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Flempton man reunites with old friend for Asian adventure

Len Raven and Al Payne in Butterworth, Malaysia, in 1957
Len Raven and Al Payne in Butterworth, Malaysia, in 1957

A photo more than 60 years old has helped two friends to rediscover their past by crossing the globe to where they first met.

Len Raven, 82, met Al Payne, 81, at RAF Kuala Lumpur as RAF technicians during the Malayan Emergency.

Len Raven and Al Payne back home after travelling in Asia
Len Raven and Al Payne back home after travelling in Asia

Mr Raven, who is from Flempton, was 21 when they volunteered to crew the 155 Squadron of Whirlwind Mk4 helicopters troop-lifting into the jungle during their 1956-1959 tour of the conflict.

Mr Raven said: “There were no specialist helicopter crew in those days, so selected technicians were asked to train and fly with the pilots on operations as engineers, load masters, navigators etc.”

Though not official aircrew they were given two shillings and three pence flying pay per day (around 12p in today’s money) and awarded 12 days ‘extra leave per year.

They became friends and talked occasionally, but it was a call in November 2016 when they told each other their wives had died that got the idea up and running to return to Malaysia.

Mr Raven said: “We started to talk about the good old days and the best days of our service careers.

“Al said he was thinking about going out there again and I thought I would like to go to keep an eye on him.”

Mr Payne had discovered the original photo of the two men resting and recuperating on their tour and showed it to his friend, hoping to recreate it on their trip.

Mr Raven said: “I had no idea the photo even existed but it was good to see.

“People were aghast to think that us two 80-year-old men were doing this but we had a lot of supportive people, including my daughter, saying ‘good on you’.”

The pair’s trip took them 28 days, crossing 14,000 miles, six international airports, five hotels, seven transit flights and four countries.

The journey went to places like Kanchanaburi, the scene of the Bridge over the River Kwai, Fort Cornwallis and Kek Lok Si temple, which was previously the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas, in Penang .

The Malayan Emergency, which Mr Raven classes as a forgotten war, had some heavy losses on both sides.

Seeing many sites such as the ‘humbling’ Krangi War Memorial in Singapore did have an affect on both men.

He said: “We each had our low moments but when these occurred we either kept them to ourselves or picked things up with a bit of banter and the trip has greatly reinforced our friendship.”

The men did not get to go to Butterworth in Malaysia, where the photograph was taken but did take one at home after the trip.

Mr Raven believes he has now got more energy after their nostalgic journey and the pair met up once again at the Duxford Airshow which was held last weekend, though no return trips were organised.

Mr Raven said: “It is just the fact we had the strength between the two of us to do this trip again that made it.

“If Al asked me next week to go again I would do it all in an instant, that’s if he could put up with me.”