ROYAL NAVY

FEW, IF ANY OF MY READERS, WILL KNOW WHAT THE ACRONYM "UKSR OR FESR" MEANS?

It might [or should be apparent] that my web site is a researched Royal Naval site, bringing to you stories that otherwise would slip through the net, even though, for the shrewd and those who bother to keep ahead of all things 'naval', it is imperative to know what happened when we were drawing our honest shilling from the crown way back in the period well known as "our informative years right up to god knows when - but certainly into what is called our twilight pensionable years."

Now, way back in the mid 1960's, there was much going on in the Far East, chiefly the Vietnam War, the Malayan Communist incursions and the Indonesian Confrontation, but before all that, let's go back to 1953.

 Back then too there were problems all over the globe mainly stemming from the Cold War, in Africa, Europe, Middle East and Far East. To combat these insurgencies,  the British Government, but for that purpose, specifically the United Kingdom, set-up an organisation which was dubbed the United Kingdom Strategic Reserve, UKSR, and from it, armed forces were dispatched to deal with a coup or an uprising or a war proper. Just a few of the headline-getters were: The Mau Mau uprising in East Africa 52-56; Suez Canal Zone problems with both Israelis' and Egyptians 45-56; Malayan Emergency 48-60; President Truman of the USA orders the first hydrogen bomb and separately, an assassination attempt on his life was attempted by Puerto Rican nationalists 50;  Korean War 50-53; WW2 Japanese peace treaty signed in San Francisco 51; Suez War against President Nasser of Egypt 56 where the parachute regiment did their very last operational jump; and many others. During 1953 the UK Parliament sanctioned and ordered the setting up of the  UKSR, when the Admiralty [changed to MOD[N] in 1964] kept back in UK waters a sizable fleet ready for immediate deployment to any part of the world in which we had a vested interest or in which we were duty-bound by a Treaty [at the time of the Indonesian Confrontation we had 66,000 naval personnel in the far east]- CENTO, SEATO, NATO, UNO and others. The same applied to regiments of the army and Royal Marine Commando Brigades [e.g. 40, 41, 43, 45] on a mix of infantry, artillery and engineers, as it did to squadrons of RAF fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft.

 It was rarely used in the early days, deployments often using the Word 'Operation' followed by a code word [e,g, Operation Musketeer for the 1956 Suez Crisis which was also an operation conducted in partnership with a close ally in this case France. Other 'ops were controlled by NATO or by the United Nations Organisation and used their names. However, in 1964-65 [with rumble's before a shot was fired in late 1963]  a war, called a confrontation [The Indonesian Confrontation], broke out between Indonesia and the newly formed State of Malaysia [two huge Islamic States] and Singapore, at that time not a part of Malaysia, led by an Indonesian General called Sukarno. In brief we were friendly with Malaysia and with parts of Borneo.  Borneo, part of the great expanse of  Indonesian archipelago is the third largest island on the globe, nearly three times bigger than the UK. See pictures below.

Borneo has two  major owners and one minor owner, part inhabited by Indonesia, part by Malaysia and part by Brunei. It is written that overall, this vast awesome island abounds in beauty. Singapore is also an island but in the order and scale of things, much too tiny and insignificant to have a place on the drawing above. Note also that none of the Mediterranean islands are mentioned. Be aware that Indonesia is represented in New Guinea, Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Java, so its only a spit away from Australia.

As we will hear, the UK and its allies in the Far East discounting the USA, fought the war as the renamed FESR - [Far East Strategic Reserve] from UKSR and was known as the Borneo War for which a GSM [General Service Medal] sporting a Borneo Clasp was issued. More of that in a minute. In 1971, with the war [Confrontation] long over finishing late 1965, the UK forces were stood down and called home, whereupon the FESR reverted back to being the UKSR, and NZ and Aussie forces returned to their national duties/Treaty commitments and obligations.

The Far East Station [for naval purposes] had three commanders, firstly a tri-service four star officer on a rotation, army - air force - navy appointed as C-in-C Far East, and during this Confrontation it was Admiral Sir Varyl Begg wearing the hat of C-in-C FESR in addition to FE; secondly, a three star admiral appointed as COMFEF [Commander Far East Fleet] and thirdly a captain RN appointed as CAPIC [Captain-in-Charge] Hong Kong.

For other UK forces deployed under the FESR C-in-C, e.g. army/air force, they too had their own lieutenant general and air marshal, and for our main allies in the FESR, namely ADF/NZDF [Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces] with Malaysian and Singapore Armed Forces [such as they were?] they were controlled by Canberra, Wellington, and Kuala Lumpur respectively. The Americans were very interested in knowing what was happening on the edges of the southern Pacific, and whilst no American service personnel were attached to the FESR, unlike the score or more of UK tri-service officers seconded to Vietnam [in the same time frame]  during that long and horrendous war*, we certainly used up a few forests of paper signalling them and corresponding with them on our progress and sometimes lack of it!

