ROYAL AIR FORCE CHIA KENG SINGAPORE

ROYAL AIR FORCE CHIA KENG SINGAPORE
 
RADIO RECEIVING STATION
   
Camp Life
 
RAF Training & Postings
I entered the RAF just after St Valentines Day in 1957 and kitted out at Cardington. A banner just inside the gate said "The RAF Welcomes You". This completely misled us about what to expect in the coming weeks. "HOW NICE" were the thoughts in everyones mind. A week later we found out how the RAF welcomed raw recruits when we arrived at RAF West Kirby. Eight weeks later those raw recruits had been turned into smart well drilled young men. It was with pride that they marched in the pouring rain on the passout parade. That parade was the last act in their training at West Kirby and new found friends separated for new postings in the UK. RAF Locking near Weston Super Mare was my new camp. There I was taught the mysteries of radio receiving equipment and how to drink Scrumpy cider for relaxation. Three months later I was posted to Chia Keng in Singapore. After leave and a few days at RAF Illingworth, I found myself at Stansted Airport climbing steps into an Airwork Hermes aircraft. Apart from trips to the Isle Of Man I had never left the shores of England and here I was on my way to the mystical Far East.

Stansted To Chia Keng
We landed at Paya Leba airport in Singapore after a flight taking three days. This included an overnight stop in Karachi, Pakistan. Other stops on the way for fuel and food were made with Calcutta being the place I remember most. It was there that many of us picked up food poisoning. The result of that was a miserable first few days at Changi after landing. Recovery was quick and I soon found myself progressing around Changi camp signing into the various departments as a new arrival. The first impressions of Singapore are still with me to this day. The humid heat upon leaving the aircraft was like being immersed in a damp hot blanket. The smell of Chinese cooking from roadside huts and stalls as we travelled to Changi. The food poisoning and bed bugs on that first night at Changi. The resulting red skin blotches meant that I looked like a good case for being quarantined. The everlasting first impression was palm trees swaying in the breeze viewed from the upper floor of the reception block. Paradise straight out of my Britannica books back home. My stay at Changi was short and I soon found myself passing through the gates of RAF Chia Keng.

Settling In To Camp Life
I had gone through my training at West Kirby and Locking with two lads from Manchester, Burt Platt and Johnny Egden. Burt was with me as we entered Chia Keng. Johnny had been posted to RAF Seletar a few miles down the road. All three of us met up often for relaxation when off duty. Burt and myself soon fitted into the routine of camp life and were made most welcome by everyone. We were allocated our bed spaces and started the procedure of settling in. Brian Luttman and two of his mates looked after us that first day and later took us to the big city where our eyes were opened wide by the sights. They even footed the bill for us as we were both broke. We ended up at a place called the “Half Way House” I think the area was Bukit Panjang from memory. To have a dance you paid a few cents every time or our new found friends did. Soon they disappeared to go to Jurong RAF camp to pick up friends and we never saw them again that night. They didn’t come back for us. There we were in a strange city and completely lost. We set off walking and tried a police station but they hadn’t heard of RAF Chia Keng. Soon we found a taxi driver who fortunately knew where Chia Keng was. That was our introduction to Singapore. The following morning we were told the reason why our friends had not come back. They had turned the car over and were in hospital.

Camp Comforts
We soon settled into life on this very cosy camp and found the billet comfortable and pleasant. There were no parades. No guard duties. No bull. No washing up. No cleaning or making beds. Officers only visited ocasionally. The only parade was the pay parade when an officer entered the camp to carry out that duty. The billet was kept clean and dust free by a paid local man. He was on site every day to carry out his chores. The floor was concrete and the overhead fans had to be turned off for this action to keep the dust down. His general duties included making beds. Polishing shoes. Collecting any clothes for the doby (washing) and keeping the ablutions and dining area clean.

General Shift Duties
The daily life of the camp started very early with those wishing to report sick rising early to travel to sick quarters at RAF Changi. Closely following this was the stirring of shift personnel who were to take over from the night shift chaps. They had an early breakfast before going on duty. Breakfast for day staff chaps followed whilst others not on duty were able to have a lie in. Off camp staff arrived shortly after resulting in a full compliment for the day. Day staff hours were 8am to 5pm from memory. Outside these hours only two shift personel were left on duty apart from the gate guards. The morning shift took over from the night chaps at 8am. Night shift was the killer for almost everyone. Keeping awake being the main problem. Long hours of darkness with very little to do. Everyone tuned an RA.88 set to Voice Of America with their great swing music and jazz. Even this failed to stop heads nodding around 3am. The priority was keeping the radio signals on tune. One pastime was shooting down Chit-chats which climbed the walls of the building. These small lizards would be on the walls and ceiling chasing insects. An electrical fire extinguisher with a pump handle would be used to squirt the liquid at them. I think the liquid was carbon tetrachloride which would render them unconcious resulting in a fall to the floor. Recovery was quick and they were soon back chasing their victims again. I did a few months on days repairing receivers but prefered working the shifts.I was pleased to get back onto that rosta again. The big advantage was the two days off every four. Gave us more of time to get out and about during the time we were there.

