbridge on a scholarship; gained a Regular Commission through National Service, completing only 16 weeks training instead of two years; and became a pensionable member of HMOCS through contracts and without a degree.
But I’ve done what I set out to do when staring at that large map on my History teacher’s wall. I’ve got out into the world and experienced all it has to offer.
I WROTE THIS JOURNAL because my children asked me to. The timing was inspired by reading ‘The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue’ by my Tonbridge contemporary, Frederick Forsyth. I thought ‘I can write something like that’, so I did.
I knew he had written his first novel in 35 days when skint - The Day of the Jackal. I took 28 days, but do not expect to get the same acclaim.
I used my many notes, scrapbooks and photos, and once started I couldn’t stop. From 0530 to 2200 daily words poured out as if I was talking. No golf, no exercise, no sense of time. Just locked in the desert or the jungle - wherever I was writing about. I kept going non-stop because I was scared I would hit a brick wall. Towards the end it became a huge test of mental strength and stamina. This is not how you should approach writing, yet it gave the story an element of freshness because I was telling it as though it was yesterday - at least that’s how my mind saw it.
I haven’t done justice to the places I’ve been, or to the many thousands of people I’ve met because these vignettes are just some brief highlights. But if you can excuse the odd brag, mistake or omission - and if there’s just enough here to elicit a quiet chuckle or two, then my 28 days record for posterity will have been worthwhile.
Martin Lewis, Auckland, 15/5/17