Sandwiched on a small plot of land off the Whitley Road stretch of the Pan Island Expressway (PIE), between the old Police Academy and the now infamous Whitley Detention Centre, is a little known road, Onraet Road. The road as well as its name, has an origin that has much to do with the Police Academy itself, as well as the detention centre, situated on a hill overlooking the road. Onraet Road was built to serve the Police flats that still sit somewhat obscurely in the background, and was named after a René Onraet, an Inspector General of the Straits Settlements Police from 1935 to 1939, who had made his mark in the fight against communism and gambling in the early part of the twentieth century. He was also credited with forming the Criminal Intelligence Department, which later became the Special Branch of the Police force, the predecessor of the dreaded Internal Security Department, which runs the Whitley Detention Centre, which was in the spotlight not too long ago for the audacious escape from it made by terrorist detainee Mas Selamat Kastari.
Most of us would have probably forgotten the Whitley Road before the PIE came into being, swallowing a substantial portion of the road as it was then, which along with the Police Academy, was perhaps known better for the Chinese cemetery that dominated most of the area and some large bungalows that stood around it. Onraet Road itself had a small community of mainly tenants of the Police quarters, built to house the rank and file of the Police trainees undergoing training at the Police Training Centre in 1954 (along with the road named after Onraet), which became the Police Academy, which had a community centre and even a primary school, Whitley Primary School, housed in a three storey building built in the fashion of the schools of the early 1960s, wedged in a narrow strip of land off Onraet Road, between the Whitley Road, the Police Academy and the Police flats. It is a school that I remember well, as my father taught at the school in the early 1970s, right up to the time it closed in 1975. The premises were annexed to the Police Academy subsequently and the building was used by the Police for a while before being torn down. It is interesting to note that based on my father’s recollections, the students mainly came from the nearby Police quarters, and many of their fathers who were Policemen, had originated from Malacca. A common answer when asked where they were going off to for the holidays was “Malacca”!
The area has changed substantially with the PIE cutting through it, the distinctive Police flats are still there, as is the old Police Academy and its large parade square, on which I remember seeing parades and rehearsals being carried out for the Police Tattoo which I could watch from a distance from the grounds of the school and when passing by on Whitley Road. Much of the graves that could be seen around have also gone – with perhaps only the ones around the Detention Centre and its surroundings left intact. I am not sure what will become of the old Police Academy, also known for its large sports field where we could watch football matches being played during the weekends. I suspect it would soon be redeveloped, and another charming part of Singapore would go the way of the many others which only remain in the memories of some of us.