Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Bowen Bunker

A Bowen Bunker on top of a knoll

It is very interesting that we would not find anything about the Bowen Bunker in the internet anymore. Nor anything describing it in the Gunners or Sappers websites. I tried many times to google for the Bowen Bunker but no results. I wondered why. Is it delberately removed? I do remember there were available information about it in the Internet many years ago.

Bowen Bunkers were used extensively in the single gun positions in Sabah and Sarawak  during Confrontasi. All command posts and several main bunkers in the gun positions were Bowen Bunkers. I recalled living in my Bowen Bunker next to the Command Posts in Bogosong and Sungei Limau on Sabatik Island. The Bowen Bunker was a 5 star bunker accomodation. Solid, safe and well designed by the Royal Engineers.

I would like to pay tribute to the Bunker Bunker for providing us with the required protection levels and basic comforts. Since there are no more information about the Bowen Bunker in the Internet, I shall try to decribe it here for others to have fond memories of it and for those who did not have the chance to enjoy it, to let them know some of the properties of the Bowen Bunker.

The Bowen Bunker had a modular designed wooden cum sand bagged framework, prefabricated and built for secured accomodation. It was elongated and fitted into a dug out trench. It measured approximately 10 feet long X 6 feet wide and 7 feet in height. The framework comprised of 4 X 2 inches sawn timber, logged roof with sand bags. It is airy and cool inside the Bowen Bunker. The Bowen Bunker was usually camourflaged with netting and leaves.

The Bowen Bunker was dug at chest deep level into the ground and it had sandbagged windows that serves for looking out and firing our personal weapons. The Bowen Bunker had a roof of double decked sanbags as OHP. We entered our Bowen Bunkers from either sides of the bunkers. We slept on issued foldable campbeds and put our gears on tables and shelves made of wooden frames.

We can see our single gun pit from the command post Bowen Bunker. My bunker which was adjacent to the command post had a very good view arc and field of fire.

As Bowen Bunkers were dug into the ground we had wooden panelled floors, sometimes just above the water level inside the trench as in Sungei Limau. Bogosong position was on a small knoll, hence the trenches were dry. It was bright during the day inside the Bowen Bunker and we used low battery powered lights at nights. I had the previledge of a reading light beside my bed.

Whilst it was a comfortable accomodation for us, it was also very comfortable for snakes and small rodents to seek shelter. One night, a GPO had the frieght of his life when he scratched his legs when he felt it ichy, only to realise that he was scratching a python snake instead.

Anybody got old pictures of the Bowen Bunker?

Take care

Allen Lai

After note:
The picture of the Bowen Bunker CP below is contributed by WO Yasin's son Encik Zamri.

Thank you Encik Zamri. Love this photo.

Merging histories and Gunner stories - Firepower Royal Artillery Museum

With Project Ubique 300 underway, I feel that it is the best time now for us to share our artillery histories and stories. I had looked into the Australian War Memorial in Canberra Australia for links and I had found some material of 102 Bty RAA's operations in our confrontasi in the 1960s.

I am still browsing into the RA websites for their operations in Malaysia. Yes we can actually find very accurate artillery ORBATs and deployments in Mayalsia and Singapore during WW2 and the Confrontasi, but I have not found any writeups in what they did whilst they were deployed here.

 I googled and came to THE FIREPOWER ROYAL ARTILLERY MUSEUM website. This musuem had several very interesting interviews with RA officers who had served in Malaya and in the Confrontasi. 

I wish to link to three very candid discussions in the Musuem's interview with RA Gunners who had served here.

 Lance Bombardier Richard Paul Stephan's interview here

Major Leslie Bond's interview here:

Captain Peter  Head's interview here :

Although the interviews were quite lenghty, the part when they had served in Malaya and the Confrontasi is very nostalgic.

There are also many Gunners and their impressive careers herein. Do read them if you have the time.

Enjoy the links.