* The ADF ad NZDF were also involved in the Vietnam War.

Sizeable parts of the Indonesian Confrontation involved fighting against communists guerrilla's, insurgents who had crossed the Thai border in the north in an attempt to destabilise Malaysia, and had worked their way down country to the south [east and west] of Malaysia threatening areas like Penang on the Malacca Straits [RAAF Butterworth the Australian Air Base] and Johor Bahru,  in very close proximity to the Island of Singapore.

The Confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia finished in 1965 with a victory for the FESR and other allies. However, C-in-C FE/FESR who was now tasked to oversee a peacekeeping mission using the same forces as were used during the Confrontation, wary of the known deployment of communists guerrilla's, maintained a high state of alert throughout Malaysia and Singapore, now no longer a member of Malaysia, for a further period of thirteen months resulting in a complex issue of whether the peacekeeping rules were akin to the rules of engagement of a hot-war, or just  unarmed foot and vehicular patrols armed with batons and not with small arms and ammunition! This resulted in much confusion, not necessarily on the ground amongst the armed forces, but within the countries and allies assigned to the FESR back in 1963/4. Both New Zealand and Australian troops were heavily involved in the 'fighting' [land, sea and air] and in the 'peacekeeping' subsequent to that, but Australia, unilaterally, interpreted the rules in their favour and issued to its forces a clasp to be added to their ADM [Australian Defence Medal] - it was called FESR. The New Zealand Government didn't think that peacekeeping, albeit in an  area still on high alert [where being killed was as likely as before peacekeeping] which one could argue was "testing the cease fire treaty" assuming there to be one struck between and Indonesia General who had supplanted General Sukarno, called General Suharto in 1965 at the end of the Confrontation. As such they didn't follow Australia's lead.

It was the UK's intention that the campaign would use a force called the FESR to fight in an area of chief concern called Borneo [a part of Indonesia], at the end of which, assuming a qualifying period of 90 days, a clasp would be issued to a General Service Medal called simply BORNEO and which would be issued [medal and clasp] to all units who had taken part. It was never the UK's intentions to manufacture a clasp called FESR, and for that reason, it wasn't issued to UK armed forces. This meant that Australians were wearing  a GSM [Borneo] medal as well as a clasp FESR attached to their Australia Defence Medal, with New Zealanders wearing only the GSM [Borneo] along with UK armed forces.  Quite naturally, New Zealanders questioned this and as I write this page, there is now a massive lobby in Wellington in the New Zealand Parliament building, to put this right.  Clearly the New Zealand Government cannot influence the Australian Government, so to resolve this problem [if there is a will in Parliament to do so] the onus is on NZ to match what the Australians did for their boys!  Moreover, whilst on the subject of medals for resolved issues in the Far East, the King of Malaysia, in an act for gratefulness and sincere thanks for the protection given to his country of Malaya and later, additionally to the greater unified area called Malaysia, on advice, albeit wrong and bad advice, gave a generous and magnificent gesture in that he commissioned his own medal which would be given as per qualifying date data, to all foreign service personnel who helped to see off Malayan/Malaysian enemies, thus bringing peace and prosperity to his beloved country however defined, a prime multicultural nation which beyond doubt has continuously proved to be democratic, stable and an example to the world in sovereignty terms. His mistake, albeit on guidance and advice, was that after the war [Confrontation] was officially concluded and the peacekeeping element kicked in, the renegade element of the Indonesian forces, the communist guerrilla's, leaderless and hungry for an advantage for their own ends, was deemed of such importance to security in the Far East theatre, that the C-in-C FE/FESR the latter until 1971 when it was stood down,  had ordered that the state of alert should continue until the Thai border was sealed and made secure, and that the insurgents remaining at large in Malaysia and Singapore [at that time not a part of Malaysia] were rounded up and rendered impotent. That order was extant for the first year of peace keeping i.e. throughout 1966 then rescinded, reverting to a high awareness and a watchful eye by all service personnel deployed in Malaysia and in Singapore. The King rightly awarded his medal, called the Malaysian Service Medal a.k.a., the PJM, after this order was rescinded [at the end of 1966] as was his right, and since Singapore was not a member of Malaysia and as such the medal was not relevant to it or anything occurring on it,  in medallic terms, it remained subject to the the C-in-C's edict of a continuing state of alert but was outside the scope of the King's medal at the end of the Confrontation in 1965, one year less than the PJM's qualifying period time. In that one year FESR forces, ninety nine percent of which were British, New Zealanders and Australians, manned the Johor Bahru causeway, a very small road bridge over a sliver of water, just a few marching paces from Rotherham Gate the access to the Singapore Naval Base [SNB],  as well as all coastal areas [again amounting to stretches of water between Singapore and Malaysia of no great distance known as the Singapore Straits, to stop insurgents emigrating north into Malaysia and/or crossing south into Singapore territory. Clearly, the King's advisers had overlooked that year of protecting his southern border, giving the troops involved no thanks for their diligent surveillance. For my money, all those involved in Singapore peacekeeping duties from 1965 [end of Confrontation] until the 1966 end date for claiming the PJM and lifting of C-in-C's security order, should be allowed to submit claims for the King's well intended gesture, rather tainted by parochial advisers who failed to take in the whole picture. Pity, because something that happened many years ago, has  a bad and unfair habit of staying unresolved, although quite recently, we have gratefully witnessed the issue of a 'Canal' medal for those stationed in Egypt in the early 1950's; a 'Arctic' medal for those involved in Russian Convoys, and to Frances's credit, the generous issue of their Croix de Gerre for those who fought with the allies against the axis power in WW2, all retrospectively awarded, so there is hope. If anybody reading this page has the energy, want and or need to make a claim on this basis, I would encourage it.

