Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tom Brown Remembers Army Life and Singapore (Part 1)

At the request of Chun See, I would like to share my memories about my army life in the First Queens Own Highlanders (Q.O.H.) For readers who don’t know who the Highlander were, on the 15th of February, 1961 by amalgamation of two great regiments, the 1st. Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, and the 1st. Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, a new regiment, the Queens Own Highlanders (Q.O.H. ) was formed.

I am standing in the back row, 3rd from the left.

I joined the Camerons as a regular soldier and had to do 14 weeks training. It was very hard. I thought I was in hell - up in the morning at 6 am, breakfast at 7 am and muster parade at 8 am. The corporal was always shouting at you. Drill parades, weapon training, three mile runs with full battle order on.

After I had done my training, my pals and I were sent to the battalion station in Dover, south of England. When I got there, half the soldiers were doing national service. I asked myself; “What the hell have I got myself into?”

Anyway, things got better because the UK government were doing away with national service. After a year in Dover, we moved to Edinburgh, my home town. Then we were all told, “You lot are going to Singapore for three years.” I said Wow!

After a little while in Edinburgh, we were put on a train to Southampton, and then onto a troop ship called T. T. Navasa. It was to take six weeks to Singapore. The year was 1961. I was 19 years old.

This is the ship that brought me to Singapore

When we got to Singapore, we were told the dockers were on strike for more pay. Then the company sergeant major said; “One platoon will unload company kit from the ship.” We were not used to the weather. The sun was very hot. I said to my self, “No wonder the men are on strike. The weather is too hot, and pay not good.” Anyway, we loaded the kit onto the waiting trucks and onto Selarang Barracks in Changi.

What I remember most of Singapore at that time when we came out of the docks were:

- The smell coming from the river,
- Seeing trishaws for the first time,
- The were rows and rows of washing hanging out,
- The streets were very busy, and
- The girls giving us a wee smile as we passed along the streets.

Next time I will tell you, about my life in Selarang Barracks and Singapore.


From my In-Box
More about the Queen's Own Highlanders


Lam Chun See said...

Tom. Thanks for sharing your story. I heard that the Q.O.H. were involved in the revolt in Brunei in 1962. Did you take part in that?

Q.O.H. also saw action in the 80's Falklands War. Did you have a part in that one as well?

Look forward hearing some real war stories.

Vox Leo said...

I was posted to Selarang Barracks during my 2 1/2 years of NS.

peter said...

I was about 8 years old when I heard about the Brunei Revolt. At that time the place I lived was popular with British married Servicemen. On my way to school that morning, I saw many British soldiers armed with the SLR, full pack and WW2 helmet (also similar to the ones used by our Singapore Riot Police in the 1960s) waiting at the roadside. They were all waiting for the Bedford trucks to arrive to transport them to RAF Changi. I knew some of the details because my good friend was my immediate neighbour, a Northern Irish kid from Belfast. He told me his father from Keat Hong Camp was on stand-by to be airlifted to brunei to put down the revolt at the Serai SHELL oilfied.

zen said...

The port was known then as the Singapore Harbour Board since colonial days, and the workers were poorly paid. Leftist union leaders instigated workers to strike which was very successful, bringing the management to its knees, quickly followed by pay revision. The workers ingeniously coined a new label for SHB - 'Suck Human Blood'. In 1964, the new administration changed the name SHB to PSA (Port of Singapore Authority) and the port worker again cleverly coined another version for PSA - 'Please Suck Again' to the chagrin of the Management.

Chuck said...

Hi Tom,
You brought me back almost 30 years ago when I was in NS. It's amazing how we go through those training, drills etc. My most memorable is I slept facing the sun after lunch... just imagine how tired I was.

Lam Chun See said...

I think for Tom and his buddies, the adjustment to the hot weather of Spore from the cold of Scotland must be quite tough.

zen said...

I think the Europeans that appreciate our hot climate most should undoubtedly be the Russians. I used to see Russian crew sun-bathing on deck-chairs on board their ships practically whole day long. Just imagine facing the hot mid-day sun above and steaming air reflecting from below the steel-plated deck, the environment was something like an oven. The Russians apparently loved to soak up as much sunlight as possible. Sometime I wondered to myself that these guys must have come either from Siberia or the north pole.

Tom said...

Tom said ...
Chun see ,some one at that time said it will take us three months to get use to the Singapore climate. I said the rest, it was tough but being hardy scots haha we did it. the climate was very hot.(yes it was tough)

zen said...

Talking about climate, a story comes to my mind. My wife had a colleague who happens to own a huskie. One day his wife called him up in the office saying that the dog bit and tore the window curtains and cushion covers to pieces. This crazy fellow went home, fuming, got hold of his pet dog and threw him onto the floor, punishing it for damaging his curtains and cushion covers. He had the audicity to relate this incident to his office colleagues. My wife on hearing this, scolded him: "Mr X, you must off your mind, ill-treating the dog, and if the SPCA comes to know, you would be in deep trouble. In the first place do you know that huskie comes from very cold countries and your dog probably could not adapt to the hot weather here, agitated, and bit the curtains...." Knowing his mistake, Mr X kept quiet. All in all, it is not wise to keep pets from extremely cold countries to a country like Singapore, one degree north of the equator.