Allen Lai

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bombs away

High level bombings

Hi all,

Look what I captured one morning. The bird was on a bombing raid and I did not have my UN helmet on. Perhaps I should have joined the Air Defence Regiment. I actually had thought about joining S BTY in the mid 1960s, but decided that Field Regiments were more macho.

A field Gunner always.

Allen Lai

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Gunners in Confrontasi

Arty Plotter Mk 1

I am always frustrated to research for materials of our Gunners in action. Sadly, there were none. Unless some of us start to collect and collate old photos, we can actually make videos and slide shows to record our history. There are plenty of softwares in our computers to do that now. I wonder when will we ever be independent of foreign support. We should not be pathetic anymore. We have the knowledge and uptodate equipment. All we need is effort and self reliance. Lets start to be proud to be Malaysian Gunners.

For starters I actually visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. There are excellent records of all their wars, campaigns and deployments. I am am particularly pleased that the Australian War memorial has gone online with most of their materials.

Of great interest to us would be Australian Gunners in Borneo. I get high with nostalgia each time I watch the video below. We were there after the Commonwealth Forces left the Confrontasi for us to close up the campaign.

See the video and description below. I am not sure why the Gun crew No 2 and No 3 had to hold on to the handlebar on the shield when the gun fired. Is it gun drill? To stabilise the gun or stabilise themselves so that they do not fall off the seats ? IG please explain and make a convention soon.

 I also like the Gun crew No 4 loading and ramming in the round. So macho. Arm muscles to die for.

We were there and did exactly the same things, been there and done that. The only exception was perhaps underslung deployment by their twin rotor helicopters. We deployed by stripping our guns and loaded them into the Alouette helicopter or assault boats.

We did our part and contributed and we are proud.



Thank you Australia War Memorial.

Allen Lai

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Photo lama

Hi all,

Since I am into photography, I wish and I might as well propose that we start a Gunner's photo gallery in this blog. I am sure all of us have some old photos to share in our personal albums. 

Rama and I can organise the gallery herein. 

All you have to do is just snap your old Gunner photos with your smart phones. E-mail the photos to me at laikimhinn@Gmail.com or to Rama. (Email address later). No need for any captions or write up if you don't want to. All I need is your name and the Regiment. Send as many photos as you want. The more the better for sharing your history and moments as a Gunner. No problems.

Thats it, we will archive your photos for proserity. Do share with us some old gems. 

What say you all? You have lost nothing as you still have your originals. Serving officers may want to send the latest photos.

What say you Rama?

Drop me or Major (R) Rama an email if you are interested.

Take care

Allen Lai

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Size does matter

Yes size does matter. I know. Don't you?

As a Gunner I had experienced with 9mm, 5.56mm, 7.62mm, 20mm,105mm. All are calibre measurements in barrels in the guns and weapons issued in the MAF. Each calibre had its range and carried a certain shell weight. Size does matter.

Today I am still struggling with size and calibres. I use 24mm, 50 mm, 70 mm and 300mm to shoot my targets. I have shot with 300mm but could do with 600 mm.

I used to smell of cordite and sweat from my celerong fatiques, now I smell of baked mud and sweat soaked T shirts. I traded my combat boots for walkabout/running shoes. On ops I would always look out for the enemy and likely ambush areas. My M16 rifle always cocked and ready. Today I walk about always on the lookout for birds and anything that catches my attention. My SLR camera switched on, set and zoomed and ready to shoot; almost always with reflect. My SLR camera can shoot bursts of 5 frames per second.

I am now into photography.

Photography has many things common to gunnery. Calibration, sights, speed, line of sight, and most importantly aim/focus. It all started with me trying my level best to update all the Gunners photographs in this blog as I meet them. And hey presto, I am hooked into photography. I am now better equipped with better cameras and lenses to shoot more than Gunner faces. And Yes, size does matter.

I try to shoot all genres of photography. Birds, animals and of course anything that are photo worthy. Photography is a good hobby for retirees. There is so much to learn and experience. The end results are often very satifying. Below are some of my photos. Let the picture says its thousand words.

