Thursday, June 15, 2006

Akan Datang (Coming Soon) – The Return of the Britbrats

My friend Victor recently blogged about the British Legacy in Singapore . Coincidentally, I also came across a group of British folks who are a part of that legacy. Fondly calling themselves ‘Britbrats’, they were children of British military personnel who lived here in Singapore during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Most are around my age. Although I have often seen them in Serangoon Gardens, which was nearby to my kampong in Lorong Chuan, I knew very little about them. I believe very few Singaporeans, especially those of the present generation, know much about their lives.

Photo of some former ‘britbrats’ taken in 2002

Surprisingly, many of them have fond memories of Singapore. Recently, I came across a website, known as Memories of Singapore hosted by a gentleman by the name of Tom O’brien. (Coincidentally, Tom, like me, was also born in 1952). At this website, they exchanged stories of their time in Singapore. For example, there was an interesting discussion about a smelly fruit called the durian. They also shared photographs and other memorabilia of their school days back in 50’s and 60’s. There are also many links to other similar websites.

Thanks to Lynn Copping for this photo of Opening of St John’s Comprehensive School


I approached Tom and he kindly gave me permission to use his photographs in Good Morning Yesterday. With the help of these photographs, I hope to start a series of blogs soon, entitled Places I Remember (inspired by the Beatles Song of the same title; an idea stolen from my friend Toycon, a twenty-something yuppie who enjoys old songs).

I also thought that it would be wonderful if Tom and his friends could share some of their stories with readers of GMY. I believe they can offer a unique perspective of life here which even Singaporeans of my generation are not able to. I am happy to inform you that 3 of them, John Harper, Lynn Copping and Tony Boyle have agreed to do so.

For a start, let me ask you. Do you know which schools they went too? As far as I could tell, most of them went to schools operated by the British Forces Education Services which was later called Service Children Education (link). One of these was the Bourne School (known earlier as Alexandra Grammar and Alexandra Secondary Modern School??) located at the Gillman Camp which I blogged about early this year. At that time, it was known as Gillman Barracks. Another was the St John Comprehensive School in Dover Road – presently occupied by the United World College. A third was the Changi Grammar School. Do the names confuse you (And I thought only our 'gahmen' likes to keep changing names)? Never mind, I am sure our British friends will clarify later.



The above photos are of the Bourne School located in Gillman Camp. I am so happy to be finally able to show you a photo of the Gillman Pool. My thanks to Tom O’brien and Maurice Hann, a former teacher at Bourne School for sharing these photos.

Thanks to the marvel of the internet, today we have a chance to bridge a cultural divide between Singaporeans and Britons of my generation; something which close physical proximity could not all those long years ago. Thanks also to the marvel of the internet, we can go back to the past and learn something new about what Singapore was like one generation ago, whilst our counterparts in the UK can find out what the Singapore they knew one generation ago is like today.


Victor said...

Hi Chun See, er... I couldn't find the Gillman pool photo in the link that you provided.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor, what I meant was, I mentioned about the Gillman Pool before in the earlier blog, but unable to provide photos then.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me so much of the days when we had "body contac" with the Bribrats. In the 60s our Inter-School Competition for certain sports like rugby involved the expatriate schools in Singapore.

There are 2 "tales" that I can relate to.

The first was in 1969 when my school RI met St John's Comprehensive in the s-finals of the Juniors Rugby 7-A-Side Competition held at the old People Association Ground at Kallang. RI lost to St John's by a score (not worth describing) but our friends from St Andrews (SAINTS) did the honour to "hamtam" them in the finals. There's a record of this game on Tom O'Brien web site; in one of the school annual report. Shortly after, St John's was banned from the 15-A-Side that year because the MOE found that the physique of a typical British kid of 15 years was equivalent to a young adult. Thus size for size, the Singaporeans were out-sized.

The next game was against Singapore American School (SAS) in which RI won the 1971 15 A-Side in in the seniors game but lost the following year (my last year of pre-U). In the 7-A-Side Competition in 1972, SAINTS beat SAS by a big score at the Padang.
By 1973, MOE banned the expatriate schools from the game. I do not know whetehr today, this ban is still in force.

I wonder just why did MOE came up with the policy?

PS: O I forgot, in 1969 NJC lost by 103-0 to RI played at NJC home ground at BUkit Timah Road. This was an all-time high score until someone just broke the score this year.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks to Anonymous RI boy for sharing the 2 stories. I was from NJC69. Too bad we didn't play against St John's. Otherwise, we would probably still be holding the record.

By the way, I am still in contact with 2 old friends who were on that NJC rugby team. One is in New York another still in Spore. I am also in contact with our teacher in charge of rugby. He has quite a story to tell about our match against ACS.

Anonymous said...

Though I do not understand the game, but the story of school rivalies by Anonymous is indeed interesting, revealing and colourful. Any more stories from other sources?

Shaun said...

Places I Remember (inspired by the Beatles Song of the same title; an idea stolen from my friend Toycon, a twenty-something yuppie who enjoys old songs).

Chun see damn evil! Yuppie??? Hardly! Just a guy born in the wrong decade, the decade that taste forgot.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of us britbrats about, and we all have fond memories of our lives in Singapore. We have started to have regular reunions now, complete with old photos, autograph books and memories of the smells and tastes of old Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Hey great site! I am a BritBrat and was very lucky to have spent 2 tours in Singapore (1964-66 & 1968-71) and to this day keep in contact with mates I lived with in Singapore and went to school with. Not to mention as team mates in Gillman Barracudas Swimming Club.

I have been on holiday to Singapore four time snow and everytime I go (last one being 2 years ago) I never find any Singaporeans who knew of our existance. Even visiting the now Internation School, Gillman, they ask me what the crossed rifles on the main building are! they dont know. Makes me very sad because my childhood was spent in Singapore and I love this place dearly.

We tried to find our old Amah but couldnt, which is a great shame, how we would love to find her again.

perhaps there could be someway of forming a club?

If anyones interested in Singapore I think it would be great

Derek Bell

Siew Min said...

Chun See,

Don't mean to be pedantic but the Beatles song should be "In My Life" and not "Places I Remember"

The 1st few lines of "In My Life" goes...

There are places I remember,
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever not for better,
Some have gone and some remain

All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends
I can still recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I've loved them all