Brian Mitchell said...

yes the climate is really something for us Brits. We got lots of warnings about it, all those injections, and then having to take salt tablets for a while. We were always told it would take a few months to adjust. I vividly recall my first moments out of the plane at Payar Lebar, it was late at night but I was still slumped on a case struggling with the humidity and when asked by my father how I was I said 'I'll never get used to this!'

Will look forward to Tom's tales of Selarang Barracks - just next to my old house in Toh Drive.

fighting fit said...

zen, if you tell that husky story to breeders or some owners, they will give you a rebuttal like "No la, our huskies are born and bred here. They are acclimatised to tropics." To which, I'll like to say, "You are born and bred here, right? You are definitely tropical. Put on some heavy winter clothes now and stand in the garden outside, like that husky." BS, if you ask me.

Lam Chun See said...

I wonder if any of you noticed the 2 interesting items in the first photo in front of the troops.

1) The pair of axes placed at criss-cross pattern.

2) The 2 gadgets at the sides. Can you guess what they are.

zen said...

Adaptation to a local climate like Singapore is logically possible, but it takes time. Some Singaporeans have fore-fathers (generations ago) who came from colder countries, have now fully able to adapt to the local climate, but many of us still need to work and live in air-conditioned environment. Take away this air-conditioning, what will happen? Can the off-springs of polar bears or penquins presently in our zoo, living in artificial icy enclosures, survive if these enclosures are taken away? - in the course of time.

Brian Mitchell said...

Chun See's question on those gadgets in the photo has got me puzzled. At first look they are obviously some form of military vacuum cleaner for keeping parade grounds clean and tidy? Do I get a prize for that Chun See? Or maybe some form of mine detecting equipment?

fighting fit said...

zen. true adaptation is possible. But the poor huskies have not adapted by shedding their thick fur coat. If they have shed fat layers underneath the skin, I don't know. Humans can just take off winter clothings.

zen said...

fighting fit - I fully agree with your views. The poor huskies have to suffer in silence. Should they protest noisily, they are likely to be punished. Do you think huskie owners or pet-shop operators in Singapore would shear their fur regularly (like sheep farmers do), in order to keep them cool and comfortable? especially on knowing that a huskie won't really look like one without its beautiful fur. I notice some dog owner leave their pets to their maids for walk-abouts, saying that they do not have the time to do so. If pet owners cannot look after their pets well, then it defeats the purpose for keeping them.

fighting fit said...

for most, it is more a status symbol lah. want the fun but don't want the responsibilities.
ok, lest Chun See thinks this discussion has to the dogs, we better drop this talk gently, before we get barked at. :-)

zen said...

I know Chun See loves dogs dearly and he won't mind a few kind words for these lovely animals - dog rights(though I admit I am not a dog lover). My mum used to say that sometimes dogs are better human beings. The dogs appreciate you for looking after them, wagging their tails, but for some human beings...?

peter said...

I just complained to the SPCA and AVA over my neighbour's handling of a young Maltese dog. Poor animal - caged into 4ft X 3 ft and leached to a fence for 24X7. 3 times the dog ran to my kitchen and decided to sleep in my house and 3 times the owner's representative had to come and collect. One day cannot tahan anymore; told the owner off whether she would like to be caged and leached 24X7. Her excuse, the dog urinates and shit on a carpet grass.
BTW owner drives 3 cars from BMW 6 to a Mitsubishi SUV and talks so loud that you can figure out what they will do in bed tonite. I am not joking on the last comment

zen said...

A dog story, once I overheard two ladies talking. One related: "you see, my dog is real clever. One day she cannot control and shit on the floor, but smart enough to pick up a piece of newspaper (by her teeth), placing over it, trying to fool us and avoid chiding....." The other lady laughed heartily and exclaimed: "Oh, what a clever dog!..."

Irene said...

This is a comment for Tom - I see you posted that you came out to S'Pore on the SS Nevasa - I wonder if you remember passing the SS Oxfordshire (the sister troop ship) returning servicemen and their families back to Southampton. I think I returned to UK in 1962 (but it may have been 1961) and clearly remember passing the Nevassa on its way out to Singapore - we were brown after two or three years in the sun, and they were white! We shouted over to the passengers of the Nevassa, "get your knees brown!" etc. I think we passed them in the Med. after running the gauntlet of the boat traders at Port Said who were annoyed with us as we didn't stop as planned. They came rowing after us in their boats yelling and clambering aboard, spreading their wares on the deck - I think mum bought a carved wooden camel! Is there a link for anyone who made the sea journey by troop ship to exchange memories?

Tom said...

Tom said...
HI Irene, thanks for poping in to Chun See's, Good Morningyesterday Blogsite.Yes I do
remember passing the ss Oxfordshire
the Navassa was next to go in to Port Said, and then through the Suez Canal, the year was 1961, I
remember the small boats coming
along side us, we called them bum
boats and all the Arab lads who were trying to sell us some thing
said they all came from Glasgow
in Scotland, would you beleave that? you were asking is there a link for anyone who made the sea
journey by Troop ship to exchange
memories, Irene, Brian Mitchell or
John Harper, Chun see, may help you on that one.I beleave there is one for people who went to school in Singapore at that time, good to hear from you Irene.

Anonymous said...

hello, i sailed on ss navasa when i was 6yrs old and then home again when i was nearly 10 so as i was born in 1951 it would have been 1957ish and 1961ish. i came across this site when looking for a picture her as i'm writing a book of meories for my kids and grandkids.embrie