Saturday, September 28, 2013

Camaraderie at its best


A small group of us gathered at our favourite place. A place where we bond and share. Camaraderie starts here and ends here. Lots of old stories, fond memories flowed with the chilled beers served.

Ganeson, Bernard Nonis, Rama, Allen Lai, Chandran, Satwan Singh

Bernard Nonis


Hi all,

I managed to catch up with Bernard Nonis at last. He was last seen riding his horse into the sunset in the Kota Belud Artillery Range Sabah in the late 1960s as the RLO. Bernard was commissioned into 2 ARTY in the early 60s. We had served together in Sabah during Confrontation. He retired early in mid 1970s.


Bernard Nonis


Thursday, September 26, 2013

With the late Colonel Abu Hassan



The late Colonel Abu Hassan and I clicked well like ducks to water. He was CO 6 RAMD stationed in Kluang and I was 21C/BCs in 2 ARTY. Sometimes 6 RAMD and 2 ARTY btys coincided on roulements to the border ops.

On one occasion I was BC B BTY 2 ARTY and was deployed to 2 Bde Area. Bty Tac was located in Ipoh. We stayed in the Bde officers mess in Asby Road, Ipoh. It was mid afternoon when I got a telephone call from Colonel Abu. He wasn’t on ops but was just passing through.

“Hey Allen, Lets have a drink tonight” said the Colonel in the most official tone over the telephone, pulling rank over me. I could only answer “YES SIR. 2030 hours tonight at a Hotel in Tambun area, where he was staying”.

Colonel Abu was a thoroughbred gentleman and a ladies man to boot. I just couldn’t let him down. After all he was passing through town and he had come to the right place.

I called up my BK, as he was good with organising impromptu things. My BK got the girls ready, one for each of us and the prettiest one for the Colonel. We arrived at Hotel Casurina, Tambun and adjourned for drinks at the bar. After dinner we adjourned back to the bar and drank some more. As the Colonel was to leave Ipoh the next day, My BK and I bid an early goodnight to him and left with our girls for the Bde Officers mess. We had winked our eyes and left the Colonel’s girl with him.

And we waited by the telephone at the officers mess. Our girls giggling.

The phone rang and the Colonel was on the line. “Celaka Allen Lai, Celaka Allen Lai. Now you take HIM away”. Apparently the girl’s wig had come off during some passionate moments at the hotel, exposing his gender to the good Colonel.

My BK and I went to rescue the Colonel at the hotel. We sent the girls off and continued to drink with the Colonel until the wee hours of the morning.

It is with camaraderie that we can pull off pranks like that. No offense, only laughter and memories to last.

Should I write about our trysts at Bukit Iskandar Johore Baru? No I better not, before people gets the wrong idea. I am solid.

Allen Lai




Song




Song jetty - present day

Song, bukan lagu, is a small river town located on the banks of the Sungei Rajang and Sungei Katibas confluence. The town is between Kanowit and Kapit towns Sarawak, about 3 hours by express boat from Sibu. It was an important trading town in the days of old. The town itself was at about 50 feet above the river, with an undulating ridge at the rear of the town. There was an old company size army camp built by the British army. This camp was sited in the most un-tactical location. I still believed that the sitting of this camp was done by an officer who did not make it to staff college. Nor was the camp built by an Engineer Squadron. It was most probably erected by an infantry assault pioneer platoon. The camp was built in a bowl like valley with several rows of Bowen barracks on stilts. Sentry posts were sited on the high features overlooking into the camp.

Kem Song had a platoon from the RAMD battalion in stationed Kanowit when I had first visited Song. I visited Song because I was to pay a courtesy call to the Commander RASCOM. I was promoted to Lt Colonel a week ago and was posted to HQ 1 Div Kuching as the SO1 Logistics. After a week’s orientation in 1 Div, I scheduled to visit RASCOM and 5 Bde in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Otherwise I would never in my life hear of Song, much less visit the place. I still have some doubts if any Gunner had visited Song.

