Monday, March 23, 2015

St Andrew's bomb hoax: 'We better not fool around'

Mar 22, 2015

By Jennani Durai

Ronnie Chen and his classmates were in Primary 1 at St Andrew's Junior School when one day their teacher suddenly told them to get under their desks.

The school had received a call claiming there was a bomb somewhere on the premises and it would go off at any moment.

The call on March 22, 1965, turned out to be a hoax - one of several bomb hoaxes in schools across Singapore during that time. The hoaxes occurred amid a spate of genuine bomb attacks by Indonesian soldiers on civilian targets in Singapore and other parts of Malaysia during the period of Confrontation, a violent campaign that Indonesia pursued to oppose the creation of Malaysia, which included Singapore.

This week in 1965, several more schools were the target of similar hoaxes, including Cedar Girls' School. A report on the bomb hoaxes appeared in The Straits Times on March 25 that year.

Mr Yee Teck Peng, 82, a St Andrew's teacher at the time, said its Lim Teck Kin Tower was the highest tower in the surrounding area and had been used by the Allied Forces as a communication centre. "So it was very likely that the building could be a target for bombs," he said.

Mr Chen, now 57, runs a family business selling commercial laundry products. The father of two daughters remembers that day clearly.

"When the call about the bomb came through, we thought it was for real. A lot of us were frightened and shocked. We had had a drill a few days before and thought, this time, we better not fool around," he recalled.

The earlier drill had been initiated by then principal Francis Thomas.

"My classroom was situated on the ground floor of the old building, in the wing closer to present-day Jalan Toa Payoh. In those days, our desks were square tables made of solid timber and four students would share a table. While waiting for evacuation we were instructed to crouch under our tables," said Mr Chen.

He remembered vividly that his teacher asked all the boys to fold their handkerchiefs and put them in their mouths.

"We really didn't understand if this was a safety instruction or it was simply to stop us from talking to one another, but we complied," he said.

The boys were all evacuated to the school field along the Kallang River for two hours.

"We were all rather nervous and frightened, and we were somewhat overwhelmed by the presence of British soldiers, the police from the Reserve Unit and especially the Gurkhas," said Mr Chen.

The officers checked every pupil's school bag and belongings for suspicious packages.

Mr Chen said that after their initial fear, he and his schoolmates found the whole evacuation experience a fun break from being in class.

"It was exciting. We watched the exercise unfold from a safe distance," he said. "I think we made the most of our break from lessons."

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