Singapore & Malaya 2000


Just before our Warwick reunion two years ago, an outrageous idea flashed into my mind; Our next reunion year is 2000, could Mick and I pull off the improbable, and take the Dawnwatchers back to the Far East?  We talked it through, put the idea to Margaret and Pam, our wives, and decided to give it a go.

At the Warwick reunion, we put the idea to the Dawnwatchers at a rather late stage in the evening, and there was a fantastic response which we put down to alcoholic exuberance.  So, we went ahead with a proforma sent to all Dawnwatchers, which elicited confirmation that we had plenty of support.   Mick had estimated that we needed 25 people to justify the effort and cost, but as time progressed the numbers rose and rose until 56 people were committed to the trip.  Mick cracked on with the travel arrangements which were completed with the assistance of a Malaysian travel agent he had met whilst on a previous holiday.  (I won’t bore you, dear reader, with the wrangling, haggling, conniving and wheeler-dealing that went on to secure the best deals for hotels and flights.  Needless to say, I am now convinced that the best businessmen in the world come from South Yorkshire!)

So it was that on Saturday 11th March 2000, the advance party assembled in the Forte Crest Hotel at Heathrow.  After a few very expensive pints, and the distribution of the last few commemorative polo shirts, it was off to bed with the air of kids the night before a trip to the zoo.  The rest of the party, with a few exceptions who had made alternative arrangements, joined at Terminal Four the next morning and the great pilgrimage was under way with an 11 hour flight to Singapore.

On arrival in Singapore we were greeted by the rep from the travel company and set off for the Merchant Court Hotel, minus two of Mick Roberts’ suitcases which had missed the flight, but promised to join us later.  The journey into Singapore City proved a real eye opener for those of us who had never been back, especially as we were on a road which had been built on land which was under the sea in the 1960s.

As our rooms weren’t quite ready, we went for a look round the city centre.  The changes were unbelievable and it became necessary to retire to the hotel pool for a refreshing swim and a cool Tiger to pull ourselves together.  Suitably composed, a more reasonable excursion was called for, in most cases to the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel for the obligatory Singapore Slings and cold draught Tiger (We had to keep the wives away from the shops, didn’t we?)  The evening found most people on Clarke Quay dining on satay, and dare I say it, jugs of cold draught Tiger beer.  Jet lag be damned – Mackney, Pugh, Ashcroft and Wakelam were kicked out of the last open bar at 0230 hours!

The next morning we men capitulated and allowed our wives to go shopping.  After all, Singapore has more opportunities to spend money than just about anywhere else in the world – apparently!  At 1400 hours a coach arrived to take 24 eager Dawnwatchers, not including Dave Peaks, on a nostalgic visit to the new Tiger Brewery out at Jurong; an activity previously carried out on Corps Day.  We were greeted by the International Export manager, Chris Chan, who showed us round the manufacturing area and then took us into the Tavern, where we were invited to drink as much free Tiger as we wished.  Chris took a personal interest, and had arranged for several other senior executives to attend, because they were all aware of the part played by British Forces in the establishment of Tiger as a popular beer.  They also wished to talk to us about our time in Singapore in the 60’s, as we were the first group of British veterans to visit the new brewery.  We were entertained regally by these executives, and returned the favour by having two boat races, for which the winners were awarded Tiger polo shirts.  Jason (son of Paul) Brogden distinguished himself by a valiant effort to break the record for drinking the Yard of Ale, failing only by a mouthful.  Having rewritten the Marketing Department strategy for breaking into the UK market, it was back onto the coach for the return to the hotel.  Who said Dave Wakelam couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery?  Those of you on this trip may like to know that a Corps plaque complete with ‘Presented by’ plate has been sent to Chris Chan for the Tavern wall.

The evening was spent once more in sampling the many culinary delights of Singapore, as we had an early start for the journey across the causeway into Malaysia.  Once again, the travel rep delivered a flawless performance in making sure that everybody was documented correctly, married up with their luggage and seated on the correct coach.  That is, everybody except Willie and Sandra Lawson, who did manage to get on the wrong coach.

