Ex-airmen reunite after nearly 50 years

Mr Ng Chee Keng (left) being greeted by a fellow graduate of the Royal Air Force (Malaya) Training Centre. Many who attended the centre's first reunion yesterday have not seen one another in almost 50 years.
Mr Ng Chee Keng (left) being greeted by a fellow graduate of the Royal Air Force (Malaya) Training Centre. Many who attended the centre's first reunion yesterday have not seen one another in almost 50 years.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Not even the flight of time can separate the bonds between military men, as some 90 men proved last night at their first reunion in almost 50 years.

Graduates from the Royal Air Force (Malaya) Training Centre, which closed in April 1968, met for the first time at their inaugural alumni night, decades after they had graduated as aircraft technicians and maintenance crew.

"It's very amazing, after half a century, to see our friends again. It's a wonderful, wonderful feeling," said Mr Jimmy Soh, 68, a former pilot with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

The training centre was the only one set up by Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) for aircraft technicians and engineers in the Far East, which stretched from Japan to East Africa.

"We were all young men, around 18 years old," said Mr Jason Lui, 68, who later joined the RSAF. "As a teenager, I joined the RAF to see the world, and I got to meet these friends who are now my brothers."

The training centre, which opened in July 1950, trained about 1,600 Singaporean and Malaysian aircraft technicians and engineers.

Many went on to join the RSAF's precursor, the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC), in 1969, forming the pioneering team of technical ground staff.

"When we joined the SADC, we had to build everything from scratch," said Mr Jimmy Chew, 70. "We were the only ones who knew anything about aircraft maintenance back then."

Others went on to join the growing private aviation industry, lending their expertise to the former Malayan Airlines - which would later split into Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Malaysian Airline System.

Last night was particularly memorable for Mr Ng Chee Keng, 85, who is something of a legend among the others at the reunion. With good reason - he was from the training centre's very first batch, who walked through the doors in 1950.

"It was very nice to see all these old friends," said Mr Ng. "I couldn't remember some of them, I can't see them all that well, but hopefully we will continue to meet again and again."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-airmen reunite after nearly 50 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe