A Daisy Chain

November 4, 2012

If you had read my earlier post about ‘Q’ Tip and how he suffered a nervous breakdown before being ‘repatriated’ from Malaya you’ll recall that I didn’t go into too much detail regarding those factors that contributed to his implosion. Those of you with knowledge or experience of these matters, will be aware that, more often than not, people play a major part. The folks who affected ‘Q’ so drastically were his drivers.

The Transport section was an important part of the day- to-day workings of the Depot since it was responsible for collecting the various vehicles, shipped out from the UK to the Far East, that were the bread and butter and life’s blood of the unit. (How’s that for a stomach churning mixed metaphor?)

To say that these guys were characters would be unduly conservative.

Sergeant Jock McClean, rarely sober, was an irascible drunk, who threw his radio, through the window, closed at the time, of his six-storey apartment when the announcer coughed twice during the reading of the news.

There was the crew of the Diamond ‘T’ who had taken hostage the piano and its stool from the NAAFI, loaded it on a low loader trailer, and with one of their number playing ‘Chopsticks’ set off for the fleshpots of Johore Bahru. Driver, vehicle and trailer arrived safely but Liberace, piano and stool had exited somewhere on one of the hairpin bends en route.

The corporal responsible for the fuel pumps, an MOR (Malayan Other Rank) owned his own Kampong, of twenty houses, a Harley Davidson motor cycle and a BMW car, all paid for from an income supplemented with the proceeds of a special arrangement with the suppliers of the vehicle fuels. Each three-compartment tanker would offload two sections only, and the contents of the third was sold on the black market and the money shared. The NCO would simply sign for the full delivery and juggle the books.

With a perverse sense of inverted pride, the drivers even had their own theme song sung to the tune of Lili Marlene.

“Up the Bukit Tima*
90 miles an hour
We are the 221 boys
We Are a fxxxin’ shower
We can’t change up
And we can’t change down
The gearbox is in
But it’s upside down
We are the 221 boys
We are a fxxxin’ shower

Early in the mornin’
When we’re on parade
The Sergeant Major sings us
The Donkey Serenade
Some silly basxxxd
Shouts ‘Right Dress!’
You should have seen
The fxxxin’ mess
We are the 221 boys
We are a ………”

There were several more verses to this but I’m sure you’ve got the drift.

The Bukit Tima was a dual carriageway linking the south of the island to the Causeway, on the north side, which crossed the water separating Singapore from Malaya. A Malaysian customs post was at the far end of the dike. This was the route taken daily by the Depot’s drivers from the collection point, at the Dock Section, back to the vehicle depot. As a matter of protocol, probably to reiterate Malayan sovereignty, the Malays would briefly halt each convoy before waving it through. On one occasion, however, not everything went smoothly.

A convoy, of thirty brand-spanking-new-high-gloss-painted Bedford 3 Ton Trucks, set off from the Dock Section for 221 Base Vehicle Depot, the rear being brought up by Private Baxter. Baxter was a diminutive Glaswegian, known as Poison Dwarf, who had to take a double thickness car seat cushion on every assignment as he was unable to see over the steering wheel without it. The caravan of vehicles was negotiating its way through Singapore city and its many intersections when a Chinese civilian cut in between Baxter’s vehicle and the twenty-ninth. Annoying as this was for Baxter what made it more ire provoking was the interloper’s indicating a turn at the lights but continuing straight ahead. After the third occurrence, they stopped at the next red light. Baxter leapt out of his truck and ran forward. In those days, cars had arm indicators on either side, made of transparent orange plastic, that lit up when activated. Baxter asked the driver if he was going to turn right. The man answered in the negative. Baxter snarled, “Then you won’t need this,” and promptly ripped the offending indicator clear of the bodywork.

Back in his truck, aware that he had lost contact with the other Bedfords and would have to make up the lost distance, he resorted to a heavy foot on the accelerator up several miles of Bukit Tima. His vehicle was doing well over sixty miles an hour when it hurtled around the bend onto the Causeway—and into the tail end of the twenty-ninth idling vehicle. Baxter, before the days of seat belts, was fortunate enough to suffer no injury. However, all twenty-nine drivers, halted in front of him, hopeful of a expedited passage through customs, had not applied their brakes and each clutch was depressed, ready for a smooth takeaway. Twenty-nine 3-Ton trucks shunted, forcibly, into the rear end of the vehicle in front, resulting in the eventual compilation of one of the most convoluted, drawn out accident reports in the annals of 221’s Transportation Section history.


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