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Operation Crown Thailand 1963 – 1968 | 16 Commonwealth Field Ambulance British Army Loeng Nok Tha

Operation Crown Thailand 1963 – 1968 | 16 Commonwealth Field Ambulance British Army Loeng Nok Tha

you pose and the bandits it'll eventually arrive at a small village a few miles from the border with Laos called young knocked our time you get there you'll know what to expect of the average Thai Ridgeback or have been through plenty of them a couple of dozen wooden houses a monastery with its shaven-headed Buddhist monks and a Chinese store you will find all those Indian Akhtar you'll find something else something unique during the past three years the calm of the village has been disturbed by a presence that may surprise you as much as it must have surprised the tides the British Army not much of it it's true but enough to make a fair show on the parade ground at a time when British units have been pulling out of Borneo with almost indecent haste when discussions are held on how to reduce the cost of British garrison in Hong Kong at a time when all the talk is of a British withdrawal east of Suez it came as a surprise to this traveler at least to find a bunch of tummies sweating it out here in the distant northeast of Thailand the British government hasn't actually over publicized their presence here yet they're far from being new arrivals Marshall cries and the stump of squatty boot were first heard up here at the end of 1963 and since then the local inhabitants have had the uninterrupted pleasure of their company on days like this the Thais have the unique opportunity to study two unusual cults the British Army and the Church of England operating more or less in harmony the church parades or indeed parades of any kind or a rare occurrence at young knocked on normally everyone is much too busy to bother about bull they're working furiously to complete by the end of the year the job they were sent here to do to build an airstrip where there was only jungle two months ago two hundred and twenty two men of thirty fourth field squadron Royal Engineers lefted Worth and arrived here to join a detachment of fifty four field Park squadron on rotation from Singapore plus units from rimi and the Royal Corps of transport together they make up a workforce of four hundred and fifty men as well as the soldiers there are two hundred and fifty civilians recruited from surrounding villages working on the site if you're wondering why economic conscious Britain once a two million pound airstrip in the middle of the tide jungle the official answer is she doesn't and it's true that the whole installation has already been handed over to the Royal Thai Air Force this being the case you'd assume that since Britain and Thailand are both members of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization but the airstrip is some part of a seto plan but apparently that's not so it's the result of a bipartite agreement between Britain and Thailand when I asked the commanding officer Colonel Brown why the strip's being built and why here this is what he said well some time ago several years ago we offered the Thais various projects which we thought might be done in this area and they chose an airfield in this part of Thailand northeast of Thailand is very undeveloped and anything that can began to open up communications obviously a good idea we wanted to build an air fields very good training sappers and so he said we build them one here well now what rights does British government retain over the base to use it if it were if and when it wants to I understand it to be handed over to the Thais but presumably her managers government does have some rights over it I don't it has any rights at all no it's a direct present to the Thais and the ties can use it as they wish there's no doubt that Britain's magnanimous gesture amongst to a fine piece of engineering an airstrip 5000 feet long with 500 foot overruns at each giving it effective length of six thousand feet an apron for parking aircraft 1,800 feet by 300 feet wide bus roads and taxiways amounting to 140,000 square yards or half a million tonnes of first quality concrete enough to cater for the needs of a dozen troop-carrying Britannia at least all this has been done since the beginning of the year which leaves one wondering what everyone has been working at since 1963 the answer lies in a sad heap of ass fell trouble at the end of the runway this was the first try penny-pinching of the Treasury dictated an original design that was supposed to be quick and cheap but even before it was finished the monsoon rains got to work and it began to fail six months after it was completed they started to rip it up again and do the job properly let it be said once again that the new airstrip is a fine job but not apparently good enough for the RAF not only have they no right to land here they refuse to land here because there are no tenders or landing aids supplies for the engineers are flown to an American base 40 miles away and then fed it here by truck but the Americans themselves has no such qualms several times a week US Army transport aircraft are happily landing here with passengers in cargo when you consider that Thailand is now the principal American base for operations against North Vietnam one can be forgiven for wondering exactly what rights the American have to pursue their war from a British built base it's