The Other Side of 1963

The London RAF Museum yesterday helped launch author Roger Annett’s new book “Borneo Boys”…

Early in 1963 a British-backed military campaign got under way, fighting to save three future South East Asian Tiger Economies from Indonesian expansionist aggression. For nearly four years, British and Commonwealth armed forces were embroiled in conflict on the island of Borneo. For the large part, this remarkable example of British military success was kept in low profile by the governments involved, however Singapore, Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia are three Commonwealth countries that the Borneo Boys’ exploits helped save in the 60’s.

Borneo’s difficult terrain and lack of adequate road networks proved to be one of the biggest challenges from a military perspective, a challenge met in great part by the mobility of the helicopter.

The helicopters worked in close support of Claret Raids – cross-border clandestine operations carried out by SAS, Paras and Gurkhas. These proved a key to success and the Malaysian Federation came into being 15 September 1963 (though the conflict lasted until 17 August 1966).

What makes this story even more remarkable is that the RAF helicopter pilots were in their early 20’s and low in number. There were 16,000 British & Commonwealth troops at the peak, serviced by no more than 75 helicopters (by comparison, in Vietnam the Americans and their Allies had close on 3,000).

BORNEO BOYS

This unique part of British military history is now uncovered in a new book written by one of its Veterans and featuring contributions from a range of participants. Published by Pen & Sword Books Limited at £25 rrp, it has 300 pages and over 110 illustrations, most in colour.

The book is focused on the new breed of RAF helicopter pilots, recruited straight from the sixth form to officer and pilot training, and sent on their first flying-tour to the action in Borneo – called upon to fly over the confusion of jungle warfare, far away from home. The reader will share their daily adventures, learning trajectories and camaraderie and how, thrown in at the deep end, the ‘Borneo Boys’ quickly became men.

All the excitement of the aviator’s adrenaline ride is translated into elegant prose, strengthened by the kind of confident delivery achievable only by a man who was himself involved in the action. A fascinating book for those with a passion for helicopter flying and general aviation alike.

When asked about his motivation for writing the book, Roger told Airscene “In the summer of 2010 I was giving a presentation to the helicopter crews of RAF Benson on the Borneo Campaign, based on my 2006 book on the air-supply.

As I usually do, I asked whether anyone in the room had heard of the campaign, Indonesian Confrontation having been such a low-profile, clandestine affair. To my surprise, two chaps of about my age in the front row raised their hands – they not only knew about it but also served in it, as very youthful Whirlwind pilots.

It turned out that they were currently holding down jobs as instructors on the rotary simulators at Benson. That made close on 50 years in rotary aviation, and counting! With that angle, the book just had to be written. They, and their ‘Old Rotor’ colleagues came forward with all the material an author could ask for.”

Roger Annett served in the RAF between 1959 – 1967, including two and a half years on supply-dropping action in Borneo. Borneo Boys is available now at Pen & Sword Books: http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Borneo-Boys/p/3735/ (priced at £20)

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