Sunday, July 29, 2007

Our History Goes Back Further Than That!

Long time readers of my blog may recall an article by Lynn Copping about her memories of Pulau Brani. Lynn, a daughter of a British army navigator who was stationed in Singapore in the 60’s complained that; “Any items on Pulau Brani on the internet do not mention the army school .. nor the fact that the British lived there for about 50 years … as if we never existed.”

Well it looks like that we did it again. This time it’s the Strait Times. In an article dated 26 July 2007, about the proposed sale of a popular piece of property in Beach Road, it said;

And to borrow the words of Lynn Copping; “As if the Britannia Club never existed”.

Yes, young readers may not know it; the NCO’s Club was actually occupying what was once known as the Britannia Club, a popular club for British military personnel. In his book, Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans: A Childhood in Singapore and Malaya, writer and photographer, Derek Tait wrote:

“In Singapore City, there was the Britannia Club for Navy personnel and their families. It was on Beach Road and was run by the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institution). It included a snack bar and restaurant, lounge bar and tavern, games and reading rooms, a swimming pool and a sports shop.

The Britannia Club on Beach Road in Singapore which was set up for members of the forces and their families for recreation and social purposes. It was also known as the NAAFI Club or the Brit Club and was opposite Raffles Hotel. Inside, there was a swimming pool and in the back room was a giant scalectrix set, great for the kids though I think it was mainly used by Naval personnel!. Around and above the swimming pool was a huge balcony where we'd all eat and get drinks. There were high diving boards too though a lot of people didn't have the courage to go on them! Certainly not me!”

Others like Derek, children of British military personnel stationed in Singapore in the 50’s and 60’s, who fondly called themselves ‘Britbrats’ also have strong memories of the Britannia Club. Again, quoting from Derek’s book:

Ellen Tait remembers:

"We often used the Brit Club. We'd all meet up there and enjoy the facilities. It was opposite Raffles Hotel, famous for it's gin-slings and also for the famous people who went there. Not that we ever ate in there, it was too expensive! Only the famous could afford the prices! Instead, we would have a swim at the Brit Club and they served meals as well, what a lazy and enjoyable life it was!"

Clive Baker remembers:

"The Brit Club was home from home for Singapore based service personnel, here you could get egg, bacon and chips with Daddies sauce, a couple of slices of real bread and real PG Tips type tea. Of course, there was also the fact that it sold really cheap Tiger beer and it was here that I was first introduced to what was to become a life-long habit, I still enjoy the occasional pint of Tiger Tops and it certainly is a good reason for going back to Singapore for the real McCoy, straight from the tap instead of a bottle!"

I asked my friend Tom O’brien of Memories of Singapore and he said:

“I do remember swimming at the Brit Club occasionally. I remember that the water was chlorinated differently, maybe even unchlorinated. They also had a room with a very large Scalectrix Track. On one occasion when the servicemen had one of their regular dances. A couple of my friends and I managed to get in. We were not allowed as we were 16 and still at school. I remember a group playing Honky Tonk Women by the Stones. Every thing was fine until one of my friends (I think it may have been Ken Thomas) tried to purchase a beer at the bar. Then we were rumbled and ejected.”

John Harper who has written several articles for this blog about his childhood days in Singapore also remembers the Britannia Club at Beach Road with fondness.

“The main things I remember about the Britannia is the swimming pool and visiting once a month in 1959 when we lived at Tengah. The pool had very good diving boards covered in coconut coir matting for grip when wet. From the diving boards you could look out to sea and there would be ships lined up at anchor in many directions. Whilst we were swimming we would always have a Coca Cola or a Pepsi during a brief interlude out of the pool. But we never had anything to eat there as we always went on to visit the Islamic Restaurant afterwards for a Bryani; one of my favourite dishes at that time.”

Hence, you can see that if things continue this way, a day may just come when British kids will know something about our history that our kids don’t; that this complex that our government wants to retain because of its historical significance was built originally by the British and it was once called the Britannia Club.

For young readers who want to know more about this place, please read Victor’s very informative article here.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Derek Tait for the above photographs of the Britannia Club.


Anonymous said...

There was even a hotel specially used by the British Servicemen called the REX HOTEL down in Bras Basah Road. Close-by was a church.

Victor said...

Thanks for linking me, Chun See. Wah, I nearly forgotten that I wrote that article already. So you cannot really blame those young chaps at the newspaper office for not knowing about the history of NCO Club. All those events probably happened long before they were born.

Unknown said...

Nice bit of sleuthing there Chun See. Of course, if we take another 2 decades from now, a lot more of our heritage will be lost if we don't do something about it. You should write to the Straits Times to clarify on this you know. It helps to increase your reputation as a renowned heritage blogger. Try to keep it to 400 words and they would probably publish it.

Try it....

Tom said...

Tom said...
Peter, if I remember right was there a Building, called the union Jack club? near, or on Bras Basah Road I remember I had to take two weeks leave when I came out of Hospital, I got a room there.

Anonymous said...

Union Jack was behind the Capitol Cinema at North Bridge Road. Today it is a two storey building -a school is there and a covered carpark - opposite to the ST Andrew's Cathedral

Anonymous said...

My impression on the NCO Club in Beach road is that our CSM collected our signatures to buy cheap beer there. We signed, but we never get to see the beer..

Lam Chun See said...

I don't think it's a case of "those young chaps at the newspaper office for not knowing about the history of NCO Club." They probably were very tight on space and didn't want to go that far back in time.

But since we are trying to encourage and educate the younger generation to know more about our past, the ST should have taken this opportunity to add more info. Maybe they need a little encouragement from our big brothers at NHB.

Lam Chun See said...

Walter. Thanks for the suggestion. I have just written to the ST Forum. Let's hope they publish my letter.

Peter. Was that the Bethesda Church?

Anonymous said...

Yes correct. Now just an empty piece of land, which I was told Carlton Hotel has bought for hotel extension. We used to call the stretch bounded by Victoria Street, Stamford Road and Bras Basah Road, "Holy Row" because so many different churches. Students who studied in this place could never "sin".

Before Rex Hotel was used by the British, it was a Japanese trade school during WW2. Carlton Hotel was the Rex Hotel previously.

On our way to the Red House Bakery (the widened Victoria Street next to the Carlton Hotel), we passed Rex Hotel but we found trees growing on the balconys and crevices - that was about 1968.

Anonymous said...

The only occasions that I can bring back old memories of the beach road area were buying of CYC shirts at a shop next to the former Odean cinema. Cheaper shirts (harex brand-value for money) could be purchased from another nearby shop. My father, brothers and I loved to eat hainanese noodle, thick gravy type, at the stalls around Seah Street, a predominally hainanese sector of Singapore, not far from the Britannia club,

Lam Chun See said...

I don't have any recollections of this place. Maybe stepped in once briefly when some of my friends wanted to buy cheap beer from the Safe shop.

But I did spend many hours at the Beach Road Camp next door in the 80's and 90's during my NS reservist day. I was with the PDF (158 Bn?) and our battalion HQ was at this camp. So our medical checks, routine reporting and several TEWTs (tactical exercises without troops) were held there.

Lam Chun See said...

My letter to the ST Forum was published in thier online forum today here

Unknown said...

interesting site with lots of information for my postcard