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RAF CHIA KENG. RADIO RECEIVING STATION. SINGAPORE. Derek Lehrle. Radio Mech
RAF Chia Keng was a satellite station to RAF Changi. There were two sections making up the camp.....Chia Keng 1 (CK1) and Chia Keng 2 (CK2). CK1, as seen in the photograph, was the main camp whilst CK2 was a smaller section set amongst the trees at the top of the photograph. Chia Keng was positioned
close to Paya Leba and was just off the Yio Chu Kang Road. This road also led to RAF Seletar air base and the Royal Navy base at Sembawang. CK2 known as GCHQ.
The following information on CK2 was supplied by Ruck Nicholls who now lives in the USA. CK2, GCHQ, bungalow was along the Yio Chu Kang Road and about 100-200 yards past the main camp entrance going towards Seletar. It was tucked away into the "ulu" and set back from the main road (3 or 4 car lengths from the highway) with a small unpaved parking lot. The bungalow was quite large, painted cream with double front wooden doors. The windows were near the roof level and were translucent glass blocks-long and narrow strip windows. The unit was self-sufficient with generators and high tech equipment for that period. The equipment was used for breaking down codes etc. CK1's aerial farm fed CK2 with its ears so it is believed. CK2 was a British operation run by GCHQ UK. It was one of many listening posts for the Far East, connecting GCHQ/MI5/MI6 with NSA/CIA, Phillipines from the US along with Australia and New Zealand intelligence out of Melbourne. Also Brit/US connections to Honkers, Seoul and Tokyo were involved. Every one working there was security cleared to the highest level. It truly was James Bond stuff. The UK GCHQ civilian wallahs ran the operation. Probably about ten of them with only four to five working any one particular shift. CK2 was a 24 hour operation. The boss man was named Rann or Rand. Another 2 guys were called Bennett and Welsh-all too long ago. Lots of attending Embassy/house parties etc by Taffy and Ruck along with the GCHQ UK civilians. Capt Brothers, US Army, Mathematician, ran the military Codes and Ciphers side of things aided by Staff Sgt Doug Moore, Cpl Rex Wiggins, Cpl Alf Phillips who were all from the Australian Army Signals. A couple of NZAF Siggi guys and Taffy(Brian) Edwards and Ruck stationed on CK1. I don't really remember the NZAF guys except that both Taffy Edwards and Ruck went to several house parties thrown by their bunch on Seletar.
CK1's sole purpose in life was receiving RAF radio communication signals from various RAF stations around the world. The original Chia Keng was a large house back along and just off the Yio Chu Keng road towards Paya Lebar. This was used as the receiving station until the new Chia Keng camp was opened in 1951. This second camp is the one on this site. The buildings from the right hand side are as follows:- Guard House to the right of the road. Buildings to the left of the road:- No 1 Billet.
Laundry/cookhouse/dining. No 2 billet. Receiving Hall. Toilet block and Power Generating building. The whole camp was surrounded by a wire fence which would have been no deterrent to anyone wanting to gain entry. The Tenants of the small holdings surrounding the camp were known as Squatters. They used the land for growing produce for themselves and market. Every half year they paid their rent to the RAF Land Officer in the Guardroom. The camp aerial masts were scattered amoungst these small holdings.
Radio signals transmitted from Kenya, Ceylon, Hong Kong and Melbourne
were detected by 12 Rhombic aerials. 3 of each were directed at the above transmitters. These consisted of tall masts with detection wires strung horizontally between them and the aerial farm covered 173 acres. They were in groups of four from memory making up the many groups required for the best reception. These aerials were very powerful and would pick up
most sensitive signals from around the world. Incoming signals were fed
by cable to the Receiving Hall and into the aerial rack behind the
operators desk. This rack made it possible for the most efficient
selection of aerials. Aerial selection was done with patch cords
equipped with jack plugs each end. The appearance of the board was
a little like the old fashioned telephone exchange in a post office.
The RAF were using three types of incoming radio waves in the late
1950ís. These were S.S.B. (Single Side Band). D.S.B. (Double Side Band)
and F.S.K. (Frequency Shift). I do remember that American RA 88
receiving sets were used to detect the FSK signals. Signal quality
depended on the frequency chosen and the effects of the ionosphere. The
latter varied over 24 hours and incoming signals could suffer.
Eventually the signals would become too poor to be any use and would
enforce a change of frequency. Crystals were used in the receiving sets
for setting frequencies correctly making life a lot easier for us.
After the required signals had passed through receiving equipment they
were transmitted down land lines to headquarters at RAF Changi.
Communications between Chia Keng and Changi was by teleprinter and
telephone. Two airmen were on duty in the receiving hall at all times.
This was done on a shift roster of two days on and two days off. That
was 12 hours a day when on duty.
Repairs and maintenance were carried out in another part of the same
building. It was there that updates to equipment were handled. This
work was carried out during the day by day staff. Problems occurring
outside daytime hours would be tackled by the two duty operators if
possible. The same building also had a small room where a specialist
airman tuned in to RAF radio voice and morse code transmissions. He was
a top operator on Morse code and could tap out signals at a great
speed. His responsibility was searching RAF frequencies for any signals
that could be a security risk. These would be noted and passed on to
higher authority for investigation.
Stand-By Generator Building
Two diesel generators were on stand-by in another
building close to the hall in case of an outside power failure. These
generators could be brought on line very quickly in such an event. They
were run occasionally to ensure that their working condition remained
at a high state of readiness. A failure of all power would mean the
loss of RAF incoming signals until rectified. Whilst I was there this
event never arose.
No 2 Billet
This billet was the largest of the two on camp and was
positioned nearest the receiving hall. Two rooms at one end were for
corporals who were the highest rank on camp after working hours. Large
ceiling fans kept the air circulating and were necessary with the high
humidity and temperatures. Temperatures only ever varied a few degrees either
side of 86 Fahrenheit. Windows were open with wire mesh and storm
shutters. The shutters would be closed in cases of high wind and heavy
rain. Beds were wire mesh type with a mattress. I think every RAF camp
in the world had this type of standard bed. Mosquito nets were
available if required but the heat under them was too much and only new
personnel used them for a few days. A desk and wardrobe completed the
furniture for each person. The floor was concrete and the fans were
turned off when the floor was brushed every day to avoid spreading
dust. At the rear of each billet was an ablution block complete with
wash basins, showers and toilet facilities. Covered walkways led to
these facilities alowing a dry passage during heavy rain.
Alongside this billet and ablution block was the badminton court. This
area served as a dance floor for festive occasions where dancing was
This building was positioned between the two billets and
contained a small laundry room. Two cooks were responsible for
supplying meals on camp. One being an RAF regular supported by a local
man of chinese extraction. The advantage of this setup was the good
mixture of English and Chinese cooking available. The dining section
served as a place for relaxation when not being used at meal times. A
bar was situated in one corner complete with fridge for drinks. Pay
parades, if they can be called that, took place here as well. The
cookhouse was small and separated from the dining area by a stable type
door. The top half could be opened for serving meals leaving the lower
half closed. Music was supplied by a radio/Record player in one corner
of the dining area.
The billet closest to the main gate was much smaller
than the second. The internals were basically the same but without the
end rooms. Opposite, on the other side of the road, stood the Guard
House. This was obviously positioned next to the main gate where
visitors were checked in. I cannot remember now who manned this
building but they looked like local Malayan or Ghurkas. This post was
manned 24 hours a day.