Singapore 1963 and all that . . .

landaura

I was a deck cadet on the above vessel in 1963.

Arriving in Singapore on Saturday the 14th September 1963, the cadets were allowed to go ashore and have a swim at the Seaman’s Club. The ship was anchored off the wharf area, and we would take a small junk and be rowed, usual by a female using the single paddle at the stern of the junk, from the ship to Clifford Pier near Change Alley. Sunday the 15th was a day of rest for us, as well as all of Singapore, because that was the day the festivities would start. On the 16th September 1963 Singapore would join Malay to create a new country called Malaysia. The British were no longer in charge of Singapore.
Singapore in the 1960’s was as ‘foreign’ as one could get – it was a mixture of British, Malay, China, Indonesia, and everywhere else in between – it was Asian, and I loved it from the minute I set foot ashore on Clifford Pier.

clifford_pier

Clifford Pier – still there today, but it is now a museum, I think.

First thing we always did on crossing the road, known as Collyer Quay, was to visit Change Alley – at that time famous for money changers. Now it is an upmarket, air-conditioned shopping area. The picture below was taken in 1970.

06 singapore 1970s change alley

With ‘Sing’ dollars in our pocket one could not go past the Cellar Bar, which was below street level (obviously), and a cool, quiet place (being late morning) for a cold Tiger beer. It would liven up at lunchtime and in the evening.

Tiger beer

 

To illustrate how important the Cellar Bar was to the seafaring fraternity, I will jump a head from 1963 to 1966.

After I’d finished my time as a cadet, and passed the exams for a Second Mates ticket I was sent, in April 1966, to Singapore to join an LST (Landing Ship Tank) as third mate. The Company had the contract to supply officers and crews for the various LSTs controlled by the British Ministry of Defence around the world. From 1962 to 1966 Malaya and Indonesia had been fighting an undeclared war, which dragged Britain, Australia & New Zealand in to this ‘confrontation’.
I joined LST Frederick Clover, which was built in 1945 as LST 3001, and named ‘Frederick Clover’ after the war, gross tonnage 4225, so not a particularly large vessel.
Our duties were to carry supplies and troops (the troops to and from) Borneo in support of the fight against Indonesia.
There were other LSTs on similar runs to Borneo, and the officers used to socialise at the Cellar Bar whenever their ship was in port. One day I asked, at the naval office, when a particular LST would be in port, because the third mate in this LST was a friend of mine. I was told that they couldn’t tell me because I wasn’t security cleared, and the movement of the LSTs were on a ‘need to know’ basis. I even explained that I was part of the LST fleet, but as I was still a merchant seaman, rather than Royal Navy, they couldn’t help me, although I’d signed the Official Secrets Act in case I gave away the top speed (10 kts) of the Frederick Clover.

Tiger

Not a problem, my next stop was the Cellar Bar and I asked the girls behind the bar if they knew when my friend was due in Singapore. They were quite happy to tell me the name of his LST, and that he was due into Singapore the following day!, so much for ‘need to know’, and naval security.

 

Let’s move back to the celebrations of Singapore joining Malaya, to create the new country of Malaysia.

Early evening we visited Bugis Street for something to eat – the place was already ‘jumping’. Bugis St was famous for the food stalls, beer halls and ‘girls’, although many were not female, but males dressed as females. The ‘trans’ girls would parade up and down the street in their finery and offer to sit near or on someone’s lap while photographs were taken. For this service ‘she’ would charge a small fee. If they worked the street for a number of hours they would earn a very good living. It was known that certain first tripper boy seamen, around fifteen or sixteen years old would be caught up with the whole ambiance of Bugis St and slide off with one of the very attractive ‘attractions’. It didn’t take long for his mates to see the young first tripper running like mad towards them, as if the hounds of hell were after him. His introduction to Bugis Street nightlife was not what he expected.

bugis st98_sm_dining

Early evening for food and beer.

470px-BugisStreetTrans003

Around mid-night the ‘girls’ would show up.

470px-BugisStreetTrans006

Anybody wish to take my picture?

How to tell the difference between the ‘she’ men and real women? The real women couldn’t afford to dress as well as the ‘she’ men. I was always told to check the Adams apple on the ‘women’ – but I never got that close!

In the 1980’s Bugis Street was closed due to the building of the MRT station. Later the Government realised that they had killed off a major Singapore ‘attraction’, so they opened ‘new’ Bugis Street, which is across the main road (Victoria Street),  and is now an open air market stall area. Regardless of the promotional effort Bugis Street is ‘dead’.

BugisStreet005

 

The picture shows Bugis Street today (the original area not the ‘new’ street)

 

 

The celebrations went on for a few days, but the ‘marriage’ of Singapore and Malaya didn’t last. It was all over by the 9th August 1965, when Singapore became an independent state. This was still in the future.

Judy Judy Judy

From Shanghai we sailed for Hong Kong.

