Junglies Go Back to their Roots… Royal Navy ‘Junglies’ Re-trace their Roots in Malaysia

17 members of 845 NAS made the exhilarating 12 day trip to Malaysia. The team were joined by former naval aviators, Lt Neil Burns-Thomson RN (Rtd) (74) from Bungay, Suffolk and Lt Mike Thompson RN (Rtd) (71) both veteran ‘Junglie’ pilots were survivors of helicopter crashes in the hazardous jungle environment.

Neil’s scariest moment was when his Whirlwind helicopter crashed in 1965, “There were six of us onboard at the time and we all survived,” Neil recalled, “and that is why the indigenous Iban people named me ‘Antu Gayo Ulu Mirana’ – Long Lived Spirit of the River and the troops on the ground called us ‘Junglies’.” Mike was also extremely lucky as he was the only survivor of a Wessex helicopter that crashed.

Soon after arriving the team were invited to the home of the local MP Alex Linggi who had grown up in Nanga Ga’at and reminisced about actually witnessing a mid-air collision of an 845 NAS Wessex helicopter. Welcoming the team the MP added, “Your visit is significant because this year Sarawak is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Malaysia. Words are not enough to describe how much 845 NAS has done for us in Kapit and Sarawak.”

The third veteran, Cyril Goodhand served with 42 Cdo during the insurgency. For seasoned and less experienced personnel it was marvellous to have the veterans along. Each added a dimension to the visit and revealed personal insights into the squadron’s ‘Junglie’ heritage and the immense contribution also made by the Royal Marines during the conflict.

Lt Aaron Cross laid a wreath at the Nanga Ga’at memorial to their Junglie’ forbearers accompanied by the British veterans, a group of Malaysian military veterans and VIPs. It was then announced by Alex Linggi MP that a Government grant of £2,000 had been allocated to maintain the memorial.

In 1962 communist insurgents had kidnapped the British Empire Representative and his family. Royal Marines from 42 Cdo were sent to rescue them. The raid was successful with all hostages released unhurt however, five Royal Marines lost their lives. Maj Mark Johnson RM, Senior Pilot with 845 Sqn, laid a wreath on behalf of 845 NAS, the ‘Junglie’ Association, and the FAA Memorial Church at the Memorial in Limbang town which was dedicated to those that died.

Borneo is renowned for the hospitality of its people and after a visit to a local school where the team helped renovate a classroom they received an invitation to visit a local Longhouse. Each house accommodates 50 families and the welcome ceremony required all assembled visitors to meet each family member. To witness many generations living together so harmoniously was an inspirational experience for the visitors and it was very apparent how much the Iban people appreciated the work of the British during the conflict.

The sailors, airmen, and veterans were the honoured guests at a welcome feast; a wild boar was killed in honour of the occasion and was washed down with copious amounts of the local ‘home brew’ or Tuac. Traditional Sarawak songs followed in which the Ibans praised the strength of the veterans on the battlefield and the visit to their country. Maj Johnson took part in a ritual involving the cutting down of gifts with a Parang; a traditional tribal blade used as a weapon and tool by the Iban people. It was very apparent that both guests and Ibans had become close friends.

The following day the team visited the local hospital where they were greeted by staff. During a tour of the paediatrics ward the visitors were invited to talk with the children and their parents. On completion Lt Fred Durrant gave a brief on the Sqn’s Team Medics training and how casualties are treated on the battlefield. The group were then hosted to a lunch with local dignitaries and each was presented with a Parang.

Whilst the visit to Malaysia was significant in terms of understanding the Squadron’s history, it was also time to participate in some adventurous training. Part of the group departed to Sibu to undertake scuba diving. The Sibu marine national park has a number of dive sites offering a host of wildlife from Blue Spotted Ray, to turtles, barracuda, and sting ray. From novices to qualified divers, all benefited from the opportunity to dive in an amazing environment.

Meanwhile the remainder of the group took two days out to climb Mount Kinabalu. They quickly realised they had somewhat underestimated the arduous task that lay ahead. After hours of ‘yomping’ they arrived at base camp with aching legs and feet. The following day was an early morning start and the team finally arrived as the sun rose over the peak.

On the final day the group reflected on their experience agreeing their appreciation of the endeavours of the veterans, the wonderful Malaysian friends they had made the benefits of life within the Royal Navy and the sponsorship provided by the Fly Navy Heritage trust.

It was a truly an incredible journey for all those involved.