Norman Henry Taylor
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Air Ministry Works Department
His Life and Work
Composed by Lesley Dawe
Before World War II - 1903 - 1941
Norman Henry Taylor was born 10th March 1903 at Buckhurst Hill, Essex, England. He obtained a BSc Engineering, (Hons) Degree from London University and became a Civil Engineer.
In 1925, he left England to live in Singapore where he worked as Asst Eng for the Singapore Municipal Corporation. While there, he served as Sgt in C [Scottish] Company 1SSVF [Singapore Volunteer Corps] from 1926 until about 1934.
On 25th May 1929, he married Dulcie Rowena Myles, the daughter of John Barker and Daisy Mabel Myles. Norman and Dulcie had 3 children, John Graham Henry (b.1930), Roland Norman Myles (b.1934) and Penelope Ann (b.1946). They had 6 grandchildren, Daryl, Lesley, Simon, Claire, Larissa and Sonali.
Upon returning to England in 1931, he completed an MSc (Engineering) at London University and later that same year, returned to Singapore with Dulcie and infant, John, where he became a Partner at a Company which he jointly founded, Cowling & Taylor, Singapore.
In July 1934, 2nd son, Roland was born. By this time, Norman had also obtained 3 worldwide patents for :
- Reconditioning of Asphalt Road Surfacing and Paving mixtures,
- Apparatus for measuring stability of Asphalt Paving mixtures.
- Use of rubber-bitumen mixtures in road surfacing.
In 1935, he once again returned to England where he became Managing Director of Recondo-Malatex Ltd, London for several years.
Norman applied for an appointment as a Civil Engineer in 1939 with the British Air Ministry Works Directorate in Singapore. He was successful in his appointment as he had previously been an Engineer with the Singapore Municipality and could speak the Malay language. He and Dulcie then relocated back to Singapore with infant Roland. Their eldest son John had been admitted to Eltham School, England as a boarder.
While living in Singapore, Norman was working as a Civil Engineer, developing various processes for laying self-curing joint-less rubber flooring which had been used successfully in Singapore since 1932. Sadly, after the war was over in 1945, his world-wide patents had expired but the processes he’d developed were being used all over the world.
By December 1941, the Japanese invaded Malaysia and Norman was given the rank of Squadron Leader R.A.F.V.R. Norman’s young brother-in-law, (Dulcie’s brother), Lieutenant John Stanley Myles – nicknamed “Billy”, was on active duty defending Kuantan, Malaysia from the invading Japs. He was with the Royal Garhwali Rifles. As the invading army was nearing Singapore, so “Billy” was retreating southwards. At the end January 1942, Norman volunteered to remain in Singapore, while many RAF and civilians evacuated. He took charge of the remaining RAF and Govt Engineers. He was also responsible for maintaining airfields and locating suitable sites for temporary runways which could be used by the RAF upon their planned return to Singapore a few weeks later. They only returned 3 ½ years later. Norman was the only Air Force Officer still on active service at the fall of Singapore.
Norman and Dulcie’s younger son, Roland (6), was sent to England as a refugee on an evacuation ship with a family friend, Mrs Ivy Wilson, on 31st January 1942. The ship sailed via Colombo to Durban, South Africa. Once there, refugees were transferred to a camp where they stayed for several weeks. They subsequently boarded another ship, finally reaching Liverpool on 16th March 1942. The respective ships were the Reina Del Pacifico and the USS Wakefield.
Then the Japs started landing on Singapore Island on the 8th February 1942. Sadly, on 10th February, Dulcie’s brother, Lt John Stanley Noel Myles, was killed by the Japs in an ambush, along with some of his colleagues while fighting their way through rubber plantations near Kranji, Singapore. He was buried near the junction of Thomson and Mundai Roads in Singapore.
Dulcie and her parents left Singapore on 12th February 1942 on an evacuation ship, the Empire Star with other RAF personnel and civilians. The ship was bombed repeatedly but arrived safely in Glasgow.
POW YEARS 1942 - 1945
On 15th February 1942, Singapore surrendered to the Japs and Norman became their prisoner of war. Here is a little information about the camps he was in.
16th February 1942 – 5th November 1942 - Changi Camp, Singapore
All POW’s were marched to Fairy Point, Changi Camp. While there, Norman enrolled for an Architectural course through a University which had been started. POW’s were finding cooking standards very poor and Norman suggested to Major Chamier that the POW’s should attempt to make bread. Chamier put him in charge of the kitchen and with a selected team, they soon earned themselves a good reputation for their creative, nutritious and interesting meals produced for fellow POW’s. At the End of August after refusing to sign an undertaking not to escape, all POW’s were marched to Selerang where 17000 men were made to sleep in accommodation only meant for 700.
