SELETAR CYCLING CLUB 1952/54

by

Terry Baldwin



Prior to joining the RAF I was a very competitive cyclist, but, with square bashing and trade training at Weeton, along with a four week cruise on HMT Dunera, I arrived at Seletar very much out of training, and had realistically given up all thoughts of any serious cycling for a couple of years.

But on my first working day at MTRS 390 MU, I was surprised to note one person arrive for work on a half decent bike. This was SAC Pegg [Pegitty], and it was he who advised me of the cycling opportunities on offer at Seletar. I was happy to learn that this 'minority' sport had quite a following here in the 'backwater' of the world.

I mean, where for instance would one find a decent machine in the first place? I was about to climb a very steep learning curve as to the opportunities available in the Far East, just as good, or in some cases infinitely better than early fifties Blighty!

Having learned that there was in fact a vibrant Cycling Club in existence at Seletar, with the usual competition and social elements associated with clubs in the UK, I decided that there was some very promising after-work involvement to be had here.

One had the choice of having your bike sent out from home, which could take months – and with no guarantees as to it's condition upon arrival – or of purchasing a new model from a bicycle shop located somewhere around the backstreets off Serangoon Road.

This was run by a Chinese gentleman who, completely on trust – apart from having my number rank name and address, plus a small deposit – would supply me with a brand new, Italian, road racing bike, for which I would repay in fortnightly installments [pay day being every two weeks]. It was that simple.

One peculiar formality to be dealt with was that the bike had to be registered. A 3” circular number plate being issued by the local civil authorities. This meant my presenting myself along with said bike to the Vehicle Licensing Department, where, after frame numbers and descriptions had been noted, forms signed, and fees paid, you were legally mobile for eternity in Singapore.

The registration plate was supposed to be displayed on the machine, but this was thought to be somewhat 'naff', so we with typical Brit arrogance, didn't bother.

With a racing season that covered an approximate period from April through to September, the Seletar Cycling Club boasted a healthy active membership.

Road time trials of 10, 25 and 50 miles were held approximately twice a month during the season. Changi and Tengah had clubs too and they were invited to participate, along with two or three road massed start events. Grass track racing featured at both Seletar and Changi station sports days. Fixtures were occasionally staged as far away as Kuala Lumpur.



Time trial competitors set off at one minute intervals, completing the course [usually out and back] as fast as possible, racing against the clock. Marshals were sited at strategic points and at turns in a road so as to ascertain that the correct course had been taken and rules adhered to.

When rounding those at turns you had to shout, or gasp, out your start number, otherwise your time and place would not be ratified on completion.

So as to avoid traffic, it was traditional to hold these events early on a Sunday morning – usually staged on and around the Bukit Timah Road – as soon as there was enough light [so there was a need to moderate your Saturday night activities]. This was as much for the benefit of the Turn Marshals as the competitors, as these Marshals were required to stand in the middle of the road!




A 25 mile event would start at the Dunearn Road point on the Bukit Timah Road, run 121/2 miles towards the Causeway then back. Depending on your abilities this would take between 1 hour and 1 hour 15+ minutes. My personal best was 1-3: fastest man I recall was a P/O Kay from Tengah who could clock less than an hour! One might think that we'd get fed up with knowing who would win, but the great thing about time trials is that you would always strive to beat your own personal best regardless of the final result list, and shaving 10 or 20 seconds off your time was cause for celebrations.The alternative to arriving at the course by a 3 ton truck was to ride there – the norm in the UK anyway, an early breakfast around 5:30 [Much to the duty cook's ire] and off we'd go – very good for warming up. A group of us Seletarites would often do this: out onto the Yio Chu Chan Road, up to Thompson Road, then turn left past the McRitcie Reservoir and onto Dunearn Road to meet up with those that has come by truck.



The remarkable thing about that ride, in the dark – for I don't recall any street lighting – was the blissful coolness and dawn breaking. We would pass kampongs by the roadside, a group of Chinese sitting out on brightly lit verandahs of an attap hut playing Mahjong – they must have been there all night.

A cycling rarity we could indulge in on the island was the massed start road race – strictly illegal on British roads at that time. But in 1953 someone applied for, and was granted permission to hold a “Tour of Singapore”. A road race around the island.

This was most probably our officer i/c the club, an elderly [to us young lads] Flt/Lt. He was tremendously supportive and would go to any lengths to buck the system for the benefit of the lads. Not just a paperwork and telephone man either, paying just lip service to cover the requirements of his secondary duty, he would be there early on Sunday mornings actively engaged on whatever was required. A superb man and inspiration to us all. To my discredit I can't remember his name.

Anyway, prior to this “Tour” two races were held – one at Seletar and one at Changi – for practice and to help to select teams. The roads weren't actually closed, but a team of 4 or 6 RAF Police motor cyclists performed a sort of rolling road block. One stopping at each junction to block the traffic until the last cyclist had gone through, another leading us up to the next junction, then the last one would leapfrog us to the next junction and so on.