Exit from Singapore was completed without a hitch, but entry into Malaysia was a different matter – what is Malay for Jobsworth?   However, a potentially difficult situation was averted when I managed to get into a country with the strictest anti-drug laws in the world wearing a T shirt emblazoned with cannabis leaves.

The first thing that most people noticed after crossing the causeway was the difference between Singapore and Johor Bahru, which had changed very little since 1967!  We set off for Malacca on the North/South Highway, which runs from Johor Bahru to the Thai border, but off the highway the palm groves, rubber plantations and kampongs are also much the same as they were 35 years ago.  

Thanks to the delays at Malaysian Customs we arrived at the Renaissance Hotel, Malacca too late for lunch, but a tour of the Old Town provided a welcome respite from the coach ride.  Unfortunately, the weather was overcast, and showers prevented us from using the pool.  In the evening, most people went into the town to partake of wonderful meals, Chinese, Indian and Nonya, at ridiculously cheap prices compared to Singapore.  In one restaurant Julie Jacobs was horrified to see Alan choose his own crab direct from the tank and then enjoy it in its Black Peppered reincarnation!  In a bar appropriately called ‘Looney Planet’ a framed copy of The Malay Mail dated July 1996, announcing the withdrawal of British Troops from Borneo, was found on the wall.  Several photos were taken, much to the curiosity of the bar staff.  And so on to Kuala Lumpur! 

Mick had booked us into the Renaissance Hotel in the city centre, and despite the Renaissance in Malacca being really good, nobody was prepared for the opulence of the KL equivalent.  Previous residents included Michael Jackson!  Quote of the day from Ray Feather, ‘You could have found somewhere better than this Mick!’  Mick’s reply is unprintable.  Situated close to the Petronas Towers, and the KL Tower, we men prepared ourselves for a shopping frenzy to end all shopping frenzies – we weren’t disappointed!  Led by Julie Jacobs, Deanna Ogglesby and Michelle Jubb, the wives ran amok with plastic, ringgits and any other form of spending known to man – and that was only the first afternoon.  Later that night, they descended on the Pasar Malam at Jalan Petaling sweeping up vast quantities of bargains.  Queen of the Night was Kay Roberts with six Gucci watches for 36RM (£6.00), commenting, ’I’m only buying these because I’m not taking any rubbish home for presents!’  The second day in KL found the Dawnwatchers dispersing to do a wide variety of things, mainly sightseeing and shopping.  Jake, Noddy Jones and I took a taxi ride back to Seremban in an attempt to visit Rasah Camp, the former home of CI Platoon (Malaya).   The camp was found eventually, but as it now houses a Malaysian Brigade Headquarters, admission was refused by a Major who informed us that we had not followed the correct procedures! What is the Malay for Jobsworth?  A trip into town was like being caught in a time warp.  Ex-Serembanites may be interested to know that, apart from a shopping mall where the football pitch used to be, the town hasn’t changed at all.  Back in KL, the word was quickly spreading that for the second time in three days, Willie Lawson had managed to lock himself out of his room.

