The History of 51 Field Squadron (Airfields) Royal Engineers

The Squadron was formed in 1965, filling its establishment and working up at Claro Barracks in Ripon in the latter half of that year. It was one of four Squadrons forming or converting to the Airfields role, in the case of 10 Squadron, to take over responsibilities of support to the RAF from the “Airfield Construction” Branch of the RAF. The other two “new” Squadrons were formed at RAF Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire, 10 Squadron being based in Aden at the time.

Some members of the Squadron thought that, Ripon had been chosen as our base to assist with the acclimatisation required for service in Singapore. Others thought that it was because nobody loved us. Still more because it was the closest thing to a prison without actually being one. The “Yorkies” amongst us just drooled and made life hard for the rest.

At the end of January 1966 the bulk of the Squadron started on the 24+-hour journey to join the advance party in what was to be the largest Engineer Squadron on establishment for nearly 3 years. This started with a session of concentrated acclimatisation training which was to last until our arrival at Paya Lebar Airport Singapore. The Manchester rain represented the worst of the Monsoon and the flight the other depravations of heat and humidity, the air conditioning system either broken or unable to cope. After the obligatory delays in boarding, aircraft unserviceable, it was deemed to be too heavy and the required weight in kit then off loaded.

The Bristol Britannia on loan from “Transglobe Airways” clawed its way Eastward stopping at Bahrain and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. On arrival in Singapore the heat and humidity were roughly the same 95% and 95 degrees. It was then that those whose kit had been left behind discovered the fact, it was mostly “pads” if I remember, and there were not too many accompanied personnel on the flight.

The Squadron settled down to life on an RAF station, RAF Seletar to be precise, and started the take-over and work up to replace 5001 Squadron RAF. We inherited some strange equipment, exchanged some good for some rather dated and tried to keep some of the “spare” toolkits that the RAF had, to little or no avail. We also inherited some personnel from the RAF, mostly to the great benefit of the Squadron as it helped ease the process of familiarisation with RAF procedures.

The Squadron was withdrawn from Singapore as part of the “withdrawal from East of Suez” plan in 1968. 51 reformed in June 1968 at Waterbeach Barracks as part of 39 Engineer Regiment (Airfields). During its time in the Far East it carried out tasks on the following RAF Stations, Seletar, Tengah, Changi, Gan, China Rock, Labuan, Kuantan, Gong Kedah. In addition it built an airfild at Marang in Kelantan Malaya, which no doubt improved, is still in use today. The squadron completed numerous MACC tasks all over Singapore and became arguably the strongest sporting Squadron in the Corp, winning numerous cups from station to Command level.

On the return to the UK a number of personnel were posted out and within a matter of weeks both new and old were out on detachment in support of the RAF in the UK. The next 30 months were just as busy and the “Black Ant” was seen in British Virgin Islands, Canada and Libya as well as numerous RAF stations.

Since October 1970 the Squadron has had a number of name and role changes and even returned to Ripon around 1976, the Squadron today I am sure is just as successful as its predecessors and hopefully the “Black Ant” lives on.


Currently there are around 6 or 7 of the original members in-touch, the construction of this site came about as a result of a meeting of 4 for basically the first time since the late sixties. We have a nominal role of just over 150 names to date and would like to add to it. It is primarily for those ex members but certainly not exclusively.

We are ware of one or two that have passed on but if there are any ex members or you know of someone who is then please contact me with the details. Addresses and contact numbers will not be stored on a computer let alone the site, but I am happy to pass on details to others if you wish that to happen. The same rules apply to anyone that served in the Squadron regardless of when, currently there will not be a guest book, but who knows. I would like copies of photographs, either electronic or paper, photocopies do not scan well so are unlikely to be published, but would still be appreciated.

This is not an official MOD or Squadron site. Any views expressed are personal views expressed by the author. The web master reserves the right to “edit” any correspondence that is published on the site.

I served in the Squadron from October 1965 until October 1970, mainly in Construction Troop, latterly as a driver and Sigs NCO. R

Ron Snook

Click Here to see the current gallery of photos.

This website was originally set up a number of years ago on behalf of my father (Ron). Unfortunately he passed away in 2012, however, if anyone reads this and wants to get into contact with fellow former Black Ants, you may be interested in this site: Beef