At this stage of the Ops, some of the high-ranking staff officers were no more around and so was SEP Abdullah who had long gone. Those officers manning the Tactical HQ that were staying in the Offices’ Mess, occupied time playing scrabbles. I had not seen such keen adults competing each other just to form words to score as many points. However the long days took the toll out of them as four officers who were playing and those behind them were unable to realise or contest the word wolves, in plural is spelt wolfs instead. The Re-Sup was still done occasionally but not as hectic as the first one and more often aircrafts were not available. The BEME officer, Chan Wan Yeong who 'acted' also for the BSTO, Capt Nor Shahid KP informed me that the fresh rations laying the whole day on the field will have to be written off, as the aircraft will not be availabled again the next day.
I went to the MT garage where my men are. Most drivers slept in their respective vehicle using the curve windscreen metal IS net and turned it into a hammock while the AD and Supply men take refuge between the ration boxes. Being a KP, one of them who they called him Ismail Capoi, can make a serunding out of canned 'beef or mutton halal' and I like to join and have dinner with them for a change. I hinted to the Supply Corporal what Chan had mentioned and he said, "Itu apa susah tuan.. ration tu kita issue kat Kem dan yang Kem punya yang datang esok, kita ganti dan letak lah kat padang". I ate my dinner in a double quick time and went back to the Officers’ Mess anxiously looking for Chan and said to him, "Chan, what was that.. you mentioned about the fresh ration just now?". When he repeats it, I told him the info I got from the Corporal and seemingly with a proud impression that I initiated the idea. Chan pause for a moment however as expected he then replied, ‘yeah I already thought of that also’. Lack of positive progress and uncertainty on the situation on that moment during the Ops, I must say that I was somewhat losing the gung-ho even to think and come out with a simple solution like that, though I am a trained AD officer. Honestly no one seems to be able to think straight anymore and no wonder the Medical Officer, a seasoned look Major Sethuraman, an expatriate doctor from India who smokes with his cigarette clutched betweens his middle finger, proposed to the Brigade Commander to provide beer to the Mess. Another old-timer was Major Ong of Signal who was the 6th Brigade Camp Commandant who looks like a towkay, one evening took Chan and me for makan at the rest house and we went there in a Signal Land Rover and with him driving without escorts.
I shared the wooden plank room at the Mess with Capt Sulaiman, the Brigade G3 (Ops), who by his maturity, presumed were already a substantive Capt however he didn't mine my antics whenever we teased each other. Of late, I observed that he was always to himself considering being away from his beloved family for quite some time now. In the Ops room, the Brigade Major was discussing a message received where Thai villagers near the border were picketing in protest, where they claimed that our soldiers violated their area and damaging crops and slashing their young rubber and fruit trees during the insertion of our troops along the border. The BM however dismissed that as the work of the Communist sympathisers.
That weekend saw Capt Sulaiman smiling as he took his haversack out as he was allowed to RTB to Sungai Petani with the Nuri which en-route to Butterworth which by now Chan, who was responsible for the manifest called it Sunshine Airways because Pilots were always giving the weather as excuse when unable to fly. That Sunday, together with a team of AD, we flew to Weng and conducted Re-Sup for the 16 RMR. I spent time enjoying the much said about Weng's crispy goreng pisang with Yusof, a Sandhurst trained Brave Mohicans while waiting the Nuri to return each time doing the sorties. Half way through, the Copter landed and the AQM gave a hand signal for me to get my team onboard. When we reach Gubir and asked the TUDM liaison officer what’s going on, he gave me another of the TUDM famous excuse, no more flying hours!
The next morning I was awaken by Sulaiman entering the room however I do not have the chance to speak to him as he had to rush back to the Ops room for the Monday morning prayer. I considered myself as the 'heard but not to be seen type' and of late, seldom attend the meeting and further more I get instructions from the BSTO. While having my breakfast, I saw a group of officers walking out from the Ops room towards the helicopter that was parked in the middle of the field. I can easily recognise Sulaiman and the two Pilots who I regularly worked with during Re-Sup that are coming to take away the grounded Nuri that was shot earlier of which has been repaired and made serviceable. The other two Pilots who would be flying the aircraft were noticeable with their flying helmets on, however there was one officer walking among them which I have not seen before.
When they took off, I went to the Tactical Head Quarter’s block, which was just a distance away from the Mess and just hanging around at the corridor. The new BASO, Major Chin and his assistant Capt Wahab was talking near the radio room. It looks to be like any other day when suddenly the radio signaler on duty burst out from the radio room and immediately informed, "Tuan., ada two Mayday (distress) calls from Baton One". Wahab rushed into the room and took control of the set and tried communicates with the Nuri, call signed.. Baton One. Everyone around the room tried listening hard for any response and Wahab continue and this time I heard him giving instructions and echoed words that I will never forget. "hello Baton One., if you cannot make it to Gubir, please land at Green Patch.. repeat.. please land at Green Patch".
