"Dear Mum" Chapter 8
The Far East
The flight I was on to Singapore was a British United Airways Charter flight, - a Britannia. The famous Whispering Giant. It left Stanstead and touched down at Frankfurt, carrying a load of families, two travelling companions and myself. The other two were: a very smart J/T going to FEAF HQ and a silly little Scotsman who insisted in taking photos out of the window of the aircraft with a flash. I kept telling him that it would only bounce off the windows and there was little chance of his flash illuminating the flares that we could see from our vantage point high over the Persian Gulf. I got fed up with him after a very short time and hoped I would not see him again.
We all got off in Bombay and on leaving the aircraft I got my first experience of Tropical Heat. It was just like being enveloped in a hot towel, which my mother sometimes used to do when I got out of a bath. So this was The Tropics. It was sometime in the middle of the night too. We went and wandered into the bar and found that we could only have Fresh Orange Juice, with ice. I gulped it down, blissfully unaware that I was also imbibing a multitude of dysentery germs with it. This I discovered three days later when I had arrived at Changi. At the time it was welcome enough and the last leg to Singapore was during the night and early morning, so it passed quite quickly.
At Paya Lebar International Airport, we were bundled into a RAF bus without even getting our "Government Official" passports stamped. I was a bit disappointed in this, as I had not got one Far East stamp as yet. We were still in “Civvies” and the trip to Changi was a warm one. I was enthralled by how different it all was. The high point was a lorry going past with a 50-gallon drum of water in the back and someone having a bath in it. I really felt that I was abroad, as this would not have happened in England. At least I had never seen it before. Too ruddy cold!
Postmark indistinct. Sunday, RAF Changi, Singapore,
Dear Mum, I just arrived in Singapore. It is very humid and about 90 degrees. The Camp is just like a holiday camp and there is Changi village, just outside, with all manner of things for sale which seem quite cheap. I’ve spent nearly all day in the pool. It’s lovely.
The other two guys went their separate ways and I was dropped of at Block 155. which was the transit block in the middle of Changi Camp. It looked more like a Holiday Camp than a RAF Camp. It seemed to have been built round a Golf Course. There were large two story blocks nestling in Frangipani trees and Rhododendron bushes. Roads with names like Martlesham Road, (named, no doubt, to make me feel at home,) meandered from block to block and it was all very beautiful. There were peaceful groups of holidaymakers, in shorts and sandals or flip-flops, wandering around playing golf or just wandering.
RAF Changi, shortly after arriving and buying my first camera. This holiday camp was where we all lived. Some of the time , that is, I spent most of my free time in Singapore.
These photos join up more or less. Look at all the cars about. I did not have one, as taxis were everywhere and really much more convenient, but lots of people did. We were quite affluent.
It was a Camp steeped in history and the evidence of the Japanese occupation in the form of bullet holes in lampposts and pockmarks in the walls, was there for all to see.
A picture of one of Changi murals.
I found the Mess, the Naafi, and the Airmen's Swimming Pool, where I spent most of the weekend, as I had been told to report to SHQ (Station Headquarters) on the Monday next. It had been such a long flight that the Jet lag was not really a problem. I discovered Changi village and the shops that seemed to be selling everything at incredibly low prices, and decided that it would not be a bad place to spend the next two and a half years of my life. The fact that on the hill was situated the Headquarters of the Far East Air Force, meant that there were high ranking officers all over the place. Group Captains were 10 a penny. However, there always seemed to be one or two Air Marshals or the like, who wanted something to inspect. We seemed to have a lot of Parades there. It must have been more fun for them. Sitting in the shade. It would not have been half as much fun at Ballykelly, as it was always pissing down with rain.
Monday morning arrived and with it, an excruciating, knife-twisting pain in my gut. It must have been something I ate. Then I remembered Bombay Airport. I should have known better. I sat on the loo for an age and then when it seemed to be getting better, made a dash for the SHQ. Luckily there were toilets in every block and offices and I sweated my way from one to the next. When I got to the third office as part of my arrival, they took pity on me. Rather than shooting me quietly in the temple, which would have been my preferred option, I was taken to the Sick Quarters where they quickly diagnosed Dysentery and gave me a bed and a private room. (Reserved for Dysentery cases.) This was not a complaint that was exactly unknown in the Hospital and they seemed to have the resources at their disposal to sort it out, so I quickly recovered.
They still kept me in, even though I was perfectly OK. So, when a rather tasty young lady in a uniform which I did not recognise came in and asked me how I felt, I was glad to give her all the gory details. I thought that she was a nurse or a doctor, but after listening politely to all the nasty things that had been happening to my interior parts for a while, she explained that she was, in fact, a sort of Social Worker. She was more concerned with my moral and spiritual welfare than in my medically explicit description of past symptoms.
Although very pleasant, she did not seem to be responding to my attempts at taking the relationship further, and left me alone with my thoughts once more. As soon as she had gone I was surprised to hear a bird chirruping in the room. Hard as I looked, I could find no trace of the bird that absolutely must be there to make the noise. This went on for some time and it was only when lunch came in and I asked where the perishing bird was and was shown the tiny lizard hiding behind a picture rail that the penny dropped. It was a Chit-Chat. I was told, and they were very common. They ate flies and did good all over the place. They also left little messages behind which looked like rat droppings. We often used to find their dried up and shrunken bodies in closed lockers when we moved in somewhere. Poor little sods. I found a half of one in my chicken curry one night. I hate to think where the other half went.
In the Sick Quarters they soon got fed up of my visible glow of good health and once more I was on the rounds booking in to all the sections of Changi. I got allocated a bed in 133 or 151 I can’t remember. It was with other Radio guys, anyway and so I soon was told everything that I needed to know about living in Singapore. Nobody seemed to stay on camp at night and the attraction was the Bars (and the Bar Girls) in Town. I was shown a few and that was it. I had never seen such attractive girls before. They were mostly Chinese I suppose, but there were a few Malay and indeterminate mixtures. The WRAF girls on camp seemed very plain and boring compared with these silk-clad, slim, smooth skinned, black haired, Asian beauties. The best bit was that they loved me. I was only 19. Tall and fair-haired, - a baby face that they could not resist.
The famous Changi Bus Company. They were red, definitely cheaper than Taxis, but took ages to get anywhere as they went to every little Kampong. I always wondered who the young girl was. I have blown up this photo and she is very sweet. Some Airman's daughter I expect.