Sunday, June 03, 2007

Plane-spotting in Singapore (Part 2): Arrested for Espionage aged 14 - Brian Mitchell

I wrote a few weeks ago about some of my plane-spotting and photographing exploits in Singapore in the 1960s and promised a tale of when I really did get into trouble!

We spent a great deal of time at the then RAF Changi Officers Club swimming pool (still there, but now I think the Junior Sailing Club) and would see naval ships cruising past Pulau Ubin on their way to the naval base at Sembawang. One day, it was early 1962 I think, we were particularly excited by the arrival of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, huge and impressive and very close to our beach.

But not close enough of course for myself and my friend Kerry who persuaded his parents to drive us to the naval base for a closer look a few days later. I am not sure what security was like then, maybe service personnel could easily visit other bases, for Kerry and I were soon on the dockside, cameras out, with the aircraft carrier and all its aircraft looming over us, just waiting to be photographed!

But not for long! It was perhaps only a few minutes before we suddenly became aware of a Sikh military policeman and his colleagues bearing down on us. Our excuses were useless and we were bundled into the back of a police Land Rover and taken at speed to the guard room.

There we found ourselves transferred to a concrete walled cell, open to the sky with a wire grill for a ceiling. We had plenty of time to contemplate our position, presumably whilst they discussed what to do with us – 14 years old and banged up for espionage!

Eventually we were brought out, Kerry’s parents had been found and were there, and our arresting officer gave us a very angry talking to. Our film was confiscated but not our cameras – that would indeed have been a severe punishment. Eventually our talking to over, we were released.

I remember well as we staggered into Kerry’s parent’s car, hands shaking – indeed so sorry did his father feel for us that he offered us a cigarette each - I think I refused but if I recall correctly Kerry took his!

Brian Mitchell


Anonymous said...

I believe we were living through the COLD WAR ERA and everything was considered as suspicious (even from little kids). It takes a lot of courage to do those things, even from grown-up.

I had the chance to go up a Shackleton at RAF Changi in 1960. We took a flight out to sea and saw a submarine rescue somewhere between Pulau Tekong and Johore. Many decades later I found out that rescue boats from RAF Seletar and planes from RAF Changi were involved.

The next time was in 1965 when an anti-aircraft unit was parked on a hill opposite Bukit Gombak. Bukit Gombak then had a radar station, very visible from my house. My friends and I from the kampung were taken on a ride on the Bofors gun. We ended vomitting because we just had Minute Steak and baked beans-courtesy of those RAF gunners, which I found was the 63 LAA Sqdn from RAF Tengah

Again many decades later, I took a picture of myself standing next to some pine trees. 10 years later my SAF camp (first home of 35 SCE)went under the bulldozer to become a park in Pasir Ris New Town. Luckily I had this picture with me and I finally found the same 5 pine trees and 1 stump. There was also a pond opposite my camp. This pond is now opposite Pasir Ris MRT - here was where the rural nightclub called GOLDEN PALACE sat in the 1970s. Regulars and NS officers went pom-char char there.

If not for some bravery how can one recollect 40 years of NS?

We must learn to differentiate between pranks, OSAMA and little guys like us, should we? Otherwise we can continue to cage ourselves in fear. Leave it to the politicians to create some hysteria folks!

Anonymous said...

I was posted to Sembawang Port during the late seventies. There were still several berths reserved for the ANZUK forces. On one occasion I asked my boss whether we needed to exercise vigilance when a Russian cargo vessel was berthed near to the naval vessels. My boss replied that if the top bosses, including security chiefs, were not worried, why should we? -let it be. After saying that, we were still vigilance when dealing with navy matters.

Lam Chun See said...

Must be a fantastic experience to be on board an aircraft carrier; close up to all those amazing fighter jets. I doubt many Sporeans have had the experience before.

It's funny how boys are always facinated by fighter planes. When my son was younger, we bought him some books with nice photos of fighter jets and before long, he could identify many of the famous planes. He even downloaded some photos from the internet, and that was quite a few years ago before we even had a broadband connection.

My first 'experience' of what a modern aircraft carrier was like was from the movie Final Countdown starring Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen. Although it was a fiction, it was also a sort of documentary becos this character played by Martin Sheen was on board for the first time doing a kind of systems audit, and he was shown around the nuclear powered ACC.

