Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thanks a million!

Whoa ... I just noticed that the number of page views has passed the 1 million mark. Actually, the number since I started in September 2005 is probably higher because, for the first few months, I did not know how to add a counter to my blog. In fact at that time, I did not know how to add hyperlinks too.


Anyway. Thank you dear readers of Good Morning Yesterday.

Football @ Sembawang in the 1960s

Recently, I watched the episode of Project Neighbourhood on Sembawang. This programme was aired in November last year, and I had recorded it for subsequent viewing. There was quite a bit of history of the presence of the British forces at the Sembawang Naval Base. Of particular interest was the interview with local soccer hero, Quah Kim Song, who said that he developed his speed and courage through his matches against the British soccer teams.

I thought my friend Mike Robbins might be interest in this documentary and asked him to go Mediacorp’s xinmsn website to watch Episode 6 of Project Neighbourbood. Following that, he emailed me.

Hello again Chun See,

Have just watched episode 6 with interest and have attached two photos.

The Singapore football photo below includes me playing my last game in Singapore (I am in back row 2nd from right end of picture). This was a game played before one of the Indian employees returned to India I seem to remember. It was played on the pitch adjacent to the Dockyard Swimming Club.

The second photo (project neighbourhood) features an evening celebration with the Quah family previously mentioned to you. Sitting at the table 4th from right is myself and on my left is one of the two other British members of my section. That same person, Tony Walker, also appears in a photo in episode 6 at about 18.52 minutes! He was single and lived in the club mentioned.

As you can imagine after being at sea for some time, sailors clearly needed to let off steam. It was a navy tradition that each ship had several sports teams - football, tug of war, cricket, rugby etc. Whichever port a ship visited, it would be part of the goodwill visit to arrange to play some sport with the local community.

As far as Singapore was concerned this was the base of the Far East Fleet with many ships going and coming. There were often inter-ship and inter-service (Army and Air Force competitions). The base was also used by the US Navy at that time for R & R from their Vietnam patrols. I remember seeing aircraft on the deck of an US carrier showing scars of their action - the odd bullet hole here and there.

The ships on arrival would be up for any matches they could arrange hence competition also with the local base employees. Through these matches I am sure local friendships were formed. Clearly many of the sailors would be bigger than Quah Kim Song. I imagine his speed enabled him to avoid many crunching tackles!

As an aside the Naval Golfing Society in the base had a monthly day at the Island Country Club - thoroughly good day out. I remember the little kids coming out at every other hole to sell us cold drinks. I am sure times have very much changed there.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

“Good Morning Yesterday” brings back memories of Singapore for Mike Robbins

Hello Chun See,

Your book brought back many memories of our initial arrival in Singapore in 1966.

We arrived at Paya Lebar airport at around midnight having spent over 26 hours en route from UK - 10 hours to Abadan, 1 hour on the ground, 8 hours to Colombo, 1 hour on the ground and six hours into Singapore. Apart from the heat, we arrived at the height of the durian season, and that smell together with the smell of rubber emanating from the many lorries making their way to the docks with their loads will stay with me for the rest of my life! On arrival we were taken to our hotel - Chequers Hotel - mentioned in your book.

Other items mentioned that brought back memories were:

Thomson Road and the Singapore Grand Prix

Having moved from the Chequers Hotel into Cairnhill Court just off Orchard Road in August 1966, I travelled to the naval base daily using the Thomson Road. I remember the standard of driving was pretty poor. Along the main straight of the Thomson Road, which formed part of the circuit, was the best piece of tarmac road on the island! You may not remember the pick up taxis that used the road. They were very cheap and you just waved them down to stop and pick you up. You could often find yourself sharing space with live chickens in baskets! These taxis often overtook each other. if one was on the wrong side of the road it was essential to accelerate towards it to make it give way!


This was a Hindu festival I think, and have attached some photos of the Kavadi carriers. You may not have been aware of this Hindu celebration. Does it still happen now?

Naval Base

My first job in the Naval Base in the Naval Store Department was managing transport for the navy including transporting the naval service children to school. We used Tay Koh Yat buses from time to time. I was interested to read that your father also worked in the naval base as a Senior Grade clerk. Was he in the CC department? I have fond memories of my association with a Senior Grade clerk in the Naval Store department - Ong Boon Poh. He would be in his eighties now if he is still alive. He invited us to his home for Chinese New year celebrations.

