The comfort station at Bukit Timah Fork

4 03 2020

Many of us would have encountered these houses along Jalan Jurong Kechil shown in the photographs below, without realising their dark past as comfort houses or stations. The operation of comfort stations was one of many unforgivable acts committed by the occupiers of Malaya and Singapore and for the matter, much of East Asia during second world war. The identification of these shophouses as a comfort station, was made in the 1990s by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, based on an Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) document. The document, which provided details of a “relaxation house” at “Bukit Timah Fork”, also provided details of how different units were allocated visiting times on different days, with officers allowed to visit in the evenings until 9 pm and those in the ranks the period between noon and 5.30 pm. Officers were also charged a higher rate.

These houses were identified by Asahi Shimbun as a Comfort Station, based on an IJA document.

Former comfort woman from Korea, have been involved in a long battle with Japan over the issue. Although Japan has acknowledged its role coercing women during the war to work as comfort women, this falls short of the apology and compensation that many demand. Many of the comfort women sent to Singapore were known to have been of Korean origin. One of the sites at which these Korean women received medical treatment – for sexually transmitted infections – one of the stories told during the recently concluded Battle for Singapore tours to the former CDC, was in Tan Tock Seng’s former Mandalay Road TB wards. This is just across Martaban Road from the former infectious diseases hospital.

 





The war memorial at Bukit Batok

19 02 2020

The Syonan Chureito (昭南忠霊塔) was a memorial to the fallen erected by the Japanese occupiers of Singapore built by Prisoners-of-War (POW) on Bukit Batok. While primarily intended to honour Japanese troops who fell during the Asia-Pacific war — it contained the remains of some 10,000 war dead (since moved to the Japanese Cemetery at Chuan Hoe Avenue) — the memorial also included a smaller section behind where a 10-foot high cross was put up to serve as a memorial for the allied soldiers.

The Syonan Chureito in 1942 (source: James Tann – http://ijamestann.blogspot.com/2012/06/bukit-batok-hill.html)

Japanese troops seen descending the steps of the Syonan Chureito’s in October 1942 – during the observation of the autumn Yasukuni Shrine festival.

The foundation stone for the chureito was laid in May 1942 by General Tomoyuki Yamashita and on 10 September 1942, the memorial was consecrated during a midday ceremony that was also attended by local representatives1. Crowned by a 40-foot high cylindrical wooden pole-like structure mounted on a two-tier base at the top of a long flight of steps, was surrounded by a wooden fence.  Another ceremony was held a day later to unveil the Allied memorial during which a wreath was laid by Lt-Col Cranston Albury McEachern, commander of the 2/4th Anti-Tank Regiment in the Australian Imperial Force.  The Syonan Chureito, along with the Shinto shrine Syonan Jinja were ritually destroyed by the Japanese prior to their surrender to prevent their desecration. All that remains of the memorial is the flight of steps – which now leads to a fenced-off transmission tower.

A sketch of the chureito and the memorial cross for Allied soldiers.

The consecration ceremony and the unveiling the next day of the Allied memorial is seen in the following clips (the first one from 2:43 into the clip):


Notes:

1 The local representatives included Ibrahim Haji Yaacob, representing the Malay community. Ibrahim, who was the founder of the leftist Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM) at a time of rising Malay nationalism in the period just before the second world war, was among 150 nationalists who were detained in Changi prison by the British colonial authorities in late 1941 – with the intention of transferring him to India. He was released when the Japanese took control of Singapore and would later be appointed commander of the Tentera Sukarela – the Malay volunteer force raised to help in Japan’s defence of Singapore.  The KMM is thought to have been Malaya’s first genuine nationalist party and among its aims was establishing Melayu Raya – a union of Malaya, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies. Ibrahim fled to Indonesia following the Japanese defeat and died there in 1979.  The other community leaders present were Dr Lim Boon Keng, Dr Charles Joseph Pemberton Paglar and Srish Chandra Goho – all of whom would, in varying degrees, have suspicions of collaboration cast on them after the war.






