Tuesday 6 June 2023

More memories

It's a very long time since I added to this blog but I know that many people enjoy reading it so I'm going to try and update it more regularly. Unfortunately, I think that I've probably exhausted my memories of our time spent in Singapore and Malaya and, as I was only 6 when we returned to England, I'm surprised that I remember so much.

Veronica Clibbery (nee Inglis) kindly wrote to me recently and sent me her memories of her time in Singapore and Malaya. I enjoyed reading them very much and they brought back wonderful memories for me so I thought that I would feature them here.

So, here's Veronica's memories and I'm sure that you'll enjoy reading them as much as I did:

In June 1961 my father, who was a sergeant in the Royal Air Force, was posted from RAF Leuchars, near St. Andrews and Dundee, to RAF Tengah in Singapore.

At that time, we, Mum, Dad and myself lived in Wormit in a service hiring, and I had started primary school there, the previous year, as I been born in February 1955. Wormit being a small village just across the River Tay from Dundee and about seven miles from RAF Leuchars, to which my father cycled back and forwards every day. Because of the distance, I never saw the airfield at that time, but this changed later in my life, rather drastically.

My memories of Wormit were that, at that time the train used to go from Dundee across the Tay Bridge, through Wormit to Newport, and terminate at Tayport and return. The best part being it was a steam service of non-corridor coaches. We used to go across to Dundee most Saturdays, to visit my Grannie (my father’s mum). So it was over on the train, then get the bus out to St. Marys in Dundee where my Gran and Grandad stayed, and same back again, catching the last train to Wormit.

That was the height of my adventures up to then, but that all changed as I said when the summer of 1961 came along. A few boxes were packed and painted and taken away, until we reached our new home, and the rest of the stuff went into storage whilst we were abroad. Meanwhile we all went through getting injections, for the trip. I felt a bit peeved as I had twice as many as my mum, simply because I only got half doses every time.

We probably caught the sleeper from Dundee down to London (Kings Cross) and went from there to Heathrow (not sure but probably). I know we got a BOAC Bristol Britannia to Singapore making various refuelling stops on the way. I believe it was via Istanbul, Tehran, Karachi and Calcutta to Paya Lebar Airport on Singapore Island. I remember particularly the BOAC aircraft as I joined the BOAC “Junior Jet Club” on trip and was delighted to get all sorts of things, including a flight logbook, which was signed by the pilot of the aircraft we were on. I also got a flight badge, which I had for many years. Whilst flying out to Singapore my parents met and kept up a friendship for many years with a WO Eric Tate and his wife Molly, and daughter Heather, more of them later. He was SWO at RAF Jurong and later was moved to RAF Changi, now the site of the international airport.

From here we were transferred to The White House Hotel, in a part of the centre of Singapore. The White House was a shock awakening as it was on a hectic crossroads, which at that time they were building into a roundabout over the canal, so the pile-drivers were going continuously and the smell from the canal was mmmmmm!!!!!!! More memorable than the hotel was going regularly to the Britannia Club pool, on an almost daily basis.

I do not think we were there for long as we then moved to a 2-level house at 266a Holland Park, we had the upper level, and another family were downstairs. My father was picked up and brought back by truck from the camp, and we met our Amah – Lily, who was with us for the rest of the tour until January 1964, when we flew back. As school had broken up in the UK shortly after we had left, and the Singapore school holidays had just started, it wasn’t until we went to Holland Park that I went to school. I used to be picked up and taken back by bus, and I remember the cockroaches on it. The boys laughing as they crunched them like walnuts, and the girls just seemed terrified.

From here my mother would often go into town by bus, and if it was in the afternoon, I would go with her, on a silver coloured STC (Singapore Traction Company) bus from Holland Park Village, which was a little triangular area, with some shops and the bus stance.

In those days crops were still grown on spare land, and next to the cul-de-sac which was Holland Park, was a sugar cane field, and it was fascinating as at some time it was being harvested, I was introduced to eating it. It was course, but sweet, and something different to try.

The other advantage of being at Holland Park, was that we were not too far from the Botanical Gardens, and the monkeys that inhabited it. I remember there was peanut sellers at the entrance to the gardens, who used to sell cones of peanuts to feed the monkeys with. As a child I thought it was fun to eat the peanuts, but the monkeys were not impressed with that idea, and would steal the complete cone of nuts from you, if you weren’t careful.

After a few months a married quarter became available at RAF Tengah, and we moved to 50 Meteor Road, semi-detached bungalow style house of oldish style. I say oldish because whereas the houses further along Meteor Road were (I think) on 2 floors, they also had glass in the windows. We had wooden shutters and a wire grille of probably 6” squares to stop intruders. This meant bugs and flying things got in very easily, through the slats and wire. A Mozzie coil was an essential element of a good night’s sleep, as we never bothered with mosquito nets over the beds, which were supplied for all the MQ beds. These came in packets of 10 with a flat metal stand you made up. One great thing about Singapore was that houses had showers as a standard fitting, so different to the UK at that time, it was great to feel fresh and cool after a good shower. The house was alongside the camp golf course, which went along a large dip between the MQ patch and the rest of the camp, so occasionally we would get golf balls in the garden! Probably a good job we did not have glass windows, although there was glass panelled doors onto a covered patio.

At the bottom of the dip was a large monsoon drain with a small duct for normal water, and a paved bit either side, which was great fun to walk along, and see what creatures dwelt further along the drain. Great fun for me, as really there wasn’t many other kids around to play with, so it was lonesome adventures, and playing in the large garden, going on a swing which dad cleaned up for me having got it from somewhere. The other thing I recall about our garden, is that a previous occupant had planted a pineapple, and as luck would have it, it matured so we had a pineapple from our own garden!