Novena Church

I was also interested in your account of your conversion to Christianity and of your mention of the Novena Church in Thomson Road. We regularly attended that church and visited it on our return three years ago. Don't have many photos of it but have attached a shot of the outside decorations at Christmas plus a not very clear one of the icon in the Church. The story we were told was that the icon of Mary was saved before the Japanese occupation and protected by the local Muslim community and returned after the war. Don't know how true this account was.

You also mentioned the weekday markets - we called them the amah's markets. We still have brandy glasses we bought very cheaply from this source!

One other piece of history you may be interested in was the fact that by 1939, the strategic importance of Singapore to the Far East Fleet was immense. The island at that stage had three very large fuel depots - Senoko in the north as part of the naval base and connected by pipeline to all the berths in the Naval Base, Normanton in the south (quite near the site of the British Military Hospital I think) which was accessed from the main Singapore port, and there was an important header tank on Mount Faber. The third site, I think in the east of the island had disappeared by the time I arrived. In 1939 all three sites were inter linked by pipelines. As the Japanese invasion advanced many of the Senoko tanks were deliberately destroyed, but as the advance gained pace, the pumps only at the Normanton site were destroyed. The Japanese reinstalled pumps from somewhere, and in the period 1966-1969, these pumps at Normanton which were built in Glasgow Scotland in 1915 were housed in a new pumphouse which even in 1966 still bore the rising sun emblem on it although it was whitewashed in the same colour as the rest of the building!

Hope you find these snippets interesting. If ever you come to the UK to visit your friend in Scotland, an area we visit regularly as we have family there, please let us know.

Best wishes and again many thanks for your book.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Tugboat adventure stories off Singapore (Brian Mitchell)

Chun See’s blog on Enid Blyton and other authors he read as a child reminded me of my search for children’s books set in Singapore. In late 1959, with my family about to depart from the UK for Changi, I wondered what Singapore would really be like. All I had as a guide was a thin pamphlet for British forces which rather horrified me with warnings about the heat, humidity and a long list of insects, snakes, and diseases I might now encounter!

So what could I expect to experience in 1960 Singapore? I looked for stories set in Singapore and came across a series of adventure books. When I remembered this a couple of years ago all I could recall was that the books (I had read several of them) featured a tugboat. So I simply googled ‘tugboat Singapore’ and instantly had my answer (what a wonderful thing the internet is).

My almost forgotten books turned out to be by an equally largely forgotten author, Arthur Catherall. The website I found told me that I had read Catherall’s ‘Bulldog’ series of novels which are;

‘all about battles of wits between a two groups of characters who crop up regularly in nearly all of the books. The main setting is the South China Seas for the tugboat "Bulldog" has the Lion City of Singapore as its home harbour.’

I found the novels in my local public library in south London. I could have read only the first four or five adventures which were published before I left for Singapore as the series of 11 novels continued up until 1968.

Good as the books were I probably learned more about deep sea diving, salvage and running a tugboat than I did about Singapore – the adventures took place on and under the high seas and among islands often far from Singapore’s kampongs and city streets.

But the website did reassure me in one respect – these books do not display the ‘colonial’ attitude of so many stories, whether for adults or children, set in the then British Empire. In Catherall’s ‘Bulldog’ books, with its hero seventeen year old Jack Frodsham;

‘the reader is exposed to the behaviour of men from several different races. As Jack operates in this subterranean world his fellow divers are usually Malayan or Chinese and again and again we see examples of their courage, loyalty, endurance and dignity…..

The mutual respect and teamwork shown by the good people of all races is what ultimately sticks in the memory. …… A mere ten years have passed since the end of the Second World War and Catherall is encouraging his readers to look beyond the stereotypical picture of old enemies and to go forward in a spirit of reconciliation.’

I wonder if Catherall’s books are held by Singapore’s National Library or are known in today’s Singapore? Today’s children in Singapore are, I expect, fortunate in having access to a variety of books written by local writers and set in their own island, reflecting their own culture and communities.

