Like all good stories there is a beginning, for me it was being born on a very wet, monsoon day on the Kings Official Birthday Thursday 13th June 1940 in Singapore's St Andrews Hospital.
My parents both came from the borders town of Galashiels, having spent many happy days there. Mother was an audit clerkess with the local Electricity Company and Father an Electrical Engineer in the local Power Station. An old uncle had influenced him with tales of travel and adventure, applied for a job with the SINGAPORE Municipality as a Charge Engineer in the St James' Power Station on the exotic island of Singapore. He was accepted and set of in the winter of 1938, my mother following in September 1939, arriving two days before her wedding knowing no one except the groom!
There followed days of fun and romance in the tropics driving around in a Graham Paige tourer with a bucket seat! As with all Europeans at this time, Chinese servants were employed, they had a Cookie Amah and a Wash Amah who did all the housework and laundry, when I came along a Baby Amah was employed.
The first home in Singapore for me was Amber Mansions followed by 20 Temenggong Road on Mount Faber. Life continued in its happy round of enjoyment but the storm clouds were gathering. My mother as part of her contribution to the war effort worked in the cipher office decoding telegrams from the U.K. and was well aware that Singapore could expect no help from Britain.
When the bombing started the well-known tale of the keys of the Power Station being in the pocket of an Engineer who happened to be at the pictures that night. So Singapore was a blaze of lights, the bombings continued and my first reaction was to lie flat on the floor, I may add for a number of years this was the reaction to any loud noise!
During this time my parents were involved with entertaining the sailors rescued from the Prince of Wales and The Repulse, sunk during Japanese attacks. Our house was also a haven for many a Scots soldier, and airman. The many tales of continuous merriment and fun were not true in all cases My father had been a volunteer in the Singapore Reserves, but due to his occupation he was requested to resign As the situation deteriorated our Chinese Amahs were allowed to leave to be with their families, The Amah who looked after me came from Hong Kong whether she made it home I do not know, but Hong Kong Chinese suffered badly at the hands of the Japanese.
All non- essential civilians, women and children were being evacuated. My mother and I were found a berth on the Empress of Scotland (originally named the Empress of Japan), sailing for the U.K. Many ships had left prior to this and some were sunk trying to reach Australia. We set sail on January 31st 1941 on our own, bound for Britain, our Captain decided his ship was fast enough to outrun any enemy ships. We were very crowded with many children going down with stomach upsets myself being one, our mothers were not used to looking after children, as all had had Amahs and found the strain difficult, coping with sick children and not knowing of the fate of their husbands. The voyage was reasonably uneventful until South Africa when depending on your cabin number as whether you were disembarked in Cape Town or went on to the U.K. We were being sent on to Britain.
My mother was fortunate in having friends from the Borders living there and they, bought clothes etc. for us, (having left with a suitcase). We were also entertained by The High Commissioner to a tea, which boosted the flagging moral of the weary travellers.
The Ship was filled up with servicemen returning to Britain, and life took on a different meaning. Sailors organised the children clothes were made and life became very much easier for us all.
It took seven weeks to reach Southampton, with one scare from an enemy submarine.
All passengers were sent by train to their destinations, we were going to Edinburgh to Aunt Moll and Uncle Willie (my mothers sister and husband) my cousin' Willie, Nancy and Jim who had assumed that I would be brown and admits that he was quite disappointed that I turned out to be white. We were welcomed very relievedly by my Aunt, Uncle and family.
By this time news was coming through of the Fall of Singapore and all the atrocities surrounding it. My mother had no news of my father for 18 months, he was eventually traced to the St James Power Station where he and an other engineer had been imprisoned to keep the Electricity supply going to the Island, the ship bringing the Japanese Engineers was sunk, and the men were ordered by the Singapore Municipality to stay at their posts. He was later transferred to Changi and on to Sime Road Camp.
At home in Edinburgh my mother found a job with a firm of accountants in Queen Street in Edinburgh and I was enrolled at one of the Merchant Schools The Mary Erskine School for Girls. Little remains in my memory of this period apart from bouts of Measles (twice), Chickenpox and Sunray treatment to build up resistance to germs, the sterile living in Singapore where everything had to be sterilised reduces your ability to withstand infections.
48 Boswall Avenue, was affected by the war, as were most families Cousin Willie was by now a navigator in the Fleet Air Arm on the Russian Convoys and would appear at regular intervals, he survived the war end went on to train as a Doctor in Edinburgh. Nancy working in an office, and Jim at School. From 1942 till 1945 we were part of a nation surviving on rations being supplied with additional eggs and butter from friends in the Borders, we had the occasional Air Raid when you went under the table set up in a spare bedroom. Life was not too difficult but again looking from a child’s perspective.
When the news came through of the relief of Singapore there was a wait of about 6 weeks, before my father had a berth on a ship home, when at last he arrived in Edinburgh, I found it difficult to accept this strange man as my father, but all young children adapt easily to new situations and life started a normal pattern! No food was left on a plate, as food was a precious item in a prisoner of war camp.
