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Singapore 1959 - 1962

THERE AND BACK

The journey out (1959) started with drama- sailing on the SS Corfu (P&O Line) - affected by a dock strike, and then moved at the last minute sailing from London instead of from Southampton, with a dash to the railway station delayed in traffic - just made it. The Corfu was nearly on its last run, shortly to be scrapped in Japan. Memorable was the free afternoon ice cream made from powder - a flavour never to be forgotten. The ships bar served non-alcoholic cocktails (Pussyfoot). Dad and I in one cabin, Mum and sister in another across the ship. Childrens meals served separately. Baths in fresh sea water with special soap that worked in salty water. Huge cockroaches. A friendly steward who lent me his SF books to read. Drinking water supplied in a pitcher to the cabin. Not quite the QE2. The documents I have indicate we travelled "First". Wow - times do change. I still have the passenger list, with late additions.

We left the UK on 18th September 1959, arriving in Singapore on 14th October 1959. One advantage of this was that we left the UK after a particularly hot Summer, and then had time to acclimatise as the temperature went up over our long journey. The time differences were also more gradual than the somewhat brutal adjustments that jet travel now requires.

I cannot recall any sunburn in Singapore- nor see any skin reddening in our colour photographs. We didn't stay indoors all day, so I assume that we slowly built up a tan that gave some protection - a tan that we kept for many months after returning to the UK. Sun cream was unheard of. Today a slightly bright day can redden my skin in only an hour or so! Quite possibly the hot Summer before we left the UK and then the slow boat journey were of assistance. Or perhaps the sun is much more damaging today.

As Mum would not fly, travelling back in 1962 was a problem - the interest in long journeys by ship had waned. We ended up on the MV Glenorchy (Glen Line), a small cargo ship with I think just 12 passengers- us 4, a recently married couple, two elderly ladies, two elderly gents, and Gerald and Jackie Durrell. Gerry was travelling back to the UK after filming "Two in the bush" for the BBC, also written up into a book of the same name. He travelled with a small collection of small animals, and we were all shown his slides of the Malayan turtles laying their eggs, which was a feature of the Malayan part of the tv program.

The young male passenger had a set of bagpipes, and whilst sailing down the Suez Canal he enchanted the locals by playing just the chanter from the pipes - quite an Arabic sound to it.

As the ship was small we took a detour around a tropical storm, adding days to the sea journey. The small swimming pool was made of planks, filled with fresh sea water, and shared by crew and passengers. Long break at Trincomalee in Sri Lanka where we took an extended journey to enjoy the Kandy Perehera (we only saw a rehearsal but that was fine) and the ancient monuments at Polonorua and Sygariya (spelling of those wrong!). Meanwhile on the ship the other passengers took a journey on one of the ships lifeboats to a deserted island.

WHY WE WENT

Dad went out to work as a "civil servant" rather than a military man, having an admin role in support of the army. As such we had to find our own accommodation but were able to take advantage of the army schools and British Military Hospital and medical facilities.

I have no idea why Dad chose to take his family on such a long journey - unlike a military posting it was quite voluntary. Possibly an earlier posting of his sister - a Qaranc nurse - was an influence. Oddly we ended up living only a short walk from the Qaranc mess and enjoyed our cold drinks in the same cafe she frequented a year or so earlier.
I have strong memories of seeing Chinese folding waste paper baskets (bright colours, with oriental sages on the sides with whispy beards) in 1958/9 both at New Malden and at Nan's house in Mold, which ties in with one story I heard of Cas going to Singapore before us. However subsequent stories received are that she went after we came back, and then that she never went near to Singapore - which leaves the Chinese wastebaskets a puzzle. I regret I have no primary sources and my Aunt's memories are not too good. A family puzzle.

Nobody indicated that there was a war going on out there, it was all very secret. One of the army people who travelled out with us was subsequently shot in Malaya. As we were not military personnel we all had to go within 30 days of arrival, to personally obtain identity cards, complete with thumb print - under the "Colony Emergency Regulations". Hello- emergency? Hmmmm. The war word was not used in order to keep insurance cover available! The not-a-war was declared over in 1960. IF Dad had been in the army he would have received a campaign medal, but as a civilian, even after going into the jungle near the former Communist headquarters- nothing!

Dad did have the opportunity when travelling out to revisit Port Said, which he had visited in his Naval days during the war.