Camp Catering
The catering for the camp was excellent and we never had any grumbles to my knowledge. Meals were a mixture of English and Asian which made a good choice. Many times we had just that. A choice of meals. In fact it was the camp cooks who first introduced me to Asian food. The RAF cook, a regular called Jack, went out to local markets purchasing fresh items for the table. He had been in Singapore for a while and could bargain in the local language. Very impressive to a new chap when I once accompanied him. Those trips out gave him the chance to offer a good selection of meals. In the cookhouse there was a problem with ants and cockroaches. Night duty personnel going on duty at 10pm had access to the cookhouse to create something for supper. Often earwigs would scatter from food boxes when moved. Ants would be into most things. The main table in the cookhouse had bowls of water under each leg to prevent them attacking the food on it. After a while we became used to it all and never bothered with a few ants in the cereals. My favourate dishes were the good old steak closely followed by the hot curries. Not at the same time though.

Camp Personnel
The second cook on site was a local man. He was very helpful most times and a dab hand at cutting hair. Burt Platt having his haircut is a typical scene on camp and most chaps made use of this mans skills. Jack, the cook, had a Norton Dominator motor bike which he was very proud of. Having had a small bike myself before entering the RAF I was always taking an interest in it. That was a top bike in 1957. I often talked Jack into taking me out on the back around the island. Another chap had a Triumph Sports car with dicky seats in the rear boot lid. I had many outings sat in one of those dicky seats. Camp pets were also part of the Chia Keng scene. Two dogs, two monkeys and a cat. One of the dogs was called Pongo and the larger monkey was nicknamed Sabrina. Sabrina would often sit on your shoulder looking for nits in ones hair. Unfortunately she had to be kept chained to a tree to prevent her creating havoc around the camp. Once she did indeed get free and I was woken up one morning to the sounds of her leaping along the building rafters with a collection of goodies. Watches, knives and such like. Took some catching to get her chained up again. She was a good snake spotter. Many was the time she alerted us to the presence of a poisonous snake around the camp. The camp held chaps from all sorts of life styles and occupations. Chaps with different ways and interests. Ken Lucy (Flash as we called him) was a body builder and would stand there with his stomach muscles tensed whilst you pummeled them as hard as you could. Another chap would never shower and smelt something rotten most of the time. Flash threatened him one day with action if he didn't correct this situation. He never did so days later Flash picked him up under one arm. Carried him outside with boot polish and brush. Stripped him and blacked him all over. He was always the cleanest chap on camp after that. Close to our camp was a Japanese cemetery. I only visited it once and it was run down and weed strewn. No locals would touch it as most hated the Japs at that time due to WW2 experiences. I was told one day about a chap at Chia Keng before me. I was told that many times he had woken up screaming many nights. The story went on to say that he saw the ghostly image of a Japanese officer standing at the foot of his bed at night with blood dripping from his sword. He was repatriated back to the UK. Camp life progressed with many chaps finding girl friends. Many marrying and taking them back to the UK when they left. Close to the camp was a house where a family had four daughters. I often chatted with the lady and she told me that three of them had been married off to camp airmen and had gone to the UK. One daughter left and she vowed to get her married off to someone on the camp as well. A few chaps on the camp wished that they weren’t there at all. All their time was spent writing letters home. Never went off camp if they could help it. They had calendars marked up with their days left in the Far East. What a shame. Being in Singapore for eighteen months and yet seeing nothing. Eighteen months for them must have seemed like eighteen years. There are many such stories which could fill a book.




In Memoriam

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Faces From Chia Keng

Faces From Chia Keng 2

Faces From Chia Keng 3

Faces. 1950/60's & 2006

Extra Site photo's

Places Around Chia Keng

Local Scenes

Singapore City. 1958

Singapore. 1958

Later Camp Use. 1979

Servicemens Comments

Chia Keng Annexe

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