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May 28, 2010

Civics Tour on 10 September, 1958

"The Flying Saucer" at the Police Combined Operations Room at Pearls' Hill Road, Singapore. Credit Photo: National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

With an increasing number of bloggers of my contemporaries and those who were born younger in the 1960s, these blogs are being posted and contributed by every individual to share our collective memories of Singapore of early days.

A combined "Memory Aid" resources from photos, school magazines, newspapers archives, friends and the personal memories of the various bloggers with related posts linked for nostalgia.

Please visit National Museum of Singapore at "Exhibition Gallery" on "Singapore 1960" from 3 June, 2010 to 22 August, 2010. Admission is free.

As an "experimental" New Media blogstyle used on this blog previously on "Supermarket Shopping" , another topic here:

Civics Tour on 10 September, 1958 by Larry Lai as reproduced in the Outram Annual, 1958.


The thirty handpicked boys assembled expectantly in the school library, listening intently to our Principal’s last minute instructions on social etiquette. Every one of them wore a spick-and-span white school uniform and for the first time in many years, had scrubbed the behinds of their ears. When the instructions were over, we trooped down the stairs in as orderly a manner as we could, led by our portly teacher-in-charge, Mr M. Siraj, who is our Civics Master. He was also in his Sunday best and had waxed his moustache till it shone.

It was 8.30 a.m.on a Wednesday morning on 10-9-58 and we, thirty of the Form Five boys were guests of the Department of Information on a Civics tour to all the interesting places of Singapore, educationally speaking.

A chartered bus was waiting for us outside the gate and our guide for the day, Mr Bala, nearly toppled down the steps in his enthusiasm to meet us. He extended his hand to Mr Siraj and our Herculean teacher pumped so vigorously that we thought it would be disjointed. The rest of us poured into the bus, but there was no scramble for seats because there were lots to spare. Each of us was handed a programme for the day. The boys searched frantically for the items which said “Lunch – 1 p.m.” and drooled over it.

As the bus started we couldn’t help glancing at the poor unfortunates still in the class-rooms. They gave us a woeful look which eloquently said, “Some blighters have all the luck,” and then turned resignedly back to the black-boards for another session Algebra.

Our hearts bled for them, but determined to enjoy the day, we put away their misery and concentrated on our first destination. The first item on the programme was a visit to the Police Combined Operations Room.


We reached the place at 8.40 a.m. The building looks “squarish” and humble from the outside. It looks something like a dry-as-dust engine room and we expected a dull session looking at wires, wires and more wire or things like that. But we were destined to come away with different opinions. As we trooped in, we were nearly lost in the maze of passages until Inspector Nonis came to our rescue and led us into a room. This room has many names. It is usually known as the Message Room because all 999 calls are received there.

But it takes on a different name according to the use it is put to. After we had parked ourselves onto comfortable chairs round a table which accommodates some eleven telephones. Insp. Nonis talked to us on the layout of the whole building. The entire building is air-conditioned and is supposed to be bomb-proof. As we listened to each of its qualities, we felt a new respect for the place.

Insp. Nonis pointed to the telephones on the tables round which we sat and told us that they handle all the 999 calls in the Colony. He then proceeded to tell us of all the work that entails after such a call is received. No wonder they yell blue-murder when a false alarm is raised!

On the walls of the room hung a number of boards. Some show the Police Divisions, Radio Divisions and the patrol areas of the Colony. But most of our interest centred on the board of “Wanted Persons.” Boys with a guilty conscience and who wanted to know if secret misdemeanours had been detected, searched the board for their front views and profiles. Sighs could be hard when they found that they were not listed there.

Then Insp. Nonis hustled us into the adjoining room, which is called the Radio Control Room. A huge round table stood in the middle. We were struck by the unique shape of the table which reminded us of all the science fiction films we had seen. It has a space in the middle where an officer-in-charge sits. Then it slopes down and officers in charge of different radio divisions sit round him. The mata-matas show that they have a sense of humour by naming the table “The Flying Saucer.”

Next we made our way to the Police Combined Operations Room, but on the way, we popped into the Teleprinter’s room where we learned the uses of the teleprinter machine.

The Police Combined Operations Room is very spacious with a long table in the middle. This room is nearly always unoccupied as it is used only when there is a national crisis, such as war or big rioting which threatens the tranquility of our island home.

On the way out, we dropped in to say hello to the people down in the Engine Room. In it was a gargantuan electricity generator which would automatically switch on should supply from the outside source fail.

When we again confronted the building from the outside, we viewed it with a different frame of mind. It looks so small and homely, but within it holds so many fascinating things that we left the place in awe and proceeded embus to the Supreme Court.


We reached the Supreme Court at precisely 9.55 a.m. After a delay of nearly half an hour, which we spent reading and re-reading the notices on the boards, we were placed into the custody of a guide who brought us first of all to the Library where a formidable array of law books met our eyes. Our guide, apparently a man of few words, believed that seeing is believing. He let us look our fill and then hustled us out. He is then brought us up to the Court-room where a murder case was in progress. He made clear to us with the niceties of the English Language which, boiled down to its crudest form, simply meant to keep our big, fat traps shut while the session was on.