Dad seemed to spend a lot of time away from home with visits for example to distant Ipoh. I think part of his task was to locate and identify the scraps of Empire - and the War- that had been abandoned and lost. For example a camp of military wooden huts long since returned to jungle (termites you know) with just a large collection of cisterns left to dispose of. Shades of Carry On films...

HOLIDAYS

We had just the one holiday, at Frasers Hill in Malaya. As Mum would not fly she went by car with friends, whilst my sister and I went with Dad on the 2.15 flight to KL via Malacca - a lovely DC3 aircraft. The Malaccan airfield had a grass runway. From KL we travelled by car - much of the one road to the resort was one way only with timed traffic flows. This lonely road was the scene of the assassination of the British High Commissioner in 1951 - his murderer was not caught (and killed) until March 1959 - hiding in Ipoh caves. Frasers Hill was a lovely resort with lots of jungle and jungle trails, and leeches, and curious gibbons who kept coming to see what was happening. Memorable was the food, with mousse for dessert for every meal. It really can become quite boring. open cast tin mine, malaya 1961

The hotel we stayed at (Whittington) appears little changed looking at photos taken in 2011, but it is now a large house to rent, not a hotel. There was a pharmacy with glass jars full of oddities in alcohol. We saw on the road a huge millipede.

Returning we had side trips to Seremban and Port Dickson (where we purchased some coral set in concrete from some small boys). We went to see almost the only Brazil Nut tree outside Brazil - an experiment that did not work, but one tree still left. And a visit to a tin mine (open cast), with a climb up the bamboo scaffolding where the tin laden water dropped its ore. Mum had a go on the water monitor, blasting the clay free to be pumped up the scaffolding. Back to Singapore from KL by the overnight sleeper train - a mere 199 miles maybe but it still took nine hours.

HOUSING

1960 interior moulmein road, singapore 1959 tresco guest house, singapore

We first stayed for some weeks in a lovely colonial building, Tresco Guest House, (1 Chatsworth Road- wow has that area changed since!) with drinking water served to your room in Gordon's gin bottles! Meals on the verandah. Introduction to strange fruit and something odd called Malacca Pudding. Huge dragonflies. Noisy frogs. Weekly issues of the Daily Mirror to read. Ceiling fans in the rooms. School in the mornings only. I started at Alexandra Junior School.

Many many years later (56 years later!) a museum in Singapore contacted me about using my photo of Tresco, and as my memory stirred and dredged up the name of Chang, they were able to tell me that this Tresco employee was still alive! Unfortunately I no longer had a photo I took of him so was unable to share it with him and his family. Considering we only stayed at Tresco such a short time, it is odd that I recalled his name. The museum was also able to identify the owner of the Ford Anglia shown in my photo.

After looking at lots of apartments we moved into a ground floor flat on a quiet little road (well, it was then) called Moulmein Road. We had ceiling fans, although one of our neighbours had air conditioning fitted into one of their rooms. Roast chestnuts bought from a brazier on a cycle. Travel to school by red Changi bus. Visits by the local (armed) police and the embassy to tell us about evacuation procedures (hello? what's this!).

We bought a watercolour painting of a tropical sea scene - I think from a door to door salesman - which I still have. The ancient reel to reel tape recorder we bought was little more than a novelty, and I regret I have no sound recordings from Singapore. I already had my own camera- a plastic item bought in the UK from Woolworths that used 126 roll film - and Dad now bought for me a Yashica twin lens reflex camera, which took 120 roll film, with which I took many photos of Singapore. This camera lasted me until the mid Seventies when 120 roll film became rare.

Dad used a 35mm camera and mostly took slides - many of these have failed to survive with colour fading complicated by fungus and the foam rubber lining on the slide box liquefying over them.

Our neighbours included a Naval family (the Salmons, who later moved to accommodation in the Naval Base) and an Indian couple on the ground floor (who on our departure from the island provided us with a chauffeur driven limousine to the ship), and above us was an Indian teacher - who had Redifusion Cable Radio. No tv service then. We met a lady of Scots origin who was in Singapore when it fell and had been the guest of the invaders - so we heard of the pleasures later told in Tenko (BBC tv) at first hand.

We did start using the green smoking coils said to deter mosquitoes, but they didn't and we soon stopped bothering with them. In Moulmein Road we did not have mosquito nets and the insects never seemed to bother us. We did not have any malaria preventatives- malaria was said to not be prevalent in this part of the world at this time. Dad had a problem on one of his up country trips, picking up Dengue Fever.

ann our amah for three years

Transport from Moulmein Road was taxis from a firm trading from the Goodwood Hotel. Down the road was a painter- not a house painter but rather a cinema sign painter. Unlike todays boring cinemas which hardly advertise their films at all, in those days in Singapore the films were advertised with huge hand painted signs outside, and this artist painted those. The ads were sized for the cinema, not preprinted standard sized ads, often of odd shapes, and always colourful and imaginative.