Green Patch, the name that you are now familiar with, was a code name of an area designated for emergency landing for helicopters during the bombing attack on the enemy camp. Hoping that the Nuri may have just experiencing communication breakdown, they radioed Mong Gajah informing and asking if the aircraft is in their vicinity. Mong Gajah is a camp situated further up Gubir camp with TA posts along the way. There was an observation post at its main entrance where a beautiful carved wooden Bren gun was mounted and from a distant, the thing looks real. There was an incident in another occasion where an officer from the 3 RMR lost his leg and partially blinded in a mine explosion when pursuing the enemy. The incident they said was from much earlier contact with the enemy who was spotted and presumably coming for the dummy gun on the OP that was left unmanned and the mine being near to the camp rightfully could be of our own. At other times when I said to my drivers, "OK, saya mahu tiga orang untuk pergi ka Mong Gajah", I see some of them turning their faces the other way or pretending looking down to the ground but with their eyes still glancing at me in anticipation who I would be selecting to go and nobody wish to be picked as the hilly and winding road to Mong Gajah, to describe it simply, was bloody dangerous even with escorts. With a stern voice I added, "Saya pun akan ikut sama" and I'm happy to see them smile in approval. Most of the drivers of C Platoon, 20 Transport Coy was about our age and I can imagine that while we were in Sebatang Karah during Pre-Cadet days, they were at PLR doing the recruit training.
The Nuri where Sulaiman and Co boarded was scheduled on routine flight to Target Bravo sending water in Jerrycans to the stranded troops. It was situated down the valley like terrain with fallen timber trees presumably by the bombing. I have been there once, piloted by Capt Choo who maneuvers the copter expertly with the guide of his AQM, avoiding the tail rotor from slamming into the protruding timber trunks and he was also one of those on board. It will be a disaster if the aircraft is not either in Gubir or Mong Gajah within the next 20 minutes. When that moment past, Major Chin ran down the field and took off with an allouette copter. About not more than half an hour later we heard his voice over the radio, "see smoke billowing from the border and approaching..” Then we heard him saying the inevitable, "confirmed it’s our aircraft and chances of survival nil !"
I glanced towards the Brigade Commander to sort of wanting to see his reaction in that rare situation, when he walks into the Ops room. Soon the allouette return and all eyes focused towards Major Chin who hurried into the Ops room to report to the Commander. The time was around 1100hrs and everybody went about busy facilitating each other with info and Chan was desperately trying to recall who was on the ill fated Nuri for him to prepare the manifest. Prior to Target Bravo, the aircraft landed and unloaded mortar bombs at Mong Gajah and picked up three paxs including a Lieutenant from 3 RMR who was to RTB to attend a course, his batman together with a Sergeant and two Komando’s JAPU personnel on board, a total of twelfth soldiers. Later we found out that the Private soldier was infact left behind, making the final total of all in all, eleven perwira negara yang telah gugur, adding the AQM, the four Pilots and including the one that I did not recognise earlier, who was a Major, coming from RBCO Songkla, as advance party to prepare a joint meeting with the Thai counterparts in regards to the picket and rallies by the Thai villagers.
The first body bag arrived was that of the Sergeant whose body was intact as he was thrown away from the burning wreckage. After a short prayer the body was flown out of Gubir and soon the gruesome task of extracting the burnt bodies begin. I saw two body bags with the letter P marked on both bags indicating that there were the Pilots and knowing the Pilot Capt was a Chinese and the Co Pilot a Malay, I sensed that there will be a problem in identifying them and that goes to each of the body. Soon more brightly painted Nuris came, as they were the VIP designated aircraft, bringing the top brass officers including CAF. One person who dressed differently from the others as he was in bush jacket and wearing songkok was none other than Dato Mokhtar Hashim the then Deputy Minister of Defence. Capt Mohd Isa of Signal, successfully managed to erect dia-poles or what have they to enable the GOC, Maj Gen Dato Mahmud Sulaiman to speak directly to the PM. "Yes Sir, Yes Sir.. I will do that Sir.. Yes Sir". That’s about all I can mostly hear him saying as I walk away from that block as it has become congested with other senior ranking officers and with much respect I don’t see any reason for me to be busy there.
I can relate events that goes on but it has no bearing to the role of Kor Perkhidmatan, me and my men that we have rendered and served full heartedly in that Ops Gubir and let just say the rest is history and everybody has their story to tell. So whatever happened to Baton One? Did anyone ever said that we lost the battle that left an ugly scar to the history of the Armed Forces or did anyone in that Agong's birthday ceremony in front of the Dataran Merdeka and those conferred with Tan Sri and Datuk later in the istana that day, realised and remember when seeing the helicopters that make the fly past with the flags.., years ago there were men who perished to make what Malaysia is today. There was no flag when the last Nuri makes a lintasan hormat that rattled the roof of the Gubir Ops room on the last day of Ops Gubir and few days later, when the KP with empty fuel drums and left over rations roll out from the Yellow Brick Road of Kem Gubir, I look back sadly thinking of Sulaiman in that 'joy ride' of that dreadful morning of 26 April 1976 and whatever happened to Baton One. The end.
Any gunner out there willing to share your side of the story on this tragedy? You're most welcome to e-mail the story to me.
Lt Xxxxxx...Thank you.