Sergeant Reg Smith RMP

Copyrighted to RD Smith 2005

 I write in response to your request regarding my experiences while serving with the 28th COMMONWEALTH Infantry Brigade Provost Unit, Malaya.

 You will appreciate that over forty years have elapsed since I was with the unit! In consequence, there are bound to be some gaps or distortions in my memory banks – possibly more perforations than a certain well-known brand of tea bag! I would urge you, therefore, not to take ALL what I say as gospel but have it checked against any other evidence you may have at hand. This applies especially to names, dates and specific history.

 My tour of duty with the unit was an ‘accompanied’ posting from 1961 to 1964, the original role being that of a radio operator. My rank at the time was that of a Corporal. Although the Bukit Terendak cantonment was still under construction, it was direct to that site that posting was affected - moving immediately in to married quarters at 57 Stevenson Avenue.

The cantonment itself was located a few miles from the town of Malacca proper and about 20 km South of Tampin – the nearest railway station. Access to the cantonment was via a metalled road. Its head was at the junction of the Malacca-Tampin road and ran through the cantonment end to end. Brigade headquarters was located about a mile in and on the left side. Behind this was the Military Police administrative office block and secured within its own chain-link perimeter fencing. It had its own access road from the main route. The barrack accommodation was located elsewhere within the vicinity. The Provost motor pool and workshop was sited on the opposite side of the access road.

 The various infantry, artillery and support units – Engineers, Ordnance, Signals, Transport & etc., were sited at different locations off the main route. In later years, the Royal Engineers would supervise the building of a military hospital at the northern end of the main route. Again, in later years, an airstrip would also be constructed - this for the air-portable role of the brigade. The western boundary would be that of the coastline of the Malacca Straits. The total area of the cantonment was quite substantial and running in to double figures. As I recall, figures of eleven or fifteen square miles come to mind! 

At the time of my arrival in Bukit Terendak, most of the brigade units were scattered about different locations in Malaya itself. The military police had detachments strategically placed to cover service requirements. There was just a handful of military police personnel in Malacca when I arrived but there was no radio equipment. (In fact, during the whole of my tour of duty, I did not see a radio let alone operate one!) I have a very poor recall of the structure of the provost unit in those very early months. Nor can I recall who was doing what at that particular time. However, because part of my earlier training also included that of administration, it befell me to take on the role of ‘Chief Clerk’. I set up the administrative office dealing with the day-to-day needs that occur in any military unit, later handing over to someone else. Subsequently, when all units reformed in one central location i.e., Bukit Terendak, I would be moved on to other duties – both investigative and administrative.

 Personnel within the provost unit comprised a combination of Australian, New Zealand and British military police. As the build-up of troop personnel evolved, so it became incumbent on the provost unit to provide static policing to cover the town of Malacca proper. Since Bukit Terendak was some distance from the town, it was impractical to operate from the cantonment. In consequence, therefore, a more permanent site within the town was established and manned twenty-four hours a day. This manning provided foot, mobile and ‘standby’ patrols. In addition the formation of a Garrison Military Police unit helped in the policing within the cantonment. The GMP was located at a point on the access route, say about midway between the Brigade HQ and the main Malacca – Tampin junction.

 In the field, the provost unit was to provide a somewhat ‘ad-hoc’ air-portable role. Route reconnaissance and route signing, stragglers and traffic control did not seem to be part of the grand design. Terms such as "SP’s", "Rel P’s", "Graphic or Pictorial routes" were non-existent. However, you should take cognizance of the fact that not a great deal of route signing can be accomplished within a jungle environment! That said, when the Brigade is on the move it has to be marshalled and some roadwork is entailed. There appeared to be an emphasis on Brigade HQ security – forward and rear echelons involving close protection for Brigade Commander and other VIPs.

 Comparing my other experiences within units at Brigade and Divisional level, I was singularly unimpressed by the lack of equipment at 28 Brigade. There was in general (at least, as it appeared to me), a rather unprofessional approach to the training and functions of personnel within the unit. As someone succinctly put it, it was a "Fred Carno" arrangement with the blind leading the blind. Much of a game really.

 In a static environment in Malacca, the then OC, Major ‘Mick’ Gray, assigned me the role of establishing a minor investigations and anti-vice unit. I remained in that role for almost two years and was answerable directly to the OC. The investigations unit was, as implied, designed to cover such minor incidents as traffic accidents, barrack-room theft, follow up on offences against the person and/or property. (The more serious crimes against the person, property or State e.g., allegations of rape, serious theft or fraud, murder and such like were covered by a Section of the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police. That section was also located within the military police administrative compound.) While involved in minor investigations it was also my role to vet incoming police reports for accuracy, grammar and syntax, type up (no computers in those days), distribute and file.