I bring up my visit to Song because I want to write about camaraderie. I believe camaraderie is much lacking in present day soldiering. Camaraderie can originate from the most unusual place. Like Song.
I arrived Song mid morning, smartly dressed in my cheloreng, with new chips on my shoulders, after a three hours ride by the daily Express Boat from Sibu. Commander RASCOM and his G staff were at RASCOM TEK HQ in Song. After the usual welcome, greetings, hellos, salutations and briefings, a happy hour and drinks were in order to celebrate with the new SO1 Log. After all, the commander was non other that Brig Jen Dato Yahaya, RAMD, a stylish beer drinker and thoroughbred gentleman.
I have never met the commander before, although I had heard of his drinking reputation in the likes and league of the late Colonel Abu Hassan, also RAMD. 

And so we drank beer under some coconut trees in Camp Song. As usual happy hour lasted more than an hour and we were celebrating my promotion. Until today, I still do not know why “happy hour” is called “happy hour” in the army. But happy hour it was and still is, despite the fact that it always last much longer than an hour. I had never done a happy hour under the hour. I can only suppose happy hours were needed to foster and cement camaraderie.

Camaraderie starts with a spark, goes through lots of drinks and laughter; and ends with a hangover.
The weather was hot that mid morning and it got hotter into the afternoon and evening. Needless to say with cold beers flowing, it does not make any difference in the weather. All of us including General Yahaya took off our cheloreng shirts and hung them on the branches of a nearby Jambu tree. It was hot.

We drank to almost dusk and “stand to” time. Happy as we were, we weren’t drunk. I was the first to put on my shirt so that we could adjourn for stand to. I buttoned up my shirt, put on my combat webbings and barret. I stood in front of the commander with the intention to take leave from him and the happy group of officers.

General Yahaya stood up immediately and gave me a smart salute to the astonishment of all present. I was awed and speechless. The general saluted me, not me him. And he was not drunk.
I recalled the embarrassing scene very well till this day. I had put on the general’s shirt, stars and all. I was “promoted” twice in two weeks.

Camaraderie with General Yahaya and others lasted to this day.
Drinks anybody?

Allen Lai

MY FIRST COMMANDING OFFICER

There are some things in life that you cannot forget. One of them for me was the late Lt. Col Mustafa Saad, my first CO. Reporting to 3 Arty in Taiping circa 1975, I already had an inkling of how hard life is going to be. What with the forewarning of a formidable CO who loves Boxing, Rugby, Parajumping etc. etc. My god! what a tall order to be a YO in his regiment. Nevertheless, you simply had to meet it head on. For starters, his wife was Mat Salleh! He had a fancy gait which simply meant "watch out, here I come". The saddest part of my life with him was that it was short, maybe a couple of years or so. In that short period, I learnt one most important lesson from him- THE MEN COME FIRST, IN EVERYTHING WE DO AS OFFICERS. He had a "lan tse" air about himself and we never had doubts of his decision making or leadership. We had a tough time with daily, non stop activities that kept us on our toes. To recap some of our activities, they include:

  • Silat Gayong (first thing in the dark morning before sunrise)
  • Gun Drill for officers inclusive practice for alarm stake competition with NCOs and ORs
  • Daily Games evenings with boxing, rugby,football, etc.
  • Unending Mess Nights with Mess Games
  • Weekly Yeah Yeah's (Informal parties with wine, women and song)
  • Gun Salutes
  • Demos
All of the above was in spite of our operational duties,which were either battery tours, or regimental roulement. CO Musty (as he was fondly called by his peers and seniors), was anywhere and everywhere. I always felt that he was Lord,Master and God for the regiment. That was the power of command where his every word is the gospel truth. I shall cover this aspect of Musty's leadership in another post where I was personally involved. 
Did you all know that the first airborne artillery was started by him in 3 Arty? D Bty (my battery) was re-designated as AHMAD SHAH BATTERY (In honour of our Colonel in Chief then- the Sultan of Pahang). Some officers and men were trained to jump at Sg. Udang and the training continued in the regiment. Sadly, this effort was discontinued over time. Musty used to walk around the regiment in jumpsuit carrying his short cane. As part of his "branding" exercise, we used to wear a green muffler with our camouflage on parade. He left the regiment under unusual circumstances to do Law in the United Kingdom. There he spent his final years and I wonder if his wife Kak Bibah is still around? I only heard sometime ago that his son Johnny was in Broadway N.Y. 
Farewell Sir! wherever you are and may your soul R.I.P.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A bachelor Gunner





