Leong Nok Tha: Poems about War and Injustice|
A story that
must be told
In 1966 I was a British Sapper with 11 Independent Field Squadron Royal Engineers, based at Terendak Camp near Melaka, Malaysia. We were sent to North-East Thailand, together with Australian members of the unit, to build an airfield near Leong Nok Tha. This was in close proximity to a cluster of USAF bases that were used for bombing North Vietnam and Laos. The project was called Operation Crown and was undertaken under the SEATO Treaty. It is most probable that the completed airfield was handed over to the US forces who were waging a covert war on Laos.
We were told that the airfield was intended to enable better access for the Thai government to fly transport aircraft to help develop the economy of the region. If this were true, why was it built two kilometres long and in pavement quality concrete? Why were we working on the construction flat out day and night? Caribou and Hercules aircraft could land on the bitumen taxiways. The airfield was built for jet aircraft. Furthermore, I returned to the site in 1993 and found it unused, the local people as impoverished as before. These people told me that the airfield was used by "Baby Airforce, people many countries"E.
The US Airforce was not the only organisation to use these bases. There were some RAAF personnel at Ubon Ratchathani. The Australian government decided not to allow them to be employed to bomb Laos (whose neutrality we were meant to be protecting). There were also unmarked planes belonging to Air America (alias Baby Airforce) which were flown by CIA employees and mercenaries, to wage the Secret War in Laos. Some of these mercenaries were Australians. I do not believe the mercenaries were ever prosecuted. My research leads me to the view that the airstrip that I helped to build was probably built for this purpose.
There appears to have been a thirty-three year cover-up. Australian Sappers have only recently been awarded medals for being in a war zone. There was some Pathet Lao insurgency activity in the region at the time. This insurgency is documented in the Australian Federal Parliamentary Hansard and acknowledged under the Hazardous Service Act 1986. The Australian government awarded a medal in 1995 to RAE veterans who were there at the same time and doing the same job as the British REs.
Leong Nok Tha is only 25 km from the Laos border. The airfield we built, two kilometres of pavement quality concrete, was suitable for jet aircraft. It was undoubtedly intended for use by US forces or their allies. The RAAF sent Sabre jets, stationed at Ubon Ratchathani. RAAF members have also received medals, some undertook missions over Laos. Clearly Britain, Australia and New Zealand were allies in the same military campaign. History books do not record this fact. The men who went there were not told the true nature of this huge and expensive project. We were ill-used.
Over thirty-three years after the event the British government still refuses to recognise our service.
I have written a book of poetry on the issues of war and the disastrous results it has for both civilians and participants. My starting point is Leong Nok Tha and my part Jewish-German-English background, with my father being a friend of Klaus Von Staufenburg. It has a working title - Leong Nok Tha Where's Your Chastity Now?. Some of the poems have been published in Australian literary journals.
Participation by British and Australian ground and/or air forces was regarded by the US government as integral to their military actions. There were plans for a ground force invasion of Laos. Britain and Australia were involved in making these decisions. The airfield at Leong Nok Tha was an integral part of this SEATO cooperation.
Other allies included Thai Army troops, Thai and Laotian (Hmong) 'irregulars' (trained, equipped and led by covert CIA operatives), mercenaries and Air America with its unmarked planes and pilots in civilian dress. The 40,000 strong Hmong 'Armie Clandestine' took terrible losses and recruited boys as young as ten by stopping rice supplies reaching the villages of their reluctant parents. When they were finally defeated in 1975 they were left to fend for themselves. If we had been sent to participate in such an invasion force would the British government have denied that we were there if we had become casualties?
British and Australian citizens were unaware of the war in Laos which was conducted in contravention of Geneva Agreements (guaranteeing the neutrality of Laos). Factual information was also lacking in the United States.
I find it disturbing that Australian veterans had to wait till 1995. British veterans still wait for recognition for the building of the airstrip at Leong Nok Tha. The veterans of Operation Crown should receive their full entitlements and recognition for their service. This is the start of a campaign to gain that recognition. I appreciate any assistance you can give me.
Willy Bach (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Veterans of Leong Nok Tha Demand Recognition.
Campaign to make the British government listen:
35 years is too long to wait for our medals.
Sent to a Secret War without our knowledge. Our political masters were allies of the CIA. Let them carry the odium. Set the history right.
Give us our peace
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