 The so-called ‘anti-vice’ was very much an ‘ad hoc’ arrangement and it was extremely difficult to start from scratch. In earlier years and in other locations, anti-vice sections found it profitable to establish very close links with the civilian police and the ‘Special Treatment Centres’ (STC) in military hospitals. The ‘working girls’ would be encouraged to enter in to a special register. Details would cover their name, address, working district, and up-to-date photographs. These girls would then be eligible for regular check-ups and be encouraged to do so. They would then carry ‘Attendance Cards’ so that they could be checked by civilian and military police AV units. If a card were found to be out of date, then the girl would be encouraged to have a check-up and then report to the civilian and AV units.

 Should it later transpire that a serviceman has dallied where he shouldn’t, then an AV NCO can display an album of the known registered girls to the afflicted for identification. The girl can be visited, checked and advised to take a ‘sabbatical’ until whole and pure once more!

 It will be appreciated this anti-vice role requires a great deal of patience, tact and diplomacy. It is necessary to build the trust and confidence of the civilian police, the girls, hospital and other medical staff, the serviceman AND the officers commanding units. It is not the role of the AV personnel to pass judgement on the serviceman or the working girls.

 Regretfully, sexually transmitted diseases are not confined to single people. When such is detected between spouses or in other individuals of the family group, then different kinds of delicate investigations are required. Further, if, for example, husbands are away and ‘mice (or cats) do play’ there will be a negative effect on moral. It should go, without saying, therefore, that AV investigations are extremely confidential in nature. In order to respect such confidentiality the AV investigator tends to become rather isolated from his peers. 

By the time President Sukarno began rattling his sabres I was in the closing stages of my tour and the imminent return to the UK. One rather humorous event is worth mentioning during that latter period.

 Sukarno’s band of merry men used to negotiate the Malacca Straits in low profile craft in order to beat the any possible radar activities. These commando groups (for that, in effect, is what they were) would then perform their nefarious activities on the mainland before returning to Indonesia. In an effort to counter these seafaring activities, the local Field Artillery Regiment (26 Field Regiment?) so it is said, trundled two mobile radar scanners to the water’s edge so that a much lower horizon could be scanned. Unfortunately, for the subaltern in command, he forgot about the tides!

 During my tour of duty, and under the very capable command and tutelage of Major ‘Mick’ Gray, the Provost Unit won the 17th Gurkha Divisional pistol championships – both in the individual and team events. It was my fortune to out-shoot ‘Mick’ Gray and take the individual cup.

 Landrovers were the main form of transport and seemed to be popular with the Australian element.  By way of motor cycles, the Australians had Harley Davidson while the British element had rather ancient  BSAs and Nortons. (One even had the Girder Forks, a real bone shaker.) During an exercise in Thailand, two of us rode those cycles from Bangkok through to Ubon on the Thai/Laotian border. It was an interesting experience and took several years before my kidneys settled back to where they are supposed to be. The Harley Davidson motor cycles were all right on comparative flat ground but came a poor second if required to negotiate real rough terrain – the ground clearance was much less than the BSA or Norton.

 The camaraderie within the unit was extremely good. There was, of course, the usual puns about ‘pommies’, ‘leg-iron marks’ and queries as to why Kiwis were in an air-portable unit (EVERYONE knows that Kiwis cannot fly!). England was ALWAYS going to be stuffed during the Ashes matches – still are! However, Australians could not play rugby and so on. 

I was fortunate to engage in a couple of so-called ‘Adventure Training’ exercises privately organised between some NCOs from the Royal Artillery and Engineers and myself. One ‘stunt’ involved living with the Sakai aborigines for two weeks and the other an ‘Escape and Evasion’ exercise down the main rivers from Kuala Lumpur to Port Swettenham and then on down the coast to Malacca. Came back as black as the ace of spades on both occasions.


Life for families in the Camp

My memories of the camp, married quarters, neighbours and friends are happy and I am really sad that I did not keep in touch with the many friends I made. I would love to catch up with the Davis, the Lucas, the MacPhails but it is too long ago and much water has passed under the bridge, and I know at least one of the couples is divorced.

I have contact with Barbara MacPhail and also Jan Hamilton - I ring both of them occasionally.

We had plenty of parties during my time there and family days out to Port Dickson plus one or two beach barbecues which were good fun even when Terry Davis did his strip tease and I know John Plummer was involved in it some way but I can’t remember how.

I am a member of a Terendak School site so I do get to know what some people are doing now. Some of the ex teachers are members and we have one Aussie national service man who provided lots of good photos plus a couple of slightly fuzzy films. The photos of the Evergreen strip as it is today are rather sad because the place looks so run-down and scruffy.

This year I will be going back so I hope that I am able to see a bit more than I did in 1995 when my brother and I visited. Then we were not even allowed to get out of the Malay army land rover and taking photographs was not possible. I understood that but I really wanted to have my photo taken outside 58 Stevenson Avenue!

I sincerely hope that you enjoy my web site and if you can contribute anything at all in the way of enlightenment (for my befuddled brain) and photographs I would be very pleased to hear from you.

This Page was last updated on 20/07/08