The formal surrender of Japanese forces in Southeast Asia in photographs

17 09 2019

The end of the Second World War came with the announcement made by Emperor Hirohito of Japan on 15 August 1945, it would take a few weeks for Japan’s formal surrender – first on 2 September 1945 on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay and in Southeast Asia at the Municipal Chamber of Singapore’s Municipal Building (City Hall and now the City Hall Wing of the National Gallery Singapore) on 12 September 1945.

A wonderful set of photographs of the surrender in Singapore – plus a couple from the arrival of a delegation of Japanese senior officers to discuss the surrender in August 1945 in Mingaladon Airfield in Rangoon, popped up on On a Little Street in Singapore. The photographs, which were posted by Ian Hepplewhite and were part of his father’s collection, are shared here with his kind permission.


Formal Surrender of Japan in Southeast Asia, 12 September 1945

(Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command, received the formal surrender of the Japanese forces in Southeast Asia from General Seishirō Itagaki on behalf of Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Southern Command of the Japanese Imperial Army)

“This is the series of pictures I have of my father’s showing the Japanese surrender to Mountbatten. I do have other images of Singapore from that time people may have already seen” – Ian Hepplewhite, on On a Little Street in Singapore.

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Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.


Mingaladon Airfield, August 1945

Japanese senior officers arriving at Mingaladon airfield in Rangoon (Yangon) Burma (Myanmar) to discuss surrender – shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Japanese senior officers arriving at Mingaladon airfield in Rangoon (Yangon) Burma (Myanmar) to discuss surrender – shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.


 





Extortion on Club Street

27 02 2019

The pain of the darkest of times that descended upon Singapore 77 years ago is still found in the hearts of many. That comes as no surprise, tens of thousands disappeared in the first weeks of the Japanese Occupation; a large number it has to be assumed, victims of the vicious purge we now refer to as “Sook Ching”.

The fear that the act instilled in the local Chinese population – the target of the purge – was an intended consequence. Many among the community’s elite had supported the resistance effort against the Japanese invasion of China in one way or another. Several were in detention and needed little persuasion to “cooperate” through the formation of the compliant Overseas Chinese Association. From the association’s members, “tribute money” could also be extracted.

The first act in the sequence that would lead 50 million Straits dollars being pledged, took place on the 27th of February 1942- as the murderous purge was being enacted. Its stage was the hall of the exclusive Goh Loo Club to which several senior members of the Chinese community were summoned. High on the agenda for that tense first meeting, which was set by a collaborator of Taiwanese origin, Wee Twee Kim, was the development of proposals for “cooperation”. The meeting is depicted in a wall mural at the club’s clubhouse, in which Dr. Lim Boon Keng – the association’s president designate – can quite easily be identified.

It was at subsequent meetings when the sum of money, which amounted to 20% of what was in circulation in Singapore and Malaya, was agreed upon – which can perhaps be thought of having put an end to the purge. Raising the amount required many in Malaya and Singapore to dispose of their assets, and depleted the savings the Chinese population held. It also took two deadline extensions and a loan of $22 million (taken from the Yokohama Specie Bank). A cheque would eventually be presented to General Tomoyuki Yamashita by Dr. Lim on 25 June 1942 at a 3 pm ceremony. This ceremony took place at the Gunseibu headquarters that was set up in the Fullerton Building.

The Goh Loo Club.
The mural.
The hall on the second level where the meeting took place.
A view of Club Street from the clubhouse.
A more agreeable depiction perhaps – with Yamashita behind bars.
A receipt to acknowledge a “donation” made towards the $50 million issued by the OCA (source: https://roots.sg/Roots/learn/collections/listing/1121258).

The Goh Loo Club

Founded in 1905, the club moved to its location on Club Street in 1927 and is one of a handful of exclusive establishments from which the street takes its name.

It was set up by a group of select Chinese businessmen and its members included Dr. Lim Boon Keng and Lee Kong Chian. Its name, 吾盧, which means “love hut” is apparently inspired by a poem written by the Jin dynasty poet Tao Yuanming in which he describes his house.

Its clubhouse bears many of the characteristics of the shophouse with the exception of its unusually large width. A consequence of this is the very obvious set of columns seen in the halls on the clubhouse’s lower floors.

