Friday, December 23, 2011

Singapore, 1961 – St. Andrew’s School (by Tim Light)

We arrived in Singapore at the start of May 1961. My brother and I were having such a good time that we scarcely noticed that we had missed an entire term of school. It wasn’t until September of that year that we restarted our education. At St. Andrews School, off Woodsville Circus.

I don’t know why St. Andrews was chosen, but I know that it had a good reputation, so I guess it must have been recommended to my parents. I vaguely remember an appointment that we attended, with our parents and a senior person from the school, possibly the headmaster. We were lectured in the ethos of hard work and discipline, and the meaning of the Tennis Racket symbol … Up and On.

The school was quite a long way from Woodlands, and we had the benefit of being transported in a Metal Box vehicle. Sometimes it was a Morris Traveller, but on a good day it would be one of the Bedford vans. I loved riding in these vans, with the doors wide open (no Air Con) and no seat belts. Feeling the wind from an open door was the perfect antidote to the incessant heat. We got to know the Metal Box drivers. Tan Wah Tin and Tan Jun Tek are the two that I remember (there were plenty of Tans in Singapore). There was also a Malay driver, whose name I have forgotten. One day he was asked to keep us occupied for a couple of hours, as my Mother was busy with something. He took us across the causeway to his home in Johore Bahru. It was wonderful; a wooden house on stilts, in a rural village with chickens running about. It was another world. His wife served us Frazer and Neave orange juice, and their children came in and gawked at us.

St. Andrews was an Anglo-Chinese school. In my class I was the only white boy. There were one or two Indians and Malays, but most of the boys were Chinese. I was an ethnic minority, before I had even heard the expression. I was occasionally picked on by an older boy, on account of my race, but the boys in my class were fine. We made friends the way children do at school. My theory is that children are children, the world over, and they are attracted to each other regardless of race.

My recollection of the school in 1961 is that it was a large building set in a semi-rural location. The playing fields were extensive, and the Kallang river formed one boundary. We were warned to stay away of the river, on account of the aggressive crocodiles, which had been known to attack humans. I never went near the river.

There was a canteen where we could buy food at break time for a very modest sum. I think a bowl of noodles was just a few cents. I had other plans for my money. I would make do with a bag of prawn crackers, and I spent everything on tiny plastic soldiers. By the end of term I had enough to recreate the Battle of the Somme in my bedroom. A drink was essential, and I learned to appreciate the delights of 7-Up and F&N out of the fridge. Back in England, refrigeration was still a luxury for the wealthy. And unnecessary most of the time.

We were on the morning shift. In the afternoon, a different set of boys attended. In England we were used to staying at school until mid-afternoon, but there was no school on Saturday. So I guess it balanced out.

The first few minutes of school were intense peer-bonding session. Stamp-collecting was very popular, so we would barter stamps, or other trinkets. We had a young Chinese lady teacher, who took us for all classes except Chinese. I don’t remember much about her. She was both strict and nice, if that is possible.

There was one major understanding, on account of my Yorkshire English being misinterpreted. During a stamp-trading session I got into an argument with a boy who I believed had stolen my 1953 Singapore $1 Coronation stamp. The teacher came to intervene and ask what the problem was. “He pinched me stamp.” I tried to say. But I only got as far as “He pinched me …”. The teacher pinched the other boy on his arm and said “That will teach you to pinch Timothy!”. If I hadn’t been so shocked I would have tried to explain that in Yorkshire “pinch” means steal, whereas “nip” means pinch. Oh well. He was in tears and I never got my stamp back.

The non-Chinese boys were excused Chinese lessons. I think we went to a different room where we were allowed to read.

The big bonus was learning Malay. I’ve forgotten it now, but it was fun. It was taught with picture books, and was not especially difficult. I would have liked to learn some Chinese, but I think that would have been a totally different proposition. Anyway, the Chinese boys had been speaking it all their lives.

As for the rest of the lessons, there was a big problem. We were doing things that I had learned two years earlier in England, and I was scoring 10/10 in every assignment. It seems that children in Singapore started school at a later age than in England. Whatever the explanation, my parents realised that there would have to be a change. There were two choices. Elevation to a higher age-group would have given us more a challenging and suitable level of studies, but we would have been with boys who were two years older. The other option was to put us in a British Services school. And that’s what happened. From January 1962 we attended the Royal Naval School, in the naval base at Sembawang.

I was sorry to leave my new friends at St. Andrews after such a short time, but the naval base was another adventure.

I only have a couple of photos from St. Andrews, showing a rope bridge that was made by the Boy Scouts on the occasion of a fund-raising day. From Google earth, it looks like the main school building still exists, although the field where we played football at break time is now underneath the Pan-Island Expressway. It would be fun to see some pictures of the old place, either from then or now.

This 1967 photo of the big field in St Andrew's is from the National Archives' Picas website.

Related post: Showdown at Woodsville.


Brian and Tess said...

Tim, another fascinating blog - and so much more detailed than my very limited memories of schooling which I blogged about on GMY some time ago. No surprise I suppose that you ended up in a service school. On being sent abroad all parents worried about disrupting their children's education and losing touch with the UK system. We were supposed (in 1960) to be posted to Australia but my father then explained that the education system was too different. On being posted to Singapore instead my parents first tried sending me to boarding school in the UK - I resisted strongly. But at least there was Changi Grammar for me and many others and whilst I am not sure it taught me anything it kept me out of trouble for half the day!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

I am a former student at SAS and left in 1959.

