RAF Seletar’s last barrack block

26 05 2015

A part of Singapore that has seen a transformation in recent times is Seletar. The area was once occupied by the Royal Air Force (RAF) Seletar station or RAF Seletar, which at its establishment in 1928, held the distinction of being its largest station in the Far East. Vacated by the British during the 1971 pullout of forces, the former air base was used by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as Seletar Camp, home to several units including ones that I was most familiar with from my involvement professionally in floating military bridges, such as the Combat Engineers.

A survivor of RAF Seletar.

Block 450, one of the last survivors of RAF Seletar.

Beyond Block 450 and a few other remnants, little is left of the oldest British Far East air station.

Beyond Block 450 and a few other remnants, little is left of the oldest British Far East air station.

The charm the area long had a reputation for and its laid back appeal provided by the  generously spaced clusters of old world military buildings and dwellings, retained even during the days of the SAF military camp, is now fast being lost. The transformation it is now seeing, involves not just an expansion of its now civilian airport, Seletar Airport, but also the development of a 320 ha. industrial Seletar Aerospace Park. These developments has left its scars on Seletar, a Seletar but for a few reminders of the old world, is one now hard to recognise.

The iconic entrance complex over the years.

The iconic entrance complex over the years.

One part of the former RAF station that serves to remind us of the old military installation is the iconic entrance  complex with its gate and guardhouse – although a two-storey building that somehow provided the camp’s entrance with some of its past flavour has since been lost. It is beyond the gate house, past what some may feel is Singapore’s equally famous Piccadilly Circus, down the Piccadilly – the road to the East Camp; even if it deceives at its start in evoking a sense of the old world, that the visitor is confronted by the changing face of Seletar.

The entrance gate in RAF Seletar days.

It was down the same Piccadilly, at least what it had been before the recently introduced confusion of roads, that a group of servicemen past and present, gathered to celebrate the past as well as a survivor of the past, a barrack building, that if not for it, might have made the celebration’s venue – now dominated by new roads and newly turfed spaces, not such an obvious choice.

The barrack building, Block 450.

The barrack building, Block 450.


RAF Seletar was where life began for 160 Squadron.

RAF Seletar was where life began for 160 Squadron.


The barrack building, Block 450, more affectionately referred to as “Alpha”, was at the heart of the area that was not only the birthplace of the servicemen’s unit, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) 160 Squadron in 1970, but also that of the RSAF’s air defence set-up. Its heritage, that of the RAF air station, and 160 Squadron,  Singapore’s first and longest serving air defence unit, celebrated with a heritage storyboard for which the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the 160 Anti-Aircraft (AA) Alumni and 160 Squadron came together to produce.

The 160 Squadron's 35mm Oerlikon AA gun - the onetime backbone of the AA defence system on display at Block 450.

The 160 Squadron’s 35mm Oerlikon AA gun – the onetime backbone of the AA defence system on display at Block 450.


The launch of the heritage storyboard, by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, was the highlight of the gathering. It provided an opportunity not just to learn about the unit and its role in the air defence of Singapore – something Minister Chan emphasised in his speech by saying how, put less crudely, our young now have a greater chance of being hit by droppings from airborne beings of an avian kind than ones with more destructive potential; but also to have a more intimate look at the barrack building through the Heritage Walk @ 450 Seletar staged by the 160 AA Alumni.

Mr Chan Chun Seng and President of the 160 AA Alumni MAJ(NS) Jayson Goh launching the heritage storyboard.

Mr Chan Chun Seng and President of the 160 AA Alumni MAJ(NS) Jayson Goh launching the heritage storyboard.

An exhibit tracing the evolution of aids to aircraft recognition in one of the rooms in Block 450.

An exhibit tracing the evolution of aids to aircraft recognition, from the use of the OHP, 35mm slides and printed material, in one of the rooms in Block 450.

An exhibition of photographs.

An exhibition of photographs.

An improvised fire-alarm.

An improvised fire-alarm.



Typical of barrack blocks built during the Far East military build-up in the 1920s and 1930s, blocks such as Alpha – of which there were at least ten in RAF Seletar, provided shelter not just for the Anti-Aircraft gunners of 160 Squadron – who moved out in 2002, but also to numerous men in the service of His (and later Her) Majesty’s Government. Built in 1930, Block 450 is the only one in Seletar to have survived, having been gazetted for conservation as part of the 2014 Master Plan together with Block 179 – the former Station Headquarters, along with 32 bungalows in the former air base.

The Heritage Walk @ 450 Seletar also offered a peek into the conserved barrack building.

The Heritage Walk @ 450 Seletar also offered a peek into the conserved barrack building.




Architecturally similar to many other barrack blocks put up in the era – I had the experience of it from my reservist days in Sembawang Camp (the former HMS Terror)  before it was renewed, the block is an example of the tropical military architecture of the age. Those were times forgotten when it was desirable to maximise comfort levels of the buildings’s occupants, without an over-dependence on high levels of energy consumption. Measures typically employed to provide maximum ventilation and shade is seen in the wide verandahs and in the provision of ample openings, is a very noticeable feature of Block 450. Some of this is also described in the URA’s Conservation Portal:

Like the former Station Headquarters, this building was designed in the tropical Art Deco style that was favoured by the British military. The use of traditional timber windows and doors with the then relatively new medium of reinforced concrete demonstrates a combination of traditional and modern design approaches.