We employed an Amah, who stayed with us for our full period in Singapore. My sister joined the Red Cross junior section - not the Brits only part but the generic part, enabling us to meet peoples of many races. For one of her birthdays we rented a cinema show in the flat, and watched a St Trinians movie.

Our amah had her own very tiny room at the back of the flat. My sister and I shared a room - not ideal perhaps but it was huge and there was a screen across it

Christmas was unusual with the windows wide open and bright sunlight but we still had a Christmas Tree (artificial) with fairy lights and so on.

1 Winchester Road 1962 Mr Govindin,  gardener winchester road, singapore Dad became unwell with a need to return home at lunchtime for a proper meal, and we obtained accommodation at 1, Winchester Road, on an army estate - officers quarters. No 1 was classed as a Lt Col's residence - so we were strangers in a strange land, civilians on an army estate. We also had friends of all races, which despite the multicultural nature of Singapore, did not then seem to be the norm. We now also employed, part time, an Indian gardener. Little lizards -chick chacks- all over the place.

Our amah now had her own small residence, separate from the main house. For its age the main house seemed unusual in having three bedrooms with ensuite toilets, and two baths. Somewhat different to my start in life, as my grandparents had no running water - my sister remembers fetching water from the village pump. The house was raised from the ground at the front quite some height, with the bottom area open - no possible problem with floods, although that never seemed to be a difficulty.

The heavy rains were indeed heavy, but of little consequence, you simply wore cotton, and if you were drenched, once it stopped raining you dried out quickly, and never really got cold.

Ever woken up to a gentle touch - from a very hairy ten inch spider? Its legs overhung a dining plate. Tends to put you off arachnids a bit. Saw some snakes (getting off school bus before we got on!, climbing tree) but not very many. Huge moths (as featured in the recent film shot in KL, "I don't want to sleep alone"). Fruit bats.

gilman close, ayer rajah Down Russell Road past Qaranc to the small Ayer Rajah shopping road, with cold drinks at the Q-Kat, and a road side stall selling fresh rambultans - complete with nasty little red ants, with a fiery bite. I often bought a bunch. Scrumptious. And next to the fruit seller was a taxi rank.

I bought quite a lot of books from those tiny shops, some of which I still have.

Behind our house and up the hill was the officers mess, and from time to time they showed outdoor films. We could hear the sound just fine - and you can see the picture very well (although reversed) from the back of a cinema screen, so we had the odd free film.

Between the house and the Mess (but not in the way of the cinema screen!) was a small stand of old growth jungle trees. One of these was ideal for a tree house, assembled from scraps of timber after our house had insulating board put into the living room roof to cut down heat penetration. Just before we left the stand of trees was cut down by the Mess - I did hear that there were said to be snakes there, but I never did see one.

Clear sky overnight with little urban lighting to spoil the stars. The last time I saw the milky way - no chance of spotting it in overlit urban England. Not seeing that milky ribbon in the sky shining down - an odd thing to miss.

The garden had banana "trees" (not really trees) and pineapple plants, plus nice hibiscus.

My sister revisited in 2005 and 1 Winchester Road was still there, slightly remodelled but not very much. By 2005 it even had a swimming pool of its own. The louvred wooden windows and the open balcony had been glazed - no doubt efficient modern air conditioning had been installed as a sealed environment seems to be a requirement. The former army squash and tennis courts nearby also still remained.

This was a time when the world was changing and we were remarkably lucky to see the last of the days of Empire in its rawest form. Reading about the period or watching films made at the time, it now seems almost another world, and difficult to believe that anyone could be so arrogant - but in a very nice and natural way. The 1940 American film "The Letter" seemed to catch the flavour of what we caught the tail end of quite well.

We also saw Singapore when long distance travel was comparatively rare. We did see the move from slow ship travel, and jet passenger aircraft replaced slower shorter range propeller aircraft. By 1962 long haul tourism was still really a decade away, and Singapore, still mostly undeveloped and colonial in nature, was not a major tourist resort.

I latterly worked with an Australian who went home every Christmas - from the UK to Australia. And it is all just a normal thing.



SCHOOL

I started at Alexandra Junior School, with a bus to and from the nearby parade ground and then uphill to the school. The army library was nearby and a good source of the Soldier magazine to read. From school we had outings to the docks, a rubber estate, and a bottling plant.

