The bonds that bind military veterans

Mr Al Taylor (centre) catching up with (from far left) map researcher Mok Ly Yng and old friends from 81 Squadron - Mr Mohamed Haniffa, Mr Eddie Tan and Mr Derek Yeo.
Mr Al Taylor (centre) catching up with (from far left) map researcher Mok Ly Yng and old friends from 81 Squadron - Mr Mohamed Haniffa, Mr Eddie Tan and Mr Derek Yeo.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Bonds between military men are hard to break.

Since 2008, several members of 81 Squadron, a unit of the British Royal Air Force disbanded in 1970, have been holding annual gatherings here where they swop stories of their time in service as well as hold a simple ceremony for their fallen comrades.

Four former technicians met up at the Tiger Tavern at the Tiger Brewery in Tuas last weekend: Mr Al Taylor, 79, Mr Eddie Tan, 75, Mr Derek Yeo, 69, and Mr Mohamed Haniffa, 68.

"What binds us together is the camaraderie, which is special to all of us here, and everyone I've talked to who have been in the squadron," said Mr Taylor.

The squadron was based in Seletar camp before being relocated to Tengah.

"These two," said Mr Haniffa, pointing to Mr Tan and Mr Yeo, "have not met in 40 years. But on the day of the reunion, they were talking and calling each other like old friends. It was like the 40 years did not exist."

The squadron has an illustrious history in World War II, and was known for helping the Russians fend off the Nazis and clearing parts of the North African skies of Nazi planes.

Its local history starts after the war, when the unit was moved to Singapore and turned into a photo reconnaissance unit charged with gathering aerial footage of South- east Asia.

It stayed here from 1946 to 1970 and captured footage of a changing Singapore during a time of upheaval.

"81 Squadron left behind something tangible," said Mr Taylor. "The legacy of the squadron is its photos and maps of Singapore in the past, which have been left behind for heritage and historical use."

The reunions started when Mr Taylor, who was born in Britain and migrated to Australia in 1992, received an e-mail from local map researcher Mok Ly Yng, 48, inquiring about some old photos in 2008.

He flew to Singapore to meet Mr Mok, and subsequently decided to contact former squadron members online.

More than 450,000 aerial photos are known to have been taken by the squadron. They can be accessed through the National Archives of Singapore.

"There are immediate post-war photos, followed by photos of a recovering Singapore in the 50s, and the first few years of an independent Singapore," said Mr Mok.

"They provide a snapshot of Singapore's past. It's a visual record of heritage and history, to trace where old buildings, old kelongs (fishing villages) were and how they looked like."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'The bonds that bind military veterans'. Print Edition | Subscribe