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.
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