Interview with Mr David Croft, Archivist, RAF Seletar Association

Q1. What is a typical day like during service in the base camp?

In the 1930’s…..0700 to 1230hr were spent at work. The afternoons were treated as ‘rest’ time.
For the officers, many would dine in the evenings at the Swimming Club in Singapore city. At the weekends there would be visits to the New, Happy and Great World amusement centres. These were perfectly respectable places of entertainment and junior officers were at times detailed to escort dignitaries to one as they were well known beyond Singapore.

In general airmen would visit the Happy World and officers the New World.

On Seletar activities would include soccer, swimming and other sports. The Seletar Yacht Club was formed in 1933 and was in use by the RAF until 1971.

In the 1960’s the working day was from 0700 to 1300 for some personnel. 65 Squadron worked these hours with the afternoons at leisure, sports or at the swimming pool.

Other Seletar personnel worked from 0830 to 1230 and then 1330 to 1630.

In general the typical day would consist of: AM- breakfast, inspection/work parade/work detail then lunch. PM- work parade, work detail followed by late afternoon meal.
The evenings would include cleaning of kit and rooms for inspections (but with ‘paid’ help from cleaning ‘boys’), punishment parades, and guard duties and free time. On afternoon a week was sports afternoon where everyone not on duty was expected to participate (1950’s), this was usually held on a Wednesday.

2. Do you have any free time? If so, what did you do?

As above but also visits to Malaya by car, especially in the 1930’s. Not so popular in the 1950’s because of the Emergency. Travel by car was in fashion again in the 1960’s but also flying as passengers in RAF aircraft both locally and further away.
Other interests were the cinema, drama groups and the theatre and sub-aqua (SCUBA) diving was popular.
Visits to Singapore city in the 1960’s would include the Swimming cluc(s), Raffles Hotel bar (occasionally), the Britannia Club, bowls , cinema and Haw Par Villa (very popular).
On the air base free time would also be spent in the NAAFI or Malcolm Club(s) drinking, playing darts, snooker or playing music from the ‘Juke Box’.

Off-duty activities 1938
Relating to off-duty hours, 'Those peacetime days passed pleasantly enough. Plenty of sport available; sailing at the yacht club, swimming in the Straits off the beaches within the base perimeter (the pool came later). After tea, 16:00-16:30, one usually thought to go into the city: cinemas, the dancing places, bars, restaurants etc, depending on one's current finances, of course. The PSI (Public Services Institute) bus was the cheapest means of trans­port, but you were limited by the departure times. PSI taxis were the preferred method, although these had to be booked, so were not readily available. To make the fare reasonable, these were shared. Such parties would go to league, or inter-service soccer matches at Anson Road stadium, there being keen rivalry between both teams and spectators. Once in a while, dinner would be taken at Kallang airport (which had quite a reputation for good food), where you could sit and watch the airliners come and go. There were nice beaches for picnics and swim­ming, parks and gardens to stroll in; the Botani­cal Gardens had monkeys in amongst a riot of colour, and band concerts were a regular feature. There was Chinatown and the Singapore River, environs around which we were warned to watch our step!
'Cheaper socializing was available on base, the Married Families' Club for tombola and dances, with drinks at much lower prices. The various messes also ran dances now and then. Then there was the kampong (native village) just outside the camp gates, (this would be Jalan Kayu 1938) where one could browse around the trinkets and knick-knacks, or get fitted out with civvy clothes expertly made by the Chinese tailors.

Q4. Any specific missions?

Varied and not so easy to answer but here goes:

