Book - Airmails from, through and to Singapore and Malaya, Volume 1
“Airmails from, through and to Singapore and Malaya, Volume 1”
by Dr Chua Eu Tiong
293 pages | hardbound
This book was written with the hope of bringing together the historical facts and the tangible physical evidence of the achievements of the early aviators who flew from, through and to Singapore and Malaya.
The best physical evidence was the letters the aviators carried. These were the very early days of aviation, often with daredevil feats as they tried to break speed records with minimal fuel, weight carried, and sleep. Death met many an aviator in their pursuit for recognition. But it was death in the activities they loved. Poignant….
They were taking off and landing without specially made landing strips and race courses, and football fields had to suffice. Some aviators thought the seaplane was a better bet, landing in the sea as they chose port cities for their destinations. Singapore fitted that bill of being a port city as well as having a race course for land-based planes. The sea too was dangerous, as an unexpected wave could flip the plane and end the aviator’s chase for a record. It was a time when no mechanics were on the ground to service their planes, and the aviator had to carry one on board the already crowded and flimsy machine. Neither was fuel available at their destination or along the way, so they had to carry enough for such daring flights. Sponsorship was an issue too, and they often came from aircraft manufacturers and fledging airlines wanting to win contracts and to show the possibility of such flights.
The early days of aviation in this region consisted primarily of demonstration flights. The very early ones merely flew in the air for a couple of minutes and were more a spectacle with a carnival atmosphere. Joyrides would probably have occurred had the price to be paid for such a ride been within the means of the spectators! There were more serious flights made, flights that showed the possibility of mail carriage and speeding up of mail between towns in Malaya and with Singapore. These were carried out by the Air Survey Company in 1926 in Sarawak, and between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
The second part of the book traces the development of airmail and passenger services and the rivalry between the two major airlines, Imperial Airways and the Dutch KLM, as they served Singapore and the Malayan region. Politics played some part in their ability to provide service, but it was eventually cost and speed that mattered more. The Dutch KLM service was often more expensive and faster than that of the British Imperial Airways. Both services were equally used unless the differences in the airmail charges were so great. This occurred in 1938 when Imperial Airways reduced the airmail rate to a mere 8c from the previous 25c for mail to England. KLM kept theirs to 60c. Nevertheless, the reader will see the higher rate (60c) still being used, because the service was more frequent and faster, although such usage was not common. The World War in 1939 disrupted the air service in Europe. The “horseshoe route” was developed via South Africa instead of going from the Middle East across the Mediterranean to the United Kingdom. That new route was rather long and erratic, and mail sometimes took months to get to the United Kingdom.
What goes up sometimes comes down with a crash, and such “crash mail” is to be told in the next story.
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