Interestingly, the Basketball Association of Singapore was housed on the first level of the clubhouse from its founding in 1946, to 1971 – as can be surmised from the window grilles on the ground floor. The association was founded by Mr Goh Chye Hin, who was then the president of the Goh Loo Club.

The mural

The mural depicting the first meeting of the OCA, found on the outside wall of the clubhouse, was installed in 2016. Amongst the faces found on it is the reviled General Tomoyuki Yamashita. The mural also celebrates the members of the working-class Chinese community and prominent figures in the community such as the revolutionary leader, Dr. Sun Yat Sen.

The mural is best viewed from the compound of the Singapore Chinese Weekly Entertainment Club.

A reminder of the clubhouse’s association with the Basketball Association of Singapore.




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.



				




Remembering the volunteers on Remembrance Day

14 11 2018

Among the thousands whose names are inscribed on headstones and memorial walls at Kranji, are several hundred volunteers who gave their lives during the Second World War. Members of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (SSVF), their names reflect the diverse ethnic make-up found in Singapore, among which those of Eurasians, Malays, Indians, and Chinese volunteers cannot be missed. Along with the names of European origin, there is also of a Czech employee of Bata who was among those killed in the massacre at Alexandra Hospital.

Remembrance Sunday at Kranji.

While it has been some 70 years since we left the dark and dreadful days of the early 1940s behind us, it is important that the sacrifices made by these volunteers and by many more non-military volunteers whose names are known only to members of their respective families, are not forgotten. Thankfully, there are efforts to remember them such as in the observance that was held at 11 am on Remembrance Day at the former SSVF Drill Hall on Beach Road, at which a wreath was laid in their memory. The hall was once part of the former SSVF HQ and is now one of several conserved buildings within the complex at South Beach.

Two minutes of silence for the volunteers at the SSVF Drill Hall.

Two moving stories emerged during the observance, which was attended by a small group of folks, some of whom lost family members who volunteered during the war.

Áunty’Mary – Mary Magdelene Pereira placing a wreath for the volunteers at the Drill Hall,

One was told by “Aunty” Mary – Mary Magdelene Pereira – who laid the wreath. Born just after midnight on 22 January 1942 in an air-raid shelter in Tiong Bahru, Aunty Mary was the daughter her father wished for having already had two sons in the family. Her father, Callistus Raymond Pereira, would however, never get to see his daughter.

The air raid shelter at the bottom of Block 78 Guan Chuan Street – where Aunty Mary was born.

Answering the call of duty as Japanese bombs fell on Singapore on 20 January 1942, the Civil Defence volunteer – a devout Catholic – presented his heavily pregnant wife with an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour as he left; with the assurance that Our Lady would take care of his wife and the family in event that he did not return.  Mr Pereira never did return and late on 21 January 1942 – just hours before Aunty Mary was born –  he died after having been hit by shrapnel while helping with the evacuation of casualties from the bombings at Beach Road. More on Mr Pereira, Aunty Mary and the family, can be found at this link: Let Your Light Shine.

Another view inside the air raid shelter.

The other story involved two Eurasian brothers who were never seen again after reporting, as members of the SSVF, to the YMCA (which was used by the Kempeitai). All the family would know of the fate of the brothers was what the certificates of their deaths issued after the war, stated. Their presumed deaths were put down as an “alleged massacre” at the YMCA on 8 March 1942.

The old YMCA building at 1 Orchard Road – used by the Kempeitai during the Japanese Occupation.

What actually happened to them, when and how they perished, would probably never be known. There is however an account in which the circumstances of leading to their disappearance with some 70 others are explained – found in an April 1947 letter to the Straits Times. Using the pseudonym “A Comrade-In-Arms”, the writer of the letter described how the volunteers who reported on 8 March 1942 had been split into 3 groups, depending on when they had first reported. The first group, in which it should be assumed the brothers were, had been marched off and none in the group were never seen again.

The writer was in the second group, which along with the third group, escaped a similar fate when they were released.

The crest of the Singapore Volunteer Corps, the predecessor of the SSVF, at the Drill Hall.


