Deep within a world that is now missing from much of Singapore, lies a reminder how life might once have been; one of carefree days spent by the sea, and of quiet nights gazing at the stars. It is a world that doesn’t exist anymore and one that many would find hard to go back to.
This reminder, takes the form of the former residence of the late Howard Edmund Cashin, a prominent lawyer and sportsman in his time. Perched on a pier like structure that stretches over mud flats from an area of the mangrove dominated the north-western shores of Singapore, The Pier, as Mr. Cashin referred to the residence, was one that also boasted of an expansive garden from which one can be serenaded by the songs of the sea. Left vacant following Mr. Cashin’s passing in 2009, “The Pier” reminds me of gentler days, of times when the escapes to or taking up residence in seemingly far-flung and idyllic coastal locations across our island seemed the fashion. And, with most of these places since been lost to land reclamation, these are moments and places that we can never again see.
“The Pier” had served Mr Cashin’s for close to 50 years. Based on newspaper articles and oral history interviews, I understand that the Cashins, Howard and his wife Gillian, moved in to “The Pier” in the 1960s. It was however well before that that the pier had been constructed, the pier itself having been put up in 1906 by Mr Cashin’s father as a means to move rubber from his vast Cashin estate in Lim Chu Kang to Kranji from where it could be transported by road. The house we see on it, was largely added in the 1920s.
“The Pier” is significant from a historical perspective, having been on of the sites where the Japanese Imperial Army’s 5th Division first landed on the north-western coastline in the dark days of early February 1942 that was to lead to the eventual fall of Singapore. The site was where the Japanese invaders out-fought the Australian 22nd Brigade. This despite the Australians defending valiantly and having inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese. The battle, fought over the night of the 8th of February, was to see some 360 Australian troops losing their lives in the relatively small area of land around “The Pier”. The Japanese were to erect a war shrine at the site. This was something that Mr. Cashin had difficulty removing after the war as it was not easy to find workmen willing to demolish the shrine. Mr. Cashin, in an interview, said that the stone from the pedestal the shrine had stood on was used to construct the road to the house that Mr. Cashin was to add before he moved in in the 1960s.
One of the things I was to learn from N. Sivasothi or Siva, who had been kind enough to ask me along for a recce he was conducting of the mangroves close to “The Pier” (see my previous post), was that the then Sultan of Johor (the late father of the current Sultan) was a frequent visitor. His Highness would drop in on the Cashins for tea, coming over by boat across the Straits of Johor; the first of his visits was at low tide and this required the assistance of a huge man in the Sultan’s entourage to carry His Highness on his shoulders over the mud of the tidal flats. This, a reminder of times when borders did not exist, both in the physical sense of the word as well as in the minds of many who lived on either side of the Causeway.
With that gentle world now lost, “The Pier” stands as one of the few reminders left of that world. Now vacant, the ownership of “The Pier” has been passed on to the Singapore Land Authority and thankfully, it is not one we would soon be saying goodbye to as often is the case with many abandoned homes that eventually, would fall into decay, the initial word was that it could see use as a field station. I know at least that it will be there to return to. And, while it may not be a return to a place that I once knew, it will be to a place from which I can be transported back to places and times forgotten that would otherwise exist only in the dreams I have of yesterday.
Update on status of the house (source: URA Draft Master Plan 2013 exhibition in Nov/Dec 2013):