There are two category of bachelors in the army. Bonafide and married bachelors. The latter, officers being married and behaves like the former. I know as I went through both categories. I believe the categories remain the same today.

I was a bonafide bachelor as all young officers were, until I got hitched up as a Captain in 1970. I got married when I was posted to be the Gunner Officer Instructor in the FMC Sungei Besi in 1968. My bachelorhood days wasn’t too bad and likewise as a married bachelor as well in 2 ARTY, Kluang, which unfortunately lasted only for a year or so, when all hell broke loose. But that will be another story.

As with all bachelors in the sixties and being an officer to boot, I was brash, suave, confident and fun. I was after all a Pegawai. And Pegawais were laku those days. “Oh mama, saya mahu kahwin” a popular song those days, was not our favourite song. We lived like there was no tomorrow. Nor did we care for tomorrow.

We were trained to be an officer and gentlemen always. The latter augurs well with the ladies. We were quick to learn that girls wanna have fun too. Madonna sang it much later in the 80s. Mess dance parties were the order of the day and also moonlight parties at the Garrison swimming pool in Kem Makhota Kluang. We did not have a particular girlfriend for long and most often dated in groups. In those days, just holding a girls hand would mean you were serious and she wants to marry you. But not with us, because we would declare our intent/interest first. Coming or not? We would ask.
One evening I telephoned a girl for a date and asked her if it was alright if I came to pick her up at 8.00 pm. She replied No.

I then asked what time would she be ready. She replied 7.00 pm.

We actually had more girls than we could handle. Firstly there were the Tima Rolling, (Fatimahs), MinaKarans, sometimes aka Perakus, who rolled from officers mess to officers mess. Some are hand me downs from officer to officer. Then there were girls from Airdrops, an effective communication/contact mode. We would drop a note to girls as we droved pass them. The note would contain our officers mess telephone number, and we would get a 80 percent chance of receiving a call within 96 hours. Pegawais were really laku with Malay girls, both in the Kampong and institutional hostels in KL area.

We would patronize the dance halls at BB Park KL almost all weekends dancing the Cha Cha Cha and Off beat Cha Cha Cha. We would organized our own Joget Lambak in the Regment. On one occasion we did not have sufficient time to call up our usual girls. We were so desperate that we actually rounded up a bunch of Orang Asli girls. Most were bare footed and some toothless. Nonetheless girls.
We would also spend weekends chilling and hanging out at our bar in the officers mess. Sometimes we would engage actively and intelligently in debates with the girls. I remember the hottest topic discussed was “Are women boobs sexual organs?”

Talking of sex, I believed the Kama Sutra, which was the most read book by officers, never taught us how to perform on an officers field camp bed, a green canvas contraption with metal rods for legs. Don’t try it, unless absolutely necessary.

I learnt to operate the movie projector during the Tawau days. It was the issued 16mm movie projector. We had films nights on Wednesday. We could get movies, which were mainly uncensored directly from the British AKC Films. (Army Kinema Corporation). I would stop the reels at the “hottest” moments. Most times the intense heat from the projector bulb would burn through the celluloid film. Truth be told, the girls loved it more than us. Whenever we had “nice” scenes (obscene?) I would cut off several frames for our keeping. AKC would always complain. When Japanese/Taiwan logging ships came to Tawau/Wallace Bay, we would get to screen blue movies in the officers mess.

As bachelor officers we had a quality standard with the girls. Just like the ISO 9000, we made measurable and achievable objectives. For your information the ISO 9000 series for quality management were direct adaption from the British Army standards.

