In 1961 I was a 25-year old sergeant in the RAF. I was stationed in Singapore flying Shackletons out of RAF Changi.
In the British colonies, as in the UK, the military were committed to assisting the Civil Power However, in Singapore it was a bit more immediate than in the UK. Which is how I came to be in a scruffy street in central Singapore. I was not on my own, there was a very young officer (younger than me), a Chinese magistrate and 30 airmen. We were a riot squad. Six of the airmen had rifles but no ammunition; the rest had batons. They wore khaki shirts and shorts with long socks and boots. They also wore steel helmets. The officer and I were dressed in similar fashion and we had revolvers - also with no ammo.
The opposition was about 20 Ghurka soldiers in sports kit The weren’t allowed to throw things at us, so they shouted, leaped about and pulled faces. A bit like the New Zealand rugby squad in their pre-match dance.
The magistrate read the riot act and we then unfurled our banner. Disperse or we fire. The airmen with rifles moved from the rear of the squad to the front, but didn’t aim their weapons. This had no effect, so the officer ordered me to send in the snatch squads. There were 3 pairs of airmen detailed off for this and they ran forward to nobble significant rioters. Three fights started, but eventually they secured three Ghurkas. I turned to my officer to report this and found him gone. Half a dozen Ghurkas had snuck up a side alley and seized this commissioned twit. He was supposed to stay in the middle of the squad but had wandered off for some reason. I watched him being hustled off down the alley and out of sight.
I was then seized of the dilemma that had bothered Hannibal, Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. Should I split my force, deal with the rioters and at the same time chase after my officer. Things seemed to be going well without him, so I decided to deal with the rioters and forget about him. My own inclination was to order the riflemen to open fire (shouting bang bang), but the magistrate thought not. In fact, I was now in charge, once he had read the riot act he was out of the loop. However, I took his advice and got ready to lead the squad in a frontal attack on the Ghurkas.
At that point, the Army officer acting as observer stepped in and halted the exercise. He thought it had gone well, although he did suggest that losing your officer was pretty bad form. The Ghurkas returned my officer and we all got into our truck.
Another part of life’s rich pattern was complete!