After the Second World War, the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), the Korean War (1950-1953), and the Indonesian Confrontation (1963-1966), led to an unprecedented increase in the British forces in Singapore and the region. With army families arriving with their young children, there was an urgent demand to create more schools.
The building of primary schools at Nee Soon, Selarang and Pasir Panjang started in earnest and existing secondary schools like Alexandra and Gillman grew rapidly in size. At its peak, the schools have a total of 5,600 students, including 350 students from Malaysia who stayed at boarding schools here. These schools operated within the British Army, Royal Air Force and Naval Bases in Singapore.
For the British Army, their children mostly attended these schools: Alexandra Infants School; Alexandra Junior School; Nee Soon Primary School; Pasir Panjang Junior School; Pulau Brani Primary School; Selarang Primary School; Tanglin Infants School; Wessex Infants School; Wessex Junior School and West Coast Infants School.
Children from the Royal Air Force would be attending these schools: Changi Grammar School; Changi Infants School; Changi Junior Schools; Seletar Grammar School; Seletar Infants School; Seletar Junior School; Seletar Primary School and Tengah Primary School.
The Royal Navy families will send their children to the Naval School at Sembawang. Whereas these schools will accept children from all forces: Alexandra Grammar School; Alexandra Secondary Modern School; Bourne School (Alexandra Section); Bourne School (Gillman Section); Kinloss House and St. John’s Comprehensive School.
During their brief sojourn in Singapore, these British children enjoyed the facilities in schools, had fond memories of the bus journey to school, swimming at the beach or pool to cool down in the humid weather, the monsoon rain, having an adventure in the ‘jungle’ and trying out the local fruits and cuisines. One of these children, Derek Tait, was fascinated by the ‘chit-chats’ found at home and dedicated a blog entry about his memory of the common house lizards. These children also visited places of interests, like the Tiger Balm Garden, Van Kleef Aquarium, shopped at Raffles Square, C.K. Tang, and explored the Amah’s market and Chinatown. They were also immersed in the various Chinese, Malay and Indian festivals and cultures.
Decades later, graduates from these schools gathered and set up groups to share their unique childhood experiences in Singapore. There is a St Johns School Singapore facebook group with 132 members. A website dedicated to the British Forces Schools in Singapore from 1950 to 1970 is also set up with 2,000 ex-pupils listed. And another website provides photographs and images taken during their stay in Singapore during the 1960s and early 1970s. These websites conjure an interesting slice of life in early Singapore from another perspective.
The decision to withdraw British forces by December 1971 signals the end of the contributions these British forces schools gave to generations of British army children, and closing a chapter on this history. While some of the schools were closed, others retained their use as education institutions or served other purposes. Tengah becomes part of the Singapore Air Force and Changi has been developed to become the Singapore Air Force base and the location for the international airport. Kinloss House, once used as a boarding school for the British forces children from 1957 to 1970, is now leased to French insurer AXA as a training centre for insurance agents and financial advisers since 2009.
British Forces Schools in Singapore. Retrieved on October 31, 2011.
Gaskell, Richard Peter. (1978). British army children’s schools in Singapore, 1870-1971. Singapore: University of Singapore Library, Microfilm Services Dept.
Memories of Singapore. Retrieved on October 31, 2011.
Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans. Retrieved on October 31, 2011.
Photo Credit: Janet Nichols