Royal Air Force Seletar Reunion Tour – March 2009

Mid March saw thirty-eight members of the Association once again gathering at that ancient conglomeration of buildings known as Heathrow Airport…… lots of great pictures of Singapore, including the sad mid-demolition one of the old mess hall.

“After Singapore, it was time for one group to head back for the UK and another for Penang, where, courtesy of the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, we had managed to get permission to visit the RMAF Base at Butterworth, yet another first. It was almost sixty years since I’d been based here so there was almost nothing I recognised, except the building that had been our Sqn (110) HQ, now unused, still looking lonely and forlorn on a piece of grass overlooking to the runway, as it always had. Other buildings had sprung up all around, but none too close. It was as if it were warning them off, like Clint Eastwood in the film Gran Torino – “Get off my lawn.”

All in all another good tour. Did someone mention something about a repeat in 2011?”

Revisiting Seletar Memories

Many of you have asked for the link to Ang Yiying story at The Straits Times on 30th March … here is the link, and below is the text

A LITTLE corner of Singapore that once featured prominently in its history has been earmarked for redevelopment but one group, from thousands of miles away, are holding onto their memories of Seletar Airbase dearly.
The 920-strong group, based in Britain and calling itself the RAF Seletar Association, has organised eight trips back to Seletar since 2000, with about 40 visiting each time. In 2007, the association’s 10th anniversary, more than 100 made their way here.

The association was formed in 1997 by Royal Air Force (RAF) ex-serviceman Les Nicole and a few friends who met up in a pub in England. It has grown over the years, attracting members who are a mix of those who have served at RAF Seletar, a former British airbase, and their children who have grown up there. This time around, 38 are here for about two weeks, most will be heading home on Monday.

For many of them, Seletar holds a special place in their hearts because they were young then and Singapore was one of their first overseas postings. ‘It was something different and they had a lot of friends there,’ said David Taylor, 72, the author of the book, Seletar: Crowning Glory, published in 2002, who is one of the members on the trip here. ‘In the services, you tend to stick with friends more than civillian life.’

Common memories include the camaraderie forged from playing sports, going to the camp cinema, bonding over RAF Seletar’s favourite Tiger Beer and trips made out of camp to places like Haw Par Villa and the Botanic Gardens. Some of the members have made more than one trip back but say that age is catching up and this journey may be their last.

Last week, the group visited locations like the Sembawang Shipyard, the Changi Airbase and the Changi Murals, before a trip on Thursday to Seletar Airbase.

Seletar Boy

Inset to main story at Straits Times 30 March

RETIRED Major Yeo Kuan Joo, 72, who is coordinator and guide for the RAF Seletar Association members on tour here, has a special relationship with Seletar Airbase.
After losing his father in World War II, the middle child of three children, then aged about 11, met some RAF servicemen who became his unofficial guardians.

One of them is Dr John Bright Willis, now 80 and a retired mathematics lecturer from the University of Southampton. He was then 18 and serving in the RAF at a camp in Paya Lebar.

In a phone interview from the UK, he recalled, ‘Kuan Joo was a small boy wandering around the camp. He looked very intelligent and charming. He used to come and stay there from time to time at the camp cinema.’

The group of four to five servicemen, including Dr Willis, thought it was a pity if the boy did not receive an education and pooled together money to send him to a boarding school here.

When Major (Ret) Yeo was schooling, he would visit his guardians at Seletar Airbase where they were later posted, during his weekends and school holidays.

He became known as the only Chinese boy in Seletar, wandering around the camp and going to the hangar where the radar fitters worked.

‘He made friends very easily,’ added Dr Willis.

After Dr Willis returned to the UK, Major (Ret) Yeo went on to stay with RAF serviceman Mr Stan Peirce and his wife, Molly, now both deceased, on their married quarters in Seletar, during his school holidays.

The servicemen continued to pay for his education after their return to UK.

Major (Ret) Yeo was involved in trade but eventually joined the Singapore Armed Forces in the 1960s, rising through the ranks and was posted to Seletar to be Camp Commandant in the early 1980s.

