(with grateful thanks to Lt Col.C.J. Gilbert and his Regimental History 1943 to 1971)
It is convenient to start this section with the change of command that took place in September 1949, when Lieutenant Colonel E.G. Thompson, OBE, relieved Lieutenant Colonel Webb. Colonel Thompson is described by a later CO, Colonel James Haigh as “a back-door entry like myself, from Cambridge, and indeed from the same College, Gonville and Caius.” Colonel Thompson’s command was, however, shortlived. In June 1950, in his capacity as CSO Malaya, he was travelling up-country in Malaya when the armoured vehicle in which he was riding was ambushed by terrorists and the vehicle overturned, killing him. Major M. McG Simmonds was Second-in-Command at the time and he assumed temporary command until a new Commanding Officer could be made available.
Introduction of RAF Changi
The Regiment was now very closely integrated with RAF Changi. The Officers were members of Air HQ Officers’ Mess, in Changi Village, and the Commanding Officer was PMC. The WOs and Sgts shared the RAF Changi Station Sergeants Mess. Although the Regiment had as yet no PRI or unit funds, it had the responsibility of hosting other units on occasions for such major sporting functions as the annual R Signals, RA and RE Cricket Match. The Station Commander was extremely helpful both with financial and material aid such as the setting up of the pitch, spectator accommodation and refreshments. In turn the Regiment was invited, by both the GOC and AOC, to join with the Station for ceremonial parades. One such occasion was the parade to commemorate the Battle of Britain and immediately an argument arose on the question of precedence. A recent ACI stated that Army “detachments” on RAF stations would not claim to be “right of the line”. The acting CO claimed a different interpretation in that 19th Air Formation was a Regiment and not a detachment. It was agreed that until the ACI was clarified the Regiment would come last on parade, provided the GD (Flying) contingent marched at the head. The Regimental Parade Squadron worked very hard for this occasion, and afterwards both the GOC and AOC telephoned the Acting CO congratulating the Regiment on its turnout and first-class drill. After that the Regiment was always “right of the line.”
The Malay Clinic
During Colonel Haigh’s command, his wife, with the help of a young RAF doctor, Flight Lieutenant Mortimer, established a Clinic for the Malay families living in the Married Quarters at Telok Paku. This clinic was still thriving in 1971, with the help of the SSAFA nursing sister, and sessions were held once a month in the Malay camp. In the latter stages of the run-down this clinic managed to have every LEP family innoculated and medically checked before they left Singapore for their homes up-country. One amusing incident occurred in the early days of the clinic when Mrs. Haigh was rung up by a Malay soldier, in the early hours of the morning, who said “Oh mem, when my wife woke up just now she was unconscious!”
Reorganisation of the Regiment in 1952
Proposals had been put forward to the War Office in 1952 to re-organise the Regiment to a tailor-made establishment commensurate with its role in the Far East. The RAF organisation had now been fairly well established and it was high time that the Regiment’s organisation was adjusted to fit in with the RAF deployment. The parameters for the establishment were the maintenance of static line communications for the RAF, providing support for the operations and training of the RAF in Malaya, the engineering of all new Signals Works Service projects and major repairs throughout the Far East Air Force in Singapore Island and in Ceylon. A further task was given to the Regiment in 1953 namely the maintenance of RAF communications in Hong Kong. The new establishment was approved in June 1953 and produced the following organisation:
- A Regimental Headquarters
- Consisting of RHQ, Q and MT Troops located at Changi.
- Mobile Troops
- Two Wing Signal Troops and one Line Troop at Changi.
- No. 1(Changi)Sqn
- SHQ, one Control and Maintenance Troop and one Installation and Technical Maintenance Troop.
- No. 2 (Seletar/Tengah) Sqn
- SHQ and one Control and Maintenance Troop located between RAF Seletar and Tengah.
- No. 3 (Ceylon) Sqn
- Hong Kong Maintenance Troop
- Located at RAF Kai Tak. This Troop was formed in July 1953, and flew to Hong Kong on 18th July.
Col. J.J.Lamb takes over command
Colonel Haigh’s tenure of command ended on 15th June 1953 and he handed over to Lieutenant Colonel J.J. Lamb, who had spent the previous two years in Malaya on operations. Telephone communications in Changi were apparently bad at this time due to a considerable number of poorly maintained cables and unreliable carrier and VF equipment on trunk and junction lines. The CO ordered a blitz on maintenance and insisted that all joints should be properly terminated and soldered. The TOT’s life was a nightmare but the end justified the means for after some months the communications system improved out of all recognition. The main switch-board at Command Headquarters was refurbished with new cabling, MDF and IDF and, at long last, an air-conditioning system was installed.
