The STD hospital at Tanglin and a world renowned allergist

11 01 2019

The relative isolation of Loewen by Dempsey Hill within the former Tanglin Barracks is a clue to how its buildings might originally have been used, as a military hospital that was known as Tanglin Military Hospital. Established at the end of the 1800s in what were attap roofed barrack-like buildings, it served as the military’s main medical facility for its European contingent of troops on Singapore’s main island until Alexandra Military Hospital was opened in mid-1940.

No. 32 Company, RAMC at Tanglin Military Hospital c. 1930 (source: Wellcome Library via Wikipedia).

With British units involved in the Great War in Europe, Tanglin Military Hospital was manned by members of the Singapore Volunteer Field Ambulance Company during that period.

The hospital, which has certainly had a colourful past, was among the locations where the Singapore Mutiny of 1915 was played out. That incident saw a party of Sepoy soldiers raiding Tanglin Barracks. Among the locations the mutineers entered was the hospital. Patients were driven out and personnel shot at. The mutineers succeeded in scattering guards and liberating Germans prisoners. The hospital staff were reported to have “displayed great resource and bravery in attending to the wounded and in remaining within the vicinity of their post” during the incident.

Block 72 during days when the Ministry of Defence occupied Tanglin Barracks. Buildings within the cluster at Loewen was put to use by the SAF Medical Corps, HQ 9 Division and also the Music and Drama Company.

The opening of the new military hospital at Alexandra, saw the hospital’s role reduced to one used primarily for the care of soldiers afflicted with skin conditions and diseases of a sexual nature. A significant part of the hospital was in fact already dedicated to this even before the move. Infections of the nature were apparently quite common among the troops and as a main hospital, one of Tanglin’s two large ward buildings was already given to this use.

The former military hospital’s general ward.

It was in its days as a hospital for skin diseases and STDs that a young doctor, Dr William Frankland, was posted to it. Now 106 (and still working!), Dr Frankland has since acquired the reputation of being the “Grandfather of allergy” – for his pioneering work in the field. His remarkable life and accomplishments has been celebrated in many ways, including through the publication of his biography “From Hell Island To Hay Fever: The Life of Dr Bill Frankland” in October 2018. This biography would probably not have read very differently, or not have been written at all, if a toss of a coin not long after he had arrived in Singapore late in 1941 had not been in Dr Frankland’s favour.

The building where the hospital’s dermatology and venereal diseases wards were located.

The toss decided who would take on the seemingly more appealing role of treating patients with dermatological conditions and venereal disease and involved Dr Frankland and another newly arrived colleague with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), Captain R. L. Parkinson. A choice had been offered to both and it was either to have been this, or an Anaesthetist at Alexandra, which neither doctor fancied. Quite sadly for Parkinson that toss would seal his fate. He was killed on the 14th day of February 1942 during the Alexandra Hospital massacre, while administering anaesthesia to a patient on the operating table.

Another view of the buildings used by the military hospital at Loewen by Dempsey Hill.

The long career of Dr Frankland, who is now considered to be Britain’s oldest doctor, has been especially eventful. He is best known for the introduction of pollen counts in weather reports. He also has had the privilege of working under Sir Alexander Fleming and counted among his patients, a certain Saddam Hussein. More information on Dr Frankland can be found at the following links:


This story was shared during the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets State Property visit to Dempsey Hill “Healing in the Garrison” in November 2018. The visit was supported by the Singapore Land Authority, Dempsey Hill and Saint George’s Church.



				

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