We had monsoon drains around the house which were probably about 6” across, and in the monsoon, it was wonderful to brush the water and get cool and wet at the same time. The thing to remember about the tropics is that it gets very quickly dark, about 18:00, every night without exception, as opposed to the UK where we have clock changing and forever shrinking and lengthening days. It was a usual rule to wear longer trousers in the evening, simply to avoid getting eaten alive from all the flying creatures.

My schooling was transferred from the Army school I had been bussed to, to the primary school on camp, where I stayed for the rest of our tour. The school wasn’t too far away from the house, so I walked back and forth, and I do remember it finished about 13:00, so the afternoon was free to play. I cannot remember when we started in the morning, but it was probably earlier than the UK. School uniform as described in the books was khaki shorts and white short sleeved shirts for the boys. At the school, they believed everybody should swim, so my class used to go (I think) once a week to the camp pool. Thanks to that I have no fear of swimming and loved to go as often as possible. The camp pool was next to The Malcolm Club which all the camp personnel visited regularly, to such an extent it was quite busy at times.

My father did not learn to drive until he came out of the RAF, and thus our travels were a little limited, but knowing WO Tate helped, as he had a Renault Dauphine car and thus very kindly took us to things like Tiger Balm Gardens and Mount Faber, and I suppose Heather, who was a year or two older than me, was my first “girlfriend”. I loved Haw Paw Villa (Tiger Balm Gardens) for the evils of Chinese torture with a sort of childish glee at the more sordid and wonderful.

We, as a family, would often go down to the centre of Singapore with those lovely Mercedes taxis, that used to wait at the gates of the MQ patch, and by the guardroom of the main camp. See picture on page 146 of “Memories of Singapore and Malaya”. The taxi stance was at the right foreground of the picture. Also looking at that picture, the new building right in front of you was being built whilst we were there. I remember seeing the locals with baskets carrying building materials up scaffolding to build it.

Whilst at RAF Tengah I joined the cubs and enjoyed a few events with them including camping on the other side of the airfield and going on church parade to a brand new Roman Catholic church on camp, shaped like a letter A in cross section, it was massive compared to our PMUB church, just round from the Malcolm Club, where we often went after church for a cool 7Up or a Sinalco, while my father probably had a Tiger!

My parents were regulars with the church, with my mother being in the ladies Badminton team, who used to play at matches on service bases all over the island. There were also church visits to other places on the island for a wee sing then natter and under the floodlights we would have something to eat and drink. I particularly remember an occasion when we were some at some church and the large sodium light was by a bush, giving off an orange glow, it seemed to me to be like the Bible story of the burning bush! On another occasion we went to one of the evening markets, which were exciting places with all the smells and the smell of kerosene lamps.

On an occasional time, I got to stay with the Tate’s at their MQ at Changi. I remember from where his house was, which was below the control tower on a promontory, so we had a wonderful of the airfield. I remember seeing Avro Shackleton patrol aircraft and Handley Page Hastings freighters parked up. RAF Changi was unusual in that the road to the village went across the aircraft taxiway, controlled by traffic lights and gates (I think).

At Tengah my father worked on 20 Squadron Hawker Hunter aircraft, and we also had Gloster Javelin’s which were terribly noisy. Every now and again we would see a Bristol Beverley transporter which was used for detachments up to Malaya. My father used to go up a month and then back for a month, then up again. The times he was down in Singapore seemed very short, compared to the times he was away, and both my mother and I missed him lots.

He used to go to Cheng-Mai airfield, near Bangkok in Thailand and to Butterworth in Malay. At that time there were rebels in Northern Malaya which were causing some problems. They reminded him of a previous tour to Singapore when in the 1950’s he was up Malaya with an Army Co-operation squadron looking after Avro Auster spotter planes. With a large contingent of Army both at times Scots regiments and an Australian lot, who he said were known for betting on anything, like two flies going up a wall!!

We used to go down to Tengah village which was maybe a mile away from the main gate, but as we were on the MQ patch, which was another mile or so away, so we travelled by taxi. I remember a shop that did all sorts of things, had a glass display cabinet in the front of the shop with Dinky Supertoys in it, Oooh! Did I long to get one, or more, but no such luck. We would then go to The Tengah Bar and my parents would have a Chinese meal and I, for some strange reason, had a fascination for cucumber sandwiches! Tengah Village was also the place that my parents, like many other service families would do, bought the usual camphor wood chest. They then went on to buy a desk, coffee table, standard lamp and paper rack, all in the very lovely dark teak finish. I also remember the violent Chinese firecrackers which were deafening, hung from the eaves and anything else available, like the basketball stand on the village sports ground. Especially when Lee Kuan Yew, came on a meeting in the village to boost his chances at the forthcoming elections. He was successful and was Prime Minister for a long time. I believe I saw him there.

For the first time, I started to get “pocket money”, and in Singapore I got the luxury of $1 a week!! In comparison to the UK, that was about 2/4d (12p) then. It was a fortune, and I really enjoyed going to CK Tang’s where I could buy a Matchbox toy a week. That changed when we got back to the UK, when it was slashed to 1/- (5p)! Oh! The trials of funding cuts.

If we went into Singapore itself, we often would be in Orchard Road, and CK Tang’s was a must, and then the Cold Store for a cool milk in air-conditioned luxury. I also remember the visits to Change Alley and other places near to the waterfront. On one occasion when we were downtown my father felt particularly hungry, and we went in The Union Jack Club for a meal, and he ordered “double” scrambled egg on toast. I do remember the waiter being surprised, but not half as surprised as my father, when sure enough it turned up. You could hardly see him for toast and a mountain of scrambled egg. I hasten to add, he NEVER asked for double again!

