The Singapore/Penang Trip, 2012.
Our party this year was the smallest ever comprising of only Winnie and Peter Mersh, Margaret and myself. The decision to visit Singapore again had only been taken in the late autumn of 2011, which did not leave much time to notify the membership of our intentions, just a brief note at the end of the Chairman’s Report in the Christmas 2011 edition of the “Changi-ite Newsletter”, which did produce a few enquiries, but not a lot of interest was shown. We were going to Singapore because we had been invited, by Mr. Jeyathurai A, the director of the Changi Museum, to represent our association at the Kranji War Cemetery, on the evening of Wednesday 15th. February, where a service of remembrance commemorating the 70th. Anniversary of the fall of Singapore was to be held.
On Sunday 12th. February, the four of us met up at London Heathrow Airport and boarded a Boeing 777, of Singapore Airlines, for our twelve and a half hour flight to Changi International Airport, where we arrived at 3:30pm, local time, on Monday 12th. Feb. For the duration of our time in Singapore we stayed at the Landmark Village Hotel, at the junction of Victoria Street and Arab Street, where we had arranged to meet some of the people that we knew from previous visits. That first evening Eli Soloman came to see us. Eli is the proprietor of Singapore Rare Books, and is the publisher of “Rewind” motoring magazine, he is fanatical about all things to do with car and motor cycle racing. I gave him some more pictures, from members, of the racing at Changi airfield in 1957, before he dashed off as he was going to New Zealand early the next day, a very busy man indeed.
Tuesday we popped in to the Changi Museum and left them with the patchwork wall hanging that Margaret had made, at Jeya’s request, which will illustrate to the people of Singapore the involvement of the Royal Air Force in their struggles during the Malayan Emergency, the Brunei Rebellion and the Indonesian Confrontation. We then went on to Changi Village and tried to see Charlie Han, but his bar was closed for the day, so on to “Jacob’s Café” where we were advised that Lim Tow Soon was up to his ears in office work, so after a leisurely lunch we left a message that we would see him later in the week and returned to Singapore City.
Wednesday was the actual anniversary of the capitulation to the Japanese in 1942, so there was a memorial service at 9:00am, at the “Chopsticks”, the memorial to the civilians that died during WWII, which we managed to miss due to a mis-understanding as to the actual timing of the event. For the next few hours we indulged in some general sight seeing, interspersed with a bit of retail therapy, before returning to our hotel to prepare ourselves for that day’s main event. At 5:00pm we arrived at Kranji War Cemetery, with the wreath that I had brought out with me from England, where I joined the other wreath layers, whilst Margaret, Winnie and Peter found themselves some seats, all told there must
have been in excess of one thousand people present. At 5:15pm the proceedings started with the arrival of the main guests and dignitaries, which included Air Chief Marshal Sir Steven Dalton, KCB ADC BSC FRAeS CCMI RAF, representatives from the embassies, and two former Japanese POW’s. At the appropriate time, during the service, the main guests were invited to lay their wreaths, followed by the rest of us being called forward in groups of four, when our names and who we were representing were read out. During the wreath laying pipers from the Singapore Armed Services played laments, which helped to create a very solemn and moving atmosphere. At the end of the service floral tributes were added to the wreaths by other persons present. Afterwards light refreshments were available if required.
On Thursday we visited Fort Canning and toured around the Battle Box, which was very interesting. Surprisingly although we had all been to Singapore on several occasions this was the first time that any of us had been here. That evening Simon Goh dropped into our hotel on his way home from work, and over a drink we reminisced and brought each other up to date with our news. Margaret and I had met Simon several times before when he was the manager at Changi Museum, a post now held by Robin Blackburn. After about an hour he had to leave as he had another appointment, so we bade him a fond farewell and promised to keep in touch.
Friday we returned to Changi Museum where we were joined by Michael Ashurst, a fellow association member who lives in Singapore. We were here this time for the presentation of
Margaret’s patchwork wall hanging to the Museum, an informal service, which Jeya performed in the Museum Chapel, followed by Margaret hanging her masterpiece in the main museum building, next to the collection of crests of the various regiments and squadrons that had been posted to Singapore during and since World War Two. We were advised that this latest exhibit would be framed and glazed eventually before being re-hung on permanent display. This would protect it against accidental and/or environmental damage. As we were about to leave Jeya invited the five of us to luncheon, the next day, at the Singapore Cricket Club. Unfortunately Michael Ashurst was unable to accept this as he would be on duty at the Singapore Airshow. We returned to our hotel where the four of us were entertained to dinner by the hotel’s Front of House Manager, Andrew Tann, I am still wondering how Peter Mersh managed to arrange this.
Saturday we went to the Singapore Cricket Club for a splendid luncheon and met up with an Australian couple, Keith Bettany and his wife Lol, whom we had been introduced to at the Museum, earlier in the week. In the afternoon, over a couple of glasses of port, Keith told us about his father, Des Bettany, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese, during which time he had managed to produce many sketches and water colours of his experiences, a truly remarkable and brave man. His pictures can be seen on ~ www.changipowart.com a website well worth visiting.
Sunday Winnie and Peter left us and went off for a week’s holiday in Kuala Lumpur, but they would be rejoining us for our second week in Penang. Margaret and I went back to Changi Village, to say our farewells, and spent a happy hour with a very surprised Charlie Han, who was not aware that we were in Singapore. We then went round to see Lim Tow Soon, only to find that “Jacob’s Café” did not open on Sundays, a situation which we should have been aware of, so we didn’t managed to see Tow Soon this year, which was disappointing but we hope for better luck next time. We returned to “Charlie’s Corner” for lunch, and then had a last look around at Changi Point before returning to our hotel to pack, as the next day we were off for two weeks in Penang.
Penang was just the same as ever, hot and bustling, so we booked in to our hotel, the Bayview Resort in Batu Ferringhi, and phoned the Parkroyal Hotel to leave a message for Rosemary and Richard Collins to say that we had arrived, and then proceeded to relax. Later that evening we met the Collins’s at the “Living Room Restaurant”, they spend the whole of February in Batu Ferringhi every year. As usual we spent a lot of time just relaxing around the hotel pool and gardens, where to Margaret’s delight; “Ricky” was still available for foot reflexology treatment sessions. At the end of the first week Winnie and
Peter rejoined us and, as Saturday was my birthday, the six of us had a party at the “Malaysian Kitchen Restaurant”, which used to be called the “Last Drop”, and many of us can still remember the parties that we had there, organised by Alex. We were pleased to see that the ubiquitous Vincent is still the head waiter. All too soon the holiday was over, and it was back to Singapore, where we boarded a Singapore Airways Airbus 380 for the return flight to London Heathrow.
So what of the future? Will we be going back in 2014? I appreciate that none of us are getting any younger, (sorry to rub it in) and the thought of sitting on your bum for thirteen hours is not very appealing, but keep reading your “Newsletter” as I hope that something can be arranged, that is if enough of you are interested.