Come join me in photography, let's catch the early birds.


Allen Lai

Out gunned

We were completely out gunned during Confrontasi with Indonesia. Right from small arms, armour and artillery. Not to mention the naval and air force. Our small arms were the SLR, HBSLR, SMG, and a Browning pistol for close battle combat. Indonesia were equipped with the US M15 assault rifle. We had two field regiments of 105 mm Howtizers and a Bty of 40mm Air Defence artillery. Our armour comprised the Ferret scout cars. No APCs and tanks yet. Indonesia had 155mm artillery deployed in the Nunukan area.

The battle lines were drawn all accross the international boundaries between Sabah, Sarawak and Indonesia. The FEBA  was mostly narrowed to Sabatik Island in Sabah and the Second to Fifth Divisions in Sarawak. From Lubuk Antu to Long Pasir in Sarawak. From Wallace Bay to Sungei Limau in Sabah. 

We were out gunned.

Commonwealth forces were still opertional, albeit on a lower scale, mostly deterrent. British Far East Land Forces had its HQ in Labuan. Most of British ground forces were withdrawn to Brunei and Semunajung. MAF took over the battle. We were deployed to all British originated single gun positions in Sabah and Sarawak. Commonwealth forces were conducting covet special operations to great effect.

A Bty each from 1 ARTY and 2 ARTY were deployed to man all the Commonwealth forces handed over gun positions, 1 ARTY in Sarawak and 2 ARTY in Sabah. S Bty AD was deployed to Sandakan Sabah, in anticipation from an imminent air threat from the Philippines. I was not privy to why we did not deploy 2 full regiments. I was too young to discuss and question strategy then. I was proud and glad that I did my fair share of roulements to Sabah. I actually enjoyed every moment in the front line. Being out gunned never affected me. I had my single gun, my gun position, my heaven. I was GPO and there was no tomorrows.

All my worldly possessions were in my issued kit bag, haversack and patrol bag. I was glad that we had a Sabah Allowance as it was just adequate for our merriments with cheep liquors. Cigarettes and condoms were free issue. I slept in a foldable camp bed in the GPO's Oven bunker next to the Command post.

Out gunned ? Who cares? My personal thoughts were only filled with Nor Azizah, our darling and screen sensation in the 1960s. I had her centre page poster on the wall of my Oven bunker and a picture of her in the inside cover of my shooting performa. She would take away all our stress and cares in the world. Our favourite song was "Help me make it through the night" and "Widuri". I can't sing, but who cares. I was in seventh heaven as a GPO.

Was I afraid? You bet I was. Stories of Indonesian raids by their special KKO forces in Kalabakan had sent shivers down our backs. I had experienced several "stand to" calls in addition to our standard "stand to" drills daily at first and last light. I still shudder and recall several shouts by our sentry "Musuh !!" and we "stood to" the whole night.

Our gun position were sometimes shelled during the night with enemy mortar fire. Luckily no shells were on target. I still believe the enemy were only firing HF fire to demoralise us. We would reply to their mortar fire with our gun fire into predicted targets derived from the crack and boom sound method to give us a sense of direction and distance of their mortatr position. This was the best we could do lift up our morale. We did not have a Locating Bty. Our only protections were sand bags and the Oven bunkers. The gun had gun pits with OHP ammo dumps.

What was our role? We did not have the range as 10K wasn't much coverage. Not to mention target crests and dead grounds. As most of our targets were firable only in high angles and our Howtizers were a great asset. High angle compensated for short of range. Our area of interest were basically covering areas at known cross over points along the international boundary. We had DF targets , a DF(SOS) target near our gun position and hundreds of predicted targets handed down from Bty to Bty as we did our roulements. We just changed the target number prefixs. E Bty used Papa target Prefixs. For metrological data we had to rely on Lt Gill Singh's Sabah Drop factor, a unique met chart designed by him. Lt Gill was a Singaporean who joined us in 2 ARTY in the 1960s. He was to return to the SAF and became SAF's Chief Artillery Officer. Lt Gill was a metrological officer before joining the army.