On one occasion, as a member of the Junior Jet Club, the airline organised a tour from Raffles Quay to Pulau Ubin island for a beach party and barbecue for us kids. But the BOAC staff miscalculated badly, they had expected I suppose a hundred kids to turn up, but by the starting time, literally hundreds of kids were there. The plan had been to get a boat to the island from Raffles Quay, round the island to Pulau Ubin, and enjoy from there, and return by boat to the Quay. What happened was we were bussed in a fleet of buses to Pasir Ris (I think) then shipped across in batches! All in all a wonderful day was had by all, then we returned to Raffles Quay, the same way, and were met by our relevant parents. Much to the delighted pleasure of our parents, who had a day of peace in central Singapore.

One of the things I sadly remember is my accidents while in Singapore. I do remember that whilst we were living in Holland Park, one morning I awoke with badly puffed-up eyes. On seeing this my mother got me taken to a clinic which I believe was in Tanglin Road. After an application of drops, and no reasonable explanation, I returned home. Three years later I found I had a sight problem and have had to wear glasses ever since.

One Sunday after church on Tengah, my mother and I went to the pool where we were due to meet my father having just come off shift. While waiting, I went in for a swim, and thought it was good fun to try something different, so I seemed to love jumping backwards into the pool. This was going well until my father arrived, when of course I had to show him how brilliant I was. On the first jump I miscalculated and hit my chin on the edge of the pool! Poor dad just off work, now we had to go the medical centre on camp to get stitches put in, which are still there! What a way to relax!!

But my piece de resistance, was whilst playing in the garden I climbed a tree at the MQ, pulled a branch expecting it to break, and of course with no winter seasons, the trees were always green, and I lost my grip of the branch, fell down the tree, and fell down a bank, into the garden by the kitchen door. After an awful lot of howling on my part, an ambulance was called, and I was taken to the BMH (British Military Hospital) in town (not sure where it was). The net result was a night in hospital, and left arm put in plaster for a broken left wrist and dislocated left elbow. The following day my parents came to collect their damaged little soldier, who hadn’t liked the smells or sounds of a hospital! While waiting to leave, a helicopter landed adjacent to the hospital and a casualty was rushed in. I later found out that it had been a seaman on board a ship which had caught fire, and the poor soul was rather badly burned. I often wonder if he recovered and lived on.

Whilst we didn’t have television on the camp, I do remember my parents got a small stereo system which played records and had a radio. Well, most times when we went into town, records were bought, and we often played them. Especially my father’s favourites like Chubby Checker, Connie Francis, an Indonesian lady Anneke Gronloh, and various Scots records with Andy Stewart being head of the list. My mother’s favourites were more classical, so we had an interesting record collection, by the time we left Singapore, both of LP’s and singles. I seem to recollect it came to about 150 altogether.

My father was Scots, coming from Dundee, and he had met my mother in Germany, when he was stationed at RAF Jever, near Wilhelmshaven. They got married whilst at Jever and about eighteen months years later yours truly came on the scene, born at BMH Rostrup which I believe is near RAF Jever.

My father got his promotion in Singapore to Chief Technician, and one thing I do remember is the number of nights Lily, our Amah, stayed on to “babysit” me. My father looked quite smart in his white “monkey jacket” with miniature medals, and gold stripes, and my mother done up in her white dress and red handbag and high heels, they were off to a mess ball, again!! As Lily had her own bed she would go to sleep after I had been put down for the night, but she was usually gone by morning. My mother was rather surprised at the number of funerals that Lily went to, and asked her why, as we were worried about the number of relatives she was losing! Not so, Lily said she was a professional mourner, and would be paid to go to funerals, to make up the numbers, and make it look more important than it actually was!

Lily was lovely, she really was a godsend for us with doing the washing and ironing and other things to help. I do remember that Lily had a fondness for starch when washing, which made my school clothes and cubs outfit look very smart. Whilst my father’s khaki shorts and shirts looked very chic, but Lily had to be asked not to starch all our underwear!!!!!!!

On another occasion Lily was asked to do a chicken for a meal, and she brought a live one in, in a carrier bag. The chicken was quite quiet in the dark and did not bother much about the noises going on. Until, by then we had got a cat, which had a great time chasing chit chats up the wall, and as somebody else recollected, lost their tails, only to grow them back again. Well, the cat knew there was something in the paper bag that Lily had hung up over the back of a chair, but what? All hell broke out when the cat pawed the paper bag, while Lily was doing some ironing. The chicken went absolutely spare, and it took some time to calm down, Lily, cat and chicken, and it was shortly after that that Lily ended a very terrified chicken’s life!

I loved the cat, but sadly it did not come back to the UK with us, as Lily said she would look after it, when we left Singapore. Meanwhile it gave us plenty of entertainment. It used to catch chameleon’s and then proceed to eat them, but it never learned that because of the chameleon’s ability to change colour there was something in it that made the cat very sick for days at a time. Silly Kitty. The cats favourite food was a little fish, (I think called Aiken Billy???(sp)) which the grocer in Tengah village brought us fresh every weekday and was kept in the ‘fridge. A large one, taller than I was (Frigidaire – I think), with a big, chromed handle to pull to open. The cat could hear the ‘fridge opening from all over place, and would suddenly appear in the kitchen, from wherever it had been!

One morning, I had said our house was of Bungalow styling with a nice tree alongside it, which the cat had climbed, and got on to the roof, and meowed quite loudly and continuously. My father was getting ready to go to work on his bike to the other side of the airfield, but the cat kept meowing. Try as he might my father could not coax the cat down from the roof, and had to eventually go, as he was already late for work, the fear being poor pussy was stuck and couldn’t get down. Five minutes later after he had gone, my mother opened the ‘fridge, and guess who was sitting their meowing for some fish!!!! I thought it was hilarious but both my mother and father, when told did not agree at all.