A4. 1938 Four new Sunderland flying boats (230 Squadron) were named ‘Pahang, Perak, Selangaor and Negri Sembilan’ at ceremonies in Malaya and then flown throughout the Far East on courtesy visits.
1941 A 205 Squadron Catalina aircraft (from Seletar) searched for the Japanese Navy fleet.
1942 A 205 Squadron flew the major British Commander (General Wavell) and the King’s Messenger out of Singapore harbour.
5/9/45 2896 Squadron of the RAF Regiment at was tasked to lower the Japanese flag from Seletar.
1945-46 The Airborne Salvage Section from Seletar was used for conveying aircraft spares and vital cargoes throughout the Far East.
1946 Missions were flown against uprisings in Indonesia which threatened political and population stability after a decleration of independence by Indonesia. Anti-piracy patrols were commenced again throughout the region.
1949 Burma became an independent republic and a Sunderland flying boat from Seletar rescued British families from rebel held territory.
April 20th 1949 HMS Amethyst of the Royal Navy was trapped by intense gunfire of the Chinese Communists on both banks of the Yangtze River. A Sunderland of 88 Squadron from Seletar was involved in ‘mercy’ duties with the ship.
1949 Sunderland flying boats were used as ‘bombers’ against terrorist strongholds during ‘Operation Firedog’ A Sunderland was also responsible for the rapid casualty evacuation of the Governor of Sarawak, Duncan Stewart after an assassination attempt on his life. He died later in Singapore General Hospital.
1950 81 Squadron Mosquito and Spitfire aircraft from seletar started photo reconnaissance missions over Malaya.
1952 Sunderland aircraft were involved in atop secret mission to fly a nuclear scientist to Australia for H-bomb trials. Sunderlands were also involved in providing.escorting the Toyal Tour of Borneo and Sarawak.
1953 The RAF and Police co-ordinated anti-piracy patrols to also include anti-drug smuggling.
Seletar Sunderland s were also involved in the Korean War, using RAF Seletar as their parent base.
1956 Support was given by RAF helicopters to the Singapore Police to help contain Communist inspired riots in the city.
1960’s Confrontation with Indonesia. Seleatr aircraft made a significant contribution to this ‘bush’ war.
8th December 1962 Brunei. There was a rebellious uprising which threatened to political structure of the new state of Malaysia. The mission to crush the uprising was by using troops flown in by Seletar’s Beverley and Twin Pioneer aircraft.
10th December 1962. Twin Pioneer aircraft supported police by transporting troops to help capture and hold the town of Seria. A Beverley aircraft (34 Squadron) carrying troops had to land, and then take-off, from the rebel held airstrip at Anduki.

Specific missions also undertaken include the search for a Beverley aircraft (1967) that crashed in thick jungle ‘up country’. It took a week to find the aircraft. Also the use of helicopter fitted with SARBE (Search and Rescue Beam Emitter) to find a lost soldier in the Borneo jungle after he became separarted from his troop after an ambush by Indonesians. The RAF Seletar Sub-Aqua group was also used to search for missing soldiers in the muddy waters in Borneo after Indonesian attacks.
Other specific missions by individuals included armed escort duties on the night trains to KL during the Emergency and armed escorts for ammunition trains to Butterworth in the 50’s and 60’s.

5. Where do you all stay at during your service at Seletar?

Unmarried or unaccompanied British servicemen at Seletar stayed in the large accommodation blocks marked A to H if they were of the rank of Corporal or below. Sergeants, Chief Technicians, Flight Sergeants and Warrant Officers were accommodated in the Sergeants Mess and Officers in the Officers Mess. Married personnel either stayed in married quarters on Seletar base or hirings/private accommodation in Jalan Kayu or Serangoon.

6. What sort of weapons did you guys use?

The pre-war aircraft such as Hawker Horsleys and the Vildebeest (Afrikaans for ‘Wild Beast’) were torpedo carrying aircraft. The Vildebeest carried a single moveable rear gun. Sunderlands and Catalinas carried bombs. The Sunderlands also carried .303 machine guns and the Catalinas .5 calibre machine guns. Huricane and Buffalo aircraft used in the defence of Singapore in 1942 had machine guns, the Blenheim bombers carried bombs. Post-war, the photo-reconnaissance Mosquitos and Spitfires were unarmed, the Sunderland s carried machine guns of a higher calibre until after the Korean war when the guns were removed. They still carried bomb racks. De Havilland Hornet aircraft carried under wing rockets to strike terrorist positions. Helicopters such as the Dragonfly and Sycamore were used from the 1950’s until the early 1960’s for casualty evacuation, they were unarmed. The RAF Whirlwind and Belvedere (named Flying Long Houses by Dyak tribesmen in Borneo) were likewise unarmed but the Royal Navy Whirlwinds had .5 calibre machine guns fitted. Sometimes a Belvedere had a machine gun mounted in the cabin doorway but not often. Hunter aircraft were armed with 30mm Aden canon and Air to Ground. Javelin aircraft were armed with Firestreak missiles as were Lightning aircraft.. 65 Squadron based at Seletar operated Bloodhound Surface to air Missiles as anti aircraft defence. The Beverley, Argosy, Hastings, Valetta, Andover, Single and Twin Pioneer aircraft used in the 1960’s were also unarmed…they were used for troop and transport work! Auster aircraft were flown during the Emergency and Confrontation periods in troop/enemy spotting patrols.

