Deep within a world that much of Singapore has lost lies a reminder of that life we once had, a life of carefree days spent by the sea, and quiet nights gazing at the stars. It is a world that for most, doesn’t exist anymore, one that many will find hard to go back to. That reminder is in the form of the former property of the late lawyer Howard Edmund Cashin which includes an expansive garden by the sea and an incredible house built on a pier like structure out over the mud flats and mangroves that still dominate the north-western coastline of Singapore. The house which has been left vacant shortly after Mr. Cashin’s passing in 2009, is one that reminds me of a time when escapes by the then remote, quiet and idyllic coastlines – many of which have been lost to land reclamation, were fashionable, as was living in remote locations by the sea. It reminds me of my own carefree days in the sun, accompanied by the sand and the sea in places that I will never be able to go back to, when Singapore was a much gentler place.
The house, named as “The Pier” by the Cashins, served as Mr Cashin’s home for close to 50 years. Based on newspaper articles from the Straits Times and oral history interviews, the Cashins, Howard and his wife Gillian, had moved in the 1960s. The pier had been built in 1906 by Mr Cashin’s father, intended to allow rubber to be moved from the vast Cashin estate in Lim Chu Kang to Kranji. The house on it was added in the 1920s.
The pier is significant from the perspective of the landings of the Japanese Imperial Army’s 5th Division along the north-western coastline during the dark days of February 1942, bringing in the initial waves of invaders in the lead-up to the fall of Singapore. It was at the pier that the Japanese out-fought the Australian 22nd Brigade, despite a valiant fight being put up that inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese, establishing a foothold. The battle, fought over the night of the 8th of February, was to see some 360 Australian troops losing their lives in the small area of land around the Pier, based on the article. The Japanese were to erect a war shrine in the plot of land – something that Mr Cashin reportedly had trouble finding workmen, who were willing to demolish it, after the war. The stone from the pedestal it stood on had apparently been used to lay the road in that Mr Cashin added before he moved in.
One of the things I was able to find out from N. Sivasothi or Siva who was kind enough to invite me to accompany him in his recce of the mangroves (see my previous post), was that the Sultan of Johor (the late father of the current Sultan), would drop in on the Cashins for tea, coming over by boat across the Straits of Johor – the first occasion of which he had to be carried in over the mud at low tide on the shoulders of a huge man in the entourage (the Sultan himself was said to be of a towering stature). I guess that again is a reminder of gentler times, times when borders did not really exist both physically and also in the minds of many who lived on either side of the Causeway.
While that gentler world has since been lost, we will still have at least The Pier that is left to remind us of it. The Pier which now lies vacant and its ownership has been passed on to the Singapore Land Authority, is not something that we would be saying goodbye to (as is often the case with many abandoned homes which eventually fall into decay). Siva was good enough to share some comforting news on its future, saying that it would see future use as a field station. I know that I can now look forward to going back from time to time, not to a place that I would have once known, but to a world that takes me back to those places that I did know that now remain only in my dreams of yesterday.
Update on status of the house (as seen at the URA Draft Master Plan 2013 exhibition in Nov/Dec 2013):