"Dear Mum" Chapter 11
Damp was a problem with many things. When I arrived in Singapore I brought a Timex watch that had been a present from my Paternal Grandmother. Within a couple of weeks, the leather strap started to smell rancid and after three I could put up with it no longer and I had to go out and buy a metal strap. My locker also started smelling damp and so like everyone else, to prevent the mildew, I installed a 40 watt bulb in a tin can in the bottom of the locker to keep it dry, with a wire going through a hole in the back to a wall socket. By so doing I preserved the greatcoat, boots, gloves and Cashmere scarf for my homecoming, some time in the far distant future.
Soon after my imaginary action on the KL train I was put on Guard Duty. It happened from time to time. This time was different, however. There was a V Bomber on its way from UK. to the weapons test range in Woomera in Australia and it was reputed to have A BOMB on board. It was the first time I was ever given a rifle AND ammunition, outside a firing range. Guard duty previously was always a bluff. We were given a rifle and if there was anyone around then we pretended that we had bullets too. Halt - Who Goes There. - Then - Halt, or I Fire. This was supposed to scare the pants off anyone and so that they would immediately surrender. I never had cause to check out this theory. I was never involved in Guard Duty in Ballykelly, but this was another place where they issued bullets and one night a large intruder was so challenged by a nervous guard. The two warnings failed to produce any response, so the guy let rip. I would have probably done the same. My self-preservation instincts are as strong as anyone’s. The poor intruder who happened to be a cow, was physically incapable of the correct, or even any, appropriate response and so, to the delight of a local farmer who got wonderful compensation, got quite severely killed.
When I was given the rifle and ammunition, I was exhorted not, for Christ’s sake, to shoot anyone or anything. However the fact remained. If they had given me the bullets, then there must be a certain amount of risk involved. I therefore sat at the top of the aircraft steps for my allotted 4 hours with one up the spout, quite ready, willing and able to shoot anything that moved. I was the most alert Airman in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force during this period. I was 100 % dedicated to my duty and fact that I never got a medal for this service, - way above and beyond the call of duty, I can only ascribe to loss of the paperwork describing my performance of that night.
Another place we used to go was the fish market at Bedok Corner. This was on the road down to Singapore from Changi, near the Army Barracks at Selerang. There were the most delicious and gigantic prawns for sale. Dirt cheap, or so it seemed. Four of us used to go there and sit beside the sea under the stars to eat prawns and drink Tiger Beer and talk. It was on a night like this that we all promised each other faithfully to meet on the 31st of December 1999. Near the fountain in Piccadilly Circus to celebrate the turn of the century. I still remember this. I’m not going though. As I write it is coming up to the New Year 1998. I think reunions are a little bit daft after so long. We probably wouldn’t even recognise each other and I am not going to spend my evening looking for 3 other blokes who are not there and who I wouldn’t recognise even if they were there. So. Alan, Ian, Trevor and Dave, I apologise in advance. Sorry I won’t / didn’t make it.
13th. December 1961. RAF Changi.
Dear Mum, thanks for your letter, you will be glad to hear that I am completely recovered now and also that I have been posted to a little island in the Indian Ocean called Gan. Uncle Charlie has probably heard of it, but the relevant point is that it is only a year’s tour, so allowing for the 8 months or so that I have done here, it brings my tour there down to 8 months. So, September next year I will be home!
The Section is trying to stop the posting as they say they can’t do without me (!) but I don’t think they will be able to. I’m due to go on the 7th. January, and so things are a bit hectic and expensive - I am having to pay off odd bills and get things that I have ordered, but I’m just about straight. Gan is very small and there is only a RAF camp there, but I am told that the swimming is terrific, brilliant blue, clear sea and there is an aqualung club and cigs. are 1/- for 20 and drink is almost as cheap as water. There is nothing to do apart from that and I will be able to live on 10/- a week. English money is used there. Anyway, I was thinking of volunteering a short time ago. I have seen Singapore and I was feeling I would like to be moving on again and then out of the blue comes this.
Christmas 1961 was stupid. Everyone got drunk for three days and all sorts of things happened that normally wouldn’t. I woke up one morning and there was a Makan (food) Stall (like Fred’s Alley Cafeteria) at the bottom of my bed, sitting on its bicycle wheels. I am quite positive that I never put it there. As we were sort of responsible by association, the guys in my room and I had to get rid of it. In the dead of night we wheeled it into another block and made it their problem. I don’t know how many people had to move it before the problem was resolved finally, or how it was resolved.
