I sailed from Liverpool in S.S.Aeneas belonging to the Blue Funnel Line, and drove there with a friend who kindly offered to see me off, and after a night at the Adelphi Hotel took the Bentley to the Docks to get it loaded. While in the shipping office I saw a note on the counter addressed to Miss Eleanor Chance, and at once had the most peculiar feeling that I would marry her although of course I had never met her. It may well be that my memory is a form of hindsight, but I have always been convinced that it happened, and was a glimpse into the future. I duly embarked that evening, and we set sail,and all settled down to study our fellow passengers, and think what a ghastly lot they looked, but in a few days we were all lifelong friends,and looking forward to the 3 week voyage. Budge later told me that she,and Eryl Ransome, in their summing up of the passengers, had decided that I was a young man with private means, travelling for pleasure, and very standoffish. Nothing could have been further from the truth, as I had not a penny of private means, was going out to work, and the standoffishness was shyness with the opposite sex due to a single sex public school, and my lack of female company in most of my life abroad,
The ship called in at Marseilles, Port Said, Colombo and Penang, and somewhere between Colombo and Penang Budge and I got semi engaged she wisely refusing to make it a full engagement until she arrived in Singapore and met other people, and be sure that we both were not just caught up in a shipboard romance. What a lot people going to work abroad nowadays miss by having to go by air. We, old timers had a three week free cruise on full pay, met a lot of interesting people, had excellent food and saw the world, before having to start work
Budge was going out to stay with her sister Felicity, who was married to a Captain in The Royal Engineers called Frank Grazebrook who was stationed in Singapore on the Headquarter staff. She had travelling with her, Eryl Arundel, an old friend,whose intention it was to stay only a few weeks and then return home. As things turned out she stayed months with the Grazebrooks, before marrying a Dr Ransome who was in the Government Medical Service as a Consultant Neurologist.
On landing in Singapore, I was taken to a comfortable lodging in the house of a Lady Campbell a rather bedraggled oldish woman, the widow of some impecunious Scottish Baronet, who had been a tin miner or some such thing, and she had, I think, spent her whole life in Singapore. I lived there for some weeks seeing Budge most evenings, while we both decided on our futures together. Budge did not want to announce our engagement until her parents had been told and reassured by Felicity that I was not an adventurer. In due course we announced our engagement, and tentatively fixed a date to get married. I moved in to a Hotel called The Goodwood Park which was nearer the Grazebrooks and was very comfortable. We also started to get furniture made, and I made enquiries from Gammons as to the possibility of renting one of the many houses that that they owned.
When Gammon’s Managing Director heard of my engagement to be married he was furious and said that he would not have taken me on if I had been married as he wanted someone who could be sent up country to fairly uncivilised places unsuitable for married people. I replied that Budge and I were quite ready to go anywhere and that lack of civilised amenities should not stop him from sending me wherever I was required, a perfectly true statement. I also said that if he wished he could give me a ticket home, and that I would accept this without demur. I knew that I was in a pretty strong position as the Company Secretary had told me that I had been selected from over 80 candidates. The M.D. was a rather shady character, and was later fired for using Company labour and materials for his own projects.
To begin with I was put in charge of building a long jetty for the servicing of submarines, at Loyang on the eastern end of Singapore Island on the north shore. The interesting part of this job was that the reinforced concrete piles to be driven were at that time, as far as we knew, the longest to be used anywhere,in one precast piece, being 110 feet long, and half of them had to be driven at an angle, not vertically; as far as I can recall there were over 100 of them. At the same time I was also given charge of a contract for steel oil storage tanks inside the naval base which had been completed but leaked, and this caused me more aggravation than the jetty before it was completed to the Admiralty’s satisfaction. Both these jobs were handed to me a few days after landing, an introduction to taking responsibility, which was a very good feature of Gammons. Later when I had been with them a few months I was given contracts to estimate and tender for, with the knowledge that if we were awarded the contracts I would have to carry them out, and that any bonus I got would depend on the profit that ensued. This was the principle on which Gammons worked so that in a minor way we were our own bosses, with Gammon’s consulting engineer, drawing office, and plant to support us. At the age of 27 I was very lucky to have such a chance to acquire knowledge, and self confidence.