I had fired onto an enemy OP position at the entrance of Sungei Melayu. The enemy had HMGs and were firing at our BK who was enroute on a routine visit to our gun position at Sungei Limau. We were on target. I had fired in the direction of Nunukan from Sungei Limau gun position in retaliation to enemy threat to our BOP location in Wallace Bay. Yes admittedly non of our guns have the range to hit the targets in Nunukan, but we still fired in the direction to Nunukan in defiance. Our single gun positions were at Wallace Bay, Bergosong, Sungei Limau, and Semantan.

The enemy had 155 mm guns in Nunukan. And we were just inviting an artillery duel. Enemy Gunners were real "gentlemen" and had not responded with counter battery fire. Indonesian artillery had the range to fire accross Selat Nunukan into our area.

Out gunned or not, we fought the confrontasi with pride as Gunners. Hopefully we should not be out gunned or "out-anything" in the future.

Take care. Once a Gunner always a Gunner.

Allen Lai

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Photo updates of Gunner oldies June 2015

Recently we had a get-together in KL on 22 June 2015. Some of our senior Gunners attended and I managed to get their photos updated as per below. Still handsome Gunners all.

Lt Kol (R) David Lam Wah Kum

 Lt Kol (R) Anthony Morel

Lt Kol (R) David Hermon

Lt Kol (R) Heera Singh

Kol (R) Harbans Singh

Old Gunners all, but still once a Gunner always a Gunner. If we add our average age at 70 years plus each, we would be almost 500 years of experience as Gunners.

Take care

Allen Lai

Friday, June 19, 2015

RA legacy and me

RA will be celebrating its 300 years of excellence and of being King of the battlefield in 2016. I am proud of being a teeny weeny bit of being King of the battlefield. The Federation of Malaya is still in its infancy stage being one sixth of the era. With Merdeka in 1957  our own Federation Artillery was formed, raised and nurtured by the RA. The humble field Bty raised in Kajang soon expanded to two Regiments by mid 1964. 

I joined 2 ARTY in December 1964. We had an HQ and four gun BTYs with four 105mm Pack Howitzers each. I was very comfortable with all the RA seconded officers in both the Regiments as I already had British legacy in me by default. All the senior officers in the Regiment were Mat Sallehs, including the Quartermaster. Fire discipline was in English. Standing Orders, Bty orders and training were in English too.  The RSM and all ORs were Malaysian, mostly Malays. The Mat Salleh BC would give his orders in English and all in attendance would acknowledge “Yes Tuan”. Needless to say soon after the BC’s orders had finished, my BSM would come to the BK or Tuan Lai as I was fondly called, and asked what the Tuan BC had ordered. There would be a second translated O Gp held by the BK if needed. 

Yes “Tuan" has always being in-bedded in our salutation to  calling of names. Tuan was always prefixed for appointments for seconded officers and prefixed for Malaysian officer’s names as in “Tuan QM” or “Tuan Maniam”. It is interesting to note that RA legacy called Captains and above by the ranks and names , but Mr. for  RA subalterns and I was called Mr Lai during my YO course in Larkhill. This legacy was not carried forward with us as we called our Sergeant Majors “Enciks”. As at today Mr Pan (Major (R) Pan Kong Leong) would still call me Mr Lai when we meet, and I would call him Mr Pan.

Some significant legacies derived from RA include:
The Stable belt, Shoulder titles, Bomb collar-doc, cap badge, red lanyard, which had served an attachment to firing the gun, and the blue beret.
Our vehicles had the red over blue tag signs and for each Bty, a corner of the square tag sign would be in red identifying the Bty.

We had Port or Mediera wine after the mess night dinner with cigars for smokers to boot.
Our morning calls by our batmen included tea with two bananas.
We had a night tray after bar hours.
We were officers and gentlemen always.

Oh how I miss the good old days.

