KOSB veteran John on a cruise into the past

KOSB veterans at Malaya dinner. John Crawford and his wife Esther from Melrose.
KOSB veterans at Malaya dinner. John Crawford and his wife Esther from Melrose.

A Borders businessman set out at the weekend to re-live a journey made nearly 60 years ago ..... aboard a 15,000-ton troopship.

For John Crawford, from Melrose, was a National Serviceman at the time, heading home from the horrors of jungle warfare against communist insurgents in what was then Malaya.

And he vividly remembers the 30-day “cruise” from Singapore to Britain which certainly wasn’t one from the glossy brochures of the tour companies.

This time with his wife Esther he will be retracing the main part of that journey but certainly not the conditions that prevailed at the time: “The heat at times was unbelievable particularly coming up through the Red Sea.

“We couldn’t sleep below the decks because there was no such thing as air-conditioning so what we had to do was try to sleep on the decks. They were simply packed with soldiers and you just couldn’t sleep because of the humidity, the heat and the insects. It was something you just accepted as part of your National Service.”

That arduous journey always stuck in the memory of the former King’s Own Scottish Borderer’s private and he decided it was now time to retrace at least part of that journey particularly the sector where the conditions had been most intense – but this time in a more civilised way.

He said: “It will be totally different this time in a luxury liner and we’re quite looking forward to it.”

Meanwhile, a group of former national servicemen took a step back in time at a re-union dinner to recount their memories of a “forgotten war”.

For all five served with the KOSB in the battle against communist insurgents in what was then Malaya in the 1950’s.

Bob Stewart, Jim Anderson, Marshall Graham, Donald Fairgrieve, and Laurie Barnard, reflected on a newly produced booklet containing excerpts and photos from those days when the enemy also included the humidity, insects and disease.

The booklet was the work of Annan postman Jon Jon White as an addition to the book produced by his father the late Josh White who served with the regiment at the time, and wrote about the trials faced by the young National Servicemen.

A copy of the booklet was given to each veteran attending the annual re-union dinner in Peebles.