‘I never asked for my posting but providence put me as camp commandant of Seletar,’ he said, saying that his life has come full circle. He was also president of the RAF Seletar Association from 2001 to 2006.

One of the organisers of the ‘pilgrimages’ back to Seletar, he hopes that the main gate of Seletar will be retained and the guardhouse will be converted to a small museum.

RAF Seletar residents reunion

This weekend, a group of some 40 former residents from the 1950s and 60s are visiting Singapore, and will head to Johor for a reunion gathering. These dinners used to happen at Hyde Park Gate, but with no residents left along the street, the venue had to be moved.

Sad that the customary walk around the Camp is no longer possible. This may in fact be the last major trip by former RAF residents.

Bicycle Blitzkrieg – The Malaya Campaign and the Fall of Singapore

Just came across a cracking essay that seemed worth passing on – full document at linked url.

8 February 1994

Paper directed by Commander Mark Hess, USN
Faculty, Department of Strategy and Policy

Japan’s December 1941-February 1942 invasion of Malaya and culminating conquest of Singapore is analyzed from an operational perspective. Although overshadowed by better known Pacific Theater actions in World War II, the campaign was Japan’s most successful example of joint warfare and replete with lessons for the modem operational commander. Approached from the level of the commander and staff, the background and decision making processes are reviewed, with applicable areas identified for today’s leaders. The need for aggressive leadership, accurate intelligence, flexible application of power, adjustment of force based on environmental conditions, and the value of logistics are the major lessons from the Japanese victory. Poor leadership and futility of trying to defend too much are among those lessons from the defeated British.

The same Piccadilly Circus

Photos from former residents seem to be the best records available to help us chart the history of Seletar. Here are 3 more images from 1967, showing the front entrance area. Little seems to have changed in 40 years, except the additional and separate lane to accommodate heavier traffic. (Photos of entrance in 2008 coming up)


A simple life

Congratulations to the Jalan Kayu Trail, for securing an official launch back in November 2007!

An intriguing snippet, demonstrating that the Airbase has always attracted folks who can be content with the simple things in life

Dear Jalan Kayu Trail Team members, I spent a very happy and memorable time at Seletar from 1962 to 1964. Your blog brought back many memories of Jalan Kayu, night markets, watches for S$10 (equivalent now S$3.20), K Wah the tailor where I bought the best pair of trousers I have ever owned. Seletar Bar and the best Nasi Goreng on the Island at the time. Taxi back from the City for S$2.50, our exchange rate was then S$8.40 to ÂŁ1 sterling! I also remember shopping in the Pagoda House at the far end of the village, is it still there? “Daz” an Indian who worked on West Camp and made our beds and polished our shoes and in hard times lent us money. Above all the great local food in the village. I still come back to Singapore on a regular basis, how it has changed! Thank you for a great blog. Peter Rushen, England

Peek into the forbidden zone

Back in March 2007, when ex-RAF personnel visited Singapore, their tour included an afternoon inside the secured part of Seletar Camp.

We saw the Singapore Youth Flying Club, construction of which called for the demise of G & H blocks, plus the West Camp Sergeants’ Mess, Airmens’ Mess and NAAFI. …. . Flying boat wing was my area, and as long as you turn your back on the Straits, things haven’t changed too much down there. Turn around though, and you’ll discover trees now grow where Sunderlands once moored; and whatever happened to that magnificent jetty? Still, time moves on, and so did we, back to a rather damp parade ground. But I must say, it looked rather grand reflecting the light the way it did. And by now, with the sun occasionally peeking through, the lighting was good for some spectacular shots of the East Camp barrack blocks, all of which remain intact, along with what used to be the Airmen’s Mess, and Malcolm Club. In fact, our next visit was to what used to be the NAAFI, above that Mess. It is now an auditorium.

Read David Taylor’s 10th Anniversary Reunion review in full at the RAF Seletar Association site.