As a response to the humid tropical climate, the building has long and continuous covered verandahs complemented by inner facades featuring timber-louvred windows, doors and pre-cast concrete vents to promote cross-ventilation. Other features of the building include moulded Art Deco style motifs at the top of every column which help to adorn this otherwise simple yet functional building.

A view of a sister block, H Block in the West Camp, in its early days (online at http://81squadron.com).

The wooden louvred doors along the generously sized verandah. The moulded Art Deco style motifs can be seen at the top of the pillars.

The wooden louvred doors along the generously sized verandah. The moulded Art Deco style motifs can be seen at the top of the pillars.


Abandoned by its one-time companions, which I am told in the days of 160 Squadron would have included a parade square in its shadow, as well as building housing the squadron headquaters, the ops room and also hangars where the guns were stored across the Piccadilly, Block 450 now stands alone, out of place against the now vastly altered surroundings. It may be a shame that we are are unable to hold on to spaces such as Seletar with its rich history and its unique and now hard to find charm, but we have to be thankful for the conservation of buildings such as Block 450. While it will not come anywhere close to reminding us of the beautiful space Seletar once was, we will at least have several reminders that tell us of a history that will otherwise be forgotten.









Further information on Block 450 and conservation within the former RAF Seletar:






16 responses

26 05 2015
Paul Ridgway

No air conditioning, no need for air conditioning.
High ceilings, wide verandahs, ceiling fans maybe, plenty of through draft.
Comfortable accommodation.

27 05 2015
Peter Stubbs

I spent some time in H Block 65/66. Happy days.

9 09 2018
Stevan whitaker

i served with 55 air-despatch sqn at seletar from oct65 to sept 68 with service in labuan,kuching and penang returning to R AF Lyneham late 68.
when at seletar with lived in H block, we dropped supplies out of twin pins beverleys dc6s, part of our sqn attended the funeral when the last beverley
flight crashed in bad weather. no despatch crews on board sad time.
some good times and fond memoirs

3 06 2015
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Downloadable information sheet on the block, RAF Seletar and the 160 Squadron at the URA’s Conservation Portal: https://www.ura.gov.sg/~/media/User%20Defined/Conservation%20Portal/Articles/2015%20storyboard_RAF%20and%20160%20SQN%20at%20Former%20Seletar%20Air%20Base.pdf

7 06 2015
David Rose

Oh happy days, the best 18 months I spent in the RAF, loved Singapore and particularly Jalan Kayu.

21 05 2016

The chin-up bars! The stairs!
That is NOT an improvised fire alarm! It’s a turn-out alarm! LOL
Memories memories…
Thanks for writing this up.
Can’t even remember which batch I was in… XD

7 01 2018
C J Allen

I lived in E Block from March 66 until Sep 68.
From November 74 until Apr 75 I lived in a block just like it at RAF Episkopi, Cyprus. This was considerably less comfortable than E Block; it can get pretty cold in Cyprus, and open verandahs etc are a bit of a bind!

14 10 2018
Tony D

Me too, E block 1967. I worked at Paya Leber airport (JATCC) ground communications. Loved every minute

14 10 2018
Chris Allen

G’day Tony,
Remind me of your surname; we were there at the same time!
Chris Allen

10 02 2021
William Cran

Chris I think it was Tony Davies. I was detached Nov 68 to Nov 69 and worked at JATCC. Didnt want to leave! Am still in touch with many people who were there at that time! Willie Cran.

10 02 2021
stevan whitaker

hi, my name is stevan whitaker,oct 65 to oct 68, a member of 55 air despatch sqn served in kuchin and labuan and penagon.

10 02 2021
Philip H. Pring

As a very young RAF NCO, I was stationed at RAF Seletar on No 110 (H) Squadron from 1964 to 1967, with my wife Sandra (deceased) and what a wonderful two and a half years it was. The most memorable part of the tour was our local neighbours (The de Silvas), who made us so very welcome, I can honestly say, that all through my married life (57 years) and the very many moves from Married Quarter to Married Quarter around the world, our Seletar neighbours were the most excellent and one could not have wished for better. Even now, at the age of 88, I think how lucky my wife and I were to have had the honour and privilege of such a lovely family for neighbours in a foreign land. These photographs bring back so many happy memories, but also much sadness on the knowledge of Saletar’s demise.

11 10 2021
Elisabeth Welsh

My family were there at exactly the same time, my Father Chief Tech Ralph Lloyd was stationed there. We lived on Knightsbridge as a family until returning to the UK in May 1967. The best time of our lives for more than one reason. He was tragically killed in a gliding accident in July 1967, leaving his wife Elizabeth and 5 children, so this place contains our best memories ever.

13 02 2021

Am very glad that Blk 450 barrack In Seletar East Camp (SEC) has been preserved till today. After our NS batch recruits POP, we were posted to SEC in Feb 1971 to continue with our full-time NS obligation, When we arrived at the camp, Blk 450 was our first army barrack we stayed. At that time, I was told that we were the 1st batch of NS fulltime soldiers to be sent for AA training in SEC. Correct me if I am wrong. We were in SEC until we completed our 10 years’ reservist cycle.

11 10 2021
alex cumming

I was posted to Seletar as a young 18yr old, billeted in B block which was MTRS(motor transport repair squadron) we repaired all RAF trans in the far east 1956-58

7 08 2022
alexander cumming

I served at Seletar 1956-57 with MTRS in B block east camp, loved it 🙂

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