One very strict RA convention / rule I had learnt was that during all fire missions, the GPO was not to be interrupted or disturbed until the end of mission. This made sense because the GPO should not be distracted nor harassed during a fire mission. On one exercise in Papa Position in Asahan, I was GPO in E Bty. My Tuan BC was Major John Lane. Scruffy looking always, but an excellent officer and gentlemen. He was outside the CP tent and I was busy with a fire mission. He interrupted me, Yes my Tuan BC interrupted me during a fire mission which was something “not on” in those days. I was not sure why he had interrupted me, but obviously I would have made a mistake in my fire orders. But still the GPO should not be harassed in the midst a fire mission, unless the the fire orders were unsafe, to which the order “Stop by Safety” would be ordered by the safety officer in attendance. My Tuan BC was taken aback when I told him not to interrupt me. He did not say another word and left the CP, red in the face. We could not always differentiate if our Mat Salleh officers had natural red faces or it was the perpetual effect of the previous day’s happy hours. He left the gun position. 

I did not see my Tuan BC until evening after the day’s firing exercise. I had returned to the field officers mess set up in Mike Position. My Tuan BC was already in the mess bar ( I recalled that we had never seen our Mat Salleh officers anywhere else other than at the Mess bar). I saluted him and was in full anticipation of a full dressing down by him. No he did not do that, for it was “not on” again to admonish anybody in the presence of others.
I recalled that he had said “ Come in Allen, Larkhill must have done some good for you. We had a good day today. Have a drink” . All else were forgotten / forgiven?. Till today I never got to the bottom of it as to why he had interrupted me during my fire mission. It was so not RA. It was a lesson that I had kept with me until today. Let the GPO have his day in his CP. That was his heaven, his boundary and domain.

Another lesson I had learnt from RA legacy was to adhere strictly to Fire discipline no matter what. The only person who was allowed to interrupt a Fireplan was the authorising officer himself. Nobody else. I was BK and Tuan BC was Major Mustafa Saad, Lt Yusof Said was FOO and 2LT Azahar was possibly one of the GPOs.

E Bty was on its second roulement tour to Sabah in 1968 and we were stationed in Kota Belud. We were to conduct the “mother of all” Firepower Demo to Sabah’s Chief Minister Tun Mustafa. Our Tuan BC was all bent to impress his namesake. Musti was always impressive without even trying.  He always wore his iconic red scarf muffler just as General Montgomery would wear two cap badges. We wore jungle green uniform then as we were not yet issued with the combat digital camouflaged uniforms. The UN steel helmet was then the in-gear to wear.

The Firepower Demo involved a infantry company attack with arty covering fire. The fireplan had a smoke screen and a main target on the company objective with several targets in depth at the rear of the objective We registered all the targets and we had several dry runs and rehearsals.  The guns were firing tight as they had new barrels. 

It was a beautiful D Day. We started with the Witness Point shoot to get our met data. The dignitaries came on time to the VIP Grandstand / OP area which had all the charms and smell of new hessian cloth and fresh camouflaged nets and all the other bullshits. We had set up the Command and the Bty Fire Orders nets for live broadcast at the VIP grand stand. Tuan BC was with Tun and I was chief waiter.

H minus. The guns opened fire and the infantry crossed the Start Line at H hour. (Now Line of Departure?). The fire plan was on schedule and on target. The smoke screen was at its best and lingered on longer before spiralling up. The infantry with an FOO moved towards the objective. The pace was faster than rehearsed and the HE shells kept falling tight and impressively. 

 The troops then were crawling towards the objective and the fall of shots were dangerously close to them. TOTs were precise, but the troops had advanced faster than scheduled. Whilst Tuan BC remained cool and composed, I panicked. 

It became untenable and the infantry company commander was shouting to stop the fall of shots. Lt Yusof Said our FOO came loud and urgent over the BFO net to lift the fire to the rear targets. Tuan BC ordered to Dwell, as the FOO was not authorised to lift. Shrapnels were flying over the crawling troops. It was hell out there but the show must go on. The guns finally lifted to the next schedule on the fireplan. The rounds then felled 200 meters further back of the objectives and we witnessed the final assault by the infantry onto the objective.