Our quality standard for a Gunner officer was to have sex BEFORE dinner. Sex after dinner was the norm but not the gold standard of our times. On one occasion my date objected to sex before dinner as it would messed up her Saloma style hairdo done up for the evening. She later obliged by turning over.

Oh those bachelor days. We loved Cliff Richard’s song Bachelor Boy.

Rama, If this post is too lewd, please censor/delete.

Allen Lai

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mess Night Phase 2



Pee I did, but not many times did I manage to pee above the red Bomba line. Mess Night Phase 2 was much awaited for during dinner time. We adjourned to the mess hall for phase 2. We were allowed to dress down if required, taking off our jackets and bowties. We let our hair down for the evening. Yes I could do that then but not now. My Barber nowadays could not suggest “Apa style mau”?

The bar area was crowded again. Unfinished pre dinner drinks were brought out from the refrigerator. We were moving into the mood. We ganged up as kids would. The best or worst of us would be seen by the CO’s roving scans. BCs were too busy playing and defending themselves. The Adjutant and Senior Subaltern were always the popular targets. Officers from the same battery usually played in the same team.

We played mess games with formats but no rules. What rules? Whose rules? We had milder games like Where are you Mariam? Two officers blind folded tied at the wrist, laid down on the floor and was to hit each other with a rolled up newspapers. Ouch!

Rugby was a favourite mess game. Inter battery and no rules to the art of tacklings. Most times we would catch the other ball. The game was purpose driven and winning was not the requirement.

Chin Kai Fong was commissioned to 1 ARTY. He was a bull and was as strong and as stubborn as one. Larger in size than most officers, he was also a great athlete and could beat anybody at the tracks. One mess night we tackled Chin and raised him up to get some sense into him by banging his head into the ceiling above. Chin took it well as the ceiling broke instead.

Russian roulette was dangerous. It was played with life Thunder flashes. We formed a circle, lighted a thunder flash and threw it to an officer. He would catch it and threw it at another. We had less than 15 seconds before the last brave soul would throw it away from anybody. We were high but not clumsily drunk. At one such game in Taiping, an officer wasn’t thinking right. He had caught the Thunder flash and held it lovingly to his chest. Luckily another officer tackled him and the Thunder flash was rendered harmless just in time.

Playing catching was a silly kids game, but not in B Mess Tawau. We played catching on top of the mess roof. We also played football outside the mess, but the only difference was that the ball was a large stone ball, carved rounded and used as a mess decoration.

B Mess Tawau was a mixed units officers mess. We had an Engineer Squadron with us and the Squadron had a brash and cocky Mat Salleh officer. We would always display two guns in front of the mess during mess night as part of the d├ęcor. The Engineer officer was not himself that night and with a beer in hand had pulled a chair in front of one of the guns. He declared that he would pee down the barrel of the Gun. Everybody was awed. I rushed to him and asked him to wait.  I rushed into the mess kitchen and brought out a chopper knife and told him if he peed on our gun, that would be the last time he had a penis. He backed down and couldn’t trade off his family jewel. Good for him.

We had a wonderful game in 2 ARTY. Ingenious and crafty. It was called Red Light stop. Officers would form a line as in a train, holding on to the front officers shoulder. The train would move round the mess hall. Each officer had a lit cigarette stuck up his arse. Lights out and the train moved. The front officer would shout Red Stop and everybody stopped just in time without crashing into the front officer ahead of him, lit cigarette and all. In one game an officer farted and his cigarette lit up bright red. The officer behind him made an emergency stop without shouting Red Stop. The remaining officers in the rear crashed into each other like a derailed train. Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt where it would have hurt most.

Team drinking challenges were the most popular games. Everybody liked the 'faster than Ferraris' bottom ups. Loosers were usually drenched with unfinished beers over their heads.

I get teary and misted up each time I reflect and recollect mess nights. It was bonding and had nurtured us into fine officers and gentlemen. We became better friends after mess night’s phase 2. Camaraderie builds up, and last even till today. Once a Gunner always a Gunner.