We had a drunken game of cricket with an old bat and a condensed milk tin, one afternoon. I was bowler and bowled a nice straight tin to the batsman. He hit it a resounding smack in my direction, - in fact it was such a strategically placed return that I had to leap in the air to avoid taking it in my most sensitive area. It sliced through the air towards me and the razor sharp top nicked the inside of my right knee. It was very sharp and blood squirted everywhere. It took 4 stitches to tie it together and they came out during another violent wrestling match with one of my friends, so I have a nice little scar to this day. It was a Christmas and New Year to remember, but unfortunately I can’t remember much about it. I have a tape recording made at that time, among my souvenirs that is nearly all slurred voices talking absolute rubbish.
Although I thought that I was joining 205 Squadron and in fact spent quite a bit of my time there, I was actually in the Radio Bay for a lot of my work time at Changi. As I had done the ASV 13 Course, I found myself with a couple of Corporals doing 2nd. Line repairs on the various bits that had been sent back from 205 for repair. Because of the high power centimetric radiation that this equipment generated, we had a connection of the Transmitter / Receiver on test to a scanner which blasted out across the marshes outside our window. We had a big bay window with the scanner, which was about 5 feet high and turned in about another 5 feet circle, mounted in it. We would put the scanner on sector scan and irradiate the marshes. There was one Sergeant who was not very popular so, when he came in we used to change the heading of the scanner and irradiate him, as he moved about the Radio Bay. I don’t think this had much effect, in reality, as I inadvertently Zapped myself one day and did not seem to suffer any permanent damage. I have fathered 4 healthy kids since then in any case and this is what we had heard would be affected.
A transmitter came in for repair and so I connected it up and with the scanner pointing out over the marshes, I ran through the tests. Sure enough it did not produce any returns, like we normally would expect from all the little trees etc. out there. Something appeared to be getting hot, so I was sniffing about around the front, which was now the top, as I had it sitting on it’s back, there was definitely something very warm. The heat seemed to be coming from underneath the big unserviceable label tied to it and so I moved it and found myself staring down the inside of the waveguide! I had forgotten to connect it to the scanner. The heat I could feel was my face cooking in the world’s first microwave cooker. I broke into a sweat and waited for deadly symptoms. They never came and so I wrote it off to experience. You never know, it might have even done some good, killed off some germs, maybe. It certainly did not appear to have done any harm.
One of my colleagues in the Section was fond of “goosing” other airmen who he found bending over. A poke up the rear with a stiff finger almost always produced a violent involuntary reaction from the pokee. He did this to me a few times and I nearly always banged my head on whatever I was bending down to look at. He always fell about laughing and everyone hated him. He got his come-uppance, though. While he was away we had a SAC WRAF join the section for a while. She was a nice girl. She wore slacks while on duty and I suppose there was not very much different between her backside and anyone else’s. Some men used to wear trousers, as it was a bit chilly sometimes in the Bay. This guy played his normal trick, when he saw this particular backside protruding from under a bench, but instead of the bellow he was expecting, there was a shrill scream and a very irate lady airman was suddenly threatening him with all sorts of retribution. He never really got punished for this. I think it would have been a bit embarrassing all round. He did not do it again though, which was a blessed relief to everyone.
The two Corporals with whom I was working were both married and lived in Married Quarters somewhere off the Camp. They seemed to have a very nice sort of life style, Getting off the camp and having all the comforts of home, when they were not on duty. As they knew I was on camp, if anyone was called in to fix something that had to be done outside working hours, it was always me. I did not really mind as I could see the logic of this. They lived miles away and they wouldn’t want to come in at all. It made me think about settling down and getting married myself, though. I could see several advantages and one night, this particular aspect of life in Singapore was reinforced by a chance visit to Bill Bailey’s Coconut Grove.
He claimed to be the original. You know. - The Bill Bailey who wouldn’t come home. As per the song. I didn’t believe this, but it was a nice little bar behind Orchard Road and if you indulged him he would get a bit generous with the drinks he served. I was alone at his bar one night and got talking to a young bloke, who, in the course of the conversation, told me that he was the Assistant Manager of a Rubber Plantation. I was suitably impressed and thought - out loud, that he must be awfully well qualified to be doing something like this. He assured me that he was not and his only real qualification was the fact that he was British and there. When the time came to leave and as he lived out towards Changi, I gratefully accepted a lift back. Outside was a beautiful Lagonda Sports car. At that moment I made up my mind to become a Civvy and work abroad when my time with Uncle Air Force was over. My plans to buy myself out and take up residence in Singapore, with a local girl as a wife, were disrupted soon afterwards by news that the RAF. in it’s wisdom wanted me to go and be the Radar Man on RAF Gan. A little island Staging Post in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
One of the implications of this was that as I had done nearly 8 months in Singapore and the tour in Gan was only a year, I would be credited with this and would get to go home in only 8 months. Not that I had any choice, but I decided to give it a try. The fact that Gan was an all men preserve, concerned me a bit, but as I had preserved my virginity up to then, it was not as if I was actually missing anything.