One of the recreational facilities now run by the Regiment was a Leave Camp situated on the sea-coast on Nicoll Drive, south east of RAF Changi. The buildings were in fact constructed in 1939 as gun emplacements, and observation towers. Sometime in 1948/49 these buildings were taken over by GHQ Signal Regiment and named The Royal Signals Leave Camp. The original idea was to provide a seaside leave centre for all Signal units on Singapore. In 1953 19th Signal Regiment took over responsibility for the camp; the buildings remained in much the same condition as they were during World War II, fully camouflaged with brown and green paint and surrounded by jungle. The Regiment renamed the Camp The Telok Paku Leave Camp and opened it to all servicemen regardless of rank or branch of Service. The general outward appearance and facilities of the camp were improved, mainly by self-help and in 1962 it had a small bar serving canned and bottled beer. The only electrical source was a mobile generator and this was restricted to between 1800 hours and 2345 hours daily. In 1962/63, with financial assistance from Singapore District, a major reconstruction programme was started. The main premises were extended, a new sea-wall built, an extension put on to the kitchen and draught-beer facilities were installed. The major addition was the provision of three holiday chalets for family accommodation. The camp was then renamed The China Sea Beach Club. Over the years this Club has been very well patronized by servicemen and their families from all over Singapore and Malaya, and at the same time it has been the main source of revenue to the Regimental funds.
Thefts of cable were prevalent everywhere. In Hong Kong the original cable routes in the New Territories followed the south coast road for much of the way and in culverts and rocky places some were exposed. New cables were laid under the centre of the new road constructed over the hills and this followed a far more direct route. In both Ceylon and Changi cables were the target for thieves and it was found necessary to have alarms put on the cables, with Vigilante parties standing by to set out immediately any alarm went off. There is no record of any arrest as a direct result of this action but thefts did decrease.
A further outpost of the Regiment was established in 1954 when airfield communications were provided for the RAF and RAAF at Labuan in North Borneo. A single British lineman was then left to maintain the system.
The original AFS Badge
In July 1955 Lieutenant Colonel P.C. Williams arrived from the School of Artillery Larkhill to assume command. During his three-year tenure the organisation of the Regiment underwent some considerable changes as the RAF adjusted its deployment in the Far East. The major change was brought about by Ceylon becoming independent and British Forces having to withdraw from the country. The RAF decided to convert Gan Island, in the Maldives, into a staging post. This had been a flying-boat station during the War. The original surveys of the coral island started in 1957 and in 1958 AMWD and the contractors started the building of the runway, airfield services and buildings. The Signals Works Services to provide the communications were major projects and included, inter alia, the normal ring cables around the airfield, telephone exchange, keying circuits and land lines to the various navigational and landing aids. This was clearly going to be a long task and therefore a Gan Island Installation Troop was formed, initially with personnel from the Ceylon Squadron. The work on the main projects was completed in July 1959 when the Installation Troop was withdrawn leaving behind Gan Island Signal Troop, consisting of a sergeant and six linemen and technicians to maintain the communications.
Malaya squadron formed
The second major change in the Regimental organisation was the formation of Malaya Squadron. The role of the Unit on Singapore Island was a purely static one and the troops were tailor-made and equipped for a static task. The requirement now arose for a mobile squadron, equipped with field cable and stores for deployment anywhere in the Far East in the normal Air Formation role, with the ability to open up temporary airfields for operations. Malaya Squadron was formed for this task, and consisted of two Wing Troops, one Line Troop and one Construction Troop.
Handover of Ceylon airfield
Ceylon Squadron was now disbanding and manned on a caretaker basis until the final handover of Katunayake airfield to the Ceylon Government. The first operational circuits were transferred to Gan on 6th January 1960 and Gan Island became fully operational as the Far East staging post on 1st May 1960. On 20th April 1960, the Corps flag was lowered at Katunayake for the last time, and one officer and five men of the Regiment embarked on their aircraft. Although British troops landed in Ceylon in 1782, it was not until 1795 that the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry and 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders landed at Jaffna, Trincomalee and Galle, and so began the British Army’s stay in Ceylon. It was indeed an honour that it should be members of the Royal Signals who finally brought to an end 165 years of the British Army’s presence in Ceylon.