I suppose this was standard practice for them doing convoy work, but they really entered into the spirit and were most efficient. We learnt to trust them implicitly, essential when we went hurtling into blind corners on the wrong side of the road!!

The Seletar event was 100km and attracted 15 entrants. The route started at the Astra, headed up Piccadilly, Western Avenue, up the little hill towards West Camp, left past the Officers Mess, down Park Lane, Maida Vale to Piccadilly Circus, sharp left back onto Piccadilly up to the right turn onto Battersea Road past 9X Site to the Embankment left up the rise past the WAAF block then D and B blocks to turn right into Western Avenue to complete a lap. Don't recall how many laps there were but it was great fun.

During the first few laps people were going to breakfast as we panted up past the blocks. But as the race progressed spectators accumulated on the balconies to watch and give us verbal encouragement, at least I think that's what is was!

During my pre-RAF cycling days I had competed quite successfully in grass track racing, so had learned a lot of legitimate, dubious and downright ungentlemanly ploys associated with that type of close racing that I could employ in massed start racing.

So when we came down Maida Vale still in a group for the last time, I jockeyed for my desired position, close on the left kerb, three or four from the front. As we approached the sharp left-hander onto Piccadilly I late braked and took the lead. As the others ran wide I took the corner tight and hard [I was very good at cornering, a mixture of callow over confidence and foolhardiness that often paid off] then sprinted out of it as fast as I could, making around 15-20 yards on the rest.

Looking back I noticed another of the Seletar boys was now leading the pack. It was “Jock” Murray, a very strong sprinter who I knew could catch me. So I put my head down and sprinted for the line up near the Astra winning by a couple of seconds.

I was proud of that win, but never sure if Jock had run out of steam, had deliberately played team tactics by holding the others back, or had just let me win as he had secured his place in the team anyway. So if you are out there “Jock” please put me out of my misery and let me know.

The Changi event was a bit of a shambles, and naturally included the going up the notorious Changi Hill, maybe not so notorious in a car, but on a bike was a mountain.

The start was split into two with the seniors departing 5 minutes before the juniors.

Well the senior race got so tactical that the juniors caught up with us seniors and became a huge gaggle. As I remember, the finish was at the bottom of the hill, and this time my tactics failed. There was no corner to give me an advantage, so I had to do it the hard way. But I made my charge to early and ran out of energy. My slender lead disappearing as I was swamped by the pack. No trophy that day.

Then came the “biggie” the Tour of Singapore. The course encompassed virtually the whole of the east coast. Can't remember the exact route, but we started off by the railway station, through town and out towards Changi. Up the Tampines and Mandi roads out onto the Bukit Timah Road and back into town with the finish near the Padang. One lap only, I suppose 50 – 60 miles.

The escorts were our usual trusted SP”s aide by the Singapore Police as we were on public roads. Another innovation was that local cycling clubs were also invited to take part, the civilians making for a good sized field. The pace was fast and furious and I”m afraid I got left behind going through the woods and up the hills on the Mandai Road. I called it a day and can't even remember who won. I just rode back to Seletar and drowned my sorrows.

However that dismal performance did not lose me my place in the team, for I was again selected to represent Seletar at a cycling extravaganza in Kuala Lumpur during 1954.

It was a civilian event run by local officials with about 15 in the Singapore teams. Two teams of three from Seletar and one each from Changi and Tengah plus a few hangers on.

Transport to KL was by rail, but you didn't get away with it scot free in those days, being required to guard the train on the way up. To this end we were issued with rifles and rounds. Together with [thankfully] some jungle-wise “Brown Jobs” we worked out a roster to cover the journey. It wasn't really any hardship as you were on the trian anyway. Only thing was, when you were on duty, you were required to stand on the open platforms between the carriages, ready to repel boarders, or to make a better target for the CT's {Communist Terrorists].

Another activity that took place out there in the open platforms was a mini makan stall run by an enterprising Indian. He had installed himself with a fire on which to heat water for coffee or tea, and cook 'egg banjos' which became our staple diet during the journey.




During our time in KL we took part in a 25 mile time trial and a massed start race. Although I personally didn't win anything, we did bring home some silver, hence the Bill Bailey photo. I do recall the Seletar contingent storming the Galloway Club [KL's downtown NAFFI club] and demanding they open up the bar for celebratory purposes around midday, and as they did I suppose that can count as a victory.












My overall view is that I had a very worthwhile and rewarding tour. The cycling clubs brought people together, not only for racing but socially as well from different trades across the station spectrum and inter station spectrum.

I was extremely happy with my lot. Who wanted to go home to the privations of Blighty in the fifties? I certainly didn't, electing to face a direct trade test board at Seletar instead of being shipped back to Weeton for a fitter's course. I mention that just in case some keen eyed reader notices me sporting a J/T stripe in the photos when I went out as an AC1.

SELETAR CYCLING CLUB 1952/54