A few memories by John Hill
At the end of 1964 it is of interest that the Regiment (the RHQ was based at RAF Changi) was responsible for ten airfields in the Far East namely RAF Gan in the Indian Ocean; RAF Changi, Seletar and Tengah on Singapore Island; RAF Kuching, Labuan and Tawau in North Borneo; RAF Kuantan, Alor Star and RAAF Butterworth in Malaya. As well as these airfields there were smaller installations in Singapore such as the Radar Site at Bukit Gombak, the RAF transmitter and receiver stations at Jurong, Amoy Quee and Chia Keng and the civil airport at Paya Lebar. In all, this empire covered 3,200 miles from East to West and 700 miles from North to South; surely one of the most widely dispersed Regiments in the British Army.
The troop as I knew it.
Seletar troop, 19 Signal Regt when I arrived in 1966, was housed in a small bunker on the back road to the swimming pool. The OC, at the time was (Capt. Gerry Funnell, followed later by Jim Potts and eventually right up to disbandment by Bernard Strange) and I shared this bunker with the troop Sgt as our offices. Gill Holmonroyd was the troop S.Sgt and Ray Haskell the troop Sgt. (Bob Townsend looked after the lines and underground cables). Talk about the poor relations. I, as the so called technical “boffin” was responsible for the running and maintenance of the 10,000 line telephone exchange and all the airfield ground communications. Imagine that as your fist Foreman of Signals posting to be confronted with a new Strowger System telephone exchange. The 10,000 line automatic telephone exchange enabled interdialling between all the three services exchanges on the island and indeed the trunk system back to the UK and any part of the world. We later moved to more affable accommodation next to the main gate (vacated by, I think it was called, 757 SU.) It was a luxury.
The troop was also responsible for maintaining miles and miles of underground cable, most of it installed by the Japanese during the war. This was generally lead covered and could be up to 121 pairs in each cable. Quite a formidable task if some unscrupulous contractor decided to dig one up and snap it………and they did!!!
I and a number of my “blokes” enjoyed many a “jolly” flying as supernumerary crew and I spent many afternoons doing circuits and bumps in Beverleys, Single Pioneers, Twin Pioneers and Andovers. 66 Sqn Belvedeers and 103 and 110 Sqn Whirlwinds also provided me with many flying hours. (Should have been a blue job). I had already served at RAF Auenhausen, RAF Borgentreich, RAF Sundern and RAF Gutersloh and after 1970 I would also serve at RAF Nicosia and RAF Masirah.
Did I enjoy my tour at Seletar ? Every bloody minute. I would cycle from Upper Serangoon to work daily and often cycle along the dreaded Tampines road to the RHQ at Changi for a meeting.
Although locally enlisted soldiers have served with the British Forces in Singapore and Malaya since 1938, it was not until November 1948 that the first LEP as they are known, joined this Regiment. The LEP were mainly Malays, but later on Chinese, Indian and Eurasians joined for service with the Crown. They were recruited mainly from Malaya but a proportion also came from Singapore itself. The main trades among the LEP were cable jointer, lineman, driver, clerk and clerk technical. A few with sufficiently high educational qualifications were trained as technicians. Single soldiers were housed in a central block known as askar askar bujang.(Soldiers quarters) The married soldiers however lived in Asian married quarters at Tengah, Seletar or Changi. These were small brick-built houses, fully furnished, for which they were charged a nominal rent of $4.20 per month and were given free water supply and a free issue of kerosene for their cooking.. At Seletar they had their own community centre. For twenty three years these Lep soldiers have been the backbone of the Regiment since they have provided the bulk of the tradesmen of the airfield signal troops, all the drivers and the majority of clerk and storeman trades.
The LEP Committment.
What was the Locally Enlisted soldier like? Only those who have had them under their command can really answer this question but here is an attempt at an assessment. He was basically an extremely loyal man who held the Crown in the highest esteem and was fervently proud of his Regiment. Generally he was smartly turned out, particularly so on ceremonial parades with the colourful dark green songkok, white ceremonial dress and the sarong in Royal Signals colours. He was well disciplined, very respectful and somewhat shy, but this is part of the Asian character. He was above all abundantly cheerful, even in adversity. He was an amiable, easy-going individual who would always rise to the big occasion and would carry out a task thoroughly if given explicit instructions. As a tradesman he was painstaking and proud of his skill, as can be evinced by the superb craftsmanship of the cable jointer. As a sportsman he was unequalled in the games played in this part of the world, hockey, sepak raga, volleyball, badminton and athletics. Unfortunately he was grossly underpaid compared with his British counterpart doing a similar task but his needs of life were simpler and less complicated. Whilst the majority of LEP were Malay Muslims, some Indians and Chinese also served in the LEP ranks. Within the Regiment therefore all the various religious and cultural customs have been observed over the years.
Other units at Seletar
There were two other units of 19 Signal Regt based at Seletar in a compound close to the primary school. Operations and Malaysia troop were responsible for all the airfields in Malaya, Borneo and Labuan. Confrontation brought calls on the Regiment for installation and repair work in Borneo. The Operations Troop now found itself involved in radio-relay during the confrontation when a small team was sent to Kuching to install a B 70 radio-relay link between Kuching Airport and West Brigade in Kuching Town. This was to be a back-up in the event of a breakdown in the civil line communications.. The threat of increased Indonesian air activity necessitated the basing of fightr aircraft at Kuching and this in turn meant that the airfield communication system had to be made more sophisticated. A project was planned which included the laying of cable tails for the transmitter site, the T-type radar convoy, aircraft dispersals and navaids. An additional small telephone exchange was also included. The installation task was undertaken by two detachments of Malaya Troop, and for the first time these included some LEP tradesmen.
19 Signal Regt holds a reunion every year (normally at Warwick Hilton) where ex members of Seletar Troop, Ops troop and Malaya troop have a weekend of reminiscing…and drinking. Among those attending from Seletar troop are Trevor Broadley (Then a technical corporal), my old OC Bernard Strange ( Later Major), myself and Brian Tewkesbury (a lineman) with Bob Foskett ( from RAAF Butterworth)
(Note that since this was written, sadly Bernard Strange has died. Click on his name to read his obituary)
For further photos of Seletar Troop go to the slider pictures below.
Bob Townsend Weapon Training
Bob Townsend , the Troop Sgt.from 1967 to 1970 instructs some of the younger members of the troop in weapon training.
Trevor Broadley and Mate
Trevor seen here having a pint with a mate. Who is the mate, any ideas?
We now know it is Brian Tewkesbury Really?
This is in the Sunshine Club, not sure why the Foreman of Signals (FoS) is stripped off and painting the floor.
Brian, Pete and Nobby
Brian Tewkesbury, Nobby Clarke and Pete Osborne. Where are you now Pete and Nobby?
Sgts Mess Summer Ball 1968
Dressed for the occasion, Sgt Johan, Sgt Townsend, Sgt Omar and S.Sgt (FoS) John Hill.
Up the Pole
How many men does it take to put up a pole? Bob Townsend gives some instruction.
Brian Tewkesbury and Jim Baines at the Athletics meeting, any ideas on who the others are?
We think it is Ian Norrie and Nobby Clarke.
Who is the LEP
John Hill and Pete Birkett (Changi Troop) on a Radio Exercise.