The RAF Base at Butterworth had one squadron of RAAF Buffalo fighters at the beginning of WW2. During the War, the Base was badly damaged by the Japanese. After the War, it was re-formed, with RAF aircraft using it for raids against Communist terrorists in Malaya. Work on the present Base was started in 1955 by the RAAF No.2 Airfield Construction Squadron whose few dependent children attended either the RAF School at Butterworth or the British Army Children's (BAC) School at Penang. However, in 1958, Nos.3 and 77 Squadrons of Sabre jet fighters and No.2 Canberra Bomber squadron came from Australia to Butterworth with the various supporting units, thus greatly increasing the number of dependants.
RAF School and BAC School
The RAF School had a Headmaster and two assistants; the BAC School in Northam Road had a Headmaster, a DHM and 8 to 10 assistants. Both schools taught only primary classes. When there were only a few Australian children, they were enrolled at these schools, with most of the Secondary children remaining in Australia or being enrolled in Australian Correspondence Schools. However, the British Service component was being scaled down in Penang; the Australian Army contingent was moving to Malacca - only the RAAF component of the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve was increasing in size. The Headmaster of the BAC School would now accept Australian children only when British children were repatriated. At one stage, it was suggested that two additional rooms and toilets be built at the RAF School with some Australian teachers being provided. Neither remedy was regarded as suitable for the 25 children aged between 5 and 11 in June1958, with a possible increase to 150 by February 1959. A few children were admitted to private schools on the island - the Education Officer, Flt Lt Tom Kelly, assisted correspondence students in his own home.
Minden Barracks was the home of the Australian battalions while in Malaya (from 1955), in the foothills on the eastern side of the island. The barracks were made up of dorms and married quarters. Students of the BAC School were moved to Minden Barracks and it was at that time the first contingent of Australian children attended the school.
At the Base, the problem of schooling soon received attention. With the agreement of the Department of Air, the former residence of the Mayor of Georgetown in Residency Road, Penang, was leased to provide accommodation for an interim school. A local contractor supplied 200 desks and chairs of various sizes as a rush job. Wing Commander Howard from the Department of Air and Sqn Ldr Davies, the Group Education Officer, managed to select eight ex-teacher wives of RAAF and Army Servicemen. Under the leadership of Mrs Dawson, the wife of the Civilian Financial Adviser, Mrs Donald, Mrs Francis, Mrs McIntosh, Mrs O'Donoghue, Mrs Pointon, Mrs Thomas and Mrs Uhlmann took on the task of opening the Interim RAAF School on 25 October 1958, with an enrolment of 150 - this had increased to 177 by 2 December 1958.
All children living on the island joined the school - Primary and Secondary children on the mainland were brought by bus each day but the infant children at Butterworth were able to attend the RAF School. Unlike the British schools where classes were held in the mornings from Monday to Saturday, the Interim School opened only on five days, as in Australia, with two afternoon sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Secondary children taking correspondence courses also came to the school; they worked on their assignments under the supervision of Mrs Dawson.
The regular Hercules carrier brought the new lessons from Australia and returned the completed assignments. A little while before Mrs Dawson and her small band of teachers were trying to cope with the very makeshift conditions, a somewhat belated meeting had taken place at the Victorian Department of Education on 20 October, 1958. At the meeting were: Mr O.C.Phillips, Chief Inspector of Primary Schools, Victoria, Mr O.Jones, M.A., Director of Primary Education, N.S.W., Mr F.J.Green, Chief Administrative Assistant Air Member for Personnel, W/Cdr G.H.Newman, Principal Education Officer, RAAF, and F/Lt C.H.A.Armstrong,Senior Education Officer Designate RAAF Base, Butterworth. It was decided to provide a school completely separate from the British Service schools, based on Penang Island, and to staff it with teachers from Victoria and New South Wales, with Victoria providing the Headmaster. Classes would range from Kindergarten to the second year of secondary schooling; while children in the more senior years would attend the school, they would enrol in the Correspondence School of their own state with only incidental assistance being provided by the RAAF School staff.