Memorials visited after the observance

Civilian War Memorial


The Cenotaph

Memorial to the victims of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1915


 


Remembrance Day / Remembrance Sunday 

The guns of the Great War – the First World War, fell silent at 11 am on the 11th day of November 1918. Its anniversary is commemorated as Remembrance Day – or Armistice Day prior to the Second World War. An observance of Remembrance Day is now held on the Sunday closest to the 11th of November –  Remembrance Sunday – across the Commonwealth to remember those who died in both wars. Remembrance Sunday this year coincided with actual anniversary and took on a greater significance with it being the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War.

Remembrance Sunday at Kranji.

More on the observance:


 

 

 

 

 





Serendipity in the garrison church

8 11 2018

Places take on a greater meaning when we are made aware of the associations they have had; with people who have passed through them, or with their connection with significant events of our past.  Knowing these, and the stories that can be told of them, adds a new dimension to spaces and buildings to aid in our appreciation of them.

Saint George’s Church – the former Tanglin garrison church, one of the sites visited during November’s edition of #SLASecretSpaces.

Through the conduct of the series of guided State Property visits, “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets“,  many of these associations have come of light. The series, which is supported by the Singapore Land Authority, provides an opportunity for members of the public to visit usually closed-off State-held properties and often sees the participants with connections that may not otherwise have come to light. Examples include the much misrepresented Old Changi Hospital, the also much misrepresented former View Road Hospital, Kinloss House, and 5 Kadayanallur Street – just to name a few.

Inside Saint George’s Church.

The first Saturday in November, when a visit to the former Tanglin Barracks took place, threw up a connection, albeit of a different kind, that was established quite by chance. That would never have been possible if not for a series of coincidences that culminated in a guest, Garth O’Connell, making a discovery that he might not otherwise have known about. This serendipitous find was made inside Saint George’s Church right at the end of the visit and is perhaps best summed up in Garth’s own words:

“Just had a superb heritage walk around the former Australian and British Army base of Tanglin Barracks … at the end I had a huge serendipitous event relating to Bob Page DSO1 which freaked me and our tour group out! 😮

Those on the tour were given a free hard copy of the church centenary book at the end of tour. I put it my half full plastic bag which had bottles of water, tissues, map and umbrella. As I’m walking around the church taking pics the bag broke after a few minutes so sat down right away as the contents are all about to spill out and cause a scene. I sit down on the pews at the closest seat and it’s the only one dedicated to Bob Page DSO. I’ve given talks on him at work, I met his widow before she died about 2 years ago and every time I come to Singapore I visit his grave at Kranji War Cemetery. Bloody huge coincidence me just sitting down next to him in that big church.”

1Capt. Robert Charles Page, DSO, an Australian war hero who was executed by the Japanese in July 1945 for his involvement in Operation Rimau.

Garth with the kneeling cushion on which a dedication to Capt. Robert Page DSO is found. The book and the broken plastic bag is seen next to him (photo courtesy of Simone Lee).

This all seems rather uncanny, especially when one considers some other coincidences. Garth, who is with the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and based in Canberra, would not have been able to participate if not for a stopover he was making en-route to Kanchanaburi (where he will be attending a Remembrance Sunday event). It also turns out that the event, on 3 November, came just two days after what would have been the Pages 75th wedding anniversary –  Capt. Page and his wife Roma married on 1 November 1943. The first day of November also happens to be the day in 1945 that Mrs. Page received the telegram with news confirming her husband’s death.

A close up of the dedication on the kneeling cushion of the seat.

The wartime exploits of Capt. Page as a member of ‘Z’ Special Unit, are well recorded. The outfit, set up to carry out operations behind enemy lines, made a daring raid into the waters of Singapore in September 1943. Six very brave men including the then Lt. Page, paddled in teams of two through Japanese held waters in and around the harbour in canoes to sabotage Japanese shipping. This operation, Operation Jaywick, the 75th anniversary of which was commemorated recently, met with great success and resulted in the sinking or the disabling of 7 ships.

Capt. Robert Charles Page’s headstone in Kranji War Cemetery.

