Straits Settlements Volunteer Air Force


The Straits Settlements Volunteer Air Force (SSVAF) was created on 25 March 19361 with the goal of assisting the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the defence of Singapore.2 Its formation followed on the realisation that to rely on the Royal Navy coming to their rescue in the event of a war with Japan, the island had to resist the attack until such time as the Royal Navy could despatch help.3

Although the SSVAF, along with its successor, the Malayan Volunteer Air Force (MVAF), were not at the forefront of action before and during the Japanese invasion of Malaya, the volunteers played an important role. They assisted the RAF by performing reconnaissance missions, communications and transport of military personnel, among other duties.4

Flying clubs and the formation of the Volunteer Air Force
The presence of civilian flying clubs aided the formation of the Volunteer Air Force. The Singapore Flying Club, inaugurated in April 1928, is the first flying club in Southeast Asia, and the first in the world to train on seaplanes.
5 Located in Tanjong Pagar, near Keppel Harbour, the club had as flying instructors the RAF pilots stationed at Seletar Airbase.6


Before long, more flying clubs began to open up in other parts of Malaya, sparking the interest of civilians in aviation. These clubs were partly subsidised by the state governments on the condition that all members would be liable for active service in the event of a war. Thus, when the SSVAF was established on 25 March 1936, the bulk of volunteers came from these flying clubs.7

Criteria for becoming a volunteer
Enrolment for the SSVAF began on 20 April 1936. Apart from meeting the approval of
Sir Shenton Thomas, then Governor of the Straits Settlements,8 the volunteers had to be over 17 and under 40 years of age.9 In addition, they were required to have a type “A” pilot’s licence granted by a flying club.10


The men who enrolled in the SSVAF and the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force in general came from different walks of life. Another important characteristic was that these volunteer corps included different races, for Malays, Indians, Chinese and Eurasians were allowed to enrol.11

On 10 August 1936, it was announced that D. S. E. Vines, a former RAF Squadron Leader, would be appointed first commander of the SSVAF.12 The volunteers spent this period training in Hawker Audax and Avro Tutor planes.13

Reorganisation of SSVAF
When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, the SSVAF was disbanded and qualified members enlisted in the RAF. The remaining volunteers were reorganised into the Malayan Volunteer Air Force (MVAF) in 1940 with their main base in
Kallang.14


On 31 August 1940, Major R. L. Nunn was commissioned as group captain of the MVAF. Nunn was not only the Director of Public Works and the Director of Civil Aviation, but also a member of various flying clubs and a pilot.15 He had 220 men under his command, all of whom underwent training between September 1940 and 1 December 1941 when all units were mobilised.16

Flying clubs in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Penang became a unit within the MVAF. The Singapore Flying Club which was larger became units “A” and “B”. Flight-Lieutenant John Caister-Cooke was flight commander of “A” with nine aircraft under his command. Flying Officer Edgar Slight, in charge of “B”, had three aircraft under his command. Both units were based in Kallang.17

In the months preceding the outbreak of war in Malaya in December 1941, MVAF personnel underwent training. They carried out experimental dive-bombing techniques and tried to fit bomb racks on their aircraft. Unfortunately, these trials sometimes caused unnecessary casualties among the volunteers.18

Role of MVAF during the war in Malaya
Before and during the Malayan Campaign, the MVAF operated a passenger service.
Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, then General Officer Commanding, Malaya, was a frequent flyer of this service and admired the way the volunteers carried out their tasks. Percival described them thus: “The whole of this Volunteer Air Force, flying a miscellaneous collection of light flying club aircraft, was at this time doing most gallant work. Operating from a temporary landing ground on Singapore Island, these frail and defenceless aircraft were carrying out daily reconnaissance patrols and generally managing to get back”.19


Although the MVAF pilots were highly experienced, the light and unarmed aircraft made them vulnerable targets in the skies. Thus, they did not participate in air defence duties but assisted the RAF with transport and reconnaissance missions.20 Their duties included searching for lost or stranded pilots and units. They also co-ordinated the rescue of men left behind and the dropping of food supplies. They went on flight missions to report on Japanese activities. Some argue that their expertise and knowledge of the region could have been used more by the British command.21

By the time Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, some men of the MVAF had been evacuated to Colombo, Sri Lanka. There, they joined forces with other units and volunteered to carry on fighting behind Japanese lines.22 Such was the case of Flight Lieutenant Loke Yaik Foo,23 a wealthy and well-known businessman and one of the first Malayan Chinese to learn flying. Others remained in Malaya and became prisoners of war (POWs).24



References
1. Shorrick, N. (1968). Lion in the sky: The story of Seletar and the Royal Air Force in Singapore. Kuala Lumpur: Federal Publications, pp. 44–45. (Call no.: RSING 358.4095957 SHO)
2. Volunteer Air Force for defence of Colony. (1935, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Shorrick, N. (1968). Lion in the sky: The story of Seletar and the Royal Air Force in Singapore. Kuala Lumpur: Federal Publications, pp. 44–45. (Call no.: RSING 358.4095957 SHO)
4. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, p. 1. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from Malayan Volunteers Group website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
5. Spiers, D. (1969, December 19). The sea and the sky: The pre-war history of the Singapore Flying Club, p. 1. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from the Republic of Singapore Flying Club website: http://www.singaporeflyingclub.com/The%20Sea%20and%20Sky.pdf
6. Shorrick, N. (1968). Lion in the sky: The story of Seletar and the Royal Air Force in Singapore. Kuala Lumpur: Federal Publications, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 358.4095957 SHO)
7. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, p. 1. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
8. Enrolment begins today. (1936, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Volunteer Air Force for defence of Colony. (1935, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, p. 1. Retrieved July, 5, 2014, from Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
11. Moffatt, J., & Riches, P. (2010). “In Oriente Primus”: A history of the Volunteer Forces in Malaya and Singapore. Coventry: Jonathan Moffatt & Paul Riches, pp. 4, 12. (Call no.: RSING 355.22362095951 MOF)
12. New commander for S.S. Volunteer Air Force. (1936, August 10). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Winsley, T. M. (1938). A history of the Singapore Volunteer Corps, 1854–1937. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 121. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.23 WIN).
13. Plans to increase Singapore’s air strength. (1936, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, p. 1. Retrieved 5, 2014, Julyfrom Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
15. Group Captain for Volunteer Air Force. (1940, August 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, p. 2. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
17. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, p. 2. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
18. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, p. 2. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
19. Shorrick, N. (1968). Lion in the sky: The story of Seletar and the Royal Air Force in Singapore. Kuala Lumpur: Federal Publications, p. 90. (Call no.: RSING 358.4095957 SHO)
20. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, p. 2. Retrieved July 5, 20l4, from Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
21. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, p. 3. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
22. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, pp. 3–4. Retrieved from Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf
23. Collapses at tennis, dies. (1947, December 12). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Fell, R. (n. d.). Unarmed, unescorted and unwanted, pp. 3–4. Retrieved from Malayan Volunteers website: http://www.malayanvolunteersgroup.org.uk/files/UNARMED,UNESCORTED&UNWANTED.pdf



The information in this article is valid as at 7 July 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Aviation (Organisations)
Organisations

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