York 1988


On Saturday 13 February 1988 the eastern sun rose on the historic city of York. (Actually it was raining, but that would not be so poetic nor helpful to tourism figures.)

Gathered in the city, for its first reunion since its inauguration on 6 July 1968, were the august members of the Singapore Dawn Watchers' Society (SDWS).   Those who had served in Counter Intelligence Platoon Singapore, 8 Intelligence and Security Company Singapore, 9 Intelligence and Security Company Malaya, and Intelligence and Security Group FARELF Singapore, had made the pilgrimage to the North of England to relive memories of watching the sun rise over the sultry Singapore skyline.  They had come from far and wide to attend the event that had oft been suggested and was finally to come to fruition.

At lunchtime, Tiger beer was in unusual demand in the hostelry that stocked the more outrageous beverages.   All eyes turned to examine each new face that entered the door, searching for a glimpse of recognition that signified a fellow member, ravaged by time, or disguised behind unexpected hirsute accoutrements.   Once identified, the newcomer was presented with a grotesquely distorted Tiger beer can, and invited to perform the time honoured initiation ceremony.  A heady price to pay for those who could not wait until the evening to renew longstanding friendships.   Nick Collett was already staking his claim to be named ‘Man of the Series’.

At last the main event of the weekend approached and, as dusk slowly settled, the pilgrims set out for the ultimate venue, many on foot and cursing the inaccuracy of the old map makers.    Once inside, the décor and ambience of bamboo furniture brought the memories flooding back.  All that was missing was a ceiling fan and a piano bar in the corner.   A shield presented to the Intelligence Corps Club Singapore by members of the Intelligence Support Section of 3 Commando Brigade in 1969 took pride of place, with posters of Singapore and Malaya adorning the walls.   The shield, still jealously guarding the secret of its intervening history, had been located in a public house in Brecon and, thanks to the efforts of Dave Pearcey, had been spirited to York, once again to be among kindred spirits.

A grand total of 59 members and their wives had finally made it for an evening of unsurpassed nostalgia and good comradeship.   It was amazing how quickly the passing years rolled by, and conversations rudely interrupted years ago by postings carried on, seemingly without a break.   One member, complemented on his appearance, was heard to remark, ‘If I haven’t changed in twenty years, then I must have looked 40 when I was 20’.    Familiar words such as Ayer Rajah Road, Pasir Panjang, Orchard Road, Bugis Street, Johore Bahru and Zam Zams could be heard all around the room, and the laughter emphasised the retelling of old stories.   To complete the atmosphere, the air was pervaded with the aroma of Joss sticks, supplied courtesy of Willy Lawson.   There was even a moment when one could imagine the faint gentle strains of bagpipes playing in the background.   On display was a copy of the original constitution of the SDWS, carefully nurtured and carried around the world for twenty years by the Society’s first President, Jim Rousell.   Treasurer and Secretary, Brian Unsworth and Dave Peaks were also present but unfortunately the original Vice President, Pete Palmer, was still stranded in the Far East.

Following a three course meal, the assembled throng were officially welcomed, and all joined in a toast ‘To absent friends’.  There then followed a small draw for six-packs of Tiger beer, and the star prize of ‘a duck dinner for two at a place of your choice’.   In the absence of Colonel Mike Liley, the star prize this time went to Dave Foster, who seemed strangely reluctant to ‘open the box’.

The festivities then continued in the disco area, to music reminiscent of those years in Singapore, and with Dave Wakelam sporting the latest in 60s fashion.   The memories were still being taxed, with frequent cries of ‘Do you remember when….’ And ‘Who was it that….’.   To try and cram so many memories into such a short time, and spend as long reminiscing with everyone as you would have liked, was an impossible task; it was therefore patently obvious that there would have to be another reunion, in the not too distant future.   So, for those eligible for membership of the SDWS, and who were not able to make it to the first reunion, be warned, there will be another.   Mick Conway departed clutching the Singapore Tourist Guide in preparation for his planned holiday and will no doubt be able to update us all on the changes at the next gathering.  Perhaps it is as well that Bugis Street is no more.

Thanks go out to all those who attended, and made the event as enjoyable as the organisers had hoped it would be, and in particular, thanks to the wives who had to listen, yet again, to those tales of 1001 Singapore Nights.

[Dave Peaks]