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Sep 10, 2014

Beginning of the Republic of Singapore Air Force

Photo credit:  Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)

The 2-days RSAF45 @ Heartlands at Simei on September 6 & 7, 2014 is over.

However, for everyone who attended the community event successfully for residents and non-residents of Simei would be unforgettable.  Thanks to the RSAF to organize the RSAF45 @ Heartlands at 5 constituencies in Singapore this year for the first time.  This is a fun-filled, educational and interesting event which are etched in the memories of young and old, especially the children and their parents who had the opportunity to capture memorable photos with their smartphone cameras and post them to the RSAF Facebook .

Over 20 years ago in the 1980s when I was a parent of 2 young kids, I often bring my son and daughter to attend these public events for them to enjoy and learn at these exhibitions and roadshows.

However, there were not as many interesting stuff to play, watch and try out the exhibits.  Facebook was unheard of then.

I am a pioneer generation Singaporean born in 1948 as a British subject.  By an accident of history, I became a Singaporean on 9 August, 1965 in independent Republic of Singapore.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) took flight as the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) on 1 Sep 1968. The SADC grew rapidly to establish defence capabilities and paved the way for the development of the RSAF.  Before the independence of Singapore, the skies of Singapore was defended and protected by the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a British colony.

The pioneer generation and present generation of Singaporeans are now proud of the RSAF after 45 years of defending our skies.

After establishing our basic defence capabilities in the seventies, RSAF expanded its ORBAT to build up Air Defence capabilities. RSAF continued to progress in the eighties to build up its air superiority.

In the nineties, the focus was directed to enhance the quality and professionalism of our people. Today's RSAF is able to provide a robust command and control capability that is well supported by logistics and manpower organisations.

More information about the RSAF 3rd generation is available here .

The former Minister of Defence Dr Goh Keng Swee first established the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (former SADC).

While Singaporeans celebrate Singapore50 next year, we ought to remember our founding fathers, our first generation pioneer Singaporean leaders to discharge their duties selflessly with labor of love to make Singapore what it is today.

A Tribute to Dr Goh Keng Swee

Dr. Goh Keng Swee’s last major speech before retiring from politics on 25 September 1984 here .

The Royal Air Force (RAF) from the 1950's up to the early 1970's in the defence of Singapore, as well as historic events of the RAF days, the abrupt announcement of British withdrawal from Singapore, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's call for quick Air Force build-up and the rush of events that followed.

British Withdrawal from Singapore

Mr Lee Kuan Yew mentioned that the withdrawal of British forces from 1968 as one of the 3 critical moments for the PAP.

Mr Lee was reported to have been shaken when Britain, in the second year of independence, suddenly decided to withdraw all military forces from Singapore and Malaysia at the end of 1971.  Singapore still depended a great deal economically and otherwise upon the British base.  Immediate action was taken to develop Singapore's defence capability.  Compulsory national service was introduced.  Economic problems were tackled; new labour laws were introduced.  Singapore set out to prove it could survive as independent nation within the Commonwealth.

Singapore has progressed remarkably, ever since.  It now has its own well-trained defence force, including tanks, warships with missiles and fighter aircraft, its own international airline and its own international airline and a merchant fleet and the Singapore is among the world's hardest currencies.  The port has become a third busiest in the world (in the 1970s).  Singapore ranks among world leaders in oil refining though it produces no oil of its own.  It has become the regional banking and manufacturing centre.

According to The Straits Times report on June 25, 1967:

The future role of Singapore as a base in Britain's long-term plans for defence east of Suez came under review is resumed talks between Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and two British ministers.

Neither side is disclosing any details of the discussions which are officially listed as "strict confidential".

Mr Lee was he guest of honour at a luncheon given by the Commonwealth Secretary, Mr Bowden, at Marlborough House, which was also attended by the Defence Secretary, Mr Healey.