Brian G Mitchell

Sunday, February 19, 2012

God Knows

I was looking through my former classmate's amazing collection old ACS magazines and saw this beautiful poem by M. Louise Haskins in the 1963 edition. Apparently these lines were quoted by King George VI in his historic speech on Christmas Day, 1939 soon after the outbreak of World War II, to rally the English people to prepare for difficult days ahead.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Singapore, 1961 – Chequers Hotel (by Tim Light)

In Chun See’s blog of 17/9/2008 he takes us on a journey around the Balestier Heritage Trail. This area has special memories for me, for two reasons. One reason is that early in 1964 we went to live at 115 Whitley Road, and the Thompson Balestier area was home territory for us. But before that, at the end of 1961, we left our temporary home on Marsiling Road and stayed a few weeks at the Chequers Hotel. I was surprised to see, in Chun See’s blog, that the hotel still exists, under a new identity of Europa Country Club Resort.

My memories of Chequers are both vague and vivid. It was populated, if I remember rightly, by British families in transit, either just arriving or just about to leave. There were a lot of children, and we had non-stop fun from breakfast time until dinner. We had the run of the place – not officially – but the staff were very tolerant so long as we didn’t overstep the mark. The gardens were our jungle, and we played war games, as children do, or visited each others’ rooms to play. On one occasion, another small boy and I got into serious trouble. We were fighting the Second World War in the garden, and were soon throwing hand-grenades at each other. The hand-grenades were actually small, knobbly fruit that had fallen from a tree. When I got back to my parents I was told off for the state of my shirt. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The whole of the side of the building was covered in dark green splodges. They had to whitewash the whole wall. Needless to say, I was in hot water!

I particularly remember Jeanette, a girl about my age who I secretly fell in love with. She had a little sister called Alexandra who was a bit of a pain, because she wouldn’t leave us in peace.

I made other friends, too, but the names have long gone. It’s funny how people come and go in our lives.

We spent our first Singapore Christmas at Chequers. Singapore in the tropics is surreal when you’ve been brought up in the frozen wastelands of Yorkshire. It’s a time of year when we wrapped up in our woollies, and huddled round the coal fire to stay warm. The days are short and dark, and the Christmas decorations and lights brought a bit of cheer and warmth. So Christmas in the sweltering heat of Singapore was something else!

The hotel had a bit of a colonial feel to it, not that I remember too much about it. I vaguely remember a building with a big open porch, and another where the dining room was located. I think most of it was single storied. I don’t have one single photo of Chequers, nor can I find anything on the Internet. It would be interesting to see it today, and to see if any of the original building has been preserved.


Chun See continues …

In this 1971 photo of the Thomson Flyover (from the National Archives Picas website) you can see bits of the Chequers Hotel behind the trees. By the way, I usually refer to this as the Whitley Flyover. The car on the left is emerging from the Mt Pleasant Police Academy.

Mike Robbins also remembers the Chequers Hotel. This is what he wrote in a recent email.

“We arrived at Paya Lebar airport at around midnight having spent over 26 hours en route from UK - 10 hours to Abadan, 1 hour on the ground, 8 hours to Colombo, 1 hour on the ground and six hours into Singapore. Apart from the heat, we arrived at the height of the durian season, and that smell together with the smell of rubber emanating from the many lorries making their way to the docks with their loads will stay with me for the rest of my life! On arrival we were taken to our hotel - Chequers Hotel mentioned in your book - thought you might like a picture of the illuminated sign!”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The sounds of applause

If William Shakespeare was correct when he said that all the world is a stage, and men and women merely players, then guys like me, who have stood on this stage for three score years or more, would certainly have experienced the thrill of hearing the sounds of applause at one time or another in our lives.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the news of the passing of Taiwanese songbird Feng Fei Fei brought on a certain sadness even though I am not a particularly big fan of hers. If I am asked to name some of her songs, I can only come up with these three, 我是一片雲, 一顆紅豆 and this one which I really like; 掌聲響起 (Here comes the applause).