That then is the quick story of the FESR mobilised for the Indonesian Confrontation.

Now during the tenure of the Confrontation I was at sea in a submarine belonging to the 7th Sub Sqd based on Singapore having as our depot ship HMS Medway, and old LCT - Landing Craft Tank -  [HMS LCT 1109] berthed on fleet landing at HMS Terror giving us ready access to Terror itself [the main naval barracks] without the need of a boat trip. During this time we did lots of RM SBS - Royal Marines Special Boat Section a sister regiment of the SAS [Special Air Service] support work and looking for suspect craft to harass with our 4" gun mounted forward of the fin, but as I recall we never found one, nor did we fire it in anger. We were also deployed to Aden for the British withdrawal of 1967, the only submarine present, and again, despite flooding the boat [specifically the wardroom] with gun practice, we never did use our big gun in anger at any point.  We did however, sink, by MK8 torpedoes, an old merchant packet which had been captured during the Korean war [1950-1953] and had enjoyed a safe anchorage in SNB for many a long year before being dragged out to sea by tugs for us to let loose a tin-fish [torpedo] at her. At the time the boat was packed full with egg-heads with their ubiquitous monitoring equipment recording from a dived position,  the break up as the ship disintegrated and sank in the South China Sea.

Sadly, our "further up the creek style of operating" was not to last, as the dear old [anything goes] Medway was forcibly replaced by the very pusser [strict and authoritarian]  and not entirely welcomed HMS Forth, now with Captain SM7 aboard instead of Commander SM7 in Medway.  She was much too big for an alongside berth and so was stuck out mid stream in a water way called the Singapore Straits: that meant we had to catch a small boat to get to our submarine tied up alongside her, and a boat  to return to terra firma - very inconvenient.  

Before Forth arrived in Singapore, we used to leave our submarine, walk through the base to Sembawang Gate laving the base,  and there we used to go to a Chinese sarabat stall area to buy a torpedo from a roti john seller. This was funny because the Chinese who frequented the stall knew we were submariners and we were buying their wares, submarines. A submarine was a long French bread stick packed full of food like eggs, cheese, salad goods [all salad goods in Singapore were grown in human manure as it was in Hong Kong, Macau etc] and one could either eat it from end to end if very hungry or have it cut in half to be shared by two people, in which case, as we say in Europe, they were bagettes. The word roti is Chinese for bread and john is what Chinese people called a Caucasian [a British service man] which comes from our way of attracting somebody's attention, like 'hey John, hey Fred' etc - "roti john" attracts one's attention to buy the sellers bread.  A sarabat is a meeting place for all comers - actors, authors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, policemen, criminals/pick pockets, hit-men, pims and prostitutes etc detc, and being Chinese is a potentially dangerous place. It's a place where information is passed on and gleaned [by police and crooks], classic book reading is offered and encouraged, often raided by police, where one could watch a blue movie and go to a brother afterwards. Fights broke out regularly over drugs and contraband, and no lone serviceman, day or night would go there alone. There were many across Singapore, some sitting on the periphery of remote airfields like Seletar, Changi and Tengah divorced from built up areas. On the other hand, Malayan  stalls [hot food], also in Sembawang, Chompanh and many other places sold local food, perhaps the most famous and most delicious was Nasi Goreng, wrongly thought to be Chinese food.

That's my story folks - Good bye and good luck. If you are worried about the Chinese jargon above, let me tell you that I was contacted by a Singaporean who was extremely impressed that a westerner should be so completely au fait with my knowledge and understanding. I didn't tell him that in a two year stint in Singapore, when not at sea, I must have visited sarabat's more times that years in his life!

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