Tribute to two

great AOCs

Mellersh and Scherger

Two tough characters

I was groundcrew during the war &endash; a penguin &endash; and any missions I flew were as an extranumary, a gash hand, or odd bod. I was, however, airborne more than most of my kind, and my longest op was a 14-hour mercy flight in a Liberator, from Cocos in the Indian Ocean to Kuala Lumpur in Malaya, loaded with medical supplies for PoWs and civilians, and it is recorded somewhere in the RAF archives at Kew.

I never flew in anger against anyone, and most of my early trips in the RAF were in Wellington bombers on training exercises, and I once came near to losing an entire aircraft and crew over the North Sea when the directional homing gear I was operating packed up.

In effect, I had no higher status than that of a grasshopper, and any leaps to fame were extremely limited and quickly restrained. It was not until after the war when I lived in Singapore that I earned rapid recognition among people who would not have given me a second glance during previous years. Air Officers Commanding, in particular, sought me out and lavished on me a kind of VIP status, but only for as long as it suited their purpose.

There were the exceptions.

I was at that time wearing two hats &endash; one as an editor and journalist and the other as a member of the volunteer defence forces. I was also an active member of the Royal Singapore Flying Club. My hats and activities attracted the attention of such AOCs as Air Vice Marshal Sir Francis "Tog" Mellersh and the Aussie Air Chief Marshal, Sir Frederick Scherger.

"Tog" Mellersh was my main mentor and helped me on many occasions when facing difficulties with the Malayan Air Training Corps, which I commanded. Scherger was also extremely generous in supplying aircraft for training and general backup. I have described in another section of my memories of my meetings with Mellersh, and a particularly explosive encounter with Scherger.

Scherger has been described as a dynamic, colourful and constantly controversial Aussie commander. He was a bit like Mellersh, despising the bureaucrats who bungled any kind of progress in Singapore. I have seen Mellersh go purple and thump the table at some committee meetings, and doubtless Scherger did likewise. Sometimes it was the only way to wake people up.

Despite the Malayan Emergency as it was called - it was really an all-out war against a growing communist menace - the government wets still refused to acknowledge the danger, and hedged and dithered at any move to strengthen defences and disciplines, responding with endless red tape, delays, and petty restrictions.

Both Mellersh and Scherger had gained vast experience over the years in handling men and machines. Scherger was a superb pilot with experience of 60 different aircraft. His flying exploits were legendary. He suffered humiliation after the devastating Japanese attack on Darwin in February, 1942. There had been total unpreparedness, but it had not been his fault. Someone had to take the rap, and he was sent into the wilderness for several months. It didn't help his temper or his feelings towards his superiors.

The first RAF command to be given an RAAF commander since the end of the Second World War was dropped in Scherger's lap late in 1952, and he arrived in Singapore to take up the post of AOC RAF Malaya Command on January 1, 1953. The war against tjhe communists was at its height, with murders, intimidation and violence, and General Sir Gerald Templer had been sent in to take overall command of the somewhat demoralised defence forces. Templer's main task was to win the hearts and minds ot the civilian population and stem the flood of communist subversion finding its way down the Malay Peninsula into Singapore. This he finlly achieved.

He and Scherger spoke much the same language and got on extremely well together. What their thoughts were when they had meetings with the stiff, poe-faced Sir John Nicholl, Governor of Singapore, are not hard to deduce. They must have disliked him intensely. It was Templer who came to my aid with blistering speed and alacrity when Nicholl attempted to cut my MATC budget by half.

Templer's intervention infuriated Nicholl and he placed me on his black list. And it was Scherger who dropped me in it from a great height at a social occasion in Singapore when the Governor's spotless suit was speckled witrh fallout from a "bomb" specially made to Scherger's instructions by me!

Henceforth Nicholl called me "The gentleman from the yellow press!" That was mild in comparison with what some people called him! He had his revenge when I was twice recommended for a gong and he refused to sanction it.

Scherger and Mellersh were toughies capable of reducing an opponent or miscreant to rubble with a few well directed words, but both had a great sense of fun - and purpose - and are remembered with affection by those who served under them. I was fortunate to have had them on my side.

John Behague

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