Here’s a video clip of this beautiful song. You will notice that it brought tears to the eyes of both singer and audience.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Enid Blyton

Like many English-educated Singaporeans of my generation, I loved to read books by Enid Blyton when I was in primary school. I think I borrowed these books from our school library. At that time, I was in Braddell Rise School. I remember four series; The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, the ‘Mystery’ series and the ‘Adventure’ series. My favourites were books from the ‘Adventure’ series. I found them so exciting. I can recall only three titles; The Island of Adventure, The Mountain of Adventure and The Castle of Adventure. How about you? Do you have any favourite Enid Blyton stories?

As far as I remember, our National Library did not keep any books by Enid Blyton. Can anyone remember the reason for this?

Besides the Enid Blyton books, I remember reading one other book from our library. The title was, The Book of Parables. Of course, at that time, I did not know that these were actually stories from the New Testament Gospels. I remember seeing a picture of shepherd with a lamb.

Another series of books that I enjoyed reading at that age were simplified versions of English classics like Lorna Doone, The Black Tulip and The Count of Monti Cristo. My father borrowed these books from a place called Lembaga. I believe it was the Adult Education Department of the Ministry of Education.

Special Fives

My friend from BRS, Lee Sock Geck, used to love Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. In fact she and her girl friends formed a group called The Special Fives, just like in the books. Let me quote her account as recorded in my book, Good Morning Yesterday.

For me, we had our "Special Fives". The leader of our gang was Jane Ittogi. We met every Friday at her house which was in Thomson Ridge, two bus-stops from where I lived. We had meticulously set up an ‘organisation chart’ showing the group leader (Jane), Deputy (me) and members (three other girls from Braddell Rise School). And we even composed this song:

“We are, we are the Special Fives,
You know me and I know you,
When you're in trouble, I'll help you,
We are, we are the Special Fives.”

Our favourite activity was to walk to the Friday Night Pasar Malam near Jalan Isnin, eat sweets and tidbits, talk about boys (of course) and then lie in Jane's garden looking at the stars, and wondering what the future held for us.”

PS - I wonder what have become of Sock Geck's "special five" members. Where are they today? Perhaps I can persuade her to write another piece for us, about what her buddies at Thomson Road have become today.

UPDATE (15/2/2012)

I was at a neighbourhood clinic and saw these 3 old Enid Blyton books. At times like this, we appreciate the handphone camera. I think I have read no. 3.

Friday, February 10, 2012

When We Wore No Sports Boots – By Peter Chan

Prior to 1969 under -16 year players wore no boots when they represented their schools at competitive rugby and football. This seems strange when we see kids today as young as 7 wearing branded sports attires. What was it like to run bare-footed? Was it painful for the big toe when you kicked the ball without boots? Somehow we conquered all pains.

One rugby tournament that I recall playing without boots was the Junior 7-A-Side which was held at the People’s Association Sports Field in Kallang. The sports field had one major characteristic; plenty of weeds and “Touch me not” (Mimosir). It was certainly not fun running bare-footed over “Touch me not”.

The preliminary matches were played in the morning, starting at 8 am. However the S-finals and Finals were played at the unearthly hour starting at 3 pm. That day, we missed our afternoon school session. The schedule was selected because there were no flood lights and there was a need to accommodate the senior (17 years and above) and junior (below 16 years) competitions. As a result the Finals ended in semi-darkness. The crowd size was small because the afternoon school session students were not allowed to leave school. Only those faithful to the game turned up.

Photo 1: Wong Chai Kee of Raffles out-jumped a St John player during a line-out. Raffles colours were apple green jerseys and black shorts. St John’s colours were similar to the Scottish football club, Celtic. We did not wear boots. Beyond the fence is Nicoll Highway and the future National Stadium (c 1969).

It was at the People’s Association Sports Field that Singapore schools first heard of St John’s Comprehensive School, a school for the education of British kids whose fathers were working for the British military. Other than its name, nobody knew where this school was located and this would be the first time many local school players came face to face with “Kwei-lo”. They were taller and bigger size. We were told their physique was due to the consumption of beef and potatoes whereas we consumed rice and chay kway teow. Today things are better - many school rugby kids are just as big as their British contemporaries due to better diet.

Photo 2: The Seniors wore boots. The Finals between Raffles and St. Andrew’s School in the 7-A-Side Championship played at the People’s Association Sports Field (c 1969).