But the court proceedings proved to be dull for some boys, so they tested the resiliency of the benches for a short nap interspaced with some noisy snores. Mr Siraj took the hint and suggested that we continue to our next stop. We seconded and carried the motion unanimously because every stop brought us nearer to lunch.


Another group of students visited the Singapore Harbour Board in 1950s. Credit Photo: National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

We alighted from the bus and reached the Pier at about 11.50 a.m. where we were promised a ride in a motor launch. We had to skip as agilely as we could from one launch to another till we came to the C. A. Redcleef, a stately little thing which bore our weight amiably. It took us on a long cruise along the Outer Roads to Jardine Steps. The purpose of this sea-trip was to show us what a beautiful harbour we have, how it is naturally protected from storms and the vast number of ships that call at Singapore for various reasons. The sea was pretty rough on that day and it rocked the launch dangerously. A few boys around the gills and slumped limply on the sides of the launch, trying not to throw up what they had our breakfast. After a trying hour, we at least reached Jardine Steps at 12.55 p.m. Our bus which had followed us (on dry land, of course,) was already waiting for us. We boarded it gratefully and it was a big consolation to us that it was taking us for our...


The bus dropped us in front of the York Kee Restaurant and whisked off the people who wanted Muslim food, including Mr Siraj and our guide Mr Bala, to the Islamic Restaurant. The sea trip did not mar our appetites a single iota. We partook of the sumptuous meal with the greatest of relish. When we had finished, we loosened our belts, rubbed our tummies, thought nice thoughts about the Department of Information, and waited patiently for the bus to fetch us to our next destination.


At 2.15 p.m. we were seated comfortably in hall at the Police Training School, where A.S.P. Tan Keh Wan gave us a very interesting talk on how the school was run and what life would be like if we ever joined the Police Force. With the help of his pointer, which he brandished with the dexterity of a drum-major, he showed us a board on which were displayed the badges and insignias of Gazetted Officers and other ranks. He also outlined their duties.

We then made our way to the Police Museum and Epidiascope Room, where an exhibition of weapons and various other objects seized by the Police in previous raids were shown to us. Among the exhibits were weapons used by gangsters, photographs showing how they were concealed, and how counterfeit coins were made.

We then followed A.S.P. Tan’s pointer and founder ourselves in the barracks of the policemen under training.

There we listened sympathetically to him as he related the sleeping conditions of the recruits.

Next we went to a firing range where two officers demonstrated their marksmanship. To some of us, it was a new experience. Of course, we had heard the bark of the six-shooter on stereophonic sound of the cinema screen, but we learned that handling a real pistol is not as easy as we see it done on the screen.

A.S.P. Tan’s eloquent pointer was on its way again and this time it directed us to a shed where a group of policemen under training gave us a very interesting demonstration of the art of self-defence. To prove that the whole show was authentic and not put up to entertain, the demonstrators invited volunteers from our midst to step forward and test them. Everyone on us (including yours truly) took a jump in the backward direction. It took some coaxing and not-to-hurt promises from the demonstrators before Johnny Aw and Chew Ah Kong stepped forward hesitantly. These two boys had always held pride in their biceps and now they decided to have a go. Their screams and shrieks nearly brought every ambulance in the city rushing to their aid. But seriously, they were not a bit scathed – perhaps only in their personal pride!

At 3.30 p.m. we made our way back to the hall where we were treated to light refreshments and cakes. Thanks to A.S.P. Tan Keh Wan and the whole Police Training School, we left the place with much new-found knowledge.


Credit Photo: National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

The final item on the day’s programme was a visit to Radio Malaya. Partly because we went there with great expectations which were not met even halfway because of unforeseen circumstances, we were quite disappointed with the trip. One of our expectations was to meet the Radio personalities we had always heard on the air, but because they were either too busy or not at the studio at that time, we missed the opportunity of seeing them and we were more than slightly disappointed. However, they assigned a helpful guide to us who brought us to most of the places of interest such as the auditorium, the record library, the recording rooms and the control rooms. At least, we caught a glimpse of one radio celebrity – Mr Lee, the chubby Chinese story-teller, and we even managed to get him to pose prettily for us while he was in the midst of his story-telling.

Story telling by Mr Lee Dai Soh on Radio Malaya in the 1960s

We left Radio Malaya at about 5.15 p.m., our guide having worked overtime.

So ended a most interesting day. Thanks to the Department of Information and to the kind people concerned who helped to contribute to our enjoyment, we are now much, much broadened (educationally speaking, of course!)

(Secretary for the Civics Course)
Related Posts:

The following links with courtesy of Andy Young of Singapore 60s Andy's Pop Music Influence; Muzik, kugiran pop 60an (Malay); 新加坡60年代安迪的流行音乐的影响 (Mandarin); सिंगापुर निश्चिंत संगीत (Tamil) in four official languages of Singapore website exclusively at Larry Lai Interview (Part I) and Larry Lai Interview (Part II) . Larry Lai Interview (Part III) . Larry Lai Interview (Part IV) .



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