Memories and Recollections 1969 to 1971
by Bob Foskett
It was the summer of 1969, I’d completed almost four years at 3 Division HQ & Signal Regiment, Carter Barracks on Bulford Camp which was located close to the less than delightful Salisbury Plain. Engaged to my fiancé, Rita, we were planning a July wedding and so I requested a six month extension to my stay at the regiment. The reply came from Royal Signals Records that I was to be inducted on the Ristacomm Project with a view to being posted to 19 Signal Regiment in the Far East! Who says that the administrators at RS Records don’t have a sense of humour? The upside of this was that instead of doing my bit to prepare for the wedding I spent the last six weeks before the big event at the TTS, 8th Signal Regiment, Catterick where I was trained by Bill Johnson, Les McNeil and Jock Ross.
Fortunately the wedding went without a hitch and within ten days myself and my new wife Rita were on a VC10 bound for Singapore via Bahrain and Gan Island.
No room at the inn
Our arrival coincided with the 150th anniversary of the founding of Singapore by Raffles so there was no family accommodation available. Luckily we were met by an old buddy, Joe Croome, who said that rather than staying in a chalet (shed!) at The China Sea Beach Club we could stay with him. After a week things quietened down and we moved to the Cameron Hotel on The Upper Changi Road – the usual spot for families arriving at Changi. And does anybody remember this at Changi (Sent in by Bob Foskett)
I spent the first few weeks with 19 SR mainly at Chin Bee (if I remember correctly), a pretty well redundant station on the large microwave (SHF) network – perhaps they were trying to keep me out of harm’s way? I was waiting to travel to RAF Western Hill but flights were impossible to get so in the end Rita and I accompanied Pete and Pam Thomas on the long train ride up to Butterworth via Kuala Lumpur; a train ride that was longer than the flight from the UK!
The microwave site at Western Hill served the RAF Air Defence System. Situated in the highest part of the island it provided communications (both voice and data) across the Royal Australian Air Force at Butterworth. Western Hill was at the northern end of a Tropospheric Scatter link to Bukit Timah on Singapore. This turn linked into the large microwave network.
Working at Western Hill was certainly unusual in that the transport to work was by a funicular railway as there was no road up onto the plateau. The railway is still operating today, but with new swish coaches; the old wooden runs that we used to ride are now a museum exhibit. The station closed at the end of 1972 but “The Hill” remains a great tourist attraction. The radar site was also visited at the weekends when things were quiet by band of gibbons that seemed to like the vines growing by the perimeter fence.
Very little seemed to happen at the microwave station – a lot like “sleepy hollow” at times. The SHF, carrier telephony and telegraphy equipment worked very well, particularly if left alone. The RAF didn’t mess with our little section preferring to leave us to our weird “Pongo” ways. On one occasion they did request that we join a parade to welcome some Air Marshall or other. With great presence of mind Gordon McInnes, section leader, demanded that, being senior to the RAF, we should parade “right of line”. He also pointed out that Army drill was incompatible with RAF drill (shuffling). They never asked us again.
No sooner had we settled into our new home when Gordon told me that I was to return to Catterick for a Class 1 Technician course. So, after three months Rita and I were back on a VC10 bound for the UK and Catterick. That RS Records Office sense of humour to the fore again.
Six months later after yet another trip on a VC10 we returned to Penang and Western Hill. Six months of totally unrelated work didn’t help my rehabilitation back into Microwave Troop. Things hadn’t changed too much at all – there was just the occasional fault to tax our brains.
The Record of Events diary had few entries apart from shift changes. On one occasion Phil Kingham was to change a modulator panel in the evening when the RAF weren’t flying their Mirages. The entries went like this:-
19:15 B path switched off and panel change commenced by PK
19:50 Panel change complete
19:55 B path switched on
19:56 Fire! Fire! Fire!
Mostly though life was lived at quite a gentle pace, really. The small member of the Microwave Troop section made a disproportional contribution to the sporting teams of RAF Western Hill. I particularly enjoyed my rugby there especially when getting one over on the Aussies. The New Zealand Infantry Regiment, who provided ground defence, were a whole different proposition, of course! I still have the scars.
As the decommissioning started at Western Hill in preparation for the withdrawal from the Far East at the end of 1971 I despatched down to Changi to help with the handover of the microwave network to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). For me, it was a massive shock to the system – much like someone going from a bank branch in the Yorkshire Dales to the Trading Floor in the City of London I reckon. I was way out of my depth but as is always the case with the Corps there were a great set of folks to help me through the ordeal …. or just plain cover for me!
The complement of the Troop was diminishing rapidly during he last three months of the UK’s presence. Still a few of us managed to turn out for the ANZUK Support Group’s rugby team between very tense stints at Changi Control.
I think I was the last but one Microwave Trooper to fly home with WO 1 (FoS) George Yates the last (I think). I enjoyed my time with 19 SR very much – who wouldn’t? The camaraderie of the Corps members was second to none – absolutely none. I met some first class COs in Lt Colonels Thursby-Pelham and Gilbert, some great ToTs and Foremen, very gentlemanly Locally Employed Personnel and above all a bunch of first class technicians – all were a credit to the Royal Corps of Signals. Would I do it all again? In a heart-beat!
Later Bob Added
Memory fades of course so it is will some difficulty that I try to remember all of the staff at Butterworth. I managed to get some more information from Bob Williamson The site was run by a Sergeant, Joe Oakley and it was staffed much like the Microwavers on Western Hill at the other end of the link – a detachment of Microwave Troop The singlies were barracked at RAF Glugor with the scalies (married with accompanying family) housed on Pilau Pinang/Penang Island. For them it was a daily ferry road over to the mainland rather than the ride on the Penang Hill Railway. The names that I remember from those days are Bob Williamson, Pete Thomas, Ken Durant and Mick Birney. Bob also remembers Ginge Cook and Ian Howie. I only went over to Butterworth on very rare occasions but I do remember the Malaysian Coke Man greeting everyone there with a very Australian “G-day Myte”. One of the guys over there Brian Etheridge managed to beat all of the single RAFers and marry the SWO-man’s daughter, Chris Craig, much to the chagrin of the Boys in Blue – another great result for the Corps! Bob married the lovely, Molly and now lives in retirement back on Penang Island.