John Harper Remembers


John Harper Remembers Singapore - Part 7: RAF Changi Scouts

Singapore Belt

When we lived in Cleveleys in the UK I had put my name on the waiting list to join the Cubs group. However, because I was friendly with a boy who had been thrown out for bad behaviour my name never seemed to make it to the top of the list. So when we moved from Lloyd Leas to Wittering Road and the Scout Hut was just over the road from the old Changi Post Office at the end of Wittering Road my father put our names down for the Cubs. He came back a week later and told me that there were spaces in the Scouts and that I would be allowed to join although I was not quite yet 11 years old. I went along to my first meeting and joined Kestrel patrol, shoulder flash colours Blue and Green. It was the start of a long involvement that was memorable, challenging and most of all enjoyable. I can still remember those early days of learning to tie knots, simple first aid, starting with the four basic points of the compass N,E, S and W expanding it to 8 Points with NE, SE, SW, NW and then further subdividing the compass to give the points in-between NNE, ENE, ESE, SSE, SSW, WSW, WNW and NNW, learning all those symbols and all about contour lines so that you could read a map and setting it to magnetic north. These were amazing days and I soaked it up like a sponge. It wasn’t too long before I had passed my Tenderfoot badge and underwent my investiture into the movement. Then started the work on my second class badge with more knots, lashings, and first aid.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

1954 photo of scout activity. Collection of National Archives of Singapore

Although we were only there for a few more months we were present for a few events. One was a fund raising event in the field next to the old post office. There were many different stalls set up where you paid money and tried to win it back by overcoming the challenge that had been set. There were all the old favourites like the bendy copper wire circuit with the copper loop that you had to negotiate around the bends without touching the bent copper wire and completing the circuit causing the buzzer and lights to light up. Funny, you never seem to see that nowadays. Then there were the coin rollers where you won a prize depending on which card you managed to land your coin on cleanly. Probably the most fantastic contraption was the rolling horse made of small metal barrels mounted on a central shaft with well lubricated bearings. The idea was to get from the horse’s tail where there was a fixed barrel over the rotating barrels to the fixed barrel by the head. Not many people managed to do it. I think that the only one who did was an airman who managed to do some sort of leap frog movement that leapt him over the rotating barrels. He had several tries before he managed to perfect his technique and probably spent more than he eventually won.

One night we all caught a bus over to RAF Seletar for a campfire singsong. There were benches all around the fire built up in tiers so that everyone could get a good view of the fire. I think that all the Scout Groups from all the armed forces stations on the island had been invited and it was a really big occasion. I can’t remember all the songs but I do remember, Ging Gang Gooley, You’ll never go to Heaven, Quartermaster’s Stores. The Yanks are Flying Fortresses at Forty Thousand Feet was a particular favourite with its gory refrains about jumping without a parachute and being scraped up off the tarmac like a lump of strawberry jam.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Old Map of Changi Area

Without a doubt though, the biggest event we ever had was what was known as a "Soap Box Derby" on the hill of Cranwell Road. It was organised by the Scouts leaders and boys and their fathers built carts with pram or pushchair wheels and the boys raced them down the hill. I managed to scrounge a set of pushchair wheels from somewhere and my dad got a steering mechanism put together in the station workshops that bolted onto a lightweight plywood frame. That was then painted up in Kestrel Patrol colours with broad bands of Blue and Green. In preparation for the event one of the Wing Commanders who was associated with the Scout Group arranged for road closures and diversions. Traffic approaching from the city direction met a road closure sign at Calshot Road just by the swimming pool at Selarang and was diverted along Changi Road and past the guardroom to emerge and turn right by the Astra Cinema. There was a similar diversion in the opposite direction. There was a happy, competitive atmosphere as we lined up for the race. Each cart was allowed a pusher to get you started and my mother was my pusher, and could she push. I flew off very quickly and was just in the lead for a while. Unfortunately there were quite a few casualties, including myself. I was in the lead as we had built a really slick, lightweight and streamlined cart with small pushchair wheels. I was really flying down the hill and the tyres must have overheated and expanded off the wheel rim and my cart just turned over and I ended up in the grit and clay at the edge of the road with badly grazed elbows and knees. So it was home for a quick bath full of antiseptic and then straight round to sick quarters near the guardroom to get bandaged up. I think I was in bandages for about a week that had to be changed daily but no lasting damage was done apart from some scars that took a few years to go.

Soap box derby map

Detail map of Soap Box Derby course outlined in blue

My scouting continued when we moved to RAF Tengah but as they say, “that is another story” and I think some of it was covered in my piece on leisure time.

Valid HTML 4.0 Transitional