19 Air Formation Signals

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE REGIMENT
By John Hill

19 Air Formation Signal Regiment was formed at Huddersfield on 17th October 1943. During the following year the Regiment was mobilized and sailed to India for overseas service in November 1944. Its first operational task was to provide communications for HQ Combat Cargo Task Force, an integrated RAF/USAF force air-dropping supplies to the ground forces in Burma.  The Regiment was based at Comilla in Bengal, with Companies in the Chittagong and Imphal areas. As the Burma campaign progressed, the Regiment moved south with the Airforces and eventually into Rangoon. After the Japanese surrender detachments were then sent as far afield as Bangkok, Hanoi, Hong Kong and Shanghai. In fact it was the boast of the Regiment that it had detachments on every airfield in South East Asia.

In 1946 the Regiment moved to Singapore where it has been based ever since. In 1947 it had Squadrons in Ceylon and Hong Kong, and in this year saw the start of a permanent affiliation with the Far East Air Force. In 1948 the Regiment establishment was changed to incorporate Locally Enlisted Personnel (LEP). The Ceylon Squadron was disbanded in 1959 and Gan Island Signal Troop was formed, and in 1962 the Hong Kong Squadron was transferred from the Regiment. During Confrontation the Regiment had detachments in Brunei and Labuan. Today the Regiment now covers the main airfields of Changi and Tengah, the Microwave Stations throughout Singapore Island and in Penang and Butterworth, and the Signal Troop at Gan.

THE EARLY YEARS:
INTO SINGAPORE

One of the first units into Singapore after the Japanese Surrender was 7th Indian Air Formation Signals. At this time they had been rehabilitating the communications on the airfields with the additional help of sections from 19th Air Formation Signals who had preceded the main body. The sections now started to return to the Unit and in turn were deployed to build up the airfield systems. 104 Wing Sig Sect moved to Kuala Lumpur to take over commitments in Malaya, 100 Wing Sig Sect took over Changi and Seletar airfields and 103 Wing Sig Sect moved to Kallang to take over No. 2 Area FC. In August the latter section increased its responsibilities to include the airfield at Tengah. The main task of these sections was to resuscitate the airfield systems which consisted of a mixture of pre-war British and Japanese cables; some of these were still in use in 1971! Outside the airfields two major projects were completed, a 14 pair UG cable from Jurong to Bukit Timah laid with the aid of Japanese labour and a 54 pair UG cable from Air Command to Changi airfield. Line work was for the most part confined to repairing existing underground cables and the internal wiring of equipment rooms, exchanges and offices.

1950 to 1960

The Regiment was now very closely integrated with RAF Changi. The Officers were members of Air HQ Officers’ Mess, in Changi Village, and the Commanding Officer was PMC. The WOs and Sgts shared the RAF Changi Station Sergeants’ Mess. Although the Regiment had as yet no PRI or unit funds, it had the responsibility of hosting other units on occasions for such major sporting functions as the annual R Signals, RA and RE Cricket Match. The Station Commander was extremely helpful both with financial and material aid such as the setting up of the pitch, spectator accommodation and refreshments. In turn the Regiment was invited, by both the GOC and AOC, to join with the Station for ceremonial parades.

1960 to 1970

The start of Confrontation with Indonesia began with the revolt in Brunei on 8th December 1962. This immediately involved the Regiment in an operational commitment and at long last Malaya Squadron, which had been formed for such an eventuality, was put to the test. The first detachment from Operations Troop arrived in Labuan for active service on 12 December and two further detachments and an officer moved in the next week. Initially they were deployed at Labuan and Brunei airfields, activating these to operational readiness. A switchboard was installed at Labuan and a small 10-line magneto at Brunei. The detachment was also given the task in providing some of the communications for HQ COMBRITBOR in Brunei Town, By the end of the month one officer and 14 men were deployed in the Borneo Territories. However in the New Year as the situation became more stable it was possible to withdraw two of the detachments leaving behind a few men on the two airfields to maintain the line systems. This maintenance task involved the rehabilitation of UG cables mainly on Labuan airfield and this work continued for the next two months. In addition some minor telephone installations at Kuching were completed in February.

On 21st July 1964 civil disturbances broke out in Singapore in the form of racial clashes between the Malay and Chinese communities. A Defence Squadron of 90 men was formed at Changi but it was not required to deploy. An island-wide curfew was imposed which restricted movement to essential transport only, such as line detachments, and these had to have an armed escort. Since all the LEP wore the Songkok, the Malay head-dress, the Commanding Officer decided that this might aggravate the inter-racial tension and so ordered all ranks to wear berets and battle-order during the crisis. Fortunately the Regiment was not involved in any incidents and only one civilian was unable to report for duty as he lived in the heart of the trouble area.

Unlike any other Signal Regiment, an Air Formation Unit does not have its own Officers’ or WOs’ and Sgts’ Messes but the Officers and Senior Ranks are members of the parent RAF Station Messes. In RAF Changi the Temple Hill Officers’ Mess had a membership of some 400 Officers and the Station Sergeants’ Mess some 1000 Senior Ranks. Whilst both Messes were very amenable to the Regiment in allowing various functions to be held in the public rooms, it was felt that the Regiment would like some place of its own as a social centre and where it could hold unit parties and functions. Since the new Morgan Block had been opened the old Japanese barrack blocks in Camp Askar2 Bujang were now empty. The top floor of one of these was taken over by the Regiment on 27th October 1967 and with self-help was converted into what was to be called the Senior Ranks Club or SENRAN Club. Although this was mainly a unit Sgts Mess, run by a Committee under the direction of the RSM as President, all Officers of the Regiment were made Honorary members, and on some occasions all ranks were invited to use the facilities. In subsequent years this Club has gone from strength to strength and has been the focal point for unit social activities.

Up to Disbandment

Whilst the initial plans for the early withdrawal from Singapore were made in 1968 and detailed plans completed in 1969, the full effect was not really felt in the Regiment until 1970. This chapter therefore describes the premises on which the run-down was planned and the actual events which took place within the Regiment until its final disbandment on 15th November 1971.The original directive by the Government in 1968 was that all troops would be clear of Singapore by December 1971. The change in Government in 1970 altered this plan to the extent that there would be a British presence post-1971 but this did not materially affect the proposed disbandment of the Regiment.

The Rundown

Apart from continual reappraisals and revisions of the run-down plan, 1970 saw the start of the demise of the Regiment. 2 Squadron at Seletar was disbanded on 1st May 1970 and apart from a small rear party remaining at Seletar for the handover to STB, the balance of personnel were absorbed into Tengah and Changi Troops, the former now coming under command of 1 Squadron. Gan Island Signal Troop was brought under direct command of RHQ on 30th April 1970.

When the Corps celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1970, the Regiment marked this occasion with various activities in Changi. The WOs and Sgts hosted an Anniversary Dinner in the Changi Station Sergeants’ Mess for all Royal Signals on Singapore Island. The highlight of this was the ceremonial cutting of a special anniversary cake, suitably decorated in Corps Colours, and this was later donated to a local convalescent home. The second social event was a Regimental Party and Games night for the soldiers which was held in the Senior Ranks Club. On a more serious note, all denominations held Services of Rededication. The Muslims held a parade on the Station Square before proceeding to the Mosque for Friday prayers during which special prayers were included to mark the anniversary. On the following Sunday three special services for the Regiment were held in St. George’s, St. Anthony’s and Holy Trinity Churches at RAF Changi. Each service included special prayers for the Corps and the Regiment and a Corporate Act of Rededication by members of the Regiment present.