Allen Lai



Mess Night



Regimental mess nights were held once a month in the officers mess. Mess nights were either bachelor officers’ nights and or sometimes with our ladies. We wore mess kits to remind us that we were officers and gentlemen and not Other Ranks. Mess kits lent grace, pride and suaveness to the occasion. But for only phase 1 of the evening. In Phase 2 after coffee all hell broke loose, particularly during Regimental Mess nights without our ladies. Tight mess kit trousers tore at the seams. Mess kit dress shirts, mostly unbuttoned at the top were drenched in sweat and bow ties came off. It was fun.

We don’t usually remember what happened in Phase 3.

Mess night evenings start with the Regimental bugler calling for officers to assemble at the Mess. Young officers gather early at the bar area preparing for the “things to do” for phase 2. Lets get “him” tonight. No holds barred. Young officers were allowed to get back at whoever was the target for the night and it does not matter whatever seniority, but not in a revengeful way to release young officers’ pent ups. We drank to be courageous. Senior officers drank even more knowing what was ahead in the evening. Round of drinks flowed to celebrate little things, like monthly wedding anniversaries, and hitting the target in Asahan under 3 rounds adjustments. Winning little bets were claimed with round of drinks. It was like Happy hour, only a shorter session.

The bugler would blow to announce the CO’s arrival. He would join us for a quick drink before dinner. Tall and commanding, the CO would scan the officers gathered with a sharp eye. Calibrating for phase 2. The next bugle called was known as the “wee-wee call”. Time for the pee before dinner, for during dinner time officers were not allowed to leave the dinning table until after coffee time. We had to sit crossed legged at times and held on for dear life.

Bag pipers from the infantry battalion led us into the dinning hall. Hungry and smiling silly, after several salvos of pre dinner drinks. We would move to our seats at the dinning table but not to be seated immediately. We knew where to seat as a seating plan was displayed in the mess hall.

Dinner was always Mat Salleh menu, with beef or chicken as the main course. Hors d’oeuvre were served as appetizers to hungry stomachs. We ate and talked in soft tones as gentlemen would, despite the fact that some of us were already stone deaf. I would typically smile silly and politely, not hearing well from the officer sitting on my right. We ate slowly and with dignity in the air accompanied by music played by an infantry music platoon. The Yang diPertua of the evening would invite the band leader to be seated with an added chair next to him to thank him for the lovely music accompanying each course of the dinner. After dessert, port and sherry decanters were brought to the table. Starting with the Yang di Pertua, we would pour the liqueur into our little liqueur glasses. Port and Sherry were sweet and strong and blends well with cigars and strong black coffee. It sets the mood for Phase 2. After pouring into our glasses we would put the decanters on the table and delicately passed the decanters, pushed and not lifting off the table with our palms outwards, to the officer seated on our right. The decanters were passed round until they came back to the Yang diPertua.

When the decanters made the rounds, the Yang diPertua would raise his glass to propose a toast to the Yang Dipertua Agong. The Niab Yang Dipertua, sitting at the other end of the table and usually a young officer, would request all officers present to drink to the toast . We all stood up, and after the Negaraku was played we toasted to his Majesty.

1 ARTY had an unusual way to toast. We stood on our chairs and with our right foot on the dinning table. We toasted like buccaneers on board their pirate ships. Good Jolly and all. Coffee and cigars were served after the toast. Although I do not smoke, I always had a cigar for the tradition and macho of it. Cigars does blend well with Port, which was stronger than Sherry. Cigars make me ready for Phase 2. Officers who had to sit legs crossed for the better half of the dinner session were allowed to leave the table. In 1 ARTY we had a long drain for men’s urinal. We had a red line drawn horizontally on the wall, 4 feet above the urinal. Officers who could pee above the red line were to join the regimental fire fighting team. Officers could do that after building up the pressure during dinner.
In later years toasts were made before dinner and we had water for the toast. We also sang the Artillery song ending with a loud shout ARTILLERY to boot.

