And to borrow the words of Lynn Copping; “As if the Britannia Club never existed”.
Yes, young readers may not know it; the NCO’s Club was actually occupying what was once known as the Britannia Club, a popular club for British military personnel. In his book, Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans: A Childhood in Singapore and Malaya, writer and photographer, Derek Tait wrote:
“In Singapore City, there was the Britannia Club for Navy personnel and their families. It was on Beach Road and was run by the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institution). It included a snack bar and restaurant, lounge bar and tavern, games and reading rooms, a swimming pool and a sports shop.
The Britannia Club on Beach Road in Singapore which was set up for members of the forces and their families for recreation and social purposes. It was also known as the NAAFI Club or the Brit Club and was opposite Raffles Hotel. Inside, there was a swimming pool and in the back room was a giant scalectrix set, great for the kids though I think it was mainly used by Naval personnel!. Around and above the swimming pool was a huge balcony where we'd all eat and get drinks. There were high diving boards too though a lot of people didn't have the courage to go on them! Certainly not me!”
Others like Derek, children of British military personnel stationed in Singapore in the 50’s and 60’s, who fondly called themselves ‘Britbrats’ also have strong memories of the Britannia Club. Again, quoting from Derek’s book:
Ellen Tait remembers:
Clive Baker remembers:
"The Brit Club was home from home for Singapore based service personnel, here you could get egg, bacon and chips with Daddies sauce, a couple of slices of real bread and real PG Tips type tea. Of course, there was also the fact that it sold really cheap Tiger beer and it was here that I was first introduced to what was to become a life-long habit, I still enjoy the occasional pint of Tiger Tops and it certainly is a good reason for going back to Singapore for the real McCoy, straight from the tap instead of a bottle!"
I asked my friend Tom O’brien of Memories of Singapore and he said:
“I do remember swimming at the Brit Club occasionally. I remember that the water was chlorinated differently, maybe even unchlorinated. They also had a room with a very large Scalectrix Track. On one occasion when the servicemen had one of their regular dances. A couple of my friends and I managed to get in. We were not allowed as we were 16 and still at school. I remember a group playing Honky Tonk Women by the Stones. Every thing was fine until one of my friends (I think it may have been Ken Thomas) tried to purchase a beer at the bar. Then we were rumbled and ejected.”
John Harper who has written several articles for this blog about his childhood days in Singapore also remembers the Britannia Club at Beach Road with fondness.
“The main things I remember about the Britannia is the swimming pool and visiting once a month in 1959 when we lived at Tengah. The pool had very good diving boards covered in coconut coir matting for grip when wet. From the diving boards you could look out to sea and there would be ships lined up at anchor in many directions. Whilst we were swimming we would always have a Coca Cola or a Pepsi during a brief interlude out of the pool. But we never had anything to eat there as we always went on to visit the Islamic Restaurant afterwards for a Bryani; one of my favourite dishes at that time.”
Hence, you can see that if things continue this way, a day may just come when British kids will know something about our history that our kids don’t; that this complex that our government wants to retain because of its historical significance was built originally by the British and it was once called the Britannia Club.
For young readers who want to know more about this place, please read Victor’s very informative article here.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Derek Tait for the above photographs of the Britannia Club.