Thomson had been peering around the side of the bamboo clump for ten minutes. He had to be careful, he had to ensure that no enemy was there. Nothing had changed from the previous day, it was clear.
He turned to look at Lillico, received a nod and the proceeded to lift the bamboo and step out into the open.
His world exploded in front of him. Fuck. What was going on? Thomson has soil spitting up into his face as the silence transformed.
The SAS trooper saw an Indonesian soldier laying down by a tree 10 metres away to his front. He had a light automatic weapon and was firing right at him.
The enemy lifted his weapon and fired. The hit threw Thomson behind a rock. Blood was pouring from a wound to his left thigh and hitting him in his face. He tried to get up but saw another Indo sit up as well, only this one was close enough to him to smell his breath.
He saw a tiger head shoulder flash in enough detail to realise he was close enough to stab him should he have had his bayonet. Thomson looked for his Armalite and dropped the enemy with a burst of the weapon that was still set to automatic.
He knew he had to move or there was a good chance he would be shot again. There was a major problem though. He was bleeding. And not just a bit of blood. Lots. He was medically trained so he knew that when he saw the femoral artery spraying blood feet away from him, instead of seeing a leg there, he was in big trouble.
Thomson crawled backwards to some cover behind a clump of jungle foliage. He applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding before taking a shot of morphine. This would help to slow his heart rate and therefore the bleeding.
Checking the Situation
It was time to evaluate the scene. Double fuck. The enemy hit Eddie “Geordie” Lillico as well. Lillico was covered in blood but it had drained from his face and hands. This wasn’t good.
When Thomson moved to the left of the bamboo, Lillico went right. He felt like a received a kick up the arse or knocked into something but he went down. He was getting the rounds down to help Thomson during the original contact.
Lillico was now completely immobile. Thank god he was still alive. Thomson took out his assailant so he had a chance to catch his breath. Lillico opened his eyes as Thomson made his way over to him. They were both alive and it was time to make a plan.
The rounds were still coming in, branches and foliage falling around them as they fought to keep the enemy back. They were prone which was handy because neither could really walk anywhere so Thomson checked the tree where he saw the guy shooting at them. He saw another enemy soldier come out from the bushes.
Lillico double tapped and the guy dropped. He then asked Thomson if he could make it back to the RV – about 1400 metres to their rear – to get the rest of the patrol that was waiting. Thomson said he could.
Splitting the Patrol
The rest of the patrol was waiting behind at the RV to keep noise to a minimum. The slightest sound in the jungle can alert the enemy to your presence. Four of them, Thomson, Lillico and two others went forward to check the camp for enemy activity.
Their main task was to head three miles over the border to keep watch on the River Sekayan. This was February 1965 so the Borneo campaign was well underway. The patrol came across the camp and clearing the previous day. Despite seeing it was empty, proper checks were required. They were back today and were heading into the clearing when Ian Thomson’s world went to shit.
Thomson started to make his way back as Lillico kept watch. He saw movement in front of him, not one, not two but three enemies came out. Lillico opened up again. He took down the first two, supported by heavy fire from Thomson from a little way back. The third managed to get into the undergrowth where he was well hidden.
Getting Into Cover Himself
Lillico managed to drag himself under some bamboo where he would be better hidden, well, pretty much invisible. He checked himself over. Why didn’t his legs work? He saw an entry hole in front of the left hip, it had damaged the sciatica nerve hence no feeling in his left leg. It had then travelled and ripped his arse cheek open when exiting, meaning no working muscle there and no movement from his right leg either. Hoofing.
Lillico waited as Thomson made his way back. He waited for hours and nobody came, luckily not the enemy either. There was six enemy by his count, lying dead or badly wounded in the area. Their colleagues must surely try to come to get them at some point. Lillico kept their heads down when he did spot movement with the odd double tap.
There was a slight problem with the plan of Thomson heading back to the RV. He hadn’t actually started making his way back very far. He travelled a short distance when he turned to help Lillico contacting the three enemy soldiers who appeared. After that, he waited. He waited thinking Lillico was going to make his way to meet him.
He called out. Hearing nothing he called out again, louder. No reply once again. He continued to wait, unsure of how long he was there for, thinking that Lillico must be on his way, but not wanting to shout out any louder in case it alerted the enemy.