Looking back to that game against St John in March 1969, Raffles met them in the S-finals. In the other S-finals St Andrew’s met Dunearn Technical. In 1969 we were 15 years of age but the St John players looked as if they were young adults. The games were played on a knock-out basis and each school was allowed to field two 7-A-Side teams.

I was a member of the B Team which was actually the Raffles” A –list” for tactical reasons. The other team members were Ho Lin Meng, Wong Chai Kee, Tan Geok Ser, Tay Eng Kiat, Lim Kim Nguan, Cheong Wai Hin, and me as the winger. We knocked out Victoria School, Sang Nila Utama, Whitley Secondary School and Queenstown Technical by comfortable margins. Unfortunately the other Raffles A team was knocked out by St Andrew’s B team in the second round.

The other day I had a conversation with John Rubery, the former St John rugby player’s hooker. John is now a sculptor by profession. John remembered playing against Macpherson Secondary School and Tanglin Integrated School. After knocking out St Joseph Institution in the Q-finals, St John triumphantly walked off the field thinking they were already in the finals until their dreams were shattered by their teacher-in-charge who told them they were to meet Raffles in the S-finals, the team they feared most in this competition.

Photo 3: On the left Mr. Dhillion, the neutral referee for the Finals between Raffles and St. Andrew’s School at Bras Basah Road. Bare-footed (c 1968).

During a recent reunion, some of my former team-mates touched on the game against St John. The sore point was about the referee. The referee was the teacher-in-charge of St Andrew’s School (Photo 4), the other S-finalist. There was no neutral referee, probably because many Singapore schools at that time did not have qualified rugby coaches and teachers often doubled-up as referees***. Many penalties were awarded against us but little against St John. As a result, it became so ridiculous that St John was attacking and Raffles were defending for most of the time. Mr. Puhendrien our sports teacher had his arms up in the air but there was little he could do.

The game against St John was not incident-free. In order to stop the bigger physique St John players from advancing, we had to resort to two players tackling one St John player - one went for the upper abdomen, the other for the legs. Because of this, punches were often exchanged. At half-time there was no score and in the second-half both teams went all out. It looked like the match was heading into extra time until Higden, the burly St John centre-half received a ball from a loose scrum in front of the goal-post and dived through a mass of players to score the only try. With the conversion, St John beat Raffles 5-0.

Photo 4: Mr Ee Teck Peng (in his trade-mark navy blue shorts and red t-shirt) refereeing the match. Eng Kiat from Raffles tackled Widgery, the St. John scrum-half.

St John marched into the final and met St Andrew’s School. St Andrew’s School won 13-8. Some of the Saints players were Sng Eng Seng, George Thomas, Wong Chin Tung, Ng Kok Cher and Leow Kim Suan. The winners and losing finalists received their medals. I asked John whether he kept his silver medal. He told me it was placed inside a fully articulated model of him made in fiberglass and resin. The same sculpture was later cannibalised by his then girlfriend - perhaps recycled is a better word - as the head in her own sculpture.

In 1970 the rules changed: lower secondary students were allowed to wear boots. I paid $15 for my pair of PUMA boots from Champion Sports Shop at Bras Basah Road. There were only two brands of boots at that time; PUMA and ADDIDAS. Since schools in those days had no policy of subsidizing the purchase of boots, we relied on 3 instalments to complete the purchase. Even the school black shorts we wore cost $2 and another dollar went to Mr. Arasu who sewed the school crest on it. Only the rugby jersey was on loan but had to be washed and returned after the season was over. And the next time we faced another “Kwei-Lo” school, it was the Singapore American School.

Though we were poorly dressed, there was fun in the competitive sport. Would today’s young students dare play bare-footed?

*** There was Mr. Seet Khoon Hiong of Dunearn Technical School and Bro. Sylvester of Saint Joseph Institution who doubled-up as referees.

Related posts.
1) Showdown at Woodsville 35 years ago by Peter Chan
2) St Andrew 1961 by Tim Light

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Soft launch of my book @ Peranakan Museum

This afternoon, I attended the “soft-launch” of my book, Good Morning Yesterday. I want to thank all friends who came and friends at the National Heritage Board who helped organise this event. I call this a “soft launch” because it was limited to invited friends. These are my friends from the “Friends of Yesterday.sg” (FOYers) group, as well as fellow nostalgia/heritage bloggers.

