on 6 June 2013
Because I was groundcrew to these guys in Kuching and Labuan at the same time, I can be 'picky' regarding my review. I flew with some of them and later served with many of them at other locations.
It is a cracking read and I suspect there is more yet to come from other Rotary aircrew. The Tinkar Hill episode was particularly 'hairy' and I confess I was pleased not to be selected for the recovery of Geoff Leeming's aircraft from the river sandbank. I didn't much fancy leptospirosis or the injections! Brian Skillicorn's recovery from both of his tail end problems was airmanship of the highest order too.
This is compulsive reading regarding the 'operations' in Borneo and I confess that I read it in one long sitting. I could not put it down!! I eagerly await the publishing of Geoff Leeming's book.
Roger Annett served with the RAF for eight years and for 2½ of those acted as a co-pilot in Borneo tasked with making supply drops to men on the ground. In providing the reader with this, his very own personal perception of that conflict, he also produces a truly fascinating tale by putting everything into perspective. By following the raw recruit through basic training and pilot training, we stay with these newly-qualified young men as they arrive in Borneo to find their continued education now includes such alien subjects as acclimatisation, familiarisation, jungle training, how to nurse a Whirlwind 10 through a very testing terrain and on to their day-to-day routine as pilots until, almost suddenly, we realise we are now following the progress of battle-weary veterans. Because of their shared experiences, permanent friendships were forged - to become a fraternity and comradeship which was sealed forever. In short, these men became the Borneo Boys and this is ‘their’ story.
In the final days of the British Empire, many minor conflicts were waged throughout the world such as Aden and Malaya and, of course, Borneo was one of these. For almost four years in the 1960’s, British and Commonwealth forces were engaged in hand-to-hand conflict in a region of jungle with no roads or other form of physical communication - other than jungle tracks. In such circumstances, the helicopter became king and was used in every available capacity from the smaller units (Sioux and Scout) of the Army Air Corps through to the larger machines operated by the RAF - such as the Whirlwind and huge twin-rotor Belvedere. This book is not, however, just confined to the flying experiences of those who took part. Instead, it is a document which I believe will continue to be quoted by historians long after it becomes out-of print.
Commencing with an excellent prelude and appraisal of the Brunei Rebellion, we are then treated to the political machinations of the time as HM Forces, having been caught on the hop, got organised. By providing a wider review of the background to the conflict itself and the British reaction, we are more able to reach our own balanced judgement of events. To this end, the hostility towards British dominance which now existed throughout the region and the tensions leading to the eventual conflict are all well explained as are the incursions from over the border and, with them, the creation of an atmosphere of revolution.
As Annett describes; the Indonesian conflict arose from Malaysia’s struggle towards independence against a backdrop of colonial unrest, and this book explains how those young recruits, newly qualified pilots and first-time-ever abroad young men reacted and dealt with having to fly over all the confusion on the ground and move men and stores to meet whatever requirements we demanded of them.
As a writer, Annett excels by explaining what is was like when this and that happened and, in so doing, provides a full understanding of the adrenalin rushes of the day in a most readable form.
Well supported with plenty of colour and B&W illustrations throughout, the work is preceded with; Foreword, Author’s note, Introduction, Maps and Glossary - all of which combine to produce a most enlightening, informative and very thorough job of work.
on 5 June 2013
Borneo Boys not only tells the story of the 1960s Borneo "Confrontation" but documents the early practical use of helicopters within the RAF, showing how this particular area developed and grew, resulting in principles and tried and tested methods that have become common practise.
It is indeed a refreshing change to read about the experiences of those who flew the lesser known helicopters in this relatively unknown theatre, compared to the exhausted subject of the Vietnam War. Aircraft such as the Bristol Belvedere, Westland Wessex, and in particular, the great Westland workhorse, the Wirlwind.
This book is an honest account of the "Confrontation", which in reality was no less a conflict than any other hot war. Roger Annett has done a sterling job and is uniquely positioned to explore this topic, himself having served in the conflict on fixed wing aircraft. The author's first hand experience and understanding makes the book easy to read and informative, giving the historical political context surrounding the confrontation, as well as information on the mixed type of aircraft that could by found operating in the area by the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and the Army.
However, what propels this book into something more than merely a "unit" history or war chronicle, are the excellent first hand accounts and anecdotes from that new breed of pilots who flew these somewhat primitive helicopters, charting their backgrounds from school to cockpit harness in the skies over the dense Borneo jungle. Sharing not only their operational challenges but a slice of life.
Previously unseen snapshots taken by the pilots adds to their accounts, giving a human element and understanding to this book. Aside from these excellent photographs, also included are interesting charts and maps, which the pilots had pretty much to complete as they went along, highlighting the difficult job that these mostly 20 somethings had to carry out.
Borneo Boys is a fascinating read, set at a good pace. It is well presented and clear. A marvel of aviation history as well as an important account of post-colonial upheaval in that region of South East Asia.
on 16 October 2014
I must admit to a slight degree of bias prior to commenting on the content of this book as I spent more than a few highly enjoyable years "down the back" of the Whirlwind Mk 10 as a Crewman/Loadmaster,from 1967-1973 with 230Sqn,28 Sqn and latterly at Ternhill as one of the 2 staff Crewmen.Indeed as I sit writing this,I have hanging on my study wall a Flying Wing,CFS(H) 1973 photograph with a young Colin Ford,Centre Row 6th from left,as well as many other young "old hands".
However,to Borneo Boys.
Like so much of Britain's military past each historical campaign is merely a sum of its parts,yet I suspect the part played by the RAF Pilots (and Naval and AAC pilots) in the Borneo campaign laid the foundation for the strategies and techniques used in current helicopter operations so visible in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Multi-crewed,multi-engined helicopters,with all the modern technology,sophisticated weapons and communications,are the legacy of all that those young aircrews learned in Borneo during Confrontation.The story tells so vividly how young pilots,aircrew and groundcrew,did what our Forces did(and do) so well,muddle through with what kit you are given and win despite Whitehall.
I wonder how many of today's 6th Formers would know anything of Borneo and Confrontation?
The occasional tale which I (rarely) managed to prise out of Chunky Lord certainly underlined his dislike of Indonesian Mustangs!
Great read,well told and evocative of good old British derring-do.
Glad that the Amazon electronic brain picked this book for me.