Get Moving On Your Own
Thomson started crawling. He pulled himself by grabbing whatever he could on the floor and heaved himself along. He applied a tourniquet when he was first hit. Now he needed to stop regularly to loosen it. This would prevent gangrene but he’d need to redo it before moving on again.
Thomson was exhausted. He found a pig hole, took some morphine and waited for night-time before taking another shot.Lillico had also started to crawl. He, like Thomson, also found a pig hole and there he rested for the night, completely drained of energy.
The two SAS soldiers had to keep trying to make their way back to the RV. When the first contact occurred the two rear soldiers in the patrol had followed SOP’s and that was the shoot and scoot technique. This is where the patrol would get some heavy fire down and then retreat. The men were told to leave teammates behind if they were hit but they surely thought Thomson and Lillico were dead now.
Contact With Base
The four patrol members back at the RV had contacted base and reported the contact which they had heard. Major Roger Woodiwiss, at the base in Kuching, had requested some infantry back up to search for the two injured men and also for the Royal Air Force to start searching from the sky. This would be very hard to do successfully with such dense jungle below but they had to try.
The infantry regiment on hand was the 1st Battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles, who may be hard to distinguish from the enemy unless they were close, which could be dangerous. The Gurkha’s had thought about this so they had turned their hats inside out to reveal a red band to make them more identifiable. They knew the two injured soldiers would be wary of any troops that were in the area so they also took six SAS troops with them to walk in front.
The enemy almost saw Lillico at one point. They were having a coffee break. One man climbed a tree and scouted the area, seeming to stare at Lillico, who duly filled his pants I can only imagine.
Avoiding Rescue to Help Others
Lillico had a search and rescue beacon (Sarbe) on him but showed great courage by not turning it on when the helicopter came overhead and with the enemy close. This would have no doubt turned in to many colleagues being possibly killed or injured when they came down to rescue him. That’s a fucking brave shout if ever I’ve seen one, to sit, bleeding, alone in the jungle and not call for help in case it put your mates at risk.
Thomson meanwhile was still crawling, still hitting the shots of morphine. And still in a lot of pain. The trooper reached the RV and was saddened to see his and Lillico’s bergan’s side by side where they left them. The rest of the patrol was nowhere.
It was almost the second evening and he continued to crawl some more before resting under some bushes near a stream. He pretty much gave up with continuing to hide and fired three shots in the air. That should alert the Indos. Then he saw a soldier getting closer, this could be the enemy coming for him at last. He lifted his weapon and aimed.
They’re Getting Closer
He paused, just for a fraction of a second. He saw a red band along the hat of the soldier and this caused him to think long enough to realise they were friendly forces.
Lillico was still alone. Still crawling, still hoping to see friendly faces in the jungle. He was trying to get to a ridge that he could see. It was risky. The enemy could spot him. The wounded soldier knew it was unlikely he could survive another night in the jungle with no medical treatment.
Then he heard it. The deep roaring of a helicopter that was clear even through the thunder of a storm that had closed in.
Flying Officer David Collinson was flying around for two days searching for the missing soldiers. The Gurkhas had called to request an evacuation for Thomson and he was straight there, but he couldn’t get to them. Collinson can’t get low enough to use the winch-cable because the jungle was too dense.
Getting Picked Up
Collinson flew out again. He made a nineteenth pass and at this time Lillico’s Sarbe was close enough to be heard. He was determined to get down this time. The daring pilot managed to get low enough for Lillico to hook himself up and signal to hoist him to safety.
Lillico drops his rifle as he is lifted, much to his annoyance. Nothing could be worse in his mind, what if the enemy got a hold of it? He feels he has let down the Regiment. The aircrew didn’t seem bothered. They winched him in and informed him that the Gurkhas had Thomson and that he was OK.
The Gurkhas carried Thomson on a stretcher to a clearing where they could get access to be picked up. Although it wasn’t the ideal result they were alive and were playing a risky game so it was understandable that not everything would go their way.
Maybe they shouldn’t have revisited the camp but they did, and they killed some enemy and all came out of it alive. It’s what the best special forces units do.
Lillico was awarded the Military Medal and Thomson a Mention in Dispatches. Lillico continued his career in the SAS. Thomson remained in the Army for a while but then left to find his way in another world. He had one leg a bit shorter than the other from his injuries.
Eddie Lillico passed away in 2016, aged 83 and received full military honours. I couldn’t find recent news regarding Ian Thomson.
Heroes till the end, it takes a special man to do what these two guys did. We were lucky to have them on our side.