The Singapore Prime Minister was accompanied by his Defence Minister, Dr Goh Keng Swee and the High Commissioner, Mr A.P. Rajah.

The luncheon was an opportunity for informal discussions preceding a second round of formal talks held in the Commonwealth Office.

The Singapore leader is anxious to discover the likely scope and timing of British military withdrawals from Singapore and reductions in the base facilities which are planned from next year onwards as this will have an impact on the Republic's unemployment problem and general economy.

Although only about 20 per cent of the economy is supported by British defence spending, Mr Lee wants to be convinced that the withdrawal will not be so hasty as to damage the economy.

Britain plans to reduced the strength of troops and civilian employees in the Singapore and Malaysia bases by another 10,000 by April next year.

The following is an excerpt from The Straits Times, November 17, 1974 headline "Lessons of the British pull-out, using that winning formula again" by Leslie Fong.

... the withdrawal must have cost Britain millions of pounds in terms of goodwill, preference for British goods and confidence in British investments in the Far East."

Essentially, the last British soldier who stepped aboard a RAF Hercules C-130 at Changi on December 29, 1971, for the long journey home was turning his back on 152 years of British military presence in Singapore, which began with the landing in 1819 of Major William Farquhar of the Madras Engineers.

The symbolic closing of this chapter of British military presence in the Far East was played out by a solitary bugle sounding the last post at Phoenix Park, Singapore, at the stroke of midnight on October 31 to mark the disbandment of the British Far East Command.

And so ended the Anglo-Malayan Defence Treaty, to be replaced by a pale shadow of a five-power defence arrangement among Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore.

For Britain, the pull-out from Singapore and Malaysia was a dramatic, perhaps even painful, way to end an era of imperial glory that survived one and a half centuries.

It was in 1967 that Mr Harold Wilson's first Labour Government came to the harsh conclusion that an economically faltering Britain could no longer afford t keep up the pretence of being a global power.

Faced with a worsen balance of payments, he and his colleagues had no choice but to dismantle one of the last few and expensive vestiges of British power in the Far East.

The complex in Singapore, a major prop for that disappearing might, had to be knocked down, gradually if not in one fell swoop, to save millions of pounds in an annual recurrent expenditure.

The formal announcement of their intention to pull out men and run down bases in Singapore and Malaysia was made in a Defence White Paper on July 18, 1967.

All that time, there were about 40,000 British troops in Malaysia and Singapore, 26,000 of whom were in Singapore.

Britain's fixed assets in both countries amounted to $354 million; the total area of real estate in Singapore alone came to 6,475 hectares or about 10 per cent of the total land area in Singapore.

But what the White Paper, with the elaborate fiscal calculations on savings, did not specify was the precise date by which the British would leave.

Instead, it spoke, rather vaguely, of a withdrawal to be completed by the mid-seventies.

The argument spelt out in the White Paper was basically sound.  The enormous British military complex in Singapore, containing literally thousands of buildings, was meant not only for the troops and their families but as a centre for a wide variety of possible military operations from nuclear warfare to minor police actions.

The facilities in Singapore were indisputably grandiose and lavish, born out of a type of imperial strategy now found out-dated and unsuitable.

Running these bases down was considered psychologically beneficial as it would entail a switch to modern strategic doctrines based on mobility and limited intervention.

This was a point accepted even by these British defence chiefs who wanted to retain a British military presence in South-east Asia.

The White Paper's argument was also acceptable to Singapore, whose understanding then was that half of the British troops would go by March 31, 1971, with the rest not leaving till 1975.

Mr Lee's government was not too ruffled even though the withdrawal meant an eventual reduction of an annual $550 million to Singapore's economy, or 20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product in 1967, 1968 to nothing.

The economic and defence problems, while massive, were not deemed to be insurmountable.

Given time, the Singapore Government believed, they could be solved.

But time the Government was not to have.

The Crucial Years of Singapore's Founding Fathers



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