Thus ended Phase 1. Anything goes with phase 2. Wait I go pee.

Allen Lai


Friday, September 20, 2013

Strictly No Smoking


There were GOCs who were as eccentric as could be. I suppose there were worst cases than one of my favourite GOC which I had served in 3 DIV. He was temperamental and a terror to boot. But a GOC is still the GOC. He commands the Infantry Division.

My GOC was a chain smoker.

It is not that I am a non smoker that I dislike smokers. I don't give a damn if you get cancer out of smoking. But I really detest smokers who smoke in confined rooms and are inconsiderate to others. My GOC also wouldn't give a damn for Allen Lai or for anybody for that matter. We all know him.

 Incorrigible.

I was CO1ARTY and had suffered his smoking in our ops rooms every time he came for a visit or inspection to the regiment. The ops room in 1 ARTY was a terrible small room built without windows nor ventilations. It was fully air conned. The GOC would puff like the Magic Dragon and I would be teary to the extent that I could not read my briefing script.

On one visit, I said no more smoking. GOC or not, I don't care.

I designed my opening presentation slide with the wordings :

DILARANG MEROKOK
PEAGWAI MEMERINTAH MUDAH TERBAKAR
TERIMA KASIH

I know I was asking for trouble. Everybody was sweating, particularly Div staff who had come ahead of the GOC.

 I had a table outside for hats, to which I also had placed an ash tray and a sign that read please leave your pack of cigarettes here. The GOC wasn't amused. He placed his peak cap on the table and walked into the ops room, a lighted cigarette in his hand.

My impolite signage hit him flat in his face. He did not say a word and turned around and went  outside. He then finished the cigarette, extinguished the stub, put his pack of cigarette on the table on cue and came in again. 

I was sweating despite a cool early morning and a recently serviced Aircon, set to cool the ops room to 16 degrees Celsius. 

The GOC never said a word to me nor to his staff throughout my 40 minutes briefing. He was not in the mood to ask questions during Q & A session. He just walked out of the ops room after the briefing, called for his car and left, taking the quarter guards at the guard room off guard. (pun intended).

He never called me to Div HQ. His staff later also told me that he did not want to see anybody as well for the rest of the day. GOCs were as eccentric as they came. 

I  was off the hook. The GOC spoke to me again during the next mess night.

Allen Lai
P.S. Note the cigarette packet at right bottom of picture.


Last Gun Standing



To me Prime Time was the best time (worst for some) for the Regiment. Prime Time was held once every 18 months. Prime Time was usually followed by operational duties and roulement to the border ops. There were also other tough times like the CIV inspection, ARTEP, ADMIN inspection and the dreadful unscheduled visit by the “Tim TAP” from MINDEF.

It was the third year of my command of 1 ARTY and I loved those times except for the tough times mentioned. But 1 ARTY had always performed well in the CIV inspections, ARTEP and ADMIN Inspections. The terror “Tim” never visited me except for once and that was when I looked for trouble and invited the “Tim” to the Regiment. 1 ARTY was doomed, with only one gun in the Regiment serviceable whilst in Asahan. I had caused panic at 3 DIV and the Directorate.

 1 ARTY could not be deployed for operational duties. It felt like Doomsday and I was pretty sure that I was at the exit threshold of my career.  But I stood tall and resolved. I bravely fired a ZT target in Asahan with only one gun left standing to prove my point. I had 23 guns from 4 gun batteries classified unserviceable (US).

AND Regimental morale was at its highest.

1 ARTY had the oldest 12 guns in the Corp. Our guns were brand new when issued in 1963. It was now mid 1980s. We were kept “brand new” through annual CIV inspections. Or were they?
Year in year out we did the same preparations for CIV inspection. Borrow essential parts from other Regiments just before CIV. We literally had to borrow everything except the gun barrel. The OC LAD and the QM TECH knew the drill. No sweat. The CO was pleased and that matters most. I got wised to it only in the third year of my command. This cannot go on. Not in my command. No more initiatives. I bit the bullet and stuck out my neck for the Regiment.

