progressed well and I soon reached the stage of taking the beginners
certificate which entailed swimming a length of the pool (33 yds)
breaststroke and crawl. Then I worked up to the advanced which included
3 lengths of breaststroke, 3 lengths of crawl, a length of backstroke
and a dive from the side of the pool followed by a dive from the 10-ft
high board (about 3 metres for you metric youngsters).
The eleven plus exam was looming, we had moved house by this time, from Lloyd Leas to Wittering Road on the main part of the camp near to Changi Village. I was promised that if I passed the exam, I would get a bicycle as a reward. It was then that we found out that as well as the eleven plus examination, we would also be sitting the Scottish equivalent called the Moray House exam. This was in case any of our parents were posted to Scotland on their return to the UK. The exam days came and went and didn’t seem all that stressful. It was my first experience of being herded into a large hall full of desks with very stern and official looking invigilators, a large clock on the wall to show how much time you had used. Some found it intimidating but we had been coached so well most of our class just sat down and worked through the papers like it was a normal classroom exercise. Once the exam was over I then began to worry as to what would happen if I passed one exam and not the other. Would I still get that bike? I so desperately wanted that bike. It turned out that I need not have worried as I had passed both exams. So I got my first bike. I went down to Changi Village with my dad and we had a look at what was on offer and found one to fit me. It was a German cycle called Heiko. It was of the “sit up and beg” variety as most bikes were in those days with pull up brakes. Learning to ride it is of course another story.
Signboard for Bourne Secondary School in Gillman. The motto says "Keep Faith". According to Lynne Copping , The Alexandra Grammar School was renamed Bourne Secondary School in 1964.
At this point I
should have been moving on to Changi Grammar but my father was posted
to RAF Tengah on the other side of the island. There was only a primary
school at Tengah and so we were taken by bus to Alexandra Grammar
School at Gillman Barracks close to the city. Each day became a well
practised routine, my mother would wake me at about 6:00 each morning
and I would get up wash and dress, make up some milk for my breakfast
and for my younger brothers who were still asleep. Then breakfast would
be a couple of Weet Bix biscuits with milk and some coffee made with
Carnation evaporated milk. I can’t stand the taste of it
nowadays but when it was all you get, you had to get used to it. I
would put Radio Malaya on to listen to the start of the day’s
programs which always started with “oh what a beautiful
morning, oh what a beautiful day”. At the point where he
sings about elephants eyes, the bus would be passing our house up to
the top of Meteor Road. At the top the bus would turn round and start
picking up. From Meteor Road we would head across the light controlled
runway sometimes having to stop for Canberras and Venoms taking off
laden with armaments. This was during the time of the
“Malayan Emergency” where the communist insurgents
were being dealt with. The UK government didn’t want to call
it war after having spent so long at war, hence the term
“Emergency”. From there we proceed along what is
now the Choa Chu Kang Road towards Bukit Panjang and then turn right
towards Bukit Timah. Along the way we would pass “Metal
Box” and “Ford” factories picking up some
more passengers at Foo Yong estate just before we got to Bukit Timah.
From there we would make a small detour off Bukit Timah Road to pick up
an officer’s daughter and then proceed back onto Bukit Timah
Road down to Newton Circus and exit onto Scotts Road until we reached
Orchard Road. On the corner of Orchard Road, there were always
magnificent posters for films at the Shaw Brothers Cinema. The most
remarkable was the poster for “The Vikings”. I
didn’t get to see this film until some years later when we
returned to the UK. From Orchard Road the bus would take us along
Tanglin Road and then turn on to Alexandra Road driving past the
Archipelago Brewery. Once we had passed the British Military Hospital
(BMH) with a distinctive cross of St George painted on the roof, we
knew we were almost there. I think the hospital is now known as
Alexandra Hospital. Just after the hospital was a bend and then a left
turn into Depot Road where we would be dropped off to walk up the hill
to Alexandra Grammar School whilst the bus carried on to the Alexandra
Two of the 3 RAF white buses that Jeff Pittman says served Bourne as school buses in the '60s. Numbered TB1, TB2 and TB3 they where for RAF children, and the designated routes were for Tengah based families.