While the operation was went smoothly for the members of ‘Z’ Special Force, it was not without any fallout. One consequence of it was the so-called “Double Tenth Incident” that saw 57 civilians, who were wrongly suspected of having aided the operation, arrested and tortured. Among those arrested was Elizabeth Choy. While Mrs. Choy lived to tell the horrendous tale, 15 of her comrades did not, perishing at the hands of the Kempeitai.

Group portrait after the completion of Operation Jaywick, “Z” Special Unit, Australian Services Reconnaissance Department, showing the personnel who carried out the operation. (Source: AWM, Copyright Expired).

Following on the success of Jaywick, a second operation, Operation Rimau, was planned and in September to October 1944, executed. This operation turned out quite differently and had to be aborted during its execution and 23 men lost their lives as a result. Twelve were killed in the attempt to escape through the islands of what had previously been the Dutch East Indies. The 11 who survived initially were hunted down and eventually captured in the islands of the Riau and moved to Singapore. One succumbed to malaria after being brought across, while the remaining 10, Capt. Page included, were tried, convicted of spying, and sentenced to death.

Then Lt. Robert Page, Major Ivan Lyon, MBE, and Lt Donald Montague Noel Davidson, seen after the successful completion of Operation Jaywick. (Source: AWM, Copyright expired – public domain).

The 10 were beheaded on 7 July 1945, just over a month before the war would end. The very courageous manner in which they met their deaths is captured in a headline of a 1960 Straits Times article, which read:  “The men who went to their death laughing“.

The historic marker at the Rimau Commandos execution site.

A historical marker now stands at the execution site and provides a grim reminder of the sacrifice that the men made. This marker can be found close to U-Town,  at the Clementi Road end of Dover Road. The remains of the men, which were located after the war, were transferred to a collective grave in Kranji War Cemetery. The grave is marked by a row of 10 headstones, each with a name of one of the executed men.

The 10 headstones at the grave of the ten executed commandos.

Another view of the headstone of Capt. Robert Charles Page DSO.


More on Capt. Robert Charles Page DSO, Jaywick and Rimau, and Mrs. Roma Page:


LEST WE FORGET
Remembrance Sunday 11 November 2018

Remembrance Sunday, which falls on the Sunday closest to 11 November – the anniversary of the end of the Great War, provides an opportunity to pay our respects  to and remember the Rimau heroes and the many, many more who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace and freedom. The commemoration this year coincides with the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War.

Services will be held at various locations in Singapore on the day, including at Kranji War Cemetery. More information, provided by the British High Commission (which is co-hosting the Kranji commemoration with the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans’ League) can be found below.


 

The British High Commission in partnership with the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans’ League will be hosting the annual Remembrance Sunday service at Kranji War Cemetery on Sunday, 11 November 2018. The service starts at 7.30am, guest should arrive and be seated or in position by 7.15am.

The 30-minute ceremony will be attended by members of the diplomatic corps; Singapore and foreign military representatives and religious leaders and is held to pay tribute to all who died in wars so that the generations after them could live in peace.

In the UK, Remembrance Sunday is held on the Sunday nearest to Remembrance Day on 11 November; the date marks the official end of the First World War on 11 November 1918. This year, the dates also marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War 1.

Event details

Date : Sunday, 11 November 2018

Time : 7.30 am – Please arrive by 7.15am.

Venue: Kranji War Cemetery, 9, Woodlands Road, Singapore 738656

Dress code: Smart casual.

To note:

– Please carry an umbrella as shelter is limited in the event of rain.

– There are no restrooms on the cemetery grounds


 






Dark clouds on the northern horizon

8 10 2018

I have long thought of the Sembawang area as a final frontier, and a last part of modern Singapore in which much of yesterday remains to be discovered. Progress is however eating away at these remnants of a soon to be forgotten time; the latest bit of Sembawang being absorbed into the brave new world is the area’s last forested hill on which the grand Admiralty House is perched. Now with almost the entire western slope of the hill denuded, the settings that provided the house with its charm and also its much needed isolation for its eight decades of existence, will never again be the same.

Dark clouds on a northern horizon … the denuded western slope of the last forested hill in Sembawang.