Just wondering if you remember our school song that has lyrics:

1. "mighty undertaking here, up and on"

2. "hearts courageous scorn defeat"

Lam Chun See said...

Tim. Your teachers did right to warn you to keep clear of the Kallang River. If you had fallen in, you were unlikely to be attacked by crocodiles. More likely you would be overwhelmed by the stench of dead chickens, pigs and other animals.

Did you know that the Kallang River that flowed by your school flowed through my kampong which was just a few km upstream? We kampong folks used to call the Kallang River, "Dead Chicken River"? Full story here.

Anyway, there was one year when there was widespread flooding in Spore and we were warned to lookout for a crocodile that escaped from a crocodile farm in nearby Lorong Chuan.

Tim said...

Brian/Tess - When it came to secondary education, we were packed off to boarding school in England. My parents were concerned that the service schools would be too rough. That shows how naive they were about boarding school!

Andy - No I don't remember the school song. It was a happy time, though, and over too soon. My regret is that I didn't keep in touch with any of my new friends.

Chun See - We were definitely warned about crocodiles, but I don't know if it was just a one-off. Anyway, something had to eat teh dead chickens!

Erwin said...

"My theory is that children are children, the world over, and they are attracted to each other regardless of race."

I like this one a lot! :)

Lam Chun See said...

Absolutely right. Look at this picture and you have to agree.

Erwin said...

--> Chun See.

If only there was a button where I can press "Like" on this blog. :)

PChew said...

St Anddrew School produced very good boxers and often won inter-school competition in the 50s and 60s. I wonder if there is still a boxing class in the school now.
I was a scout in Raffles Institution and I participated in the signalling competition held in St Andrew School ground in 1953.

alex said...

Hi Tim,

A little update of your "Driver" Tan Wah Tin.

Wah Ting retired as "transportation Section" Charge hand. I guess the position name is not unfamiliar for you.

He was later he supervisor of all the drivers, which are the van drivers, MD's personal driver, all the forklift drivers.

Wah Ting like to drink, and whiskey (Black Label)is his love. Unfortunately, when he retires, he literally drinks to his last day. He passed away about 5 years after retiring, from hardening liver.

I remember Wah Ting as a cheerful and easy going person, well liked by his colleagues.

He was thin and dark in complexion, darken form his days standing under the sun supervising the drivers, loading and unloading the cans.

Another page from the days of MB.


Tim said...

Hi Alex

Thank you for this update. I'm sorry to hear that Wah Ting passed away, but it sounds like he died with a smile on his face. Yes, I remember him as a cheerful guy, as were the other MB drivers. How old was he? He must have been 70+.

alex said...

Hi Tim,

Wah Ting passed away in his 60's. That was like over 10 years ago.

I was told most of his former colleagues were there to send him off, including all his former "transport pool" drivers.

"Transport" is managed under "Distribution Department", and that was the MB structure.

Happy New Year :)



leaflet distribution said...

There was one season when there was wide-spread racing in Spore and we were cautioned to search for a crocodile that runaway from a crocodile town in regional Lorong Chuan.

Business to Business Sales said...

No shock I assume that you finished up in a assistance university. On being sent overseas all mom and dad concerned about interfering with their kid's knowledge and dropping touching with the UK system.

Tim said...

Hah ha! I won't tell you where I ended up! It wasn't University!

My parents always did what tey hought was best for us, and on reflection I guess the Naval Base School was the best option. It was a lot opportunity, though. It would have been interesting to be educated alongside young Singaporeans.

Tim said...

Always check spelling before posting. try again:

Hah ha! I won't tell you where I ended up! It wasn't University!

My parents always did what they thought was best for us, and on reflection I guess the Naval Base School was the best option. It was a lost opportunity, though. It would have been interesting to be educated alongside young Singaporeans.

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Kaye Stevens said...

Hi my husband John Stevens when to Saint Andrews from around 1955 till 1968.He played rugby and a lot of other Sports,for which he won many trophies he is always telling us about the things he got up to as a boarder at the school,and would love to catch up with some of his old friends from there,as he lost contact with them when he migrated to Australia in 1969.
PS. He had a good laugh about the crocs in the river dead chickens more like it he said hope to read something from some one soon have a great New Year

Maurice Chew said...
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Maurice Chew said...
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Maurice Chew said...
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Maurice Chew said...

I was at St Andrews from 1957 to 1969. The guy that was
in charge of rugby was Yee Teck Peng . St Andrews was notorious for the rugby matches with ACS and Raffles At the time.
I remember the Tuck Shop overlooks the school field and is beside the Boarding house . There is now an Olympic size swimming in front of the tuck shop. The whole place had been revamped and is called St Andrews Village/ it now houses the primary , secondary classes and the junior colledge.

Ben Lee said...

Kanye Stevens, my name is Ben Lee . I left the Saints & boarding house in 1960 . Was there since 1953. I have the House photos from 58, 59 & 60. How old was John in 1960? Ben.

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