Tuesday, 18 November 2014

RAF Seletar and its "black and whites"

The day after I arrived back from Australia, a friend invited myself and other ladies to join her as we visited the first home she ever lived in, having been born in Singapore and to explore the houses that once were service housing for RAF Seletar.

RAF Seletar is now an Aerospace Park and Civilian Airport found in the NE of Singapore but its origins date back to the 1920s. In 1928 it was predominantly designed by the Brit C E Wood and was opened in 1928 and soon became the largest RAF base in the Far East. The Malay word for wood (remember designer C E Wood) is Kayu and some say the road leading from the base Jalan Kayu was named after this person. Also the name Seleter is derived from the local inhabitants that lived along the mangrove shoreline of this area in the past. It also became Singapore's first international airport and remained so until Kallang Civilian Airport was opened in 1937.

The air base was home to flying boats and numerous planes and squadrons, too many for me to list here and saw various famous people apassing through or performing at the camp, from Amy Johnson in her famous Gypsy Moth en route to Australia and Charlie Chaplin amongst many others. As I said I'm not going to list all the planes and squadrons that were based out of here, but if you are interested look up the RAF Seletar website   http://www.rafseletar.org   If you were based here why not join and share your memories and who knows you may find lost friends.

The camp was abandoned early in 1942 when the Japanese bombed and then invaded Singapore. The Imperial Japanese Naval Air Service were based out of Seletar and renamed it Seretar Hikojo, they also built the current runway. Much of Selater was built by a female workforce nicknamed "Concrete Lizzies". The Japanese occupied the base from 1942-45 but after WWII the RAF took over again and it went through a very busy and important stage in its history. It was a strategic base throughout the Malayan Emergency 1948-60, the Korean War 1950-53 and the Indonesia Confrontation 1963-66, all that my late father was also involved with. Finally in March 1971 the British left and the Base was taken over by the then Singapore Air Defence Command, later renamed as the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

It is now a Civilian Air base with much of the old colonial bungalows and base buildings left unused. In 2007 plans were drawn up to upgrade and lengthen the runway. The part that is used as a civilian airbase has now been run by Changi Airport Group since 2009. The other part of the base is run by Jurong Town Corporation and is to become Seletar Aerospace Park. This is  due to open in 2018 however, there are already many Aerospace companies working from here.

But back to the the black and white colonial buildings which were my real interest on my visit. There were once 378 bungalows built in the 1920s and as you wander around, the road names take you back to England and London; Piccadilly Circus, Maida Vale, Old Birdcage Walk, Hyde Park Gate, Oxford St, Mornington Crescent, Lambeth Walk, Brompton Rd etc... I can only imagine what it must of been like for my friend and those others that grew up here, even now it is almost as if you have left Singapore as you walk around, so different from the built up, crowded, high rise homes that we are used to here on the island. Here you still have gardens, no high rise developments - yet... and the ability to breathe. It seems to be a prerequisite of living here now to at least have one dog, if not two! As we walked around we were greeted to various tonal barks and a few growls, along with much tail wagging. You certainly couldn't creep around these roads without the canine alarms heralding our presence!

Of the 378 bungalows around 130 have been rented out for residential use within the area now owned by the Aerospace Park. 32 Bungalows and 2 buildings on Park Lane and The Oval have been gazetted for conservation and proposals have been drawn up to rent out for schools, restaurants, offices and sports factitious. However its believed that many others will be demolished to make room for .... yes you've guessed it "redevelopment" It is however hoped that the ultimate feeling of this area will be kept as much as possible. I'm sure my friend and her family can see many changes, there is indeed a new road just across from her old home and diggers and construction are clearly evident around the area, however there is still a feeling of peace and freedom to roam and children to get out and play, which is reminiscent of our childhoods back in the UK. I truly hope this is not lost.

I've lived in RAF quarters in the UK and Germany when I first left home and I can honestly say that none were as a architecturally beautifully as these colonial black and whites, with there tall chimneys, high ceilings, verandas and open windows allowing the breeze to move through the building. Here's hoping that things don't change too quickly in this area, but I do feel somewhat positive for the foreseeable future.

We didn't walk around the empty, unused homes so the photos are of the clearly loved, lived in "black and whites"

Apparently Jesus lives here?!?!
My friends first home. The upstairs widows were once open with no glass or shutters to allow the air to circulate. 

True free range chickens :) 

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