We were going to Asahan for Regimental maneuvers and life firing for our Prime Time training. This was to be followed by border ops and the CIV inspection when we returned from the Malaysian Thai border.

The first part of the Prime Time exercise was for regimental maneuvers and the gun batteries came in and out of the various gun positions in the range. Then came life firing. I had ordered the OC LAD to classify unserviceable for any gun that had inspection problems, even if the results were slightly out of measurement tolerances. I want our guns out of action with a view to do OPDEM demands for gun parts in preparing for the border ops.  This would also augers well for our CIV inspection later in the year. We will not borrow again for CIV. 

The OC LAD understood my resolve and diligently classified our guns US on a daily basis. Each time we fired he ordered the guns to be inspected for tolerances and serviceability. Gun sights, cut off gears and other essential equipment were condemned. Every day, three to four guns from the gun batteries were down. On the last day of life firing exercise, we had only gun left standing, out of 24 from the four gun batteries.

End of mission. I ordered all gun batteries to assemble in PAPA Position before going back to Kem Terendak. I took the parade and explained to the Regiment not to be worried or sad because all guns were out of action, save one. We raised our morale by shouting Gempur Wira three times. We then mounted and went home happy.

We returned most of the training ammo back to the Regiment’s ammo dump.

The next day I reported to 3 Div and Arty Directorate that 1 ARTY was out of action and could not deploy for ops. The QM Tech flashed out OPSDEM for new parts. 3 DIV and the Directorate flapped, all hell broke loose and I was called up immediately. TIM TAP came to the regiment the very next day. Unbelievable. The whole Regiment’s 23 guns were unserviceable? Yes SIR!!

Allen Lai was in trouble AGAIN.

We laid out the guns on the square for inspection. We showed the OPDEMS. OC LAD showed the inspection forms.  Certified and stamped. We said we couldn’t go for border ops. The ball was with 3 Div / Directorate for immediate action. News got out fast. Other COs called me and said they would lend me this or that gun part. Arty Directorate was at best sympathetic. I said thanks but no thanks. I could take the heat.

OPSDEM demands works. We got all our parts and OC LAD certified all our guns serviceable again. I had pulled it off. We went on ops and we were alright for the next CIV inspections.

I never remembered if we had lent out our gun parts to other regiments for their CIV inspections. My QM Tech never told me, and my 2IC only smiled.

Allen Lai







Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Of Commanders, command, control, responsibilities and such like




It would be clear cut if we were in the regiment, battalion or any formation. The chain of command and span of command are fixed within the command structure.

But what happens when an officer is part of a combination of different troops like in a convoy for movement (not maneuver)?

On ops in Sabah and Sarawak and also along the Malaysian Thai border, movement of troops are escorted to their destinations. Escorts were also required on all black roads in the country. Troops from armoured squardrons and regiments usually comprise Condors , APCs and Ferrets scoutcars.

In 1970 I was a Bty Comd with my BHQ in Bau, 20 miles SE of Kuching. All Movements on roads outside Kuching town need escorts. 3 Bde HQ was in Kuching and RASCOM (Rajang Area Security Command) was in SIBU.  All escorts were provided by the armoured squadrons stationed in Sibu, Bau, and Serian.

Escorts for Kuching/Bau/Kuching were scheduled twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening before last light. Timmings were never fixed. We had to ring up/ radio the armoured squardron stationed in Tasik Emas camp, Bau for escort timings each day. The size of the escorts differs with each task. Assembly area in Kuching was Camp Batu Tujuh.

One morning my Xray rover group came down to Kuching for Bde orders and was scheduled to return to my BHQ in Tasik Emas camp Bau with the returning escort in the afternoon. My joining the escorted convoy was late as we finished late with Bde HQ.

As I joined the convoy that evening, the escort commander reported to me that I was the most senior officer in the convoy, and requested orders to move out. Already in the group was an infantry platoon commanded by a 2Lt, and several three tonners on an admin run. The escort commander was a LT from the armoured squadron.

