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Pamela Todd in Singapore

Victoria Passau, Online Cenotaph & Enquiry Service Manager

In 2021 the Ministry of Defence expanded the criteria for the New Zealand Operational Service Medal (NZOSM) for service in South East Asia, from 1 February 1959 to 31 January 1974.1 This includes post-Vietnam service in Singapore up until 31 January 1974. While this award of medals does not provide Qualifying Operational Service eligibility under the Veterans' Support Act 2014 it does acknowledge the service of 4,500 more veterans. Online Cenotaph has included this expanded coverage in our criteria for inclusion.

Online Cenotaph has very few records for this period of service. So, when John Forrest (aka Trees), one of our Online Cenotaph super users, sent through a new record request for Pamela (Pam) Todd, later Gill, a nurse who had served in South East Asia. I jumped at the chance to interview her.

South East Asia

The New Zealand Army had a long-term presence in South East Asia from the Malayan Emergency, with the deployment of the first New Zealand Special Air Squadron in 1955, through the Malayan conflict of 1961-1963, Thailand (1962-1971), Borneo Confrontation (1963-1966) and the Vietnam War (1961-1975). The 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1RNZIR) had bases in Malaysia until 1969 and then in Singapore from 1969 until 1989. These camps included recreation spaces and accommodation for service personnel and their families.

Post-Vietnam the role of New Zealand in Singapore was a strategic one where they were stationed as part of the Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom Forces (ANZUK). The ANZUK Force was formed on 1 November 1971 and disbanded on 31 January 1974 and included all three services of the New Zealand Defence Force.

In August 1972 Pam was posted to Singapore to work in the ANZUK Hospital in Changi. This is her story.

Early life

Unknown photographer. Pamela Todd in Nursing uniform. Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

Unknown photographer. Pamela Todd in Nursing uniform. Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

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Pamela Dorothy Todd was born in Dunedin in 1949. Due to her father’s job in the Ministry of Works Pam spent a lot of her childhood moving around small-town New Zealand, living in Roxborough and Benmore before moving to Auckland. She attended high school at Otahuhu College, then trained as a nurse at Middlemore Hospital, completing her 4th year certificate in 1970. During this time, she spent over 18 months working in the Operating Theatre. Major Daphne Shaw, was a ward sister while Pam was completing her training, and was later to become her Matron at Whenuapai. Someone for whom she had great admiration.2

After five years at Middlemore, she was looking for a change and saw a job advertised at the Naval Hospital in Devonport and decided to apply for it. While she didn’t think she had enough experience the Director for Nursing Services suggested she join the military anyway.

Instead of the Naval role, Pam joined the Army in May 1971. Throughout her time in the military Pam served with all three forces under the Army umbrella. As Pam noted the Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps is an Army Corps. The nurses are posted between the three services and wear the rank of the service that they are serving with, while remaining Army.

Pam initially spent 15 months at the Waiouru Army Training Camp. National Military Service remained in effect until 1972 so the camp was a busy and social place, with Pam describing it as one of the best times of her life. During her stay she lived with five or so nursing officers including a Matron, a Deputy, other Registered Nurses and two Women’s Royal Army Corps officers.

She found the work a real change of pace from the hectic operating theatre.

Unknown photographer. 1971 Indoctrination course, Burnham. Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

Unknown photographer. 1971 Indoctrination course, Burnham. Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

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Service in Singapore

In August 1972 Pam was posted to Singapore to work in the ANZUK Hospital3 in Changi. Singapore postings were staggered, with each nurse going over for individual 12-month periods. Sister Edith McLeod was at Waiouru with Pam and was posted about six months later. Captain Pat Webber went to Wigram after Waiouru - her Singapore posting commenced a week before Pam returned to New Zealand. There were 5 RNZNC nurses there in Singapore at any one time.

Pam’s service was part of New Zealand’s continued presence in South East Asia. Service by the New Zealand Army focused on the First Battalion, New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1RNZIR) and involved patrols, military exercises and regular training.

