Friday, March 02, 2012

Singapore, 1962 to 1964 – Royal Naval School (by Tim Light)

At the end of 1961, my brother and I left St. Andrews School, never to return. In January 1962 we started as pupils at the Royal Naval School, in the Naval Base at Sembawang. In 1962, the British armed forces still had a massive presence in Singapore, with a large proportion of the territory being occupied by the various Naval, Army or Air bases. The Naval Base was probably the biggest of these bases.

My parents were not in the forces, but the services schools must have been the best option for giving us an education aligned to the British curriculum. I imagine that our places had to be paid for, but I don’t know how much or who paid it. I have an idea that the Metal Box company made a contribution towards our schooling. One minor bonus for my parents was that the uniform was exactly the same as St. Andrews, i.e. Navy shorts and white shirt. Minus the St. Andrews badge, of course.

Also at the start of 1962, we moved into our new home at 7 Sian Tuan Avenue, Hong Kong Park, off Dunearn Road. We went to school in the RN School Bus, a smart Bedford bus, in Navy Blue livery with white trim. There must have been naval personnel scattered around the island, because the school ran a large number of routes out from the school. There was even a mini-bus station at the school.

The bus proceeded through Bukit Timah, Bukit Panjang, and Woodlands, entering the Naval Base through the gates near to the causeway. There were still a few miles to go to reach the school, which was at the Sembawang end of the base. We had to pass the dockyard, and it was always interesting to see the various warships in the dock. I was never an expert, so I couldn’t distinguish between battleships, cruisers or most of the other vessels. There was always a buzz of excitement when one of the great aircraft carriers was expected. I remember Ark Royal and Bulwark. They were enormous.

The school was a pleasant collection of buildings in a nice location. The classrooms were a set of three long, single storied buildings, with 3 or 4 classrooms per block. The sides were completely open, allowing a refreshing breeze to pass through. The main assembly hall was a classic old colonial-style wooden building on stilts, with a balcony. This hall was used for assembly, music and drama lessons. My most vivid memory was hearing the announcement that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

There was another similar building that was used for martial arts and crafts. I was a member of the fencing club, and enjoyed some success with the foil. School finished in the early afternoon, but there were activities every afternoon including sports, crafts, choir, etc..

The other buildings that I remember were a staff and administration block that also had a library, and the toilet block. Finally there was a Padang where we played football and rounders.

My first teacher was Mrs Ransome, who was a somewhat mature lady, kindly but stern, in the tradition of Victorian matrons. I’m probably doing her a disservice with this description. She was probably not as old as my young eyes perceived her to be. One memory of Mrs Ransome was her insistence on the accurate use of English. One poor lad said to her, “Please Miss. I’ve got all ink on my hands.” Mrs Ransome said, very severely, “You do not have all ink on your hands, William. You have some ink on your hands. If all ink was in this classroom, we would all have drowned in it.”

After that, in year 3, we had Mr. Nutter. He was a decent bloke, who made lessons interesting, and was constantly distracted by the wildlife. He set up an aquarium, and had various live insects and rodents on the nature table. In cages of course. I managed to incur his wrath by failing to deliver my homework on a number of occasions, with increasingly laughable excuses. He finally lost patience and caned me. I deserved it.

In year 4 we had Mr Steele. He was a little more severe and not as much fun, but still a good teacher so long as you didn’t mess with him. Which I didn’t.

It was in year 4 that I started to fall in love with some of my fellow pupils. Anne Turner and Margaret Pillage spring to mind. I wonder where they are now. My best pal was Keith Stannard, and I spent a few weekends stopping over at his house in the naval base, just up the road from the school. These were lovely old black and white houses on stilts. We would go fishing on a jetty, catching lots of fish as we watched the big grey warships coming and going. Wonderful times.

To my eternal shame, I left the Royal Naval School without exchanging addresses with any of my friends. This was not intentional, but my parents had arranged for me to be placed in a prep school in Yorkshire at very short notice. But I could have made an effort to contact my friends. Now they are just a distant memory.