Completed in 1940, the house with its distinctive Arts and Crafts inspired flavour, was built as the residence of the Rear Admiral, Malaya. Its scale and appearance would have been most fitting to house the  commander of the then newly opened Naval Base – the largest and most important of Britain’s bases east of the Suez. It would only acquire the name best known to most, Admiralty House, when it became the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s Far East Station in 1958.

Another view showing the extent of the clearance on the western slope.

Handed over to the Singapore Government in 1975 after a spell as the residence of the Commander of the ANZUK Force, the house – and the hill has since resisted the advance of concrete that has seen a new HDB town sprout up around it. Time was finally called on the hill when plans for a sports and community hub surfaced in the 2014 Master Plan. At the project’s launch in 2016, an announcement was made that some 200 of the hill’s mature trees, just over a quarter of the existing trees, would be retained – with a greater number of new trees planted. While this may be the case – even with most of the hill’s western slope now stripped bare – the terracing necessary for the project and the construction of new structures and footpaths, will permanently alter the hill’s character and add much unwelcome concrete to an already heavily concretised area.</p?

The still forested hill, seen in July 2016.

The hub, which will feature a food centre, a swimming complex, other sports and recreational facilities, is due to be opened in phases from the first half of 2020. It will eventually incorporate the former Admiralty House, a National Monument since 2002. Work on this phase will commence when Furen International School, vacates the house in 2020.

Another view of the hill in 2016.

More on the hub and the former Admiralty House can be found at:


The front of the former Admiralty House.

The house has been likened to an English country manor.

The view the house commanded until fairly recently.


 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: The house on Admiral’s Hill

1 09 2017

Update
1 September 2017 4.25 pm

Registration for the event has been closed as of 1621 hours, 1 September 2017. All slots have been taken up.

Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to the former Central Police Station (Beach Road Police Station) scheduled for 7 October 2017 at 10 am to 12 noon. More details will be released two weeks before the visit.


The fifth visit in the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets State Property Visits at takes us to the only tenanted property in the series, Old Admiralty House, at 345 Old Nelson Road, Singapore 758692. This visit is supported by Furen International School (FIS), the property’s occupant, and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

Visit details
Date: Saturday 16 September 2017
Time: Session 1: 9 to 9.45 am; Session 2: 10 to 10.45 am
Address: 345 Old Nelson Road, Singapore 758692
Participants should be of ages 12 and above.

Registration link for Session 1, 9 to 9.45 am:
https://goo.gl/forms/9Iom36FbbYfsLSFb2

Registration link for Session 2, 10 to 10.45 am:
https://goo.gl/forms/3TGG1oy2ppyyNUMh1

Registrations are on a first-come-first-served basis and will close for each session when all spaces are taken up.


JeromeLim-9465s

Old Admiralty House, perched atop the last forested hill in Sembawang.


Background to Old Admiralty House

JeromeLim-1568

The façade of the lovely Arts and Crafts Movement inspired house.

Conceived at the end of the 1930s as one of three intended residences for the most senior commanders of the British military’s three arms, the lovely Arts and Crafts styled house sits atop a hill situated at the edge of the Admiralty’s massive Naval Base. Meant to house the Commander of His Majesty’s Naval Establishments in Singapore, it only saw one as resident before the war broke out. It became the residence of the Flag Officer, Malayan Area as ‘Nelson House’ in September 1948 and then the residence of the Commander-in-Chief (C in C), Far East Station, as ‘Admiralty House’ in 1958 until the pullout of British forces in 1971.

Admiralty House become the residence of the Commander of the ANZUK Force post pullout. As part of a visit to ANZUK forces, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh had lunch at the house during a visit to Singapore in 1972.  As the official residence of the ANZUK forces commander (only two were resident), it became known as ANZUK House. Following the withdrawal of the Australian forces from the ANZUK arrangements in 1975 saw the keys to the house passed to the Singapore government.

Much has happened since the house left the service of the military. It opened as restaurant and guest house in 1978. In 1988, plans were announced to turn the building and its grounds into a country club with a caravan park. This use was however rejected and it was relaunched in mid 1989 as the Admiralty Country House. The house and its grounds would eventually play host to a country club, Yishun Country Club, in 1991. From 2001 to 2006, it became the Karimun Admiralty Country Club, during which time the building was gazetted as a National Monument (in 2002). It is slated to become part of the planned Sembawang Integrated Sports and Community Hub after FIS vacates it in 2020.