“After Singapore attained independence in 1965, the British Far East Command gradually began their withdrawal from the island, but their military presence in Singapore still continued with the formation of ANZUK – a tripartite coalition comprising the Commonwealth Forces of…[service personnel]…from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The hospital came under ANZUK’s control in 1971, and was consequently renamed, ANZUK Hospital.”4

Old Changi Hospital, Singapore

Old Changi Hospital, Singapore

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ‘Nir Sinay flickr’
ANZUK Hospital was situated on a small hill, a small distance away from the Officers Mess. Most of the senior nurses lived in the two storied mess, others lived in buildings at the bottom of the hill and in other buildings closer to the hospital. Pam had a large square room in which had, apart from a bed and wardrobe, chairs and a couch. “I bought a small fridge, TV. Stereo, kettle etc., so I could entertain if I so wished. There was a VW van that used to pick up staff at every shift and drop us off at the hospital, returning us to the Mess after shifts.

1964 A 1952 Standard Vanguard with RAF Changi Hospital, Singapore in the background. Photo: Dennis Lowden Collection.

1964 A 1952 Standard Vanguard with RAF Changi Hospital, Singapore in the background. Photo: Dennis Lowden Collection.

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ‘Gary Danvers Collection flickr’
Pam worked at ANZUK Hospital together with nursing officers from the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service, Australian registered nurses and Locally Employed Civilians (LEC) – registered nurses from Singapore. “I was very friendly with 2 LEC nurses, and one Chinese New Year they invited us into their homes.” There were many very valued Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO), including New Zealand NCOs, Corporals and LECs that worked with Pam. The administrative officer in Singapore at the time was a New Zealander. She also worked in the various wards but enjoyed returning to the operating theatre, where she remained till she returned home. Finding the work more stimulating than her time at Waiouru.

Pam remembers the hospital being a reasonable size with roughly 150-200 beds and included male and female surgical wards, a children’s ward and maternity wards. While caring for the medical needs of military personnel the hospital also looked after their families. She remembers that many babies were delivered by elective caesarean section, in the maternity wing, as a lot of the military families lived in Nee Soon, Tengah and at the naval base, on the other side of the island. Travel from the other side of the island to Changi was unpredictable and could take up to an hour or more.

Accompanied Postings

It may come as a surprise that families travelled from New Zealand to accompany service members when posted overseas. Families of New Zealand military personnel had been living in Southeast Asia since the mid-1950s. Dr Christopher Pugsley’s official history From emergency to confrontation: the New Zealand armed forces in Malaya and Borneo 1949-1966 (2003) includes interviews with the wives of servicemen who were posted with their families to Malaya. It was the first time in New Zealand’s military history that it deployed Regular Army units and Royal New Zealand Air Force squadrons overseas in peacetime and so provisions were made for servicemen to be accompanied by their wives and families.5 Up until this time the provision of welfare and housing for families had not been a high priority to New Zealand’s military establishment. As Pugsley argued the three services of the New Zealand Defence Force “were headed by men who had spent six years away from their families during the Second World War, and saw extended absences as part of the job.”6 But times were changing and as the Defence Force moved into being a professional force then they had to find ways of recruiting and retaining a new generation of servicemen.

No.41 Squadron RNZAF, flying Bristol Freighters and No.14 Squadron RNZAF, flying Vampire jet aircraft deployed to Singapore in May 1955. No 41 Squadron was based at RAF Changi airbase and No 14 Squadron at RAF Tengah. The first families flew up from New Zealand in June and soon there were 42 families on the island, living in local civilian accommodation or in RAF quarters on the bases. It was a very different lifestyle for the New Zealand of the 1950s. Allowances gave families money to spend and it was normal to employ local women as amahs to do the housework and the cooking.

In 1957 the 1st Battalion New Zealand Regiment, (1NZReg), the first Regular unit formed in the New Zealand Army, deployed to Malaya as part of the 28th Commonwealth Brigade which included battalions from Britain and Australia as well as New Zealand. Married personnel posted for two years and over could bring their families, who lived in local hirings in Ipoh and Taiping. Sixty-one families came with the battalion including over 100 children. They found themselves in a different world, one of the wives remembered. ‘[We had] no knowledge of the East or of how people there lived. We did some terribly insensitive things simply because we knew no better, like thinking we were wearing [what looked like a coolie] hat when in fact it was a meat cover.’ [Interview Mrs Pru Meldrum, 6 April 1993, Pugsley, p.149].