Once his health started to recover we did a round of all the relations in Galashiels and Gavinton. Gavinton is a small village about 3 miles from Duns complete with village green and two streets! My mother's sister Sarah lived there with her children Sheila and Ian, Sheila is 9 months older than myself and we have always been very close, while father was in Singapore my mother and I spent many happy weeks in this lovely village.
The visits to my Grandmother in Galashiels were also fascinating for a young child, two sisters shared the house Aunt Beeni and Gran, as she liked to be called. Beeni downstairs, Gran upstairs. The house was lit with gas lamps upstairs and a electricity downstairs.I cannot say that my mother's relationship with her mother-in-law was close, they tolerated one another. I was regaled with stories of my father’s childhood and the mischief he got into, which was a fair bit. He was brought up by his mother on her own as his father tragically died of a brain haemorrhage at the early age of 29.
My father gradually returned to full health and he returned to Singapore to resume his duties. Our passage was booked on the Queen of Bermuda leaving Southampton I had not been feeling too well, but it had been put down to excitement at the prospect of our trip. We were still sailing under troop ship conditions, but we had a cabin to ourselves, and we dined in sittings, we were final sitting and got what was left! Sure enough a few days into the voyage I went down with Mumps you can imagine the consternation on a ship full of seamen! I was confined to the cabin to begin with and then later I was allowed to eat on my own after the last sitting.
By this time we had reached Port Said and the Quarantine Doctor asked to see me, it took all the ships doctors persuasion not to have me put of and sent back to the U.K. It was now decided that I could exercise on deck I was allocated a small area at the stern along with a crew member who had already had Mumps, There was the Measles section the Chickenpox section and the whooping cough section!!
The rest of the voyage was uneventful. Calling at Colombo, Penang, and finally Singapore. We arrived to be met by my father and taken back to 20 Temenggong Road to have banana sandwiches and tea prepared by the Cookie boy. I had an en-suite bedroom with mosquito net and a single bed a louvre window and door which led on to a veranda which ran round the front and side of the house, and cockroaches!! Ugh. The dining room separated my room from my parents’ bedroom, Louvre doors led on to the Sitting room again with louvre doors and windows on to the veranda.
The joy of waking up to glorious dawns is beyond description, the Islands and sea bathed in sun, was magic. I was playing on the washing rope, which led from the Cookhouse to the main house when the rope broke! And I crashed on to the concrete and cracked my collarbone. I ended up in the hospital I was born in under anaesthetic having my arm and shoulder encased in plaster, which stayed in place for two weeks. You can imagine the odour of the unwashed in the heat of Singapore. It was exceedingly painful having the plaster removed. After a period of convalescing I was enrolled in the local Army School. You must remember that we were in a city recovering from the ravages of occupation, the school was for all Europeans. We only went half - day, being picked up at 8 am by an Army truck, which groaned its way there and had difficulty getting back up the hill in the afternoon. Compared to school in Edinburgh this was fun. Our neighbours in number 18 were from Aberdeen Valerie and Vivien Henderson. Vivien was my age and her sister two years older. It was good having company to play with. We went to Sunday School at St Andrews Church; I still have the Bible given to me.
We played in the gardens in the sun one problem being that you had to watch was snakes! Cobras would come down from the hill behind us Cookie boy killed them! By this time I had acquired a kampong dog called Major and a ginger cat called Ginger!
Apart from the Hendersons my parents were friendly with a customs officer and his family, the Scott-Brown's. We spent happy weekends with them. Visited the Old Worlds it was a fun fair the New Worlds was dancing etc. Not for our age! We were also friendly with a Rubber Planter and his family again Scots from the Borders, they lived on a Rubber Plantation near Johore. The two girls spoke fluent Malay, as all their playmates were the workers children. It was an adventure going up by car to the Plantation. It sounds ideal from my description but as with all stories there are downsides.
Thunder!! The electrical storms were frightening. Mount Faber had iron deposits in it and the Lighting would earth in the hillside knocking out power lines regularly I had gone to the toilet and suddenly the lightening earthed in the bath beside me and I found myself screaming in the floor three feet away if I had been in the bath NO STORY.
The Chinese by this time had tasted freedom from the Colonial rule and did not wish to return to it. There were Bandit Camps on the hill above us (I may say unknown to us at the time) From a child’s point of view all was well, but various clouds appeared. A child arrived from the U.K. with Polio! It spread through the Colony as resistance was low within the population all centres of amusement were closed, the school was closed for 6 months. As it happens on a visit to the Scott-Browns we found that one of the children had been in contact with a Polio victim and the family and ourselves were quarantined for two weeks not allowed contact with anyone. I took a fever was ill but recovered, and it was always assumed that I had a mild dose of Polio but who knows.
During this period of school closure we had books sent to the house and I worked away myself with my mothers assistance. By now we were starting to have around 80 armed robberies a month tales of Europeans being gunned down were commonplace and nerves started to suffer.
My father and mother decided to leave Singapore as my father’s health was not good. We set sail in early 1949 on the P&O liner the Canton and arrived home. My father took a job at Kilmarnock Power Station as a Charge Engineer. He died in 1958 as a result of his internment in Singapore.