Celebrating My 21st in Singapore

Dave Wakelam
By rights, I shouldn’t have even had my 21st in Singapore, but remember folks, this was in the days when RAOC staff clerks didn’t appear on Int Corps strengths below company level, or in the case of the Far East, at HQ Int Corps (FE). All admin was done by an Int Corps Chief Clerk, usually a senior SSgt, supported by a couple of dependent wives/daughters. And so it was, that due to a cock-up somewhere in the admin chain, I, a member of Squad 1/64, languished in Maresfield watching 2/64, 3/64, 4/64 and 5/64 disappear to the four corners of the globe. It wasn’t until Squad 1/65 neared the end of their basic training, that somebody noticed me still stagging on in the Accommodation Stores issuing polish and brushes, and addressing MFO boxes. Then everything went into overdrive, and within two weeks I found myself on the way to CI Pl (Malaya) in Rasah Camp, Seremban to join my old chum Alan Jacobs.

Anyway, just over two years later, when I should have been back in the bosom of my family, fortunately I was still in the Far East in the bosom of CI Pl Singapore which was now the basis for 8 Int & Sy Coy. I say fortunately because due to a difference of opinion with a wicked stepmother, I definitely would not have been in the bosom of my family!

The twist to this heartrending tale is that, due to a serious football injury, related elsewhere, as my 21st birthday approached I found myself ensconced in the BMH with my right leg in plaster. Fortunately, I was released in time and set about “planning” my 21st. First stop was the CSM’s office as WO2 ‘Robbie’ Robertson was the PMC and, as a JNCO, I needed his permission to invite guests into the Mess. He consulted ‘Span’ Spanholtz who was the PEC, and after much sucking of teeth and muttering about short notice, they sent me away saying it would be OK if there weren’t too many.

I rang around a few people I knew, who also muttered about short notice, but promised to try and get there if they could.

The great day dawned, fortunately a Friday, so there wouldn’t be any need for an early start for work the next day. I was out of the blocks at 1700 hrs for a shower, which involved putting my plastered leg into a poly bag and securing it with a 'lazzy' band), when 'Barnesy' asked me where I was going. I told him that as the bar opened at 1800 hrs I needed to be 4S’d before then. 'Barnesy' convinced me that as I’d invited my guests for 2000 hrs as dictated by Robbie, by the time they arrived I’d be s**t-faced and in no state to greet them or even last the night out. For once in his short but colourful life he was making sense, so back to Egyptian PT we went. 1900 hrs saw me with said poly bag and 'lazzy' band in the shower, and smelling nicer than a Durian plant, I headed for the bar.

I should have guessed that those masters of secrecy and intrigue, the Mess members, had organised a surprise party with not only all the Mess Members, but all my pals from other units, waiting in the bar for me! I have to say in all honesty that I had a lump in my throat the size of a Kai Tai’s Adam’s Apple. Not only was there a full turnout, but 'Peaksy' and Mick Conway had organised for the HMCU folk club stars to be there as well. Stan, the RE draughtsman (also mentioned elsewhere) was not only wearing socks, even if they were odd, but had borrowed a tie! Now that was a mark of respect!

The Chinese Mess staff had also laid on a magnificent buffet which filled Mick and Jake’s precious snooker table, with a delicious cake as a centrepiece.

There followed an absolutely fantastic night, with presents – cufflinks from John and Hazel Nash (which I still have), an electric razor from Nod (which he had won in a raffle), a compendium of games from Les Ledger (because I was no longer able to play outdoor games) and a Selangor Pewter tankard from the Mess (which the landlord of the George in Ashford took with him to a new pub while I was in Bahrain).

The folk club gave us a brilliant night of entertainment, and just for me, a rousing rendition of ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’. Don’t ask me what time the party broke up, but I am sure that Abdullah earned a small fortune in overtime. By the way, when I got back to Blighty, my Dad gave me a small cloth bag containing some coins which he told me came from a family whip round, and probably wasn’t as much as Abdullah earned that night. I was staying in digs, by the way, and couldn’t wait to get to Ashford, as the Depot had moved while I was in the Far East.

Anyway, to conclude, now you know why the Dawn Watchers play such a large part in my life, why I tell all the young serving Int Corps JNCOs who visit my office in Herford what it was like then in the days of Empire, and why I shall be proud to be a Dawn Watcher until the sun sets on us, or me, whichever comes first.