There is record of Norman leaving Singapore on 5th November 1942, by train for Thailand with Letter Party ‘M’ Overland under the command of Lt. Col. G.E. Swinton 2nd Battalion, The East Surreys. It was a difficult 5 day journey as they travelled up north towards Bahn Pong, Thailand.
11th-14th November 1942 - Bahn Pong Camp
14th-15th November 1942 - Kanchanaburi Camp
15th-23rd November 1942 - Chungkai Camp
23rd November – 15 December 1942 - Wan Lain Camp
He was appointed Messing Officer/Head Cook in the kitchen but contracted tonsillitis (suspected diphtheria).
16th – 24th December 1942 - Chungkai Hospital
He spent time convalescing before returning to Wan Lain Camp to resume his duties as Head Cook.
24th December 1942 – 21st January 1943 - Wan Lain Camp
He was Messing Officer in the canteen.
21st January – End February 1943 - Tarkelin Camp
He worked in the cookhouse. His job was to cook food, collect firewood and water. His team also carried the food up to the lines and to parties who were working on the railway and in sanitation gangs.
End February – 10th March 1943 - Nonpradai Camp
He worked in the Cookhouse as a cook.
10th – 26th March 1943 - Tarkelin Camp
Norman developed ulcers on the leg.
26th March – 21st December 1943 - Chungkai Camp
Norman’s first job in camp was to cart water in handcarts from the river up to the hospital often in muddy conditions, half a mile away. He was later appointed to manage production of cooked food and coffee in the Camp’s kitchens so he could provide “special” meals for other POW’s. While here, he developed yellow jaundice and was booked off sick. He developed more ulcers on his legs and spent a short time at Chungkai Hospital. When his convalescing period was over, he was attached to the Chungkai Cemetery Party to help lay out grave sites. The overall completion of work on the railway line - end November 1943.
22nd December 1943 – July 1944 - Chungkai Hospital Cookhouse
He was appointed Hospital Messing Officer / Head Cook / Dietician to 2000 patients at the hospital. Very soon he had created a number of diets to specifically suit the patients requirements and even the Doctors became interested in the meals being produced by him. Work on the northern end of railway line was completed. Australian troops, RAF Air crew and British soldiers started arriving back at Chungkai Camp.
Early July 1944 – Spring 1945 - Kanchanaburi Camp
Joined a French language refresher group and also joined a Bamboo party. The job was to collect bundles of bamboo 5 miles out of the camp and bring them back into camp.
POW’s were taken by train to Bangkok where they spent 3 weeks at the East Asiatic Warehouse before being taken to Nakhon Nyok.
28th August 1945
Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces and in Sept 1945, the war is declared to be over. In September 1945, Norman’s personal belongings were returned to him and he was flown from Bangkok Airport to Rangoon, then Calcutta. From Calcutta, he boarded the Imperial Airways seaplane bound for Southampton, England. After a few weeks of rehabilitation he was finally permitted to return home to Dulcie in Osterley, Middlesex, where he said that he was “ready to pick up the threads of his life again”.
POST WAR 1946 - 1988
1st October 1946, Norman was mentioned in Despatches “In recognition of gallant and distinguished service in Malaya during the operations against the Japanese”. He was also made Freeman of the City of London.
On 22nd November 1946, he and Dulcie had their third child, a daughter, Penelope Ann.
Between 1946-1947, he became a Business Partner : Cowling & Taylor, London and later, Founder Director, Recondo Limited. During 1947, he negotiated a contract with the City Engineer for use of Recondo process in Bombay. He erected plant and crushers for first Recondo contract and also laid experimental surfacing using latex in asphalt mixture on Fullerton Road, Singapore. Then in 1950 Norman, Dulcie and young daughter Penny, relocated to Bombay where Norman was appointed Manager of Civil Engineering Dept, Anglo Thai Corp Ltd. He introduced mechanised laying of asphalt paving on Vincent Road, Bombay and was Technical Adviser to Recondo Ltd.
In 1956, he purchased first Blaw-Knox pneumatic tyred asphalt finisher which was to be used in India. During the following year, 1957, he successfully introduced the use of large continuous asphalt mixers which had originally been sold as scrap in Calcutta.
1958, Norman became a Member of Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists. Between 1959-68, he introduced the laying of asphalt paving mixtures in Maharashtra, Madras, Bangalore, Cochin, Bhuj and Delhi.
He became a Member of Civil Engineers and Asphalt Paving Institute and General Manager for Recondo Private Limited in 1969.
It was in 1972 that he decided to return to England where he became Technical Adviser to Recondo Ltd on his retirement and purchased a house in Rustington, West Sussex.
Norman died aged 85 on 30th October 1988.