Junglies Go Back to their Roots

Members of 845 NAS headed to Borneo in March to retrace the footsteps of their former comrades who cut their teeth in the jungles of Borneo during the incursion of Communist forces from Indonesia.

From 1962-66, 845 NAS and other Commando helicopter squadrons, were sent to Borneo as part of a Royal Navy taskforce to support the Malaysian government during their confrontation with Indonesian communists. The daring flying in support of the soldiers fighting in the jungle earned the commando squadron pilots and support personnel the nickname ‘Junglies’ which is still coveted by serving and retired personnel.

The history of this conflict has many connections to the Commando Helicopter Force and its Squadrons. The newly independent Commonwealth country of Malaysia had annoyed President Sukarno of neighbouring Indonesia, especially on the large island of Borneo, which the Communist leader regarded as Indonesian territory. It was in December 1962, during a rebellion in Brunei that Sukarno decided to ‘confront’ Malaysia and the British Commonwealth.

Fortunately HMS Bulwark was at hand, with twelve of the new Wessex helicopters of 845 NAS, and other Squadrons which were soon in action transporting troops from Singapore to Borneo to help quell the rebellion in Brunei and the subsequent Indonesian-inspired insurrection.

It was the vital and unswerving support and can-do attitude that naval personnel provided during this campaign that endeared them to the troops on the ground. The helicopters helped to maintain frontier strong points and inserted troops at locations where they could ambush Indonesian Forces. They were also used in highly secretive operations across the border to attack Indonesian bases, sometimes with wire guided anti-armour missiles.

Lt Charlie Peschardt who co-ordinated the visit explained, “The group took part in a battlefield tour of Borneo as part of the squadron’s commitment to honouring their heritage and as the finale to the 845 NAS 50th Anniversary celebrations of becoming a Commando helicopter squadron. Sadly 16 Junglies were killed during the action, and a memorial at Nanga Gaat was erected to honour these heroes of the Jungle. The memorial was the focus for today’s members of 845 NAS who refurbished it and paid their respects. The visit was also an opportunity to help ‘Rebalance Lives’ as life on the frontline is extremely busy – with operations in Afghanistan, maintaining readiness for UK contingency operations and transferring to the Merlin helicopter, the visit to Borneo will no doubt help maintain morale at its current peak.”

The 12 day trip was to be a busy affair commencing with acclimatisation and an introduction to Jungle Survival in Brunei, in order to prepare them for a river expedition inland to Kapit District where the Nanga Gaat memorial is sited. The group also met the local population to re-establish the links that 845 Squadron had all those years ago. This was underpinned by providing support to a community project, before holding a memorial ceremony at Nanga Gaat.

The trip was sponsored by the Fly Navy Heritage Trust which works in partnership with the Royal Navy to keep the nation’s Naval aviation Heritage alive.

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