High above the naval base in Singapore stands a beautiful building called Old Admiralty House which was designed by Edward Lutyens. With views across the Straits of Johore it was destined to be the residence of the officer in charge of His Majesty’s Naval Establishments in Singapore. Although completed in 1939, this Arts and Crafts style house was not used until August 1941 when Rear-Admiral Ernest J Spooner and his wife arrived on the island.
|Old Admiralty House|
Mrs Spooner was better known as Megan Foster, an accomplished soprano singer, who had performed in concert halls all over Europe including Carol Concerts in the Albert Hall and broadcasts on BBC radio. The daughter of renowned baritone, Ivor Foster, she was, like her husband, Welsh by birth although they had both grown up in southern England. Megan had been praised in the British press for her, “delightfully fresh and pure soprano voice and beautifully clear enunciation.”
Megan looked forward to decorating her new house tastefully although it was already furnished with jade green leather armchairs and an immensely long dark, walnut finished, teak table. As soon as they had settled in, Ernest and Megan gave a cocktail party where 350 people were able to fit comfortably into the dining and drawing room.
Although Megan was used to being apart from her husband or travelling to Gibraltar to meet him briefly, now, in his senior rank, she accompanied him on the long voyage from Glasgow, through dangerous wartime seas. Sensibly they had left their son in an English boarding school.
Mrs Ernest Hemingway had written of Singapore in Colliers Magazine describing how she saw it in August 1941.
|Singapore Free Press & Mercantile Advertiser 18 October 1941|
Even Rear-Admiral Spooner was probably unaware how quickly this idyllic lifestyle would end and he would certainly not have asked Megan to accompany him if he had known that Singapore would fall to the Japanese Army only 6 months later. But fall it did. Megan was one of the lucky wives who managed to evacuate on the Empire Star on February 12th but by the time Ernest and his fellow officers boarded an escape vessel they were attacked by Japanese aircraft near Java. Ernest Spooner died on Chibia Island of exhaustion and malaria and after the war he was laid to rest at Kranji Cemetery in Singapore.
Megan Foster, as she continued to be known to the public, arrived in Britain on May 9th 1942 and she returned to singing on the BBC Home programme. It was some time before she learnt of her husband’s death at which point she sunk into grief until, encouraged by fellow singer Maggie Teyte, she began to perform again. She was very popular at children’s concerts, enjoying singing English and French folk songs. She received encores for her “perfect artistry” and “arrestingly dramatic quality.”
Old Admiralty House where Megan and Ernest lived happily, but so briefly, became a National Monument in 2002 but it was in danger of crumbling away before it was taken over by the FIS Institute School who have restored it beautifully.