Chanda

On entering Hong Kong harbour we encountered thick fog or very heavy sea mist. It was so thick that we put our engines on ‘dead slow’, so as to enter harbour very carefully. We had lookouts at the masthead, as well as down aft in case another ship came at us from astern. Being one of the two cadets, I was posted forward to the forecastle, with a crew member, to listen for sounds. The crew member listened on the port side (left hand side), and I listened on the starboard side (right hand side). Regular blasts, from our foghorn rent the air to inform any other vessel of our position.

A ship’s bell was permanently located on the forecastle, for the lookout when at sea. If at night he saw a light on the starboard side he would strike the bell once, for a light on the port side it was two strikes, and dead ahead was three strikes. The number of rings told the officer on the bridge the direction of the light. The bell was used in the same way during fog. Instead of distant lights, striking the bell indicated sound or even a sighting.

Suddenly I heard a sound and rang the ship’s bell with a single stroke. The sound that I could hear was very close. There was also a phone link between the bow and the bridge, and now it rang.

The Captain asked me what I’d heard.

‘Judy, Judy, Judy, Sir!’

‘What the blazes are you talking about?’

‘It’s the name of a pop song, Sir. I think we are close to a junk, and they have their radio on very high.’

Junk

As I finished my report a small junk came out of the mist, and when the junk’s crew realised how close they were to a 7,000-ton ship, they altered course to pass down our starboard side, shouting and cursing in Cantonese, and waving their arms in anger as Johnny Tillotson kept them company with ‘Judy, Judy, Judy’. The junk rocked back and forth due to our wake, even though we were hardly moving through the water.

Slowly the fog began to lift and we were able to enter harbour safely and anchor at the appropriate place.

Tea?

In the mid 1960’s I paid off a ship in Khorramshahr, (which is in Iran) and drove to Abadan (still in Iran) to fly Iran Air to Tehran to catch a BOAC (now called British Airways) flight to the UK. This was before the fall of the Shah of Persia, which didn’t happen until 1979.

Iran air

This trip from Abadan sticks in my mind due to the huge amount of hand baggage that the passengers were allowed to carry on board such a small aircraft (small for today’s aircraft), from memory it was a B727/100. At that time  Iran Air only had two jets, one B 707 & one B 727.

The hand baggage of one person included a small primus stove.

After we had taken off, and the seat belt sign had been switched off, the passenger with the stove squatted in the aisle and lit the primus to make his tea. The surrounding passengers didn’t react. I could see the tea maker a few rows ahead of me, and as I unfastened my safety belt to tell him to put the naked light out, there was a blared movement of a stewardess moving from the for’d part of the aircraft to the tea maker. I’ve never seen a cabin crew member move so fast before or since.

Foreign cinemas

Having been a fan of the cinema since I was a child & I can’t help but visit the cinema when I travel.

In the 1964 I was in Moji , in southern Japan, when I found that I had time on my hands so decided to visit the local cinema to see Charlton Heston in Exodus.

Moses  the-ten-commandments-movie-poster-1956-1010680530

 

As one would expect, none of the signs were bi-lingual, and few people at in that part of Japan spoke English, but how hard can it be to buy a ticket and sit and watch a film? I bought my ticket, and the cinema had plenty of seats from which to choose. I picked a good seat and waited for the film to start.

A tap on my shoulder and a very polite gentleman bowed and showed his ticket while pointing at my seat. It was obvious that he was indicating that I was in the wrong seat, so I bowed and moved to another seat. As the cinema filled I ended up bowing and moving a number of times while working my way to the front of the cinema, and very close to the screen. It was when I was asked to move once again that I realised that my ticket did not entitle me to a seat at all, but only to stand in the side aisles while watch the film with a few other unfortunates. It was very disconcerting to turn ones head to watch an arrow cross the screen, and to spend so long looking up Moses’ nostrils.

In 1965 I was in Port Sudan on the Red Sea, so once again I decided to visit the cinema, but this time to see The Great Escape. I’d seen it before but it was the only English speaking film I could find at that time in Port Sudan.

Great_escape

As I purchased my ticket I was given a choice of Stalls or Circle, and because the price difference was small I chose Circle. The lights dimmed as I entered, and I noticed curled wire between the Stalls and the Circle, and I thought what a good idea to add atmosphere to a prison of war film.

At the intermission the lights came on and I saw that the wire was barbed wire. It was then that I realised the wire had nothing to do with atmosphere for a prison of war film, but to keep the Stall patrons from leap frogging over the seats so as to sit in the Circle, once the film had started.

Typhoon Nora

In September of 1967 I was a twenty three year old Third Officer on a cargo ship. She was ordered by the Ministry of War Transport in 1945, but was delivered to the company, for which I worked, due to the war ending. When I sailed in her she was twenty two years old (one year younger than me) and showing her age. She was a happy ship for the officers and crew, but she was still old. I kept the midnight to four am watch, and the noon to four pm watch – generally known as the graveyard watch.