My mother used to go to a friend’s MQ down the road for a cuppa, and although that lady had a dog, our cat used to follow my mum, walking down the monsoon drain at the side of the road, with just its tail sticking up showing here where it was.

Cats are known for bringing their owners “souvenirs” of there night’s escapades, and my parents used to get a variety of dead or dying iguanas, birds, and other creatures. But the cat excelled itself one night because it managed to bring in a bird’s nest complete with baby birds. This would not have been so remarkable that the grid for the window frames was 6” squares, and the birds nest was at least 8” across. Amazing! And no mess on the floor by the window!

There was a Halloween party in the mess and some people dressed up, a friend of my mother was no exception, and she came round to the house to let my mum see her costume. She looked really stunning in a black skin-tight suit with ears, whiskers and a tail, yes, she went to the party as a cat. When our cat saw her, it went literally ballistic, its fur was so high on its back, it arched and hissed beyond belief, then disappeared into the kitchen, absolutely petrified. It eventually calmed down, but from that day on, it NEVER trusted black cats or kittens. The biggest dog barking at it, had no effect on it, but the tiniest little black kitten appeared, and our cat was gone!

I do remember one evening Lily, invited us to her family Kampong, which I gather was rather unusual. My parents accepted, and we had a great time seeing their house in a bit of a clearing, off the main road into town. Around the back of the house was a pen with chickens in, (I wonder if the one we had that scared the cat came from here?) there was also a little hut on stilts which niffed a little!! But the main house was only three or four rooms with the kitchen in one, and some of the family asleep in another. I do not remember the meal, but the family were lovely people, with Lily was her parents and a sister who was also employed as an Amah at Tengah, and a couple of young children too. A great experience, never to be repeated. Especially not nowadays, as I do not think there are many Kampongs left in Singapore.

We did not really do a lot of family celebrating and did not seem to have many friends, so our house was usually quite quiet. So there was a lot to be said from Mess “Do’s” for my parents and the cubs for me. Even Christmas was a limited affair, we had a very small Christmas tree that sat on an octagonal service coffee table, which I am sure many will remember from MQ’s all over the world! The main thing was a kids Christmas party, which our father’s had contributed through the Mess for, and we had a super time. It was usually a film show of cartoons in the “Astra” cinema, then games and food and drink across at a large block (not sure where) on camp, and Santa would eventually turn up on his sleigh and pass out presents to all of us kids. Usually something selected by our father’s.

I remember one Christmas though, I was lucky enough to get a Hornby-Dublo 2-rail electric train set with a battery controller, and three huge cardboard wrapped batteries. The train set comprised of an 0-6-0 black tank engine and either 2 or 3 (not sure) maroon metal coaches. After this I used to get a wagon or a coach for birthdays and successive Christmases.

One celebration, I do remember was my 8th birthday in February 1963, when my mother went and really pushed the boat out, I got a large cake in shape of a figure 8, which looked great. A few friends came round, and we had a great party with all sorts of food and drink.

I recall that we did once go to Johor Bahru, and particularly the zoo. I know one of your memoirs is that the zoo seemed a little rough, all I remember was that the tiger was not well and looked very sad, when you say it only had three legs, that would explain a lot. But I do not remember that.

The strange thing about those days was the smells, which bring you back to your times in the far east. To me the main thing was Cuticura talcum powder, rarely obtainable in this country now, but I did track down a source through Amazon. The other things were 7up and the smell of the fogger who used to come round all the quarters every so often. His job was to use a machine like a leaf blower, with a disinfectant mist, it had the effect of throwing you out of the house for about five minutes, then when you went back in, hopefully all the beasties, and flying creatures would be dead. I think it was for anti-malarial purposes.

When we were due to come back to the UK, my father purloined a pile of wooden crates to pack up our things for shipment back to the UK. It was quite a task, he had to paint them all black with a diagonal blue stripe on the end, then he hand-painted his details on the top in white paint. When we came out from Wormit we left with (I think) 3 boxes, when we went to the UK, we went with 11 boxes!! The camphor wood chest was in a box on its own, as it weighed an enormous amount, even when empty.

We returned to the UK in January 1964, round about the 20th, when we flew from Paya Lebar in a British United airways Bristol Britannia. Basically it made the same stops that the outgoing ‘plane had done, but landing this time at London (Stansted), instead of Heathrow. We were then bussed into the centre of London, dropping us off at Kings Cross station for the trip north, back to Dundee. I remember a couple of strange things from that trip, in that as came in through the countryside of Essex, I thought all the trees had died, as they didn’t seem to have any leaves, but my mother assured me that in the UK trees lose their leaves in Winter, but re grow them in the Springtime. Two years of tropical existence had blanked that idea from my mind. The other item of note was that after my father booked us on the sleeper service that night, he wanted to tell my gran that we were coming. The grandparents did not have a phone in their house, so my father sent a telegram to advise them of our arrival back in Scotland in the early morning.

Saturday 1 August 2020

Arrival and KD Malaya

Below are a few more of my father's memories of our time in Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s (taken from my book More Memories of Singapore and Malaya).