Budge and I were married on August 17th 1939 at Singapore Cathedral by the Bishop of Singapore. Eryl Arundel was Budge’s bridesmaid, and my best man was a Major Owen Steele of the Gordon Highlanders, although I did not know him well, he was a friend of the Grazebrooks and kindly agreed to act, when my original choice, a Major Vinden, withdrew because his wife, whom I had never met, had just arrived in Singapore, and objected. I cannot remember very much of the ceremony, a stranger amongst strangers as I was, but do recall that it pelted down with rain all afternoon, which rather spoilt the occasion. The reception was held at the Grazebrooks house, and there again most of the guests were total strangers to me. I had rented a house from a Chinese, into which I had moved the furniture we had had made, as no Company house was as yet available, and I had been living there for a week or two and was married from it. Budge of course remained at her sister’s house. After the reception we caught the train to Kuala Lumpur and next morning collected our car which had been sent up by train, and drove up to the Cameron Highlands, where I had booked the rest house, to spend the week’s honeymoon. It was very pleasant to get away from the enervating heat of Singapore to the temperate climate of the Highlands and to be alone with Budge, but there was absolutely nothing to do there, no hotels or bars, and the only attraction was to look at the trout farm. After a week we returned to our rented house in Scotts Road and started married life together. The street was extremely noisy, surrounded as we were by Chinese and Indian neighbours, constantly barking dogs, and endless processions of street vendors, so I stepped up my pressure to obtain one of the Company houses in the pleasant area of Bukit Tunggal, and in a few weeks was successful. We moved there with our furniture, our cook boy Ah King,and his wife and two children, and continued as the tenants until we left Malaya, sub-letting it when we were sent up country.
While Loyang jetty was my most important job the first year, I was given other smaller jobs to do as well, and one was advice and repair work on various Shell Oil jetties and wharves at their various installations, and this involved travelling to Pulao Bukom a British island off Singapore, which also contained many of the coast defence guns and also to Pulao Samboe, a Dutch Indonesian Island much further away. Another small job was the provision of timber piling guard fenders off Clifford pier, the main passenger landing stage for Singapore. I had a worrying and hazardous time, once when engaged on similar work off Singapore in the sound between the offshore islands. The tidal range in Singapore waters is something like 14 feet, and during spring tides the tide rushes out or in with tremendous power and speed. In order to carry out the work, I was using a barge with a 40 ft. pile frame on it, which when loaded with the necessary machinery and piles had only about 6 inches freeboard. To position this very unhandy craft I was using the company diesel motor boat, a very unreliable boat at the best of times. While positioning the piling barge, the engine suddenly failed, before we had managed to get any anchors down, and the tide was ebbing faster every minute, so that we began to be swept helplessly out to sea, and it was pretty obvious that once we got to the open sea we should inevitably founder in the waves. The gang I had with me was a small one, mostly if not all Bengalis, and a Malay mechanic driver for the boat. They were very good, and probably not half as frightened as I was, but they depended on me to give them directions, and all talked excitedly at once. We cast all four anchors as quickly as we could, but this only served to slow us down, and meanwhile it was getting dark, and I could see no sign of any other boats that might be able to help us, or at least take us off to safety, and I had just about given up hope when the mechanic got the boat started, and at the same time the tide run started to slacken, so we were able slowly to take the whole equipment back to a safe anchorage for the night. When I finally got home Budge was frantic with worry as she had not known where I was, which perhaps was just as well.
Budge had become pregnant shortly after we moved to the Bukit Tunggal house, but after about six months she began to notice that the baby was no longer moving about and kicking, and after waiting to see whether it would resume it’s activity for a week or two, the doctors decided that it had died, and that a still birth would have to be induced. This was duly done at the General Hospital, and Budge slowly recovered from this heavy blow. She had already chosen a name for the baby, a girl, and was naturally terribly upset but showed enormous powers of control.
By this time I was becoming something of the Gammon expert on marine construction work, and so, when we were awarded the contract to build a main coastal wharf at Port Swettenham in Malaya, I was chosen to be in charge of it. By the nature of things in the contracting business it was never possible to give much notice of a move from one job to another, and we had to make hurried preparations to let our house, and find somewhere to live near the new job. Loyang was by now finished and taken over by the Navy, and I was not sorry to leave Singapore, and see some more of the country, and Budge too felt the same.