After setting up our internal Comms, I took up the second position from the front and we rolled out. There was a roundabout at Batu Lapan on the route to Bau. As the three tonners took the roundabout, several soldiers fell off the three tonner as the sideboard was not secured. Unfortunately mostly were hurt but one soldier died.

A board of  inquiry (BOI) was mandatory for every Incident of death. Presidents of BOI were mostly from DIV and Bde staff officers. I was called up in the BOI, being the most senior officer in the convoy even though the the casualties were from other units.

So we had vehicle commanders, convoy commander, escort commander,  a corporal in charged of the admin personnel, a platoon commander, artillery commander and the most senior officer in charged. Who was responsible for the death?

More importantly who would be in command should the convoy be ambushed? What would be the battle procedure? Anti MT ambush drills?

Needless to say every commander was called up. Did I get off the hook? You bet not. Responsibility and accountability come with the rank.

A big lesson learnt for me.

Allen Lai

Sunday, September 1, 2013

84 Gun Salute





41 ARTY gun salute for Merdeka Parade 2013


Many Gunners would not have fired gun salutes since the forming up of 41 ARTY, our Ceremonial Bty. Veteran Gunners from field Btys would have fired gun salutes as we took turns to be deployed for the task.

I had my fair share of gun salutes whilst in 2 ARTY. And of course the most famous mother of all gun salutes is 3ARTY firing life round from Kem Kumunting Taiping. Perhaps somebody from the regiment would remember that episode and pen it.

I never enjoyed firing gun salutes as, simple as it seems, it is quite a stressful task. I prefer operational duty any day.  We would feel anxiety and feel the heat (Pun intended) during gun salutes. Exception to this is perhaps gun salutes for the Birthday of the Sultan of Kelantan every year held in Kota Baru. This is of course the attraction to sneak across to vibrant Golok in Southern Thailand. How we crossed the border without our passports and activities in Golok shall not be described herein this blog.

Gun salutes need lots of rehearsals. Crucial to gun salutes is of course timmings and the number of rounds to be fired, usually 21 or sometimes 17 blanks.  Problems may arise from gun misfire, no comms, and the actual counting of the blanks fired. Of course we devised backup procedures to ensure precision and clockwork drills.

The downside to gun salutes is that the fire unit never gets into the lime light of the ceremony. We would almost be deployed a distant away from the parade ground/ ceremony place. We were only to be heard not seen, inspite that we would be in our NO.1 uniform.

Anybody heard of 84 gun salute?
Yes you guessed right, yours truly had the honour.

Queen Elizabeth II visited Malaysia in 1972, her majesty's first visit since her coronation in 1952. It was a grand affair. Her majesty was accompanied by Prince Phillip and Princess Anne.

The royal entourage came by ship HMS Britannia, escorted by a RN frigate. They arrived early in the morning and the ships had anchored off Port Klang. The RN frigate fired the first salvo of 21 gun salute and we replied gun for gun (21 gun salute).

When her majesty actually stepped ashore, the band played God Save the Queen and we fired 21 gun salute to which the RN Frigate replied gun for gun. Hence the total rounds fired was 84 gun salutes. 42 salutes from each nation. What an honour. After the ceremony, the Frigate’s quartermaster and I exchanged our shells. I still have the 40 mm shell polished as a souvenir.

I googled Wikipedia for the RN tradition in gun salutes and paste an extract per below:

The custom stems from naval tradition, where a warship would fire its cannons harmlessly out to sea, until all ammunition was spent, to show that it was disarmed, signifying the lack of hostile intent. As naval customs evolved, 21 guns came to be fired for heads of state, with the number decreasing with the rank of the recipient of the honor.
Salute by gunfire is an ancient ceremony. For years, the British compelled weaker nations to render the first salute; but in time, international practice compelled "gun for gun" on the principle of equality of nations

There you are, another experienced chalked up.

Allen Lai