'Royal Navy wages, and those of the armed forces in general, were not very good pre 1965. We went to Singapore with the meagre proceeds of an old banger that we had to sell before we left. From the time we were lucky to have enough money left on a Monday to put 4 gallons of petrol in the car, which cost £1, we went to a point where we could save a bit and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.
A married accompanied draft to a far eastern country was a dream come true. Apart from the thrill of living for 3 years in a fascinating country, it meant that I could be with my family continuously for that period. It also gave me a financial boost as I received 'overseas allowance' and several other local benefits.
None of us enjoyed the many inoculations, vaccinations etc but I suppose they were necessary. Once we were in Malaysia, we still had to have booster injections and we had to take salt tablets and anti-malaria tablets (Paludrine) regularly.

We arrived at Singapore airport as dawn was breaking with a pinkish-orange glow. Even at that time of day, the heat and humidity hit us. After formalities, we were transferred to the Straits View guest house in Johore Bahru where we stayed for several days. The local people, the food, the temperature and humidity, the different lifestyle were all a bit overpowering. My wife had a few tears and wished that she was back home. Looking back, I think that you needed at least a month to acclimatise and settle in.
When I arrived in Singapore, I was met by an Australian who was also seconded to the Malaysian Navy. Bob Beaman drove me to the shore establishment, KD Malaya. He introduced me to the other members of our group - we were all Ordnance Artificers - and various other people. The Malaysian Navy at that time had a fleet of Fast Patrol Craft and they were soon to take delivery of an ex RN frigate. Our branch was a real multi-racial crew. There was Bob the Aussie, Poon the Singapore Chinese, Sharma the Indian, a Malaysian and three English - myself, Jim, Bill and a bit later on, Ron. Bob was a tall, good looking, down to earth, Aussie. When I say good looking, I mean good looking for an Aussie! He wasn't there for very long after I arrived. I remember him mainly for the amount that he ate. Breakfast to him was a huge steak with all the trimmings. This was at the time of the troubles up-country with Indonesian incursions with Malaysia. Bob volunteered to go to the 'war zone' for six months. By serving there, he qualified for an interest free mortgage when he returned home.
Sharma was seconded from the Indian Navy. He was different to the rest of us, I suppose, because of race, religion and personality. Whatever the reason, he was hard to get along with. After the ex RN Frigate arrived, one of us had to go to sea on her for a while. Nobody fancied this with the heat and conditions on board. After an elimination process, it was decided that only three of us were eligible because of various commitments - myself, Poon and Sharma. I put each of our names in a hat with the full agreement of the other two. We then got an impartial bystander to pull out a name.
Sure enough, Sharma’s name came out. As a joke, I said, ‘It was bound to be you, Sharma, as I put your name on all of the bits of paper!’ He grabbed the lot and dashed off to the office block. It transpired that he had gone to see his Divisional Officer to complain. Of course, when they unfolded the pieces of paper, each of our names were on them. Nevertheless, he wriggled out of going. The official excuse was that he could not eat the food on board and couldn’t even eat food cooked in their pots and pans as his religion would not permit it.
Several months later, another close friend had completed his secondment and was flying back to the UK. As was the custom, he laid on food and drinks in a room behind the bar. Jim made sure that he bought everyone who came in a drink. There was curry, rice, prawns, sandwiches etc and more than enough for all. After the farewell party had been in full swing for a while, Sharma turned up. He picked up a plate and loaded it with curry, rice and prawns. For good measure, he put a couple of sandwiches on top. He then realised that he couldn’t find a fork to eat it with as they had all been used. He turned to Jim and explained his dilemma. Jim said it was no problem and picked up his own used fork, licked it clean, gave it a quick twirl in his pint of Tiger Beer and handed it to Sharma.
‘Thanks, Chief!’ he said and immediately got stuck in. After he’d cleared his plate, I said to him that I thought that he wasn’t allowed to eat the same food or food that had been prepared in other people’s pots and pans.
‘That’s right, Chief.’ he said. ‘I’ll have to do a penance.’
‘What might that be?’ I asked.
‘I’ll have to wash three times a day for a week.’ he said.
I couldn’t think of an answer to that. Nevertheless, I’ve always wondered how many times a day he washed normally.
Poon was a terrific bloke. His English was excellent although a lot of it had been learned on RN ships. As a result, he thought that some swear words were normal language. These could pop out at any time and embarrass any ladies that were around. He could speak English, Mandarin, Chinese, Hokkien Chinese and Malayan. I used to ask him what language he thought in, as he could switch from one language to another effortlessly. We came into contact with each other a lot. I knew him as a work colleague and a friend with a ready sense of humour. I remember one day when we were working at Tanjong Rhu dockyard in Singapore calling into his home. The main room as you
went in was dominated by a shrine to his ancestors. It looked very oriental with joss sticks burning. The floors were stone and many of his family slept in the same room. Their beds were simple canvas directly on to the floor. Nice and cool but pretty hard!
He came to visit us after we came back to the UK. He was standing by a ship being built in France and managed to get across. We wrote to each other for several years but eventually lost touch. I'd love to find out what happened to him. Poon was a nickname - he got called Albert Poon after a well-known Chinese racing driver. His real name sounded very Chinese but in subsequent moves, we lost his address.'