Travel to school was by special school bus - from Moulmein Road we travelled on a red Changi bus, and from Winchester Road we travelled on a military bus- usually an Army bus, but sometimes a very well kept RAF bus or a RN bus. The RAF buses always seemed superior. Once or twice travel was in an Army lorry. There was the occasional armed military escort which may have reflected local difficulties at the time.

With pupils from all parts of the UK (I also recall one Australian girl), it was both the 11 plus (England) AND the Murray House (Scotland) exams to take. I passed both- the news received whilst attending a cricket match and went on to the Grammar School, with an enforced cross country run through the jungle (I came very much towards the last end) and enforced swimming lessons (I was plucked from the bottom just in time.).



CULTURE

Singapore still had quite large areas of jungle, and many kampongs (local villages). Places to visit included the Botanical Gardens with its somewhat savage monkeys, McRitchie Reservoir, Van Kleef Aquarium, and a choice of cinemas showing English films, including the AKC (Army Kinema Corporation) at Tanglin I think. So we saw lots of films - no tv at this time- including some of the early three projector Cinerama films (at the Sky). At the tender age of 12 I went to see George Pal's Time Machine, which I think then had an X cert in the UK.

The truly odd Haw Par Villa / Tiger Balm Gardens with its coloured concrete scenes of Chinese gods and torture - and some less violent statues too. I think they toned it down later on, making it more child friendly and perhaps a bit more westernised for the hordes of tourists to come.

At Moulmein Road, the kampong behind the flats was the scene of religious activities involving self flagellation - with swords, chains, axes. The injuries did not seem too severe considering the weapons that were used. but a bit scary for a nine year old.

Roadside stalls selling all sorts of strange and very cheap things, packets of world stamps, toys, hair gel, anything. One stall had deliveries of huge blocks of ice. The ice sat there in the 80 degree (F) heat, and when local children came along the stall holder would use a plane to produce an ice slush which he put into the cupped hands of the children and then poured an orange drink over it. This was in 1960 - when did Slush Puppie start? (1974- wonder if they visited Singapore? Their creation was really the syrup base to which flavours / colours were added and their very visual ice planing machine).

Those huge wide open storm drains! They certainly moved the water safely away. Some were like rivers. I do remember when we had open ditches in the UK - now we have concrete and asphalt all over and problems when it rains a little!

To visit a friend down the road I had to walk through another kampong to the cries from the children of "Hey Johnny!" . This was a call used by Japanese troops seeking lone British soldiers in Malaya - not sure where from or why the Chinese should pick it up.

I made my first contact with the Japanese animation industry by going to see "Magic Boy", on a large cinema screen- the film has been shown since on Turner's satellite channel, but I am sure in a much edited form. I later rediscovered the genre in the 1980's and now have a nice collection.

We used the army library at Tanglin, who very nicely allowed me an adult ticket and I did lots of reading. Plenty of books available in the shops too. Read and bought lots of now classic Science Fiction.

Shopping was something of an adventure, with Robinsons department store rather showing its age. We did not shop there, but an Indian neighbour took me there once. We did shop at Gian Singh. Our favorite - C K Tang was THE department store and I still have some green Chinese crockery we bought there. One purchase from Tangs was a rubber stamp pad which was labelled "Noink required- always ready for use", and unusually they were right. Nearly forty years on, with no re-inking, it can still produce a good image. Remarkable.

C K Tang had in place a useful customer service that I often long for elsewhere- you could collect a numbered tag from customer service. As you shopped around the store, you showed the tag at the till and your goods would be whisked off. When you had finished your shopping, all your goods were together in one place - no need to carry an increasing load around the store - ready to be loaded into a taxi and taken home.

It was somehow rather civilised to go into a small store and be offered a cold soft drink whilst you discussed your purchases.

This was the only time Mum had dresses actually made for her - and even had shoes covered in the dress material to match.

The Singapore Cold Storage produced good chips and had some really nice ice cream sundaes to choose from. The newcomer on the block was Fitzpatricks, a remarkably air conditioned store, really cold.

Strings of red bangers were favoured by the Chinese community, the commonest seemed to be about the diameter of a CD spindle core, but you could buy miniature strings with little red bangers about the diameter of matches. The strings could be disassembled to produce lots of tiny little bangers which made quite a satisfactory little bang.

Surprisingly (considering the Occupation wasn't that long ago) there was a Japanese store open also.

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