KOSB veterans gather for Malaya reunion dinner

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.
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More than 120 veterans of the brutal insurgency in 1950s Malaya gathered for a special reunion dinner in Peebles last week.

The annual event, held in Peebles Hydro on Thursday night, commemorates a time when National Servicemen from all over southern Scotland were called up to serve in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in the Far Eastern fight against communist guerillas.

KOSB veterans at Malaya dinner. Bob Stewart of Galashiels, Jim Anderson of Annan, Marshall Graham of Galashiels, (front), Donald Fairgrieveof St Boswells and Laurie Barnard formerly of Gala now Market Harborough.

KOSB veterans at Malaya dinner. Bob Stewart of Galashiels, Jim Anderson of Annan, Marshall Graham of Galashiels, (front), Donald Fairgrieveof St Boswells and Laurie Barnard formerly of Gala now Market Harborough.

Not only did these young men, often away from their homes in the Borders for the first time, have to face a hostile enemy, but they were also hampered by the heat and humidity, deadly insects and debilitating illness.

Jon Jon White, one of the event organisers, says he was delighted with the success of the dinner.

He told The Southern: “There were 122 people present on Thursday last, and all seemed to enjoy themselves very much. Most of these guys are approaching 80 years old now, and considering that, the numbers attending this annual reunion continue to remain high.

“They come from miles around to attend – this time round, the furthest away being Bob and Alice Kernaghan from France. In the past, we have even had one veteran come all the way from Australia – that shows the dedication and the band of brotherhood that these people go to attend the occasion.”

Veterans attending the dinner were all given a copy of a new booklet on the conflict by Mr White, from Annan, containing excerpts and photos from those days when the enemy also included the humidity, insects and disease.

The booklet is an addition to the book produced by Mr White’s late father, Josh White, who served with the regiment at the time, and wrote about the trials faced by the young soldiers.

Among those attending the dinner was KOSB veteran and Borders businessman John Crawford, who set out at the weekend to relive a journey made nearly 60 years ago aboard a 15,000-ton troopship.

For Mr Crawford, from Melrose, was a National Serviceman at the time, heading home from the horrors of jungle warfare 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 fortunately not in the conditions that prevailed at the time.

John told us: “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 KOSB private and he decided it was now time to retrace at least part of that journey, particularly the section where 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.”