Saturday 25 July 2020

Bugs and other beasties

My father recalls the many bugs and beasties which could be found in Singapore and Malaya at the time:

'Mosquitoes were an absolute menace. They loved the fresh British meat and the whiter you were, the tastier. For the first month or two, I was bitten to bits. Mosquito coils were a blessing - a slow burning chemical compound which killed any mozzies that came close.
There were ants of all shapes and sizes and some of them could give you a nasty nip. The thing that all ants seem to have in common is their sheer industry. Any crumbs or other tit-bits which were dropped were immediately carried off. If the object was too big, they joined forces and carried it together. If there were obstacles in their way, they went around them or over them or, if it was lying on one of their main thoroughfares, they carried it out of their way. One small boy, I recall, delighted in squashing a column of ants climbing up a wall with the heel of his hand. Then, before his mother could stop him, he licked them off.
As soon as it got dark, the crickets would start their chirping making a continuous noise all night. These were accompanied by deep, resounding croaks from the frogs and toads who resided in the monsoon drains. Chit-chats, small lizards, ran up and down the walls eating moths, ants or any other insect that they could get hold of.
Cockroaches thrived in abundance but we seldom saw one indoors - perhaps this was thanks to the Amah who quickly dispatched them with her bare feet. We had a reel to reel tape recorder which we brought back home. When it eventually broke down, I took it to bits to try and fix it. Inside was a huge Bombay runner, quite dead.
The monkeys in the Botanical Gardens will be remembered by all who visited. We loved feeding them and they roamed freely throughout the grounds. I made the mistake of leaving the car window open and one of the cheeky imps repaid me for the bananas I gave him by leaving a deposit on my seat!
Hornets were common. We had a huge nest of them in our workshop in the Naval Base. We didn't bother them and they didn't bother us. However, one day an Australian engineering officer was driving along Woodlands Road. As he passed our dockyard area, a hornet flew straight up the leg of his shorts. He swerved off the road and knocked down a street sign. Fortunately, he was unhurt and not even stung.
There were also other creatures in our Naval Base. A huge monitor lizard lived under the jetty. I never saw this lizard clearly because as soon as he heard a noise, or felt the ground vibrate, he would crash away into the undergrowth. It must have been three feet long at least. They are carnivorous but are no problem to people.
A friend of mine and his workforce were clearing an area of land close to our workshop one day. As they moved a couple of empty oil drums, they came upon a King Cobra and its nest of young. Fortunately, no-one was bitten. There are about forty different types of snake in Singapore. About six of these are dangerous notably the King Cobra and the Black Cobra.
We had a snake indoors one day when I was at work. It was killed by the chap next door after my wife ran for help. I took it into work to try and get it identified with no real success. My colleague Poon said that it wouldn't harm you unless you were ill or had a heart condition. I wasn't much the wiser. Tales abounded about pythons coming ashore from merchant ships and being found after swallowing a dog.
Who could forget the huge, colourful moths at the Amah's markets up Bukit Timah Road? They were attracted by the oil lamps which lit up the stalls. Much bigger than our UK butterflies, they were lovely to see. Unfortunately, the oil lamps attracted other nocturnal visitors, many of which would bite you.'

(These excerpts come from my book 'More Memories of Singapore and Malaya')

Saturday 18 July 2020

Happy days in Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s

When I was putting together my book Memories of Singapore and Malaya in 2007, I asked my mother to write down her memories of our time there in the 1960s. I should mention that both my father and brother are called Alan:

'The weather was very hot and humid most of the time. When the Monsoon season came, it was heaven! We use to stand out in the rain splashing around just to cool down. The Amah thought we were mad as she was so cold.
The first week out there, I had Alan and Derek with me and we saw what looked like a float for a carnival. It was very colourful, covered in flowers and pictures with lots of singing and chanting and dancing around. I picked Derek up to see it and took Alan's hand, and said, 'Let's watch the parade!'.
We were enjoying it until someone said, 'You're not watching a parade - it's a funeral!'
We bought a Triumph Herald car which was white with a red stripe, SP 3040, from Hong Heng's in Singapore. We kept it for the three years we were there. Before that we hired a Toyota to go to Penang, it must have been one of their first models. Alan's knees almost touched the steering wheel and it had no petrol gauge. We never knew when we were going to run out!

We were never burgled but this happened to a few people. We had windows, with fancy steel bars, which meant you could leave them open at night but nobody could get in. However, the burglars would get a long bamboo pole, attach a hook to the end and put it through the slats and hook trousers to take money from them! Any small items that could be hooked disappeared!
The house opposite was owned by a Mr Lee and family. He had two wives, an older one and a younger one. He asked me over one night and I met Tunka Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister of Malaysia.
We hired a TV and, when we had it on, the local children would sit on the gate and watch it through the open doors! I think that’s where we first saw Star Trek. The programmes were hilarious. A prize in a quiz show was described as, 'A lawn mower - just the thing for lawn mowing!'.
They also had talent shows but they all came out and sang the same song, 'I went to your wedding', which was popular at the time but we grew to hate it! On another night they would all sing, 'Fly me to the Moon' and we were wishing they would, they were terrible!
Alan would spend his pocket money on Satay sticks from a Malaya man who made them on two biscuit tins filled with hot charcoal. He carried them across his shoulders on a long pole!
We would sometimes get a taxi from JB to Singapore, it only cost a dollar, which was two shillings and four pence, in English money. It was very cheap and we travelled in a Mercedes. We'd go to Orchard Road and visit the cold store at Robinsons, just to cool down. Next, we'd visit The House Of Tang, an oriental Aladdin's Cave. It was full of camphor wood chests, carvings and all sorts of things you'd never see in England at the time. We still have a Bali wooden figure that we bought there.
We often used the Brit Club. We'd all meet up there and enjoy the facilities. It was opposite Raffles Hotel, famous for it's gin-slings and also for the famous people who went there. Not that we ever ate in there, it was too expensive! Only the famous could afford the prices! Instead, we would have a swim at the Brit Club and they served meals as well, what a lazy and enjoyable life it was!
Change Alley in Singapore was a great place for bargains. You could barter all day and still get seen off! It was still cheaper than at home and that was all part of the fun. The Amah’s Markets were great as well. We use to go to one up the Bukit Timah Road, they were very colourful at night and the lights attracted huge moths. I bought two round green chairs there for the equivalent of 5 shillings each at English prices. We brought them home and we had them for years, they lasted well.
Once through the Naval Gate, we came to Sembawang with its small interesting shops. They would make a dress the same day for $2.50, about 6 shillings in English money. They would also make the kids' sandals for school. It was also the cheapest place to have suits made. In the evenings, the outside would change and eating stalls would be set up, Nasi Goreng was our favourite!
One of our favourite trips out was at the weekends. Les Sharp, who was a diver, had the use of a boat and a crowd of us would go on a banyan to a deserted beach, taking barbeque stuff with us. We had an old parachute that we managed to drape around for shade. We had a go at water skiing which was great until you had to let go then you thought of all the 'nasties' lurking beneath and wished the boat would hurry back!
I still remember the awful smell of the Durian fruit, it was supposed to taste great but the smell put us off! All of Jalan Ah Fook didn't smell very sweet. I think it was partly to do with the market there and the heat. We named it 'Sweet Water Canal'! At night, outside the market and all the way along Jalan Ah Fook, the shopkeepers just opened up their canvas beds and slept outside their shops. They
didn't seem to suffer from insect bites like the rest of us. I think they had them trained to just bite the foreigners!
We had three wonderful years there. We could have stayed longer but wanted to get back. As soon as we were hit by bad weather and icy cold wind when we returned, we all just wanted to go back!'

