The First Helicopter Boys

The First Helicopter Boys

David Taylor
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
This hardback book is a collection of memories, history and photographs from the Malaya Campaign. It includes a brief history of why the British, Australians and Kiwis were there, why helicopters were used, and how their use developed during the campaign. Bearing in mind that the use of military helicopters was such a new concept at the time, there was a steep learning curve in maintaining the machines, using them for casevacs, troop transport and supply, and for transporting building equipment. The Malayan Climate added a little extra excitement.

Told in the words of RAF and RN air and ground crews who were there, and with lots of photos from their collections, the stories revolve around the setting up of bases and forts, complexities of operating in jungle terrain and the climate.

The author has published other works about the campaigns in Borneo and Malaya, and the depth of his research and knowledge is obvious. His writing style is easy, and the right mix of commentary is applied to the memories of the men who were there. It's hard for a civilian in 2019 to appreciate that many of those involved were National Servicemen, and some arrsers may be surprised to read the tales of long hours flying, late nights working to repair and recover downed cabs, all undertaken by the RAF!

There's an interesting story about one Terry Peet, who appears to have spent some time working for the CIA in a deniable operation, which resulted in his losing his service pension - a story I shall follow up as it's intriguing. I also learned that the local tribespeople benefited from having military personnel posted locally. A disease called 'yaws', similar to leprosy, was eradicated by M & B tablets which all men carried when on operations, and a number of them were casevac'd to hospitals and recovered from injuries. Considering their lifestyle, to be transported by helicopter to a modern hospital must have been quite an experience.

If found this book very interesting, as it features helicopters from Dragonfly and Sycamore through to Wessex and Whirlwind, and the experiences of men and their families who were dropped from mid-Century Britain into a completely alien environment (just as the tribesmen flown to hospital in Ipoh!)

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