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Merdeka and Much More

Reminiscences of a Raffles Professor, 1953-67

Ken Tregonning

Publication Year: 2010

Professor K.G. Tregonning's anecdotal memoir of his years as a member of the Department of History in the University of Singapore, culminating as Raffles Professor, captures the mood and milieu of Singapore as the country emerged from colonial rule to become a self-governing independent nation. Arriving at the height of the Cold War, Tregonning was acutely conscious of the ongoing Malayan Emergency and of the political shifts taking place across Southeast Asia. He records meetings with a number of the region's leaders, and encounters with students and colleagues who would later feature in Singapore's politics, or become leading figures in the academic world. The result is an engaging and very personal account of a university and a professional, political and social environment that is quite different from that found in Singapore today.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

title page

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pp. i-i


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pp. iv-iv


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pp. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-ix

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1 Home Port

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pp. 1-5

Singapore, early morning, July 22, 1953. Engines stopped, we wallow on a sluggish sea. A signal “Pilot Wanted” flies from our masthead. Tropical warmth with the dawn, banks of clouds to the east. Singapore stretches some miles along her waterfront, waiting for us. A white-painted Messageries Maritime troop ship crosses behind us as she heads for the South China Sea; her cargo of conscripted soldiers to be unloaded in Saigon...

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2 The Campus

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pp. 6-17

In those early years the communist menace that Parkinson had outlined had a prominence, a reality, difficult today to imagine. Sixty years on the brutality of it all, the terrible wrongs and terrors inflicted on innocent individuals by this worldwide revolutionary movement are forgotten or ignored, as they were then by many academics, while the cause itself has vanished...

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3 Merdeka

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pp. 18-30

“Merdeka; Merdeka”, they shouted, a group of youngsters waving and running happily beside us as our university mini bus drove into their kampong. Kota Kuala Muda — fort at the mouth of the Muda River — was its name, and once it had guarded Kedah’s southern regions. There were the remains of a brick wall to prove it. But in fact it was no more than a small collection of Malay huts on stilts...

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4 Kuala B’rang

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pp. 31-36

During our time in Singapore the east coast of Malaya remained as it had for centuries, a remote and isolated part of the peninsula. Three states — Pahang, Trengganu and Kelantan — were largely tropical rainforest. Each had one straggling little town by a river mouth — Kuantan, Kuala Trengganu and Kota Bharu — each isolated from the others by other rivers. A single road came over from the thriving west coast, crossing...

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5 How the Cold Storage Shaped World History

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pp. 37-42

Shortly after our arrival in Singapore in 1953, we discovered one of its unanticipated attractions. This was the year round availability of fresh food, a welcome change from grey post-war London, with its rationing and general shortages. The refrigeration facilities provided by the Singapore Cold Storage...

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6 Borneo

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pp. 51-56

As usual, that morning there was hardly a breath of breeze. We passed a gaily painted jong kong, almost becalmed, her sails slack. Only the bow wave of our sturdy govern- ment launch broke the calm. We had left behind “pirate point” as the northernmost tip of Borneo had been called for centuries. Ahead was Balambangan Island. Although a brave little Union Jack fl uttered at our stern, we were in troubled waters. Lawless...

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7 The Padang

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pp. 57-62

Heavy rain had closed our hatches for several hours. We were still at anchor when our scheduled sailing time came. Our winches whined and clattered. Chinese labourers shouted to their companions down below shouting back, as our derricks hauled up cargo from the twakows (barges) hard against us. I sat on deck in a rattan arm chair, watching this frantic yet disciplined effort. A warm evening fell. The lights of Singapore...

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8 Tea Cups and Tokyo

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pp. 63-66

Not long after returning to Singapore on Keningau, her chief engineer, Alan Ferguson, invited me home to meet his wife Violet. They lived in one of the Straits Steamship Flats in Sommerville Estate, and she was to fi ll in the details, so I understood, of their extraordinary wartime experience. Alan, a quietly spoken slightly deaf 50-year-old Ulsterman, was but one...

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9 Meeting the Mighty

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pp. 67-88

The arrival from “home” of one of Britain’s majestic post-war ocean liners was still a major event in our early Singapore years. Shop fronts in High Street or North Bridge Road would display a metal union jack over the 5 foot way, or a sign “Ship Arrived”, telling the initiated (as it must have done for 50 years or more) that a ship from England had berthed and there...

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10 Lee Kuan Yew

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pp. 89-97

It had been just another day at work — actually it was August 9, 1965 — when my colleague and friend Sharom Ahmat came into my room. “You had better not go into town today, prof., there might be trouble.” “How come?” I asked. “We’ve just been chucked out of Malaysia and there could be a riot.” And later we watched on TV as our Premier, Lee Kuan Yew, with anguish in his...

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11 Home

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pp. 98-104

Singapore, January 20, 1967. A Tanjong Pagar go down shelters us. Rain falls as we peer out at our ship, the Centaur, soon to sail. A new vessel, she has replaced the old Gorgon that brought me here some 14 years ago. I had seen her plans when interviewing her Blue Funnel executives in Liverpool some years earlier, collecting material on The Straits Steamship Company...


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pp. 105-108

E-ISBN-13: 9789971695880
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971694227

Page Count: 118
Illustrations: 12 images
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: New

OCLC Number: 794698890
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Merdeka and Much More

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Subject Headings

  • Singapore -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Singapore -- History -- 20th century.
  • College teachers -- Singapore -- Anecdotes.
  • Tregonning, K. G.
  • Historians -- Singapore -- Anecdotes.
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