Most days the journey would be uneventful, there was a sing song along the way with all the Scout favourites like “You’ll never go to heaven” (On an RAF bus, cos an RAF bus, wont take all of us.). Popular songs of the day like The Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Suzie”, and Elvis Presley’s “Teddy Bear” and “Wont You Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” were also firm favourites. In 1959 there had been a long period without rain and the day that the Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew announced that if it didn’t rain soon, drought measures would have to be put in place. Well, of course it started to rain early that morning and it just kept on raining heavily. On the way back home the bus was brought to a standstill by the floodwaters near the biscuit factory. We were stuck there for a long time. Eventually the waters subsided enough for the bus to get through. When we got to Bukit Timah Road the canal that runs between Bukit Timah Road and Dunearn had overflown it’s banks and those people that lived in tents alongside the banks were trying to dry out their few meagre belongings.
At AGS I was introduced to science. As well as the General Science lessons we also had some lessons called Applied Science. I find it hard to put into words the thrill I found in science. The general science looked at some chemical reactions and the differences between mixtures and compounds. There was also some physics in there looking at the expansion of metals when heated. The applied science covered topics like electromagnetism and how bells and solenoids worked, transformers, microphones and telephones how batteries worked. There was even a visit to the telephone exchange where we could see all these applications at work. This was a subject that I could get wrapped up in and at the Christmas exam time I managed a score of 98%. This was indeed the start of a passionate and lifelong interest in science and the application of science.
At the start of the autumn term we were more or less assigned to forms in date order of our applications. Because of the move from Changi to Tengah I was down at the bottom of the list and ended up in form 1F. The Christmas exams were used to grade us and I moved up to class 1B. Despite having a wonderful memory for all sorts of things I cannot recall the names of any of the people in form 1B. However, from form 1F, I do remember a Graham Miller but that is probably because I met him a few years later in the UK on a canoeing course.
Sport was never my forte. I hated gymnastics and even smacked my head trying to do a handspring. I guess I was just basically clumsy. I also hated running though the cross country runs we used to do took us on a route out the back of the school and onto the hilltop and around a small Kampong before heading back to school. The runs were only short as we didn’t have much time and the heat made it hard work. Swimming was a completely different matter and we always had a least one lesson a week at the swimming pool. In water I guess I was like the ugly duckling transformed into a swan. I was very fast at breast stroke and was picked to train for the school team. I attended the first weeks training but there was no RAF transport back to Tengah. There were three of us from Tengah and we managed to persuade the bus from the Naval Base to take us and drop us off in Bukit Panjang. From there we walked a little way over the level crossing and maybe walked for about fifteen minutes before somebody stopped and gave us a lift. When I got home my mother hit the roof and put her foot down saying that if there was no transport back to Tengah then I was not going to be attending the training sessions. So that finished my promising start as a competitive swimmer. Well, that meant I could enjoy swimming without having to put in all that rigorous training.
AGS was where I first experienced learning a foreign language formally for the first time. In the first year we were introduced to French. I found it fascinating though I was never good at French I was probably in that band of scholars that hovers around the middle, neither doing well but not doing badly. One of the French teachers was a Madame Hook and I am sure that she used to wear a cape to school and seemed a very strange woman. Maybe I dreamed up that bit about the cape, I’ll have to check with my friend Raymond Clayton to confirm that.
Form 1B had the disadvantage of having a distracting view out to the approaches to the harbour. I do remember being distracted sometimes by the large ships passing by particularly if the lessons were getting a bit heavy. At the end of the summer term we were scheduled to return to the UK just as the term finished. We were supposed to be returning on the SS Nevassa a slightly newer ship than the Dilwara that we come out to Singapore on. I recall seeing the ship coming into harbour and thinking I’ll be on that the day after tomorrow. Unfortunately, it was not to be. My father came down with a bad bout of influenza and was quickly followed by my two brothers. This meant our leaving was delayed and we ended up flying home from Paya Lebar airport on a Hunting Clan Britannia turbo Jet. This was another first for me flying in an aeroplane. It was so memorable for me that I can remember the registration of the aircraft as G-APNB. The other thing that is memorable is that this was the last aircraft that my father ever flew in and it was duly noted down in his flying log which he had kept up to date since ferrying aircraft across the Atlantic during World War II.