In 1961, Lieutenant Colonel Les Pearce’s 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1RNZIR) moved into a specially built brigade-sized camp at Terendak, near Malacca in Malaya, where New Zealand was allocated 187 married quarters.7 In December 1969 1RNZIR was relocated to Singapore where families lived in a mix of local hirings or in married quarters at the various camps and air bases. This continued until the withdrawal of New Zealand Force Southeast Asia in 1989.8

As Pam remembers male personnel had postings of 2–2 ½ years, where single female officers had postings of only 12 months. This made a big difference in regards paying customs on their return to New Zealand. “I remember being assessed with a huge customs bill, but luckily a friendly W/O, from the hospital, came with me when I had to pay and he was able to get the amount reduced to a manageable amount.”

Life in Singapore

Unknown photographer. Nurses enjoying time off in Bugis Street, Singapore. L - R Robyne Evans, Edith McLeod, Rosalie Dinan, myself, Alison McBurney and Grace Rameka. Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

Unknown photographer. Nurses enjoying time off in Bugis Street, Singapore. L - R Robyne Evans, Edith McLeod, Rosalie Dinan, myself, Alison McBurney and Grace Rameka. Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

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All in all, Pam spent 13 months in Singapore. “It was another very social time. There were often ships docked at the Naval base from which came many invitations to parties & cocktail parties. Our ANZUK Hospital Officers mess often had formal dinners and entertainment functions, as did Dieppe, plus the Brit and Australian messes. Then if we had a spare Friday or Saturday night, when not on duty, there were the many night clubs in town.

After visiting night clubs the nurses would sometimes visit Bugis Street, “There were food and drink stalls. Street sellers would try to sell their wares - usually cheap ‘knock offs’ that may look good, but more than often, didn’t work. It was a very interesting place to visit.

Pam also remembers “We had lovely little dressmakers that would come around regularly with fabric samples, and would make you whatever you wanted, very cheaply. Most of us went home with Camphorwood chests and electronic goods, bought from Changi Village or Nee Soon Village.”

While mainly stationed in the hospital Pam was able to travel around by car. “I had an old Consul which I had bought off a returning Army officer. We travelled all over the island and into Malaysia. We found a little isolated beach in Malaysia on the West coast not far past JB [Johor Bahru], which we visited a few times. Friends visited me from New Zealand and we drove to Ayer Hitam, Malacca, across to Mersing and back via Johor Bahru. It was a great car which I passed on to my brother when I left Singapore.” She also went on a train trip with fellow nurse Grace Rameka up to Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand, then spent a few days in Bangkok.

Nurses Pam served with throughout her service included Captain Edith Gwenthllyn McLeod (P30994) RIP, Captain Robyne Adair Evans, Captain Atawhai Grace Rameka (C30960), Lieutenant Colonel Alison McBurnie (Territorial Army) (S215480) RIP, Charge Sister Rosalie Patricia Dinnan (M30992), Lt Col Thursa Kennedy, RIP, Lt Col Noeline Taylor, Lieutenant Laraine Gregory, Captain Patricia Webber RIP, Lt Judith Parker, Lt Col Daphne Shaw, Captain Margaret Wilson, Major Jess Grant. Note that not all of these personnel are eligible for inclusion in Online Cenotaph.

Post-Singapore Experience

Unknown photographer. Pamela Todd and Judith Parker at RNZNH Philomel (1974). Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

Unknown photographer. Pamela Todd and Judith Parker at RNZNH Philomel (1974). Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

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On her return to New Zealand, in September 1973, Pam was posted back to the Royal New Zealand Naval Hospital (RNZNH) as the Theatre Sister. This was the role that she originally applied for in 1971 before being diverted into the Army. In November 1974 she resigned her 3-year commission, and went to England, on her OE - for two years. In September 1976, after working and much travel, which included volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel for 6 weeks, she decided to rejoin the Defence Force. Having already completed her Indoctrination and Aviation Medical courses in 1971, she was posted to the RNZAF Base Auckland in Whenuapai as a Flight Sister. Pam continued training and completed a Senior Sister’s course at Burnham Camp that resulted in promotion to Captain.

Unknown photographer. Aviation Medical Unit 1971. Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

Unknown photographer. Aviation Medical Unit 1971. Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

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During her Air Force posting, she spent a lot of time traveling in the Hercules. Trips included flights to Niue, Fiji, Australia, Singapore, England, Canada, and Nepal. While the Air Force now have trained Flight Stewards, during the 1970s, a Nursing Officer would be expected to accompany any aeromedical evacuation flight and were also required on any C130 flight that carried passengers. She was there if anything medical was required, but also to look after passengers during any overnight stays, and make sure they were up and ready for the usually very early flights. “It was a great time for Nursing Officers in that job…it was very noisy but great fun.”