Lam Chun See said...

Today, there was an article in the papes by James Dobson of Focus on the Family about fathers who made promises to their sons without much consideration and then not keeping them. I am suddenly reminded that I have not kept my promise to bring my son to Paya Lebar area to watch fighter jets come down for landing. Wonder if it's too late now that he is 17.

Victor said...

I had the opportunity and privilege to visit the nuclear-powered USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (nicknamed "Ike"). It must have been in 1980 when the aircraft carrier made a 5-day stopover in Singapore. It was also the year when I joined my present employer who had the "right connections" for such a visit.

We were brought to various parts of the ship, including the meal room, the mess and the bunks. I don't remember being brought to the nuclear-power room though - must have been too "top secret" and dangerous a place to visit.

Oh by the way, the pennant number "69" must have been just a coincidence, Chun See.

Des said...


Great site - love reading the stories and comments. Do any ex-RAF kids from the mid-60's have any memories or photos from the Opera Estate area?


Anonymous said...

In Sembawang port, civilians were allowed on board naval vessels on invitations. Only my boss who had very good personal relationship with the British naval commander was able to board an aircraft carrier together with few VIPs. Because of this close rapport, the commander threw a reception on board, and personally conducted a guided 'tour' of his ship for the VIPs. On another occasion, I and a few operations staff were invited abroad one frigate. I asked the attending officer some general questions of his ship. He answered all, but coming to the armaments and their functions, he remained silent.

Anonymous said...


regarding the Opera Estate I believe we stayed there for a relatively short time on our arrival in Singapore (after a few weeks in a hotel near the former Kallang airport) but I don't have the address so can't be sure of the exact location. We were on the edge of the estate opposite a bit of jungle and I do recall the constant spraying against mosquitos that took place. If I am right and this was the Opera estate we used to enter it down a bit of a steep hill - I think we were in a hollow

Des said...

Thanks Brian

Yes - I lived opposite the jungle, there was a swamp at the end of the road and a Muslim cemetery nearby (I used to sneak off there with friends).

I am writing a novel based on my childhood and as I was 8 years old at the time I'm trying to verify my memories - what was where and so on. Both my parents have died and my siblings are younger so it's great to be able to contact people who were there at that time!

I think we lived on Swan Lake road - it's hard to tell from Google Earth as much of the jungle has disappeared now!

I'm trying to track down where the Ahma's little night market was - we walked along a river - or perhaps the canal - or perhaps I'm just remembering a particularly full monsoon drain!


Tom said...

Tom said...
my pc.wentonthe blink now Iam back on again. The only Aircraft carrier I was on was, HMS. Albion it brought my battalion back from
Brunei in 1962.carried helicopters
Actually it was a commando carrier,
Idont thing they would trust the Jocks on the Ark royal.haha.

Anonymous said...

How do I get in touwhc with you? My email address is

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Denise. Sorry I am not familiar with that part of Spore. But Opera Estate sounds very familiar. I think it was in Bedok South area.

All the best on your book. When it is ready, let me know and I will help to publicise it on this blog. I just added a link to Derek Tait's book, Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans on the right side of this page.

Tom. I think not many of my readers know what is Jocks. Care to explain?

Tom said...

Tom said...
Chun see, you ask me to expain
what Jocks meant, it is a kind
nickmame for alot of Scotsmen.
I will try and find out were it
came from.
Peter. my email address is

Anonymous said...

Hi Chun See
Thanks for putting my book on your site,it's much appreciated.
I'm not sure if you got my last email but it's fine for you to put my dad's cine films from the 60s on your site.I could give you the code so you could embed them if you want.
Peter,did you manage to download the films I sent you alright?
Look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes,

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry I am a bit clumsy with HTML codes. Will fine tune the link later. As for the movie, I was hoping to make a visit to the new Haw Par Villa and maybe blog about it; and then mention about your movie. But that might be some time. Maybe I will just add the link first.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to your blog about Haw Par Villa very much.I loved going in the 1960s.I've only been back to Singapore once in 1990 and I visited Tiger Balm Gardens again but a lot of the statues had been removed from the park.I read recently that they had been replaced now,I would love to see it all again one day.
It would be good to see some photos of it as it is now.