1970—1971 RUNDOWN AND DISBANDMENT
(with grateful thanks to Lt Col.C.J. Gilbert and his Regimental History 1943 to 1971)
The year 1970 opened with what was to be the last change of command within the Regiment. On 23rd January Lieutenant Colonel C.J. Gilbert took over from Lieutenant Colonel D.H. Thursby-Pelham. As the heading of this chapter indicates this was to be a rather sad time for the Regiment, losing its men, its responsibilities and finally its identity.
Whilst the initial plans for the early withdrawal from Singapore were made in 1968 and detailed plans completed in 1969, the full effect was not really felt in the Regiment until 1970. This chapter therefore describes the premises on which the run-down was planned and the actual events which took place within the Regiment until its final disbandment on 15th November 1971. The original directive by the Government in 1968 was that all troops would be clear of Singapore by December 1971. The change in Government in 1970 altered this plan to the extent that there would be a British presence post-1971 but this did not materially affect the proposed disbandment of the Regiment. It was decided that to facilitate the withdrawal of British troops, and in particular Royal Signals tradesmen, communication systems that were required for the latter half of 1971 and possibly for the post-1971 presence, were to be taken over by the Singapore Telephone Board (STB) or the Ministry of Interior and Defence (MINDEF) with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAP) acting as the latter’s agents. STB were to take over the automatic exchanges and associated telephones and also the airfield cable systems while SAP were to take over the Microwave System.
Airfield Exchanges and Systems
The planned timetable for the handover to STB was based mainly on the cessation of operations by the RAF on the various airfields. Seletar was to be transferred on 1st April 1970, Bukit Gombak on 1st May 1971, Tengah on 1st June 1971 and Changi on 1st July 1971. In all cases the Regiment maintained one liaison NCO at the exchange to ensure that high priority circuits were re-routed and restored with the right degree of urgency and this proved to be a very necessary precaution. It was interesting to note that in the case of Seletar the STB cover was calculated to be two technicians and three wiremen with on call assistance from STB HQ, compared with our airfield troop of some forty men. STB gave as a reason that fault incidence over the previous year was low. What was not appreciated was that preventive maintenance had always been carried out, hence the low fault incidence. After STB’s takeover fault incidence did rise and there was a slower reaction from STB due to their rather cumbersome fault reporting and repair system. This did not matter on a non operational airfield such as Seletar but did give some concern when Tengah and Changi were to be handed over. This was partly overcome by retaining at each of these stations an airfield rear party of a few linemen and technicians to cover vital operational circuits for landing and navigational aids until such time as RAF operational flying ceased.
The Microwave system, less the Tropospheric Forward Scatter link, was to be taken over by SAP. This produced the biggest problem in that it was not clear just how the SAP intended to use the system and what sort of circuits would pass over it. The Regiment was required to operate it as a fully operational system for the RAF with a quick re-route and restoration capability. This therefore demanded both a high quality and quantity in the manning requirements. SAF on the other hand would not require the system for operational circuits as such, and in any event required a far lower number of circuits. They therefore planned on manning it with a lower grade of tradesman, a watch-keeper, and with a smaller number in each station. Their first problem was to find suitable basic material from within their army, train them up to a minimum standard of technical competence and then feed them into the system.
In July 1970 SAF selected 16 soldiers who were sent to Catterick to do the 6-week Microwave course. On their return these tradesmen were then put into the Microwave Troop for further station training and with a view to selecting four of the best as a training cadre for the SAF. These in turn would train other SAF technicians. At the same time a training station had to be established since it was quite impracticable to train raw technicians on the live system. After some negotiations with the Diplomatic Wireless Service, the link Tanglin to Chin Bee was to be replaced by a C50 thereby releasing two HM 314/315 stations and their associated equipment. An installation team was to be formed from TM Troop and to rebuild the rewire a complete training station in MINDEF’s HO at Pearls Hill.
The SAF training cadre was selected and supplemented initially by one British and one LEP technician from the Regiment. The syllabus and lecture notes for the Watch-keepers courses were written by the Regiment and the first four week course started on 9th November 1970 with a planned output of 10 semi-trained technicians per course. Continuation training was planned by feeding the technicians into working stations on the system.
The future of the Tropo link was a continual subject for discussion throughout 1970 and eventually in October the two Governments of Singapore and Malaysia finally decided that neither had a requirement for the system. Its future therefore lay in the hands of MOD (Army) and continual pressure was exerted from Singapore to get a decision on the equipment’s fate. The Regiment strongly advocated its disposal locally as the cost both in man hours and effort in dismantling, packing and despatch to UK seemed to be out of all proportion to the value of the equipments’ further use.
Apart from continual reappraisals and revisions of the run-down plan, 1970 saw the start of the demise of the Regiment. 2 Squadron at Seletar was disbanded on 1st May 1970 and apart from a small rear party remaining at Seletar for the handover to STB, the balance of personnel were absorbed into Tengah and Changi Troops, the former now coming under command of 1 Squadron. Gan Island Signal Troop was brought under the direct command of RHQ.
When the Corps celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1970, the Regiment marked this occasion with various activities in Changi. The WOs and Sgts hosted an Anniversary Dinner in the Changi Station Sergeants’ Mess for all Royal Signals on Singapore Island. The highlight of this was the ceremonial cutting of a special anniversary cake, suitably decorated in Corps Colours, and this was later donated to a local convalescent home.
The second social event was a Regimental Party and Games night for the soldiers which was held in the Senior Ranks club. On a more serious note, all denominations held Services of rededication. The Muslims held a parade on the Station Square before proceeding to the Mosque for Friday prayers during which special prayers were included to mark the anniversary. On the following Sunday three special services for the Regiment were held in St. George’s, St. Anthony’s and Holy Trinity Churches at RAF Changi.
Each service included special prayers for the Corps and the Regiment and a Corporate Act of Rededication by members of the Regiment present. Work was now in hand to release the Marconi HM 314/315 equipment for the special installation in Pearls Hill on which the SAF technicians could be trained. This was achieved by closing the Tanglin Chin Bee Microwave link and replacing it with a C50 radio and associated channelling equipment. The installation in Pearls Hill, which would normally have been carried out under contract by the manufacturers, was undertaken by the special installation team formed by Technical Maintenance Troop with some supervisory assistance from Microwave Troop and was completed in six weeks.