Q7. Were there points of times when your life could be in danger?

Life was always endangered when dealing with aircraft and weapons on exercise and active service. Jet aircraft are fitted with ejector seats, every time a pilot is strapped in to his seat both the pilot and airman strapping him in are at risk from the seat ejecting by accident. Armourers are at risk from premature or accidental firing of guns and missiles and several fatalities did occur . Refuelling aircraft can also be dangerous, during my time at Seletar static electricity build up during refuelling of an aircraft caused an explosion and fire resulting in loss of life. The Avpin starter of the Belvedere helicopters were prone to misfiring and were effectively dangerous…on more than one occasion they have caused the destruction of the helicopter by fire when starting the engines.
If parachute despatch aircraft such as the Hastings suffered engine failure when fully laden with fuel and Army despatchers then it would stall…fatal at low levels as happened at Seletar in 1964 when everyone on board lost their lives when No. 3 engine failed and the aircraft spiralled into the ground north of Seletar airfield.
I also experienced a dangerous situation when setting up a collimation tower for the Bloodhound system at Seletar. I unknowingly strayed into an anti-personnel mine strip outside my area…I got out OK!
Occasionally an armed missile would ‘stick’ on firing and then would fall loose on landing. There was a risk of explosion. If the missile was of the infra red homing variety then there w s always the chance it would be activated on leaving the aircraft and flying up the hot jet exhaust….very explosive!

An airman’s life was always at risk when on armed guard duty…there was always a risk that a ‘guard’ could be ‘jumpy’ and fire at shadows, or ghost from the occupation! Remember the airmen were not used to personal weapons like a soldier, they worked on aircraft or in administration etc.

8. Are there any supernatural happenings in Seletar? Have you encountered any of them before?

There are many stories of mysterious sightings around Seletar, most seeming to favour 9(X) site, which could indeed be very spooky after dark, most guards being posted in pairs. So first, a brief rundown re 9(X) site. This explosives and dangerous chemicals storage area covered around one third of Seletar's area, and was totally fenced in; only those with business there were allowed inside. It contained concrete bunkers, underground storage, and around nine miles of roads.
One airman's experience: "One of our guard duties was that at 9(X) site. We were locked in with a rifle, five rounds and a whistle, and the NCO i/c would advise us to keep our eyes open for the ghost of a Japanese General who was said to have committed Hari-Kari here. I never heard any reports of him being seen, but I always had this creepy feeling that someone else was around."
Well, maybe there was, for another report concerned two airmen patrolling the bomb compound in the early hours when one of them suddenly issued the challenge, "Halt! Who goes there?" His colleague, seeing nothing, was said to have questioned the reason for the order, but his mate, shouting, "Halt, or I fire," did just that. After calling out the guard sergeant, the lad was taken to hospital. He was said to have stated that he'd seen a Japanese officer walking towards him. All five rounds were discovered in a tree trunk, very tight grouping — this from an airman who had been rated, "a very poor marksman."
The above story was repeated to me by LW Simpson, although no mention of a Japanese General. He did say that Singaporeans would shun the 9X area on a certain day in August, wouldn't go anywhere near it, this is due to the fact that the Japanese were said to have executed a group of people in there on that date.

Note: even in my time at Seletar (1967) there was a rumour about a ghost of a Japanese officer on site. 65 Squadron was sited on part of 9x Site and patrolled by police guard dogs….sometimes the dogs were very restless and nervous and the handlers reckon they had been ‘spooked’!
( Answer adapted from ' Seletar - Crowning Glory )

In answer to your question about enjoying my (our) stay at Seletar and Singapore the answer is a resounding Yes!
A posting to RAF Seletar was regarded to be perhaps the most enviable posting in the RAF an d nearly everyone I have met still talks of their posting to Singapore with great fondness. An excellent base, an excellent city and super people.

Published by: Wendy Chua 3E3