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David Humphrey in the firing line of Indonesian  ‘Konfrontasi’

Written by Alan Wood
on April 19, 2023

In 1965 David Humphrey flew into Singapore at a time of real conflict to be part of a Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) response to attacks on the island from Indonesia.  

Indonesia’s left-leaning President Sukarno launched “Konfrontasi” in 1963. This undeclared war included military incursions into areas including Singapore and East Malaysia.

Sukarno, like many Indonesians, believed the creation of a Malaysian federation was unwarranted. New countries like Singapore were emerging as a period of British colonialism in the Far East came to an end.

David, who had already served in the Naval Volunteer Reserve as part of his compulsory military training, was commissioned and flew into the conflict zone for a period of nine months, during 1965-66. 

“I saw an opportunity to go to sea in the Far East because they were short of officers. I was a radio operator and I was commissioned, and I was a sub lieutenant.” 

David points out the confrontation was real. Singapore experienced a series of bombing incidents in which people were killed as a result of devices planted by Indonesian saboteurs 

In August 1965, the Malaysian Parliament voted to expel Singapore from Malaysia, leaving Singapore as a newly independent country.

“We were there (because of) the Indonesians. They were causing disruption throughout Singapore and SouthEast Asia,” David says.

“We joined forces with K D Malaya (naval base)... we weren’t there on holiday.”

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Part of his navigation officer role was on board a mine sweeper HMNZS Hickleton, a ton-class coastal minesweeper, that started operations in the Far East in April 1965. This and other minesweepers, including some from the Royal Navy, patrolled at night on set patterns. These operations were the RNZN's last large-scale operation with the Royal Navy.

David says the ships would tend to leave port at 4pm and be back into Singapore by 8am, as part of an effort to stop Indonesians get into British territory. At night the ships were kept darkened while they kept an eye out for enemy incursions.

The Indonesians tended to be on motorised-sampans, and gunfire was often exchanged. Minesweeper crew members were injured by shrapnel, but David says he can’t remember any deaths on Hickleton. 

The Hickleton, together with her sister ship HMS Santon, carried out hundreds patrols, with dozens of incidents involving intruding Indonesians, and with some taken as prisoners.

“We challenged them, and opened fire on them if they didn’t respond.”

Even then Singapore was a big city, he says, and offered rest and recreation for the periods of time outside Sembawang naval base located 14 miles to the north of downtown. “We used to hop in the car and drive down to Singapore... many nights.” 

David, who had been given a leave of absence from his work place, flew home and was soon back with Victoria Insurance Co. in Dunedin as an insurance assessor.

His naval reserve work continued for many years.

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

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