Modifications to fireplans were fairly easy to do and nice on paper, but all hell breaks loose when actually done. Modifications can cause havocs and mayhems. The main lesson learnt was that a drum should have been used to enable a constant assault pace. That is why infantry battalions have the pipes and drums platoon in their organisation. The bugle call will summon all the courage for the final charge.

On a lasting RA legacy, we undoubtedly accept UBIQUE as our moto. One ever conscious CO even explained UBIQUE as “EVERYWHERE ON ON”

 Once a Gunner always a Gunner

Allen Lai

Saturday, June 6, 2015

British Legacy and me

The Captain General's Baton

I have a strong British legacy. And it is not by accident; by default if you will. I was born in 1944 in British Malaya and sadly about the time of the declining of British world dominance and many former British colonies were politically matured to seek Independence, including Malaya. The sunsetting of the British Empire had brought about strong nationalism in all of us. I was born into an English speaking family. English was our family's mother tongue largely used at home. This was so because of my father’s deep affiliation with British expats in the Malayan rubber plantations. He was a member of the once banned Freemason Lodge and had many British brothers. Hence my “uncles”.

I went to a government English medium school and finished my secondary school studies at O levels with the Senior Cambridge School Certificate. I read all the Enid Blyton’s books, Famous Fives; warts and all. We all had English names to boot. My father’s name was Pinsky. I am Allen. I had James, David,John,William and Edward for brothers.

I was very active and adventurous growing up in my young days. I had lived by the sea in Kuantan, Pahang. We had an English scout master Captain Preedy, who led the Kuantan Sea Scout group. I would have joined the sea scout group but thought otherwise. Captain Preedy was exceptionally fond of young boys. I was not “Jambu" enough for Captain Preedy so I joined the land group. But I was fond of the sea and aspired to join the navy to see the world. The RMN was then recruiting young Malaysians and the four years naval cadet training was at Dartmourt UK. 

I joined Malaysian Navy as a naval cadet in 1963 to satisfy my dream to see the world but survived only a couple of months pre-naval training at the FMC. I did not qualify to be a Sea Horse due to poor eyesight and thence transferred Service to serve with the army. After cadet training I was commissioned into the Artillery Corps to which I had served the full length of my career. 

It was during this period as a young officer in the artillery that I was infused with the full impact with British Legacy. What; with British seniors officers in the regiment, attending my YO course in Larkhill and getting a post course attachment to 2 Field Regiment RA. I was deeply entrenched into the British army culture and in particular RA culture. I can hold and survive in any English pub or bar in the officers' mess. That being my strongest British Legacy. And of course all my subsequent Artillery courses were at the School of Artillery Manly, Australia giving me more Britishness, albeit dunkum aussie.

Sometime in 1970s, I was privileged to fire the 84 rounds Gun Salute in Port Klang to welcome the Captain General Queen Elizabeth 2 and her entourage’s visit to Malaysia. The Queen sailed in to Port Klang aboard HMS Brittanica escorted by a RN frigate. The first 21 Gun Salute was fired by the escorting frigate to announce the Captain General’s arrival. We acknowledged and replied with our first 21 Gun Salute. As the Captain General first stepped onto Tanah Melayu we fired another 21 rounds to honour the visit to which the escorting frigate replied with their 21 rounds Gun Salute. The 84 rounds Gun Salute was one of the rarest British Legacy.

I am very grateful for my defaulted British Legacy for what I was and what I am today. I had spent 53 years of my life as a Gunner. The Malaysian Artillery Corps is as old as Malaysia when 1 Field Battery was established in Kajang. We are 58 years old against the Royal Artillery’s 300 years Old. We are proud of being part of the British RA Legacy. We were well brought up and raised professionally.

We now have to put on our thinking caps to organise the Captain General’s Baton tour to Malaysia in 2016.

Once a Gunner always a Gunner

Allen Lai