The evening was spent being regally entertained by Eric and Debbie Hollis at a poolside party in their apartment block.  Eric is currently working in KL for British American Tobacco.  After a sumptuous banquet we were entertained by the Challengers Folk Group – a Dawnwatchers version of the Chieftains - made up of Paddy Peaks, Finbar Brogden, Seamus Wakelam, Barney Pugh and Micko Roberts.  (It was St Patrick’s night after all!)  When the party broke up around midnight, Noddy got lost looking for a taxi and was picked up by a nice man on a moped who took him to the taxi rank.  Several of the more resilient Dawnwatchers, led by Fred Philpott, made a beeline for the hotel bar for a nightcap, or in Fred’s case nightcaps.  Day three in KL was again spent shopping or sightseeing.  A number of us visited the fascinating Hindu Temple at the Batu Caves, inhabited by wild monkeys with a penchant for mugging unwary tourists.  Quote of the day was from Pam Pugh who was heard to say ‘What a funny name for a hotel – The Nasty Hotel!’  When the taxi moved two feet further on, the name ‘Dynasty Hotel’ was revealed.  Mick Roberts had organised the evening’s entertainment with a magnificent multi-course Chinese banquet at a restaurant run by a Country and Western singing Sarawak Chinese who was a dead ringer for Jimmy Ho in Good Morning Vietnam,
Day Eight saw us checking out of the palatial Renaissance Hotel and boarding the coach for the Cameron Highlands.  The journey was now developing into a tour of two buses.  Bus Satu was the serious bus, but bus Dua was becoming more and more like the Magical Mystery Tour thanks to the 60’s music blasting out from tapes supplied by Dave Peaks and I.  The drive to Tanah Rata was along the only road into the Cameron Highlands, familiar to those who had been there before, but a hairy experience for the uninitiated.   At a short break at Iskander Lata, the Orang Asli village with a spectacular waterfall, a local demonstrated the technique for using a blowpipe and gave Joan Ward and Jake the chance to try for themselves.  Jack Cartwright ate the biggest piece of chicken satay in the world, ever, and we continued on to Tanah Rata.  After lunch we visited the Boh Tea plantation where prime tea is produced on machinery installed in 1935.

Tanah Rata is not the entertainment capital of the world, so most ate in the hotel restaurant, although it was possible to get an Indian meal in town served on a banana leaf, with extra chapattis and a beer, for the equivalent of £4.00 for two people. (It was lovely!)  In the hotel bar chaos reigned where a very hard working barmaid from Sibu in Borneo, assisted by an Orang Asli barman whose Malay wasn’t as good as that of most of the Dawnwatchers, entertained our company with a bright line in patter.   She explained that the next day, after we had left, she was having her first day off in two months.  The bad news for her boss was that there was a coach-load of German tourists arriving to find that there was a barman on the job who spoke only Asli, and that the Dawnwatchers had drunk all the Tiger and white wine!

The long journey down from the mountains was a credit to the skill of the coach drivers, and our first stop was at the Sam Poh Tong temple on the outskirts of Ipoh, a beautiful series of buildings which had been used as a refuge by the communists during the emergency.  After lunch at the Heritage Hotel, we drove to Taiping and visited the Commonwealth War Cemetery in the beautiful Lake Gardens.  Robin Eccles delivered the Royal British Legion exhortation of remembrance, after which the Dawnwatchers paid their respects to the Commonwealth war dead.  In the most poignant part of the whole trip the graves of Captain James E. England MC, and Lance Corporal J.O. Smith, both Intelligence Corps, were paid particular reverence.

We embarked on the coach for the last part of our journey to Penang, and after receiving the ultimate demonstration of red light jumping from the driver of Bus Dua, finally arrived early evening at the superb resort of Rasa Sayang at Batu Ferringhi.  Within minutes of checking in, Nod established that Happy Hour was about to start at the Pool Bar, so most of us managed to get there in time for at least one refreshing beer to wash away the dust of the road.  The Rasa Sayang was to be our home for the next five days, so the evening was spent visiting the local market and restaurants to discover the best places to eat and shop.  We were joined at this point by Malc and Hela Bryant, and Ray and Loretta Thornton from Australia, bringing the total now present to 58, Eric and Debbie Hollis joined at KL.  The following day the Pilkingtons arrived via Kota Kinabalu (Jesselton), where they had been for ten days.

Dave Peaks and I soon entered into negotiations with Darryl Mak, the hotel’s Sales Manager, to try and get discounted rates for Tiger for the Grand Finale pool party.  Mission accomplished!

Our time on our first full day in Penang was spent sightseeing, relaxing by the pool or on the beach or ……  Fred and Liz Philpott went swimming outside the safety ropes and ended up sporting a natty line in calamine lotion administered by the hotel medics.  (Jellyfish, what jellyfish?)   Pug H had a sulk on because he found out there was a putting competition, but he was too late to enter.  It didn’t matter anyway, because when he eventually got to enter another one, he was beaten by a seventeen year old youth.  The evening’s activities were once again preceded by Happy Hour, when Dave Peaks qualified as Divvy of the Day by having to have the principle of ‘Twofers’ explained to him.  Pam Wakelam, Jason Brogden and his partner Lorraine took their lives in their hands by going horse riding.   In the gallop for the finish, Lorraine won by a country mile from Pam, with Jason coming in a leisurely third.  Fred had been informed that the ‘Popular Ferringhi’ restaurant had famous Penang Jellyfish in Chilli Sauce on the menu, so I went and ordered some, but it wasn’t available.  Shame!

