RAFCA Mem. No. 1158.
Rank at Changi – Corporal.
Trade – Operations/ Flight Planning.
Changi Shark Pen Block Removal Operation
According to the notes that I made at the time, the concrete blocks were set up as an anti-shark enclosure by the R.A.F. as the area at that time [prior to the 1960’s and before] was infested with sharks from the Johore Straits.
Apparently there were approximately 6-tons of these things that had been neglected over the years and allowed to ‘fall over’ and be subject to tidal erosion, in the interim.
They did cause actual injury to bathers, on what was a very popular beach for R.A.F. Changi. I had actually seen some of the injuries [albeit generally minor but, very irritating, particularly for children] that were caused by bathers ‘colliding’ with these underwater obstructions. They were of ferro-concrete construction, which had eroded over the years, so you can imagine the ramifications?
There had been some representation to ‘do something’ about this problem and in the course of events, eleven members of the Changi Sub-Aqua Club [although Royal Air Force News quoted nine] volunteered to sort the problem.
We all agreed that it would be a very good training exercise for the members and we had all been enthused with the prospect of doing something ‘different’ and, I must admit there was the fascination of the operation being possibly, potentially risky.
We were young and the testosterone/adrenalin mix was very difficult to resist! Although saying that, we did not take any unnecessary risks [oh, the heady days prior to the present Health & Safety idiocy – probably wouldn’t get away with it nowadays, without a thorough, time consuming ‘Risk Assessment’?].
The team was organised by Junior Tech. Ian Purvis and led by SAC Pete Fulford. The other members were Sgt. J. Douchy, and Cpl. Ray Poucher, myself, Junior Techs. Richard Collins, Colin Phillips and Mick McAngus, SAC’s R. Camm, N. Irvine and Jim Thundercliffe.
The method agreed on, [pinched from a Jacques Coustou idea – of whom we were great fans at that time] was to dig through the ‘silt’ under each end of the block and using lengths of rope, attach 40-gallon drums to the ends of the 11-feet long, ½ ton blocks. We would then make sure that the screw bungs were tight in the barrels and wait for the tide to come in. This would [and did] lift them clear of the sea-bed and then several of us would push, struggle and coerce these blocks into deeper water.
Another part of my notes states that we waited for high tide, swam the drums to the blocks, removed the bungs and sank them alongside. We then attached the drums to the blocks, blew air into the drums and quickly replaced the bungs thus lifting the blocks clear of the sea bed. I would question this, as you’d have to be a bit lively to replace the bungs before the air escaped from the drums and it would appear to have made the operation a lot more difficult. My memory is not good enough to confirm or refute this method but, I would have thought that waiting for the tide to come in, would have been a lot easier option?
Colin Phillips and I, brought our 16-foot boat from our shoreside ‘billet’ on the East Coast Road, around the corner to the Pagar Beach. In the event, the engine was found to be somewhat lacking in power and pathetically refused to tow the block and drum combination, into deeper water – pity, it would have saved a lot human ‘puff’.
Once over the ‘edge’, we would take our sharply honed diving knives and cut through the rope attachments – this was the tricky bit – the theory being that if the ‘cutters’ were in ‘sync’, the drums would jump clear and the blocks would drop into about 60 to 80 feet of water.
In all cases this worked except in one significant example when the divers didn’t quite get their ‘cutting’ co-ordination correct! One drum jumped clear but, the weight was such that the other drum couldn’t support the weight of the block on its own. Subsequently, the block disappeared into the depths, dragging the drum with it! Another theory developed after that, that if and when the rope rotted through, that drum would rocket out of the depths and probably leap several feet into the air, giving somebody a real surprise. Our wicked senses of humour came to the fore as we opined that if it came up underneath a passing U.S. warship [the Naval Base was just around the corner], it would probably have sparked off WW3. It hadn’t happened by the time I had left Changi!
This operation was covered by the ‘Straits Times’ in April 1964 and the ‘Royal Air Force News’, week-ending 9th. May 1964. An account written by Ian Purvis was also carried by the Christmas 1963 edition of ‘Talespin’.
According to my dive-log, the operation was carried out in 2-parts.
Part 1 – 2nd. and 3rd. November 1963 then,
Part 2 – over the period of the Chinese New year, 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th. February 1964.