The school buildings still exist, as a school for prison staff, I think.

I have many more happy memories of this school. Too many for this blog.


Let FREEDOM ring said...

Tim lived at Sian Tuan Ave? Does he remember the chinese tomb further down the road, on the right side? It is behind those Sian Tuan Ave houses.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tim,

Ex-Foreign Minister of Singapore, George Yeo shared a link to your site on his facebook page.

gymike said...

Hello Tim,

The bus photo brings back memories. By 1966 i was the manager of the transport department that ran the RN buses. Every daye there were about 70 bses on the road bringing children to and from the various schools. The dirvers were absolutely brilliant consdiering the state of the roads then. cannot remember on serious accident etween 1966-69

Tim said...

No - I don't remember a Chinese tomb. Maybe I didn't know what it was?

Thanks for the link to George Yeo's page. Great that people are taking an interest.

I agree about the RN Bus drivers. Not only did they have to deal with porr roads and bad driving, they also had to deal with dozens of rowdy and ungrateful kids.

Icemoon said...

I blogged about it -

7 Sian Tuan Ave would be before Hua Guan Ave. Entrance to chinese tomb is at the open space before 18 Sian Tuan Ave.

Lam Chun See said...

Tom O'brien lived at Hua Guan Ave which is just next to Sian Tuan Ave around this period too. So Tim, have you been to Beauty World?

Tim said...

I looked on Google Street View and can see where the tomb would be. I walked up to the top of Sian Tuan Avenue a few times, but I don't remember noticing the tomb.

Beauty World - no, I never went there. Must have gone past it hundreds of times on the school bus.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim
Back to the tomb again - understand that there was a village surrounding the area where the tomb sits. Maybe that's why you didn't notice it? Would appreciate whatever you can remember - trying to find out if anyone remembers seeing anyone visitng the grave. It's supposed to have been there since 1890s.

Steve Thomas said...

Hi Tim,
just found this website, my name is Steve Thomas I was at the school at the same time, we did two tours '60 to '63 and '65 to '68 my teachers were Mrs Ransome and Mr Nutter, and yes you do Mrs Ransome an injustice, I consider her the best teacher I ever had, she was passionate about educating us, she was the only teacher I ever bothered to stay in touch with. She died of cancer in the early '70s. I lived on base at Fraser Road flats and got on the bus at the stop past View Rd with my sister Sharon. We Navy brats called all civilian kids 'dockies'. These years were the best of my life and I remember them fondly. I remember the tomb, our amah Ah Yew told me to be careful of ghosts. We used to collect brass and often unfired rounds from the range at Red Hill, were you could also find Tiger orchids to give to mum. Do you remember me or my sister?

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve

Sorry to say I don't remember you, but we might have been in the same class at school. I only remember very few names, but here are a few that I remember. Alan Childs. Ann Turner. Keith Stannard. Margaret Pillage. Susan Ravenscroft. Valery Cann. If you were in the same class as them, you were in the same class as me.

Great to hear your thoughts. Mrs Ransome was always very nice to me. However, she could be a bit sharp with those who lacked discipline or organisation. I'm sorry to hear she died so early. Do you remember Bill Wilsher, Deputy Head? I was in touch with him until a few years ago. Living in Suffolk.

Unknown said...

Hi Tim
I knew Keith Stannard. He and his family lived next door to us in Marigold Drive, Adelphi Park 1962-63. When our family moved into the Naval Base in late 1963, so did Keith's family. Keith and Valerie Cann became what we now call an 'item' but Anne Turner was also around and I knew them all. I attended the Junior School in the Naval Base; the 4th year teacher was Mr Steele. So, you and I may have known each other. Other classmates were Michael Standing (I think), Deborah Lloyd, Terry Osborne and a guy called Clive whose surname escapes me.
Fun times they were too.
Paul Sheppard (also on Facebook if you wish to connect)