51 Squadron as I remember it.                              


It all began for me when I arrived at Claro Barracks Ripon November 1965.


51 Field Squadron (Airfields) Royal Engineers was a newly formed Squadron Formed to take over The airfield construction Role of RAF 5001Squadron.


By the Time I arrived most of the Squadron had formed up and there were just a few of us needed to make up the full compliment.


It was at Ripon that I met such Legends as Taff Fisher, Harry Cook and Norman (Fingers) Taylor. Fingers got his unfortunate nickname as the result of an accident with the electric saw in the workshop.


I recall Ripon as being Cold and windy and I hated its windswept parades in freezing weather. SSM Keane was King of that Parade ground and he made it his own. By all accounts he was a bit disgruntled because he was a WO1 who should have been in charge of a regiment but was only Squadron Sgt Maj for the Independent 51 Sqn.  We found out years later he had been on the beaches 6th Jun 1944 but I never heard him mention it.


I left for Singapore with the Main Party and we went from avery cold Newcastle Airport where the temperature was well below freezing with the roads outside covered in Black Ice. We landed in Singapore to a temperature of over 100F.


The Aircraft we flew in was a Britannia, Caledonian Airways, with four prop engines. We stopped at Istanbul, Ceylon (Now Shrilanka) and Bahrain. It took us a total of 25 hrs compared to today's flights of 12 to 13 Hours.


Our arrival was greeted by all kinds of exotic smells borne on the very slight breeze. The breeze did nothing to cool us down because all it did was blow even hotter air over us. Our shirts and heavy English clothing stuck to our skins. I never forgot those first exciting impressions or the subsequent adventures of the next Two and a half years.














D block RAF Seletar


Over the next few days we slowly adapted to the heat. It was a bit of a struggle. I saw a Chinese man riding a bicycle and I wondered how he could possibly do that in all that heat. Local people seemed to be doing impossible energetic things. How did they do it?







Within two months some of us were working in even hotter conditions on an Island off Borneo called Labuan. 130 degrees F.


We were in Labuan to lay concrete to accommodate large Fuel Bowsers used for refuelling of RAF Aircraft.


While we were there we did lots of other small jobs like pathways and short bits of roadway to make life more comfortable for the Forces on permanent station there.


I loved Labuan and I look back with fondness at the four or five months I spent there.



China Rock

After Labuan we had a small detachment at a place we called China Rock.


China Rock was in fact a small Island off the east cost of Malaya that the RAF and Artillery used as a Bombing and Shelling Range.


The Shelling etc was observed and reported by RAF Signals Lads. They did this from a high observation lookout shelter based on the main Malayan shore. We observed the RAF bombing it and the Royal Artillary  Used up thousand of tons of shells. but the hits on the island were few and far between. An officer of the artillary explaind to me one night at a booze up, that the real shells pobabbly did more damage by landing near to them than actually hitting anything,


The problem was that the sea was eroding the land under the observation post. Our job was to build another post further in land before the old one fell down. We built a stronger and more comfortable observation post that that was a a joy to behold. It was delux accommodation compared to the rickity structure that had been there before.


The perks of this job was a ride in an Helicopter (Belvedere) that dropped us off on next to the bungalow that was our accommodation. We stayed there all week and then returned to Singapore on Fridays  for the weekend. Of course this was too good to last. The Belvedere were taken out of commission due to a habit of Breaking in two as they tried to take off (Slight exaggeration but not far from the truth).


We got the call on the Thursday and we were told we had to stay all weekend on emergency rations. It ended up being two weeks before we were relived for a weekend back in Singapore From then on it was a two week stint at a time and then back and forth via road and sea. The sea journey was done by RAF Gun Boat stationed at RAF Seletar.


While we were there we  also did a stretch of roadway and a bridge leading from the RAF Bungalow area up to the training ground.


The Bungalow used by the RAF was Loaned to them By The Bauxite Mining company. The sea behind the bungalow was always red from the spillage of ore at the end of jetty used by the mine to take the ore out to the large ships that carried the ore all round the world. . Nothing lived in that small bit of sea but we used to swim in the sea there.


The Jungle

In 1967 we had another highlight of our far east tour when we went into the jungle with LT Clive Lee in Charge of us.


Clive had done a stint with the SAS and was always up for anything like jungle training and stuff that was likely to over excite the military mind.


The first day into the Jungle with full pack on I was already exhausted when Clive climbed to the top of a very large hill and made the sign for an "O"group. we all clawed our way up to the top and listened to him tell us that this was,  "an exercise to sort the men from the boys". Well at that moment I considered my self not only amongst the boys but I was a definately  a "Baby boy".


We had Leeches clinging to us that we needed lighted ciggarettes to burn of.


We marched through primary jungle with ants nests and snakes and large bugs that seem to come from some horror movie.


The vegetation was razor sharp or plunged thorns an inch deep into your skin. The mud from the primevil swamps that had never before touched by man clung to your skin and clothing like some unearthly beast devouring you. The smell that came from the swamp as it was disturbed was putrid.


After two weeks our shirts and trousers were starting to rot away and hardly an inch of skin was untouched by insect bites. The worst insects were the red fire ants that stung and clung onto you leaving their heads clamped into when you pulled the body off.


We had the novelty (for us) of an air drop from a Beverley aircraft around the 6th day.We had to row an assualt boat about two miles against the tidal current. of the river.


The Boxes of rations were dated from the war years, 1942 and 1944 and were therefore over twenty years old by the time we were using them. 


They were still good rations and after the 12 hour packs we had been eating they gave us more choice and a more substantial diet.


There were tins of Cigarettes in the packs. The fags were so dry that when you lit them up they seemed to burn down in one drag and nearly blew your head off.


By the end of the exercise we all had beards and and stank to high hevean with clothes hanging in shreds and we certainly looked the part of villianous marauders.


All of the above sounds bad but as a young lad it was all adventure and its another time I remember with fondness and am very grateful  to have done it.




After coming back to England it was a another 12 years before my wife got back to Singapore to see her Family but we have been back many time since.


On returning tho England most of us " married Pads" were stuck in temporary accommodation in Council houses in Huntingdon. We travelled 20 miles to Waterbeach and 20 miles back each day. We either travelled in buses or on the back of three ton trucks. After about 18 months We got a brand new Quarter at No 23 Capper Rd Waterbeach. This was right next to the camp and thus gave me a lot more fee time with less travel.


From Waterbeach we did detachments to Malawi, Libya, Canada and Northern Ireland. Some of the Lads also Did Beef Island, Anquilla St Kilda and many more.