1 Sqn. 19 Signal Regiment
Seletar Troop Structure
- 1 Officer (Captain)
- 1 Staff Sergeant (Foreman of Signals)
- 1 Troop Sergeant
- 12 Royal Signals personnel (British)
- 35 Locally enlisted personnel (LEP)
Regiment Headquarters (RHQ) based at RAF Changi
A personal recollection of Seletar Troop…by John Hill.Foreman of Signals 66-69
When I arrived at Seletar Troop in 1966 it was housed in a small bunker (on the back road to the swimming pool). The Officer Commanding (OC), at the time was Captain Gerry Funnell, followed later by Jim Potts and eventually, until disbandment, commanded by Bernard Strange. This bunker – our office – was shared by myself, the OC and the Troop Sergeant. Talk about the poor relations – as the so called technical ‘boffin’ I was responsible for the running and maintenance of the 10,000 line telephone exchange and all the airfield ground communications. We later moved to more luxurious accommodation next to the main gate (I think this had previously housed 757 SU).
As well as the 10,000 line automatic telephone exchange which enabled inter-dialling between all the three services exchanges on the island and indeed the trunk system back to the UK and any part of the world, Seletar Troop was responsible for maintaining miles and miles of underground cable – most of it installed by the Japanese during the war. This cable was generally lead covered with up to 121 pairs in each cable. A formidable task – especially if some unscrupulous contractor decided to dig one up and snap it.
Fringe benefits and lucky escapes
I and a number of my blokes (all men in those days) enjoyed many a jolly, flying as supernumerary crew. We spent many afternoons doing circuits and bumps in Beverleys, single Pioneers, twin Pioneers and Andovers. Many flying hours were provided by 66 Sqn Belvedeers and 103 and 110 Sqn Whirlwinds - even though it should have been a blue job then again 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.
By chance, I was booked on a Beverley to fly from Seletar to Katmandu (Nepal), at the last minute when already in Air Movements, a cable fault providing communications to the Control Tower was badly damaged and I was called off the flight to urgently supervise the repair and I was unable to join the flight. Sadly that aircraft crashed in Malaya and all crew were killed - think it must have been 1968.
(full story below)
Did I enjoy my tour at Seletar? Every minute. I would cycle the 6 miles from Upper Serangoon to work daily and often cycle along the dreaded Tampines road to the RHQ at Changi for a meeting.(15 miles)
Other 19 Signal Regiment Units at Seletar
There were two other units of 19 Signal Regiment - Operations and Malaysia troops were based at Seletar in a compound close to the primary school. These troops were responsible for all the airfields in Malaya, Borneo and Labuan.
Ops troop in Seletar
Confrontation brought calls on the Regiment for installation and repair work in Borneo. The Operations Troop was involved in radio-relay during the confrontation. 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 fighter 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.(for a fuller story on the role of Ops troop and Malaysia troop go to the respective troop page)
A drive through the Camp earlier this century.Seletar in the sixties https://youtu.be/J40nvtjGk70
Locally Enlisted Soldiers
For twenty three years these locally enlisted soldiers (or locally enlisted personnel (LEPs) to give them their correct title) have been the backbone of the Regiment providing the bulk of the tradesmen for the airfield signal troops, including all the drivers and the majority of Clerical and Storeman trades.
Locally enlisted soldiers have served with the British Forces in Singapore and Malaya since 1938 but it wasn't until November 1948 that the first LEP joined this Regiment. The LEP were mainly Malays, but later Chinese, Indian and Eurasians joined for service with the Crown. LEPS were recruited mainly from Malaya but a proportion also came from Singapore. The main trades undertaken by LEPs were cable jointer, lineman, driver, clerk and clerk technical. A few with the requisite education qualifications were trained as technicians.
At Seletar LEPS had their own community centre. Single soldiers were housed in a central block known as Askar Askar Bujang.(Soldiers quarters) The married soldiers lived in Asian married quarters (MQs) at Tengah, Seletar or Changi. These MQs were small, brick-built, fully furnished houses; they were charged a nominal rent of $4.20 per month and given a free water supply and free issue of kerosene for cooking.
What was the Locally Enlisted soldier like?
Smart, loyal, sporty, skilled - underpaid
Only those who have had them under their command can really answer this question but this is my attempt at an assessment. The LEP soldier was an extremely loyal man who held the Crown in the highest esteem and was fervently proud of his Regiment. 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 the locally employed soldier was painstaking and proud of his skill, as can be evidenced 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, though 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.
19 Signal Regiment holds a reunion every year (normally at Warwick Hilton) where ex members of Seletar Troop, Ops Troop and Malaya (later Malaysia)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.
We welcome others who served to join us.