Singapore, Elvis &
During my time in Singapore with the 7th Submarine Squadron we must have drunk copious amounts of the local amber nectar called Tiger Beer. As you will no doubt recall it tended to affect your motor skills and powers of rational thought. It could even bestow godlike attributes on people who drank enough of it. These ranged from the ability to converse with all life forms, complete mind control, ESP and even full protection from any type of physical harm. It also inspired some sailors to think they could pull street lampposts out of the deck after sinking a few Tigers.
Others assumed pugilistic alter egos like those of Rocky Marciano or Cassius Clay, whereby even the ringing of a cash register or an engine room telegraph would be enough to make them jump out of their chairs and start throwing punches. Next morning it always left you with a stupendous hangover headache, somewhat akin to a severe migraine attack. This tale is a tribute to that fine brew; so if you have any stories or urban myths, know of any legendary feats or mystical experiences, which were performed or occurred whilst under its influence we want to hear about them.
When I look through the old photo albums and crew list of those days I note one face and name is conspicuous by its absence – Elvis Aaron Presley. Oh! I know that most of you are under the impression that Elvis did all his military service in Germany but you would be wrong on that score. For four magic days in 1960 Elvis was literally hanging out with us submariners at HMS Terror Barracks in Singapore. It was Easter Bank Holiday weekend giving us four days of public holidays for all hands to dance and skylark and generally throw themselves out of shape.
Most of the lads had headed off to Singapore city to sample the charms of Change Alley and to take in Bugis Street where the very beautiful transsexual kai ti’s paraded themselves and their extremely deceptive charms along its pavements. One of our crew was getting transferred back to the UK and we were going to make sure that he had his leaving run before boarding his flight home next day, even if we had to pour him onto the plane. So we all got stuck into the Tiger Beers, which were ice cold and welcoming as the afternoon temperatures outside were mellow and sweltering at about 85 degrees F with high humidity.
There was a ugly rumour at the time, probably started by Heineken or Carlsberg, that Tiger Beer was brewed with formaldehyde which was the reason we westerners got drunk far quicker in the Far East than we would elsewhere. We as a group had voluntarily carried out extensive research as human guinea pigs into this theory and found no evidence at all to support it. Only time could prove us all wrong if when we all finally popped our clogs our morticians found they didn’t need to do any embalming at all. Who the hell cared anyway when you were twenty-one?
We carried on through the afternoon and into the evening with some serious drinking and eventually the group split up to go their separate ways; some staying in the city, and some of us heading back to the Paris Bar in Sembawang Village, which was nearer the base. There were loads of great bars in Sembawang like the Nelson, Melbourne and the New Ocean and we drifted between them with whatever favourite girl we were with at the time. Sometimes a girl would leave or get fired and start at another bar the same day. If you had a good thing going with a particular party then you usually changed watering holes as a gesture of solidarity. Most of the bars closed at midnight so we had in our wisdom pre-ordered cases of Tiger Beer, so that we could carry on the party outdoors in the street when they shut. We then began to regale the local natives with the raucous singing of every bawdy navy song we knew from “Zulu Warrior” to “The Lobster Song”. Finally, with everyone totally blitzed out of their minds we began to staggeringly wend our way back to Terror barracks and our racks. Little did we know that Elvis, the Tupelo Mississippi Flash, was following behind close behind on his way to visit with us for a couple of days.
When everyone awoke and finally surfaced from their pits on Saturday morning we could not believe what we were seeing. The lawn areas around the accommodation blocks were littered with submariners, all in uniform, sprawled out in various stages of drunken stupor on the grass. There hanging from the top balcony of one of the blocks was a massive plywood cut-out of Elvis Presley complete with guitar. It was at least thirty foot high on a metal support frame and looked to be extremely heavy. This cut-out of The King had been fixed to the front of the Sky Cinema on Orchard Road in the city for the whole of the previous week, advertising his latest movie. So it hung there for the remainder of the holiday until Tuesday morning, when the Master-at-Arms arrived back at work and went totally ape-s**t when he saw it.
How it had been removed from the facade of the Sky Cinema and presumably carried all the way back from Singapore city to HMS Terror, a distance of many miles, without anyone seeing or hearing them do it remained a complete mystery. Equally perplexing was how they got it past the main gate security or the perimeter, which were always on high alert status. It’s just another demonstration of the awesome power of Tiger Beer.