RAF Seletar

According to History of RAF Organisation

Operational Control
Opened – 1 Jan 1930 – A landing ground was constructed in 1926/27 as well as a slipway for flying boats.
RAF Far East
Feb 1942 – Aug 1945 Station under Japanese occupation
Air Command South East Asia
Far East Air Force
Closed – 31 Mar 1971 – On closure as a RAF station, it was handed over to the Republic of Singapore Air Force

Previous notes on RAF:
Pingat Jasa Malaysia
WW2 memories on the BBC
RAF visits Seletar Airbase in March 2007


Pingat Jasa Malaysia

This remarkable entry in the RAF Seletar web site – kudos to the Malaysian government for acknowledging contribution of the veterans.

In 2005 the Malaysian Government approached the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to seek approval to present their new medal, known as the Pingat Jasa Malaysia, to British veterans and others who served in operations in Malaya/Malaysia between August 1957 and August 1966.

Ex-residents continue to remember their time in South East Asia with fondness. In March 2007, the Association celebrated its 10th anniversary, which included a journey back to the Airbase.

WW2 memories

The Flora & Fauna edition of Postcards from Seletar is off at the printers, and it is time to start research for the Heritage edition. Browsing through the BBC website, I came across a section packed with personal memories.

Lieutenant Commander R. G. Curry VRD recalls

Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita had driven our armies out of Malaya, and on 31st January 1942, all who survived were now on Singapore- well over one million people crammed on an island about the size of the Isle of Wight, separated from the mainland by the waters of the Jahore Strait.

At the moment I was attached to the RAF at Seletar Airfield in Singapore as a Liaison officer, and we were under continuous bombing raids by the Japanese. Our Hurrican Fighters which had recently arrived from the UK and which I had helped to assemble, had flown away to Java, and the RAF were preparing to evacuate the base.

extracted from the diary notes of Mrs. Joan Dinwoodie, WREN

Earlier in the year we had been joined by 10 Wrens who had been diverted from Alexandria and contingent of 20 Royal Air Force personnel. At the end of November all leave for Army and RAF personnel was stopped, and on the 6th December 1941 all leave was stopped for us and we were confined to station and the telephone removed from the mess. On the 7th December Japan declared war. Rich and others were sent to Khota Bahru on the 6th and the Japanese landed there next day. However, Rich and colleagues arrived back at RAF Seletar safe and sound.

Eddy Maitland – From Schoolboy to Sunderland Pilot

So we flew a large number of mercy missions bringing out of Singapore and back to Madras British and Indian Prisoners of War and Internees on the first stage of their journey home. Our first of 21 trips between Madras and Singapore was made on the 19th September 1945 about five weeks after the atom bombs were dropped. The ex-POW’s were very thin and some of them were on stretchers. On the outward trips to Seletar near Singapore we carried mainly RAPWI personnel(Relief of Prisoners of War and Internees) We took off at night on Redhills Lake so as to make our landfalls in Malaya or on the Nicobar or Andaman Islands in the daylight.

letter from ‘Babe’s Uncle Ron to the latter’s parents Arthur & Daisy Collins, written a few days after the RAF entered Singapore in 1945. 110 (Hyderabad) Squadron, Seletar Aerodrome

Well, since I last wrote you, as you can see I have left Burma behind, and am now in a more or less civilised part of the world. We came down here two days before the Japs officially surrendered, and as you can imagine the people were absolutely delighted to see British uniforms again, after three and a half years of occupation…..

RAF visits the camp

RAF Seletar, Singapore, was an RAF station from 1928 through to 1971. The RAF Seletar Association was formed in 1997 to help bring together anyone who have had any dealings with the base in any capacity service or civilian.

Forces reunited has a long and growing list of ex-Seletar RAF personnel.

 Some background

Chinese immigrants to Singapore established settlements in the 1840s, dotting the northern part of Singapore with gambier and pepper plantations. It is widely believed that the name Seletar pre-dates even these settlers, and in fact relates to native tribes in fishing villages along the coast.

The first RAF base outside the United Kingdom was constructed in 1928 at what is now known as Seletar Airbase. Seletar: Crowning Glory by David Taylor is a colourful history of RAF Seletar in Singapore – from its earliest days to its hand-over in 1971. 10 years ago, the RAF Seletar Association was established, and its updates are online.

One of our current residents shares his father’s memories of life in Seletar in the early 1950s. Peter Gidden’s journals are also available.