The beautiful Penang sunrise (somebody told me it was beautiful, I never saw one) heralded Day Twelve and the arrival of Dave Kitching and  Joanne from Hong Kong, bringing the full complement of Dawnwatchers present to 62!   Poor old Dave hadn’t met up with most of us since 1967, and got quite emotional, especially at Happy Hour.  By now, the Dawnwatchers had built up an impressive list of sights visited, including the Pewter Factory, Penang Mountain, Monkey Beach, the Komtar Tower, the Snake Temple and the Batik Centre.  All shopping records were still being broken, with suits, dresses, spectacles, pewter and shirts among those items added to the list.  I must add that there were also more than a few extra suitcases now.  Day Twelve was especially significant as this was the day we had all been waiting for, when in the evening we held our Millennium Reunion Dinner at the poolside barbecue area.  After a few warmers into the bank at Happy Hour, the Dawnwatchers assembled, fully clothed at 1930 for 2000 hours.  All males were correctly attired with SDWS ties, including Willie, and the ladies all looked particularly lovely in a glorious array of new dresses.  Ladies, you did us proud!  The centrepiece of the buffet was a fantastic ice carving of a fish, which was used as the backdrop for photographs of each couple.  The hotel catering staff had prepared a meal of unbelievable quality, with a vast selection of Asian and English dishes, including bread and butter pudding with custard.

After dining there was a short break, as customary, when we remember those of our group who have not been able to join us, whatever the reason.  This was a particularly sad occasion, as we remembered Rosemary Brogden and Harry Pinchard, both recently passed on.  Glasses were raise, ‘Absent Friends’ toasted, and we pondered and appreciated just what makes the Singapore Dawnwatchers such a special group. 

The next item came as a complete shock to Mick and I as we were presented with splendid Royal Selangor Pewter gifts, and Certificates of Merit for service to the Dawnwatchers, by the Prez, Jim Rousell. In a really nice touch, Margaret and Pam were presented with beautiful bouquets of orchids by Bridget Cassidy.  Once again, many, many thanks from all four of us to all of you!

Formalities over, the proceedings took a more normal (normal?) turn with another performance from the Challengers featuring a guest appearance from Ciaran Kitching.  The high spot of the evening’s cabaret, however, was undoubtedly the Chelsea Pensioners, complete with matching bandanas.  You had to be there, honest – you did!  (Where do we get our stamina from people?)  The party continued on until 0300 hours, with Dave Peaks providing the Grand Finale by sliding fully clothed down the water chute into the pool.  No Dave, we really didn’t say we were going to do it with you!

Friday March 24th arrives.  Bad heads all round, but we are determined to go down fighting.  Dave Peaks and I had arranged a 60’s Pool Party with loud music, loud shirts and ‘Yes you’ve guessed’ cold Tiger, so that the tour disciplinary committee could sit.  The committee, comprising Judge Noddy Jones, Prosecuting Counsel Jim Rousell, Arresting Officer (dried out now, but only externally) Dave Peaks and Defence Counsel Betty Williams (Fred Philpott’s Mother-in-Law) dispensed summary justice in quick succession tor Willie Lawson (twice), Fred Philpott and Mike Pilkington.  Malc Bryant was found not guilty of whacking the Arresting Officer round the ear, just before a photograph of the sad offence was produced, too late to be used as evidence.  Tony Barnes did not turn up for the court, so a warrant was issued in his absence, which has been dealt with by Mick Conway JP, and a period of community service awarded.  I am pleased to say that Tony has since completed his community service.

