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.