Ex Eastern Tiger, 230 Sqn Staff Ride to the Far East
In late April, ten members of 230 Sqn headed to the Far East for an ambitious Staff Ride in Thailand and Singapore.
From Bangkok we ventured further north to Kanchanaburi, where tens of thousands of Allied soldiers were imprisoned by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. In the oppressive humidity and heat, the team were deeply moved by the appalling treatment endured by the PoWs forced to build the infamous ‘Death Railway’, through Thailand and Burma. Having visited the excellent museum and famous ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’, CT Winship delivered a stand examining the Japanese brutality and resilience training today.
The following day we attended the ANZAC Day sunrise ceremony in the ‘Hellfire Pass’. This area of jungle still has evidence of the original railway which ran through an eight-meter-deep cutting in the rock, cut by hand. The dawn service was led by military personnel from Australia and New Zealand, and attended by two ex-PoWs who laid a wreath to honour their fallen comrades. We then attended a memorial service at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Kanchanaburi, at which Fg Off Deakin laid a wreath on behalf of the UK. Unfortunately, the subsequent BBQ could not be enjoyed for long as we had to depart for Phase 2 of the Force Development adventure!
The impressive skyline of Singapore formed the backdrop for a stand evaluating the Allied defence of the Malay Peninsula in 1941/42, as well as touching on the Sqn’s own Far East operations. More was learnt about 230’s ties with the country during a Defence Engagement day organised by the Defence Attaché’s staff. Enhanced by stories from two RAF veterans who had served at RAF Seletar, we had a tour of the old site and met members of the Republic of Singapore Air Force, before moving on to Kranji Cemetery.
There are thousands of Allied graves at Kranji, and tens of thousands of names immortalised on the walls of the memorial, including that of Wg Cdr Nicolson VC DFC, the only Fighter Command recipient of the VC (earnt during the Battle of Britain) who was shot down over Burma. This sombre moment was reflected on whilst enroute to the Tiger Brewery, where the staff at our spiritual home were keen to learn more about 230 ‘Tiger’ Sqn. The Sqn’s link to Tiger Beer goes back to 1937, when HM the King approved the proposed Sqn crest, which had been inspired by the beer’s bottle label; the tiger under the palm tree has been on our crest ever since.
During the final few days we visited the Fort Canning ‘Battle Box’ bunker which housed the Allied HQ during the invasion of Singapore itself. This was where Lt Gen Percival took the decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese in the hope of saving the lives of thousands of troops and civilians. We then visited the Ford Factory museum, the Japanese HQ at the time and where the terms of the unconditional surrender were negotiated, resulting in over 80,000 PoWs – “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British military history” (Churchill).
The Staff Ride concluded with a visit to the defences at Fort Siloso, some of the only remaining defences on the peninsula. Our final stand presentation of the trip was delivered looking out to one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, the Malacca Straits, the key reason for Singapore’s strategic importance in WW2. The Sqn’s motto – Kita Chari Jauh – translates as ‘We seek afar’, and we certainly went afar on this occasion! In doing so we discovered fascinating military history, rich Sqn heritage and numerous great characters and places. Through the stand presentations we related the fall of Singapore, and subsequent enslavement of so many of our predecessors, to contemporary operations; just one of the many ways that EASTERN TIGER delivered an abundance of personal and professional development for all of us fortunate enough to take part.