We returned from our YOs course in Larkhill in early March 1965. We were officially designated FA in the tradition of the British RA affixed to our ranks and names. We were qualified gunners, brash and not so young officers and gentlemen of The Regiment.
In less than 36 hours after reporting back to the regiment, then stationed in Kumunting Camp, Taiping, I was off to join my battery in Sabah. I flew First Class in our very own SUNSHINE AIRWAYS (RMAF was then called) as there was only one class for all pax. The flight was a weekly scheduled flight from KL to Tawau via Labuan and KK. The usual ETA at Tawau was around 1700 to 1830 hours. But my flight was delayed in Labuan and we were running late. And there was no night landing facilities at Tawau Airport. Also to our horror we could not return to KK or Labuan due to a heavy storm at our tail, making it impossible for our Sunshine Airways to make a U turn. Landed in Tawau we did, at about 2030 hours under improvised lightings from all the vehicles from 5 Bde lined up on both sides of the runway. So much for drama on my first operational duty in Sabah. What a welcome on Day One.
The BKs land rover was waiting for me to take me to our admin base at the river front in Tawau. No BK nor any other officer to welcome me. What ? Kapt Mustafa Saad to receive me? Not on your life.
E Bty was already deployed in Sabah, with BHQ and one gun position, in Wallace Bay, Sebatik Island, and three other one gun positions in Bogosong, Sg Limau and Semantan. Sg Limau did not have an officer GPO, hence I was to report to Sg Limau ASP. The Bty admin area was based in Tawau under tentages and secured with a barb wired perimeter fence. We use assault boats as ferries from Tawau to Sebatik Island. All vehicles were also stationed in Tawau except for Wallace Bay which had the BC land rover and local 3 toners from 5 Bde.
My first night in Tawau was shagged and tired from the day’s long flight and landing drama and I slept early. The following day BK welcomed me over the Bty admin net. He informed me to remain in Tawau for one more night and to move to Sg Limau the next day. As it was film night, he had dispatch the week’s AKC film previously shown in Wallace Bay, and also we had an Adult film as bonus. 16mm film reel to boot. Adult films were usually borrowed from the Japanese and Taiwanese merchant ships that ply to Wallace Bay for timber and other goods. Also available from the sailors were duty free cameras and watches. Any popular brands. All officers/ ORs bought their first Omega Seamaster watch and Canon camera after receiving their first Sabah / Sarawak allowance.
I had asked the BQMS where do we screen the movies. No problem sir, we park the 3 toner under the coconut tree and drape a white officer’s mess table cloth at the side. But the adult movie ? Again no fuss. Casual spectators usually watch from across the barb wired fence, only invited guests, namely police officers, government officers and our ladies would join us on army cushioned chairs from the mess and planked benches for the ORs. 5 Bde camp would screen their film shows inside Nonokan Camp.
For recreation we played sepak takraw, volleyball, football, badminton. Trup Keling and other card games were played on most nights. There was no curfew in Tawau and we were allowed to be in town until 2359 hours. Officers would drive in our land rovers at will. We never carried firearms in Tawau and would move freely in our civies. Our guard post was manned 24 hours though.
I left Tawau for Sg Limau at first light the following day, commanding the Bty admin run. We had several assault boats, some with twin 45 hp OBM engines clamped together for extra oomph.
Sebatik Island was the battle front. Life would be different, wouldn’t it ? You bet.