a question that I put to Colonel Braun there's no right to use it or any reason all of them should we say to assist the ties they have communications facilities which are Thai American communications in the area the nd American aircraft that I know of using it so far are to bring in supplies and equipment for this communications network at American Communication Center which Colonel Brian mentioned is situated 30 miles away at Mukdahan security around it is strict it's impossible to say exactly what is being used for but it's a fair assumption that it has some part to play in u.s. air action over Vietnam of course the Royal Thai government has the perfect right to make whatever use of the British built base it pleases but some voices in Parliament might be raised in protest if it's used increasingly to support us action in Vietnam all these political questions quite outside the consideration of the Royal Engineers actually doing the work the first shift of sixty men begins at five in the morning and carries on for 1:00 in the afternoon the second shift takes over at three and works through and under our clamps until 11:00 at night it's hard slogging labor under tough conditions but for most of the men it's a welcome opportunity to practice their trades they've been trained in a welcome change from building bridges on Salisbury Plain and then knocking them down again at least here they can see something permanent as a result of their efforts to fill their leisure hours the choice of the diversion is limited for the truly masochistic there's rugby or soccer played under a blistering Sun on the ground almost as hard as that concrete runway for the less foolhardy the Royal and Ancient game provides surprises they'd never find at home the greens are indistinguishable from the fairways or from the bunkers for that matter for those who don't like sport the film shows and Tom Burnett sessions and a Massey canteen supplemented by a comprehensive comfort service provided by that journey a british army institution that magnificent survival from the british raj the char wallah Muhammad Ghul is a Pakistani his father and his grandfather served in the Indian Army himself followed the engineers from Singapore to Thailand and presumably he'll follow them anywhere else serving the same reliable char and wads in fractured army but despite all he can do activities are still limited at long nakta because the engineers can't stray far from the airfield it's situated in a part of Thailand that seen a good deal of communist terrorist activity in the past six months and since the British carry arms neither on the base nor off it and encouraged to stay within its protective perimeter here their security is provided by a small force of Royal Thai Air Force guards what would happen if there was a determined effort to sabotage the airfield doesn't bear thinking about but probably the terrorists have other objectives in mind the security problem will become much greater if the engineer's stay on after the completion of their present tasks a scan will ban whether it was assumed that they would go home once the airfield is completed well I'm afraid this is probably what we would do and we would love to stay on and do all sorts of work in this area there are very few roads there's only one big road here which you've seen which is laughter item suffered on recently I believe from mock to Honolulu bond and we very much like to see a lot already built whether the engineers do stay here or not will depend on a number of factors primarily on whether the Royal Thai government will bear part of the cost of the construction work as far as the local villagers are concerned it seems that the tummies will be more than welcome and they could certainly provide more for this part of Thailand than a flourishing laundry business new roads are desperately needed and at least the British government could be more or less certain that the Americans wouldn't be using them to mount assaults on North Vietnam but the fact remains that despite the smiles this part of Thailand is still far from secure and the British government might feel very reluctant to push small construction teams into the jungle where they might well become involved in Thailand's anti-communist war you

Reader Comments

  1. I was ACC att/16 comwel fld, my tour of duty was from 64/64, after catering for the opening ceremony i had the good fortune to fly back to Singapore in the Blacbkburn Beverley with the fire tender sent there for the ceremony. Our rations served on ops crown were quite sparse to say the leased, lots of comp and local grown snake green beans. I wont tell you where the beef came from during a very wet monsoon season rainy week where the ration truck never left the camp, it didn't win many races anyway, the buffalo were quite expensive in those days.

  2. I was there in 1966. A total dump! Certainly the airstrip was eventually handed over to the Thai Air Force, but at the time (after the British had left) it was used by Air America (CIA) as it was very close to Vietnam.

  3. I just stood on the end of the runway last week with my father 50 years later after he was posted there in the signals core

  4. I served for one year as a REME electrician in Op Crown 1965-66. I recall the laterite being ripped up and replaced with concrete. Doubtless this was the most satisfying year of my Army service.

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