The reason I chose to do this launch with my FOYer friends is because this book has its roots in the group. I remember we had our inaugural meeting exactly 6 years ago at the nearby Moon River Restaurant. Six years passed quickly, and the movement we started that day has grown tremendously. Interest in heritage and nostalgia blogging has grown significantly and so has the number of our members. Many of us still blog regularly and we meet regularly too. And we have made many new friends, some in the cyberspace, and some from overseas.

Judging from the number of requests for assistance received by me and my friends - from students, media people, as well as tv documentary producers - I think interest in heritage and nostalgia has grown tremendously these past few years. I’d like to believe that our group played no small part. And one of those developments of course, is the publication of my book. Hence, it is appropriate that I celebrate this milestone in my career with my fellow FOYers.

As I said in my speech, today’s event itself is already an achievement for me. If my book does well in the marketplace, that is a bonus. It might even give me the confidence to venture into another similar project. Just as I had been inspired by the writers in our midst, like Dr Tan Wee Kiat and Mr Shaik Kadir, I hope that a few of our FOYer friends who are also contemplating writing a book will be encouraged by my ‘achievement’. However, I should caution them that such an undertaking does incur many many hours of disciplined hard work.

During our interaction, Shaik Kadir suggested that perhaps we could all join hands and do a joint publication. Personally I am for the idea. Perhaps NHB could assist us with some funding and coordination.

I hope you will get hold of a copy of my book and together we can take a trip down memory lane and revisit the Singapore that exists only in our memories …….. and relive the ‘Times of Your Life’.

Thank you.

PS – Check out PY’s post of this event and my book as well as Walter's thoughts here.

Thanks to Char Lee (Icemoon) for this shot of my book displayed at Times Tampines.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Singapore, 1961 – Singapore Swimming Club (by Tim Light)

Shortly after arriving in Singapore, we joined the Singapore Swimming Club. My father had enrolled the family as members. The SSC was a most impressive place, to my young eyes. The building was built in the 1930s, I think, but it looked very modern to me. The style was Art Deco. A distinctive feature was the diving board, shaped like a pair of whale bones.

Driving to the club was enjoyable, as we had to cross the island from Woodlands. I seem to remember that we passed the Britannia Club (which I never visited), joined the Nicholl Highway and crossed the Merdeka Bridge. My father pointed out the old Singapore Airport building and runway at Kallang.
In 1961, the SSC was right next to the sea. The water in the pool was salt water, so I assume that it was sea water, hopefully filtered to remove fish, snakes and seaweed! Strange thought that we didn’t think twice about paddling and swimming in the sea, but we would have been horrified to think that any sea creatures could find their way into the pool.

Before we joined the SSC I couldn’t swim. I had taken swimming lessons back in England, but I was only capable of a special form of the breaststroke that involved hopping along with one foot touching the bottom. Within a couple of weeks at the SSC I was able to swim. No particular stroke, but I was able to flap around and stay afloat without a lot of effort. One of our friends said that the salt water improves your buoyancy.

My parents did a bit of swimming, but whereas my brother and I would stay in the water all afternoon, they would spend most of the time reading and chatting with friends.

The SSC was right below the Paya Lebar runway approach, and it was a great thrill to see the aeroplanes roaring overhead, not very high and extremely loud. In those days a Boeing 707 looked enormous when viewed from just below, and the jet engines were much louder than today’s planes.

My last memory of the SSC was the 1961 Children’s Christmas Party. This was an afternoon event, which for the most part is just a blur of images. There were lots of children in their party outfits, and I believe Santa Clause made an appearance. I remember being a bit uneasy because some of the games involved holding on to girls, and I found it all a bit embarrassing.
From the Google satellite view, it would appear that the SSC still exists on its original site, but the art deco buildings have been replaced. And of course, it’s nowhere near the sea.

At the end of 1961 we left the SSC and joined the Royal Island Club. My dad was interested in playing golf, and the RIC offered both golf and swimming. That’s something for another blog.

 Singapore Swimming Club c 1909

 Singapore Swimming Club 1930s

Singapore Swimming Club 1950s