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Eating out in Singapore in the 1960s

When I was putting together my book More Memories of Singapore and Malaya several years ago, my father recalled eating out in Singapore in the 1960s:

'One of the pleasant benefits of the upheaval of moving to Singapore was being able to eat out more. There was a huge variety of foods from all corners of the world - Malaysian, Singaporean, Thai, Indian, Chinese, French and even English if you were hard up. Nowadays, all of these different dishes are fairly commonplace but I doubt that any of them have the original flavours and spices that you found in Singapore and Johore Bahru. Our favourite eating place had to be George's Steak House in
Johore Bahru. During our time there, I must have worked my way through the whole menu! There were no steaks that I didn't try including fillet mignon, chateaubriand, fillet steak and carpetbaggers to mention a few. Then there was Lobster Thermidor, sweet and sour prawns and sweet and sour pork. We tried many times to get the sweet and sour recipes without success. I suspect they simply didn't understand us. Their curries were terrific and the curry on a Sunday lunchtime was out of this world. After being up at the Mess to the open-air cinema, we would call in for a barbecue outside the hotel in the garden. It seemed like everything it was possible to barbecue ended up on your plate. The only problem with the barbecue is while you enjoyed your food, the mozzies made a meal of you! Of course, all of these meals had to be washed down with copious amounts of Tiger Beer! The ladies seemed to prefer a Tom or a John Collins. Well, in such a warm climate, you had to make sure that you didn't get dehydrated!
The food everywhere had to be tasted to be believed. As always, Chinese food was always a front runner. Chinese New Year was celebrated in the Senior Rates Mess. Apart from the usual band, dance, raffle and so on, there was a ten-course meal. It sounds far too much to eat but over the evening, with frequent intervals for dancing or simply talking and joking, it was surprising how much you ate. I remember that three of the courses were different soups. One was bird's nest soup. I didn't like the look of it and didn't try it. The second was shark's fin soup. Again, I was a coward. The third was chicken soup. I've never been a fan of chicken soup but this one was really nice. Each soup was served in a tureen with a ladle and we helped ourselves. Everyone was enjoying it until a friend dug deep with the ladle and came up with a chicken foot!
Food stalls cropped up everywhere in the city. The tables and chairs were very basic and placed on the sidewalk or anywhere convenient. After making your choice, the food would be cooked adjacent to your table with flames and smells erupting from the fires and pans. I don't remember having anything I didn't like.
In town for the night, the ladies usually had a Singapore Sling - a mixture of gin, cherry brandy, cointreau and soda. A lethal mix! The main bar was run by Lingha. He was a friendly bloke, Chinese and very well made. He usually wore shorts that were very large and flapped around his legs. I'm sure that he must have been the inspiration for that Eric Morecambe sketch. He always rode a scooter. Not only did he ride his scooter to and from work, he also made 10am deliveries to all of the Malaysian Naval base. He would chug-chug in, wearing his voluminous shorts and flip flops, with many boxes perched precariously on the back. His curry puffs were
legendary. On nights when I was on duty, he would bring in my supper - usually Nasi Goreng and prawns wrapped in a banana leaf.
The prawns were huge, the Nasi Goreng delicious and the Tiger Beer wasn't bad either!'

Sunday 5 July 2020

My Dad's posting to Singapore in 1959

Years before we all went to Singapore and Malaya as a family in 1965, my Dad travelled to the country with the Navy on HMS Centaur in 1959. He wrote about his experiences in my book Memories of Singapore and Malaya:

