TTGU, Ep. 2, Ch. 13 – Going Out East
We left the Comet at RAF Singapore and were taken in lorries to the nearby transit-camp of Nee Soon. We three volunteers were not alone: there were a few other lads from other units who seem to have “volunteered” for service in Malaya.
At Nee Soon, we were given a meal, sent to a barrack-room and told to do what we liked for the next day or so – as long as we attended morning parade – because there was little to do for those of us in transit. It was strange to sleep in an attap-basha – a room made entirely of what seemed to be palm leaves. From somewhere within those leaves there came little squeaks. Ah, the Mystic East.
However, the Army finds work for idle hands. So, after a very sweaty night, we paraded as smartly as we could and were told that, to get us acclimatised, we would spend the day tidying Nee Soon’s gardens. So we did. The near-equatorial sun beat down and we had to wear jungle-hats and drink lots and lots of water all day. We were told that we could have the evening off to visit the sights of Singapore.
Tidied up a little, we newcomers went out into the city with some old sweats who were at Nee Soon waiting for their transport back to Blighty. And what sights we saw: strange shops, peculiar goods for sale and lots of Chinese people. There was a shop called Johnny Ghurkha where an Indian gentleman did tattoos. I’m happy to say that, in all my service Out East, I never got drunk enough to be tattooed! Many of those who were tattooed had massive infections in the parts of their bodies where the needle had gone.
Next morning, parade then back to a little gardening, then back to Singapore city again. This time, I had my first taste of ‘Tiger’ beer. It was a chemical brew, allegedly, with very little taste and not much alcohol content. It was sold all over Malaya, too. The other local beer was ‘Anchor’ which was also sold everywhere. In fact, there was not one iota of difference between them except the labels on the bottles. Malaya had no draught beer, and both ‘Tiger’ and ‘Anchor’ were fizzy.
We had to return to Nee Soon camp as early as possible that night as we were to embark next day on the last leg of our journey: by train to our postings in Malaya
We bade farewell to our ex-E-Company trainees, Barry and Pompey, lurched off to the railway station in another 3-Ton lorry, and sat on Singapore platform chatting about nothing in particular and eyeing the attractive young Chinese girls who were wandering about. In all my days Out East, I never saw a Chinese girl who was less than pretty.
We three had separate postings, and I would be the first to leave the train. The journey was uneventful apart from the humidity and the strange smells wafting through the open windows. We saw jungle, yes, and paddy-fields complete with coolies in big hats. But it all looked less exotic than we’d expected.
Arriving at Kuala Lumpur, I said “goodbye and good luck” to my two mates, and began looking around for my lift to my permanent camp. I would not see those two again until we were on our way home. KL Station is a marvellous creation with its Far Eastern architecture complete with minarets. At last, I was in the exotic and mystic East.
A lance-corporal of the Royal Army Service Corps – a body of men responsible for military transport in general – wandered onto the platform smoking a cigarette. “You wanna go somewhere?” he asked in a Cockney accent. I showed him my ID Card and papers. He wasn’t particularly interested. “Come on – we’ll go the pretty way . . .” And off he went out of the station. I followed him.
It wasn’t a 3-Ton lorry this time, but a Land Rover. And I was the only passenger. I felt like royalty. We raced out of KL in the blink of an eye.
Then, having driven a few miles out of the capital city through paddy-fields and marshes, we came to what would be my home for the next nineteen months. The lance-jack – who’s name I never learned – screeched to a halt at the camp gates, blew his horn, and let forth a stream of dirty language at the RP who came out of the guard-room.
That worthy simply opened the gates without asking for any form of identification – if you were white, you were OK – closed them behind us and told me to stand outside the guard-room for a while. He then remonstrated with the lance-jack about the error of using dirty language – and ended his speech with a wondrous stream of barrack-room language without repeating the same word twice.
It may be interesting to note that, in all my Army service, it was very rare to hear what I had been told I would hear in barrack-rooms. Lots of “bloodies” and “buggers”, but rarely was the language worse than that.
My chauffeur drove off and I never saw him again. The RP – a member of the Greenjackets if I remember right – made a call on the phone and told me someone was on their way to sort me out. Out there, it was often the case that members of all sorts of regiments became RPs, not just men from one’s own regiment.
After a few minutes, Corporal “Robbo” Roberts turned up, took my papers and we walked in a sort of marching way to the barrack-rooms. In fact, we simply kept in step in case any officer might see us, and Robbo chatted to me about life on the camp – and outside it.
The barrack-rooms were attap-roofed, single-story buildings. The windows were unglazed, but both they and the doors were slatted and only closed in the monsoon-season to stop the torrential rains beating in.
The walls of the barrack-rooms were divided by asbestos sheeting (not deemed dangerous back then). They were smashed occasionally when pals in a billet had flip-flop fights – we slung flip-flops at each other. They hurt when they hit, and caused barrack-room damage when they missed!
Robbo helped me with my kit-bag and belongings into one of the barrack-rooms.
“Welcome to Barrack Room Two,” he said in his Liverpudlian voice.
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