 Pundua
On leaving Hong Kong for Japan all seemed in order until we reached the area between China and Taiwan.
cropped-punduastorm21.jpg
The weather ‘turned’ and I thought it was a ‘normal’ storm.
Punduastorm
The weather kept deteriorating and I didn’t have enough light left to take anymore pictures. I took the above at the end of my afternoon watch.This was many years before digital cameras and all I had a a basic point & click.
I went to bed around 7.30 pm & slept through the storm as it grew in to Typhoon Nora. I  woke about 11.40 pm, to get ready to take over the watch on the bridge.
My cabin was two decks above the main deck, and my bunk was under a window that over looked a passageway and the sea. I looked out of the window as the ship rolled due to the storm, only see blackness. The ship rolled upright before falling off the other way, and I was able to watch the water drain down the outside of my window. It was then that I noticed the bedclothes on the window side of my bunk were wet, because the window was not waterproof. I dressed in a pair of shorts, a light shirt and flop flops and made my way to the bridge.
The violent movement of the ship required me to hang on as I climbed the inside stairs.
As I entered the bridge water lapped all around (hence the flip flops) and only the ladder combing stopped it pouring in to the  accommodation below. The chart area was ankle deep in water as the helmsman struggled to keep the vessel on course as the ship was battered by the waves and the very high winds (over 100 km / hour).
On the bridge I found the Captain and the Second Officer – the Captain had written out our SOS, with our estimated position, Sparks (Radio Officer) was on standby. I relieved the Second Officer after I’d been informed of our situation. The Captain had been on the bridge for hours and stayed with me until I left at the end of my watch at 4.00 am.
The storm went on for days and what should have been an easy four day voyage became a ten day battle. We eventually managed to get a very watery sun sight (satellite communications didn’t exist), the same way as Columbus did 475 years earlier, and we realised that we were many miles away from our estimated position. We had been battered and pushed by the wind and the waves and the sun sight allowed us to obtain at least our latitude. Thankfully we eventually managed to make Moji in southern Japan.
I had my ‘emergency’ pack ‘just in case’ we had to take to the boats – not that we would have lasted long, even if we could have lowered the boats. In my pack were my passport, discharge book, seaman’s card, 400 cigarettes and a bottle of whisky – I considered a bottle off rum, but didn’t have room for the coke, so I just took the necessities of life.

 

LST

In my youth I used to be a merchant navy deck officer. I started as a cadet and after passing the Second Mates ticket I was offered a job as Third Mate on an LST.

When I was interviewed for the position I asked what an LST was, and was told that it was a Landing Ship Tank. It was then that I found out that the Company had the contract, from the British Government, to supply officers for their LSTs in the Far East, Mediterranean (Malta), and Aden. I was being loaned out to the British Ministry of Defence, during the Indonesian ‘confrontation’ (Dec ‘62 to Aug ‘66) – it was never called a war, because this would have caused Lloyds insurance rates to sky rocket, and the Government had enough trouble on their hands.

The background of the ‘confrontation’ was that Indonesia objected to the creation of Malaysia, which included Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo, which was a Crown colony, and Sarawak, which was known then as British Borneo, and is now known as East Malaysia.

Indonesia used local militants, trained by the Indonesian army, to attack East Malaysia, which brought the British in to the conflict in defence of the new country. Later Indonesia committed regular troops to cross border attacks. Eventually Australia & New Zealand became involved.

My new posting was as Third Mate to LST ‘Frederick Clover’ – she was built as LST 3001 in 1945, and renamed ‘Frederick Clover’ in 1946.

Her displacement was between 2,140 tons and 4,820 depending on her cargo. She was flat bottomed for landing tanks and heavy vehicles on beaches. She had bow doors and a ramp as well as a secondary ramp within the enclosed deck to the main open deck, for driving lighter vehicles to the main deck

Because I was in the RNR (Royal Navy Reserve) I was put in charge of the oerlikon 20 mm AA gun, which was on the forecastle. The problem was, even though I was in the RNR, I’d never been trained in the use of ships’ guns, because I’d spent my time at sea in merchant ships in the Far East.

When I visited the forecastle to acquaint myself with my new responsibilities I realised that if we had to defend ourselves we would have to ask the Indonesians to return later, because the barrel of our gun was still in its wooden box bolted to the deck! I opened the box to reveal a brand new barrel covered in wax paper and grease. I couldn’t see us ever being in a position to have to use the gun. The other small problem was that we didn’t have any ammunition!

I reported back to the Captain who told me not to bother with the AA gun.

The following day we loaded troops and equipment for Borneo.

Loading

SIN Loading

Kuching river

The above shows the main deck as we sailed up the Sarawak River to Kuching, on the island of Borneo.

Before sailing we’d been given special instructions to dump various secret cypher machines in the deepest part of the channel between Indonesia and Singapore.

Dumping

The army did such a good packing job that the crates of secret machines floated away! We had to machine gun the boxes so as to allow them to sink. I had an army SLR (self-loading rifle) and it was good fun firing at the floating cases until they sank.

Frederick%20Clover-01

Frederick Clover was ‘old’, but even so I still had to sign the Official Secrets Act. Considering that Frederick Clover had been involved in the Korean War, as well as the creation of the State of Israel (1948), and possibly the Suez Crisis of 1956, I doubted that there was anything left of the LST of which a potential enemy would not be aware. She had two engines and our maximum speed was under ten knots. I have seen Chinese junks, with a following wind, over take us, but that is a secret.