'My first visit to Singapore was in September 1959. How long ago it seems! I was 23 years old and wide open to new experiences. I arrived there on board HMS Centaur which was an aircraft carrier. The ship was commissioned on the 3rd December 1958. She was 737 feet long with a beam of 128 feet. She carried 1,637 men which included the air squadrons. Between September 1958 and April 1960, she steamed 80,916 nautical miles and used 62,000 tons of fuel oil. Aircraft landed on her deck 7805 times. I promise no more statistics! The ship sailed through the Med. After the Suez Canal, our route took in Aden, Karachi, Cochin, Trincomalee and then Singapore. The ship had got hotter and more uncomfortable as we travelled further and further eastwards. When there was no flying taking place, everyone took the slightest opportunity to get on the flight deck. The ship's movement caused a welcome breeze. Hours could be spent in the relative coolness watching all shapes and sizes of sea snakes and jellyfish drifting by. The many dolphins swimming effortlessly alongside and the flying fish skimming the surface were enthralling. Nevertheless, the heat on board was relentless, so when we were told we would be victualled in HMS Terror, during the docking period, it was a blessed relief! The ship was taken into King George V dry dock. She was an impressive spectacle high and dry in the glorious sunshine.
The accommodation at HMS Terror was on several levels with each level having lovely cool balconies. We spent hours there writing letters home, chatting and playing cards etc. A short walk away was a swimming pool. Tiger Beer flowed like water. After life on board, this was just about paradise. Sembawang Village was close by with its duty free shops and bars. Cameras, watches, binoculars and all the usual was on offer at good prices. However, we were more fascinated with the toy shops. There were toys for sale that you couldn't find in the UK. We would have a good look at them all and soon the floor of the shop would be covered in toys, all battery operated including aeroplanes, robots, telephones and all sorts of gadgets. While we made our selections, we would be given a glass of Tiger Beer. The shopkeepers knew how to keep a customer happy. As with all of the local people, they were very polite, courteous and friendly. After a bit of bartering, our presents were wrapped up and ready for the kids back home. Our visits to Singapore City itself were limited. We did have to work sometimes and our pay in those days was pretty poor. Nevertheless, Tiger Balm Gardens was a must to visit. The other attraction in town was the Britannia Club which was solely for service personnel. It had a magnificent swimming pool and restaurants and was situated across the road from the famous Raffles Hotel. We spent many a happy hour looking around the town and then relaxing in the club. I recall taking a ride in a trishaw. A car clipped the side of it and we were dumped unceremoniously into the road as it tipped over. All the locals seemed to find it hilarious and it was just as well that nobody was hurt. The trishaw was a bit bent and, to rub salt into the wounds, the driver expected a tip! The aircraft squadrons had flown ashore before we docked and spent time at RAF Seletar and RAF Butterworth. Any rest and relaxation they got was well earned as their working days were filled with danger. We lost several helicopters and planes during the commission and sadly, some of the pilots. A ship of this size was like a small village and any tragedy touched us all.
On the 3rd October, we spent a weekend at Pulau Tioman which is situated off the east coast of Malaysia. It was my idea of a perfect tropical island with golden sands bleached by the sun and crystal clear blue water. It was completely uninhabited or so it seemed. We were landed by one of the ships' boats. The palm trees bent out towards the sea at such an angle that you could almost walk up the trunks. One of the sailors climbed up and started trying to knock down the coconuts. At this point, a native came out of the jungle and shouted,' Hey Jack! Leave my bloody coconuts alone!' He came from a tin hut which was just behind the tree line. All around the hut were the rotting husks of coconuts. He had an ample supply of coca-cola which he sold to anyone interested. I cannot imagine who he would sell to normally as we never saw another soul all of the time we were there. We had a wonderful day. I had flippers, mask and a spear gun. The waters were alive with fish of every colour and shape and the coral was spectacular. I caught several crayfish.
Back on board, at night, we bribed the chief chef with a tot of rum to cook them for us. They were
delicious with a can or two of ice cold beer. The ship sailed on from there to Hong Kong, Japan and all of the major ports of Australia. We returned to Singapore in 1960 but not without mishap. We came alongside too quickly and crunched the dockyard wall and smashed a lamppost. The port anchor was huge and the shock of the impact shook it free. It landed on the jetty with a terrific thump. I needed a haircut while we were in the harbour and there was a barber's shop in HMS Terror. I found out when I arrived that the barber was in fact a young Chinese girl. In those days, there were not any female barbers, so it was a bit of a shock. Nevertheless, I was soon in the chair with her clipping away in a competent manner. The next thing I knew, she was clipping away inside my ears and before I could stop her, the scissors were up my nose! I've had trims before but never one in so many places. We left Singapore for the last time on the 4th February 1960 and finally arrived home in Plymouth on the 26th April 1960. We had been away for 3 days short of a year. I never dreamt that five years later I would return with my family and live there for three wonderful years.'

Tuesday 30 June 2020

Singapore in the 1960s

This blog has been offline for about 5 years but there's been a lot of interest in the recent history of Singapore lately, with many Facebook groups springing up, and I thought it would be a good idea to restore it.
My family lived in Singapore and Malaya between 1965 and 1968. We lived at Johore Bahru across the causeway from Singapore and my father was a Chief Petty Officer working at KD Malaya within the Naval Base. This blog is mainly about our lives at that time as well as the lives of the thousands of other children who were also stationed there at the same time. I've written four books about my experiences including Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans, Memories of Singapore and Malaya, More Memories of Singapore and Malaya and Monsoon Memories. All are available from Amazon and other bookstores.
I hope to continue this blog with new stories and photos but, meanwhile, I've posted many pictures on the Facebook group, On A Little Street in Singapore. Please check it out.
Below is my original blog post, first posted in 2009:

Many people reading this blog will have read my books, 'Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans' and 'Memories of Singapore and Malaya' which feature tales from my childhood in Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s. I hope to continue writing similar stories here and hopefully, this will include other people's memories and photos from the same time also. I have been working on a new book called, 'More Memories of Singapore and Malaya' which will hopefully be available before December 2009.
Living in Singapore and Malaya was an idyllic experience especially for a child. The whole area has changed so much now. I haven't been back since 1990 but noticed a lot of change even back then. I hope to return one day and visit all our old haunts including Penang, where we stayed at the Sandycroft Leave Centre. I hope people who lived in Singapore and Malaya at the same time as me will find this blog interesting and I hope to add to it as much as possible. If you have any stories or photos from that time, please feel free to email them to me.