Tanah Merah, 1965

22 05 2017

Old photographs, of much cherished places that are no longer with us in Singapore, are a godsend. They help me to hold on to my sanity in a country that due to the relentless pace of change, feels much less like home with each passing day.

A set of such photos arrived in my inbox over the weekend. Taken in 1965 and sent by Ian Brooks, the photos are first in colour that I have come across of the Tanah Merah Besar area of my early childhood. The photos are especially precious for two reasons. One, the show a house perched on a set of cliffs (yes, cliffs!) and two, they also show one of many machine-gun pillbox that were then a fairly common sight.

The area in which these were taken – where the seaward end of Tanah Merah Besar Road turned northeast or left into Nicoll Drive and right or southwest to Wing Loong Road – was a gateway into a most magical of places, the Tanah Merah of my early childhood. That Tanah Merah was one of seaside kampungs, coconut groves, beach-side villas – one of which belonged to Singapore’s first Chief Minister, David Marshall – and holiday bungalows (see also: Once Tanah Merah and also Mata Ikan) and one that provided me with some of the most memorable moments of my early childhood.

Sadly, nothing is left of it except for a Tanah Merah Besar Road that now ends at a fence (belonging to Changi Airport’s western perimeter), and the memories of a world that if not for the photographs that still exist, would surely fade away.




15 responses

22 05 2017
Malcolm Soh

I remember driving down Tanah Merah, then along Nicoll Drive to the back gate onto the airfield when working there in the 1970s, and out of the gate and across Nicoll drive onto the beach for a swim during lunch breaks, or into one of the beach bars for a drink or snack. Those were the days!

23 05 2017

Hard to imagine that these days. Thanks for sharing your memories.

24 05 2017
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

The beach side cafes were wonderful! One had really good Mee Goreng. There was also one that operated out of a pillbox.

27 05 2020

Wow, these photos are wonderful! For a Long time I had often wondered at the descriptions of Seaside ‘cliffs’ on the eastern end of Singapore, and wanted to find photos of these places. Does that mean that Tanah Merah Besar road was once by the sea, and all the airport to the east of it is actually reclaimed land? Hard to imagine…

23 05 2017

Aerial photos of the place can be found in http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

24 05 2017
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

There also are a couple of aerial photos, courtesy of Peter Chan, in this post: Once Tanah Merah,on one of which the cliffs are clearly visible.

23 05 2017
David Sim

Thanks for sharing! I never got to know the Singapore of the 1960s and to know that it was so scenic then…with a horizon that is so devoid of clutter from ships. From a photography standpoint, the color photos from an era where colors in photos were a premium is an added interest to me here. Thanks!

24 05 2017
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Colour was expensive to process in those days and hence not widely used. The eastern coast was particularly beautiful and was in days when not many could afford jetting off, a place to holiday at (that is if one had to time and means to indulge in such a luxury).

24 05 2017
Valerie Parry

Is so nice to hear about and see these places. To me Singapore viewed through the eyes of a child was magical. This was back in 50`s. And this was just in passing through on the way to British North Borneo as it was known in those days..
Yes gone are those days never to return.

25 05 2017
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

It is wonderful that you remember Singapore that way, Valerie! 🙂

25 05 2017
Ben Choong

Thanks for the beautiful write-up. I guess all these were given way to the current Changi Airport. It’s sad to see them go but it’s necessary for the nation progress..

25 05 2017
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

What perhaps makes it sadder is that we are now deprived of access to many of the coastal areas we have replaced places like this with.

7 08 2020
Noramalina binte nordin

May i know,does,this place call tanah merah,besar road,for working an housemaid there?
How far can go there?is it near anywhere?🤔

27 01 2021
John Harper

The top photo of two blond boys playing on what we used to call Paradise Beach is very reminiscent of me and my two brothers in 1957 age 10, 9, and 7. Sun bleached hair pootling about in warm water. The house perched atop the the sandstone cliff.

21 05 2021
John Harper

On the second photo the concrete pill box was where one day my mother suddenly shouted at us to get off the beach and into the pill box. She had seen a water spout form and it was moving in our direction. We watched from inside the box and it hit the wall and deflected off towards the lump of rock below the house and then dissappeared.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.