Pam married her husband in 1978. Alan was an engineer in the Air Force. Pam resigned her second commission in March 1979 and her first baby was born later that year. Pam and Alan had four daughters. Their growing family spent a lot of time overseas while Alan worked and trained. Living in England while Alan completed an engineering course at Cranwell (1980-1981), in Canberra while he was on a Senior Staff Course (1991) and then on a diplomatic post in Washington DC (1992- 1994).

During the 1980s and 1990s Pam nursed intermittently, wherever Alan was posted, including in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Unknown photographer. Pam Gill with two of her grand daughters in Wellington (circa 2017). Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

Unknown photographer. Pam Gill with two of her grand daughters in Wellington (circa 2017). Image kindly provided by Pamela Gill (February 2023)

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“I went back to nursing in 1984, after baby no. 3 as a part time practice nurse. After moving to Wellington 1987, I worked at Hutt hospital for a short period as we were only there for 12 months, before being posted to Christchurch. During our 3 years there, I worked for a 3-month period, as the civilian Registered Nurse at the RNZAF hospital at Wigram allowing the solo Nursing Officer there to take leave. We were then posted to Canberra for 6 months, back to Wellington for 6 months, then to Washington for 3 years. After returning from the US, I started working part time as a practice nurse at two after hours medical centres for a year, then gave one up, continuing with one till we moved to Blenheim 2001.”

After her husband retired from the RNZAF, they moved to Blenheim. Pam shifted gears to work at the New Zealand Defence Force in human resources. A team led by John Forrest. It was a position that she enjoyed for nearly six years, before moving back to Wellington.

 

Recognition and support

In 2021 the Ministry of Defence expanded the criteria for the NZOSM for service in South East Asia undertaken between 1 February 1959 to 31 January 1974.

Pam was slightly unsure about receiving this recognition. “It was a surprise to me. I didn’t consider Singapore as a war zone or operational theater of any description. But it was quite nice [to receive recognition].”

After her husband died in 2010 Pam had applied for and received Qualifying Routine Service support from Veterans’ Affairs. This was after a suggestion from her son in law who is in the RNZAF. Up until then she had been unaware how Veterans’ Affairs could help ex-service personnel.

“I was very happy when my son in law suggested that he thought I would qualify for assistance from Veterans Affairs. I really didn’t think that I’d been a member of the Defence Force long enough, but I did apply and discovered that they could help me with some things I find difficult to do, living on my own. They are currently helping me with cleaning the guttering on my house and all the outside windows. I joined the local RSA, which is affiliated with the local Workingman's Club, about 5 years ago. I know they can provide help also in some areas. My friends and I go there for meals quite often.”

Veterans’ support

If you, or a someone you know, served in Southeast Asia with the Royal New Zealand Navy or the Royal New Zealand Air Force during the entire period under the expanded criteria for the NZOSM, or in the New Zealand Army from 1967 to 1974 but did not serve in Vietnam or have previous service in the Malayan Emergency, on the Thai-Malay border or in the Indonesian Confrontation, you have Qualifying Routine Service and you can receive support from Veterans’ Affairs.9


Acknowledgements:

Ngā mihi nunui to Pam for speaking to us about her life and military experience. It was a great opportunity to learn about a lesser known part of New Zealand’s overseas military experience.

Many thanks to Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Christopher Pugsley, ONZM, DPhil, FRHistS for providing subject matter expertise in the Accompanied Postings section.


References

1 Expanded criteria for NZOSM for service in South East Asia (2021, 3 November). New Zealand Defence Force.

2 Daphne was also very involved in the “Service Women Project” that collated thousands of names for Online Cenotaph during the early 2000s.

3 ANZUK stood for the Australia-New Zealand-United Kingdom treaty.

4 Old Changi Hospital. (November 2019). Singapore Infopedia.

5 Pugsley, C. (2003). From emergency to confrontation : the New Zealand armed forces in Malaya and Borneo 1949-1966. Oxford University Press : Melbourne.

6 Ibid, p.44.

7 Ibid, p.180.

8 'New Zealand military base in Singapore', (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Sep-2017

9 This support does not include the Veteran’s Pension, commemorative funding or burial in a service cemetery.

Cite this article

Passau, Victoria. Pamela Todd in Singapore. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 2 March 2023. Updated: 5 April 2023.
URL: www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph/features/Pamela-Todd