How well we lived
How well we lived RFA’s Fareast in the late 1960’s
Clearing out some draws prior to moving I came across the enclosed menu card from the Hong Kong Bar and Restaurant near the Sembawang gate of the Singapore Naval Base. Given that the price of anything from the 1960’s seems almost unbelievable these days it still makes interesting reading.
During the 60’s the MOD/RFA fed all their officers on 5 shillings and 8 (old) pence per day, ‘5/8d, which is about 28 pence in modern money. For this we got well fed, and if the Catering Officer was worth his mustard it was good grub as well. Not all Catering Officers were brilliant, this was a new post in the 60’s as before that a PO Chief Steward used to do all the catering, and still did on smaller non front line ships (Hebe, Bacchus, Harbour Oilers, Rangers etc)
The thoughts of a meal ashore was always tempting, a few beers as well and a “fast black” (taxi) back to the ship for a few hours kip before the next watch or 06:00 start for tropical routine for the engineers. The local currency in Singapore was the Singapore Dollar of which there were 8 to the pound for most of the 1960’s. Given that Fourth Engineers were on about 20 to 25 pounds per week (with far east station allowance) and a say a fiver taken off for taxes etc left something like £15 (120 dollars) to squander on booze, food etc. etc. and Magnolia Ice Cream, the icecream van used to appear every day just after the rain in the late afternoon.
As can be seen, a lot of the food served was for English/Australian/New Zealand tastes with not a hamburger in sight. Number 84, rum omelette was unusual and 141/142 the steam boat (large and small) consisted of an aluminium funnel device with one or two circular troughs running round it into which all sorts of Chinese food was placed. The bottom was filled with newspaper and lit. The resultant eruption of flames was like a replay of the Great fire of London as everything glowed red hot and cooked in seconds.
The main attraction of Sembawang was the wide tree shaded gravel area between the road and the shops/bars stretching about half a mile from the main gate up the hill to Toothy Wong’s the tailor. Toothy Wong used to supply made to measure boiler suites for engineers for about 10 dollars
A monsoon ditch separated the area from the road which supposedly hid crocodiles. Although the bars and shops offered many things, the sizzling wocks under the trees did a fantastic trade in egg banjoes (fried eggs in a long bap), steak banjoes and cheese and eggy hammy topsides.
Lady’s company could be hired in the bars for “sticky greens” which were supposed to be crème de menth but could have been anything for about 5 dollars for 20 minutes or so. Girls of about 12/13 also passed up and down the area selling lighters, trinkets and bits and bobs for less than a dollar from trays.
Trips into Singapore were quite rare and the usual method was by “pick up” taxi which you could share with whoever the driver could pick up on the way and cost about 10 dollars to Singapore.
The Naval base surrounded the Dockyard and within it were several hundred bungalows of various sizes housing the resident officers, stores officers and UK Dockyard Supervisors in quite a good life style. I went to several parties in the bungalows and had a good time.
HMS Terror was Navy Base headquarters and housed the officers club, skittle alley and swimming pool. Days off could be spent very pleasantly in the pool and skittle alley followed by cheese and hammy eggy topside banjos and a few Tiger Beers.
HMS Terror, Singapore, swimming pool
My first recollection of Singapore was arriving early morning on Hebe stationed on the after mooring winch controls as an engineer Cadet and looking at lots of the base staff cutting the grass with petrol engines strapped to their backs and a flexible drive over the shoulder to sharp hand held cutters. If one stalled, the supervisor would run and restart the engine with a pull cord.
The trip up to the navy base and causeway passed RAF Changi (not far from the prison) and several fish traps that caught every fish that swam near them without effort on behalf of the owner.
We undertook several journeys in the area to view the sites and the pictures below show, fish traps, Changi Prison and the stores basin, full and empty.
Fish trap on the way up to the Singapore Navy Base
A young (20) me and a 1965 Datsun Bluebird, Changi Prison in the background
Stores basin full, two Australian destroyers, Tidesurge, Tank cleaning vessel and a Fort Boat