The best laid plans of mice and men for an early night fell by the wayside as the Popular Ferringhi was invaded for a last Chinese banquet and a karaoke night.  Jason Brogden distinguished himself again, as did the ladies with a first class rendition of Abba’s Dancing Queen.  Pug H and Mick Roberts also displayed rare vocal talents, but Fred Philpott’s horizontal karaoke stole the show.  Don’t give up your day job Fred!

The last day of a truly memorable fortnight dawned with several more bad heads, but we had all day to get over them before the long journey home.  Dave Mackney, Mike Pilkington and I went parasailing to blow the cobwebs away – drastic or what?  The last few hours were spent panic tanning by the pool.  So, it was at 1700 hours that a rather downcast group Assembled in the foyer to catch the transport to Penang airport to start the homeward journey.  The coach pulled away from the hotel entrance to a rousing send off from those travelling onwards by separate arrangements.  Three times we passed the entrance, to receive three send-offs. 

As we arrived at the airport, we men thought that we had finally escaped the three week shopping frenzy which had possessed our wives.  WRONG!  Straight into the Duty Free shops they went, saying that they had to get rid of all their Malaysian currency as it was no use in UK.  There was about to be one last incident to bring a smile to our faces as Geoff Jubb had his blowpipe confiscated to be consigned to the baggage hold for security reasons.  Quote of the day from Geoff, ‘How was I supposed to make hijack demands with my lips glued to the blowpipe?’

There isn’t much more to tell really: the flight back was boring, the airline food was grim, Geoff Jubb had the last Tiger of the tour, and we arrived at Heathrow to a temperature of 8°C.  However, Terminal Four was a place of some emotional scenes as we bid au revoir to each other.  One thing that can be said is that old friendships had been renewed, existing ones strengthened, new ones created, especially among the ladies, and a bond reinforced between Dawnwatchers which probably can’t be matched anywhere.  For that Mick, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Roll on Harrogate!  It is my intention to create an album of the trip, so if you have any interesting, compromising or amusing photos of yourselves, or anybody else, please send them to me.

Nothing else remains, ladies and gentlemen, but to announce the award winners for the various categories:

  • Shorts of the Tour.  Lots of contenders, but for their quintessential Britishness, the award goes to Noddy’s Old Colonial Tea Planter Specials!
  • Shirt of the Tour.  Again, lots of contenders, namely Jim Rousell and Broggers (a bit pooffy) but for its quintessential garishness, Dave Peak’s Hawaiian Sunset is the winner.
  • Hat of the Tour.  Again a wide range of possibles, from my own, to Pug H’s, to Jason Brogden’s psychedelic bush hat, but for its quintessential Britishness, Brian Ashcroft’s white flat ‘at’ takes the award.
  • Quote of the Tour.   Some of the main contenders have already been mentioned above, but for its quintessential naughtiness, Julie Jacob’s quote containing the words ‘massage’, ‘shins’ and 'orgasm’ wins by a large majority.
  • Cabaret Act of the Tour.  Qualifiers too numerous to mention: especially commended ‘Dancing Queen’, Fred’s horizontal karaoke and Jason and Dave’s ‘Woolly Bully’, but in all honesty who else could win, but the Chelsea Pensioners, for its quintessential Britishness!
  • Sporting Achievement of the Tour.  Pug H’s golf, Dave Mackney’s jogging (Yes, jogging!), mass parasailing, Dave Peak’s hair raising descent fully clothed into the pool? It’s none of these, it’s Lorraine Snook’s cavalry charge along the beachafter Happy Hour, for its quintessential madness!
  • Man of the Match.  What a difficult one!  Dave Peaks was in the running, so was Jason Brogden, and Nod nearly made it for his dedication to Happy Hour.  The judge’s final decision was that, for his performance at the Brewery, on the pool table at KL, at the court martial, at the karaoke and most of all, at the Jellyfish Wrestling, the winner, and first holder of the Jason and Lorraine Man of the Match trophy is FRED PHILPOTT! (Pause for notional fanfare!)
Well folks, I know you will be bitterly disappointed not to win, but, as they say in the Spanish marines, ‘El Tougho Shitto!)


[Dave Wakelam]