More on the history of the house can be found at: An ‘English Country manor’ in Singapore’s north once visited by the Queen.

(See also: Abodes of Singapore’s military history, The Straits Times, 6 October 2016)

JeromeLim-2163

Windows into the past.






Moving images of the Syonan Jinja at MacRitchie Reservoir

2 03 2017

A rare clip with scenes taken at a ceremony at the Syonan Jinja (from 1:23 to 3:30 in the clip), a shrine built during the Japanese Occupation with POW labour. The shrine was to have been a most beautiful of shrines with pebbled streams, stone lanterns, a stone stepped paths and torii gates and set in a 1,000-acre park with public recreational and sporting facilities. Pebbles, intended for the water filter beds at Bukit Timah, were diverted for its use. A new city was also to have been built around it. The grand plans were cut short with Japan’s defeat in the war and the shrine was destroyed before the British returned for fear of its desecration. More on the shrine can be found at this post: Lost places – the shrine across the Divine Bridge.

A worship ceremony involving Japanese troops at the opening of the Syonan Jinja in 1943 (source: http://www.himoji.jp/himoji/database/db04/images_db_ori/2200.jpg).

The opening of the Syonan Jinja in 1943 (source: http://www.himoji.jp/himoji/database/db04/images_db_ori/2200.jpg).

The clip apparently shows a ceremony taking place at the Syonan Jinja on 15 February 1943, the first anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, that involved children seen who had returned from civilian camps they were sent to in New Dehli in India when the war in the Far East broke out.





The ruins on Sentosa

3 02 2017

Sentosa, or the island of peace and tranquility and now also of posh homes, fancy boats and overpriced hotels, was once the rather sinister sounding Pulau Blakang Mati – the island of death at the back. No one seems quite sure of the origins of the name, although there have been several suggestions including one that is tied to the legend that Pulau Tekukor to Blakang Mati’s south had once seen duels to the death pitting Bugis warriors against ones from the Malay world.

Ruins on Mount Serapong.

It was in putting up a deference to violent confrontation that was to be Blakang Mati’s purpose for a large part of British rule. Strategically positioned, it served not only as a natural breakwater for the new harbour. Endowed with high points, it was only a matter of time before guns to protect the harbour from seaward attack were positioned on the island. The idea was in fact already mooted by William Farquhar, Singapore’s first resident, as early as 1820 – a year after the British arrived.

The first military installations would however only come up in the late 1800s. Undeterred by outbreaks of malaria and “Blakang Mati fever”, fortifications requiring extensive use of concrete – then newly introduced to Singapore, were constructed at the end of the 1870s on Mount Serapong – Blakang Mati’s highest point. It would only be in 1885 that work started on the installation of coastal artillery on Serapong. Two 8 inch guns were installed with supporting infrastructure such as casemates built into the terrain, which contained magazines, accommodation and other working spaces.

By 1912/13, the guns at Serapong Battery would be upgraded to 9.2 inch calibre guns and a separate Spur Battery, also equipped with a 9.2 inch gun added. These guns would be decommissioned in the later half of the 1930s when 9.2 inch guns at Fort Connaught were installed. Two 6 inch guns would however be placed on the spur (renamed Serapong Battery) after a review in 1936 and this was operational up to the final days before the fall of Singapore. Both guns were spiked and destroyed, No. 2 on 14th and and No. 1 on 15th February 1942.

With the development of Sentosa today, it may perhaps be surprising that extensive remnants of the installations scattered over Mount Serapong – just a stone’s throw away from the luxury developments at Sentosa Cove – can still be found today. The remnants include a underground magazine built for the 9.2 inch spur battery that was converted for use for Serapong Battery’s 6 inch No. 1 Gun, the battery’s gun emplacements, as well as several other support structures built in the 1930s for the battery. What may be more surprising are casemates, thought to have been built around 1885 can be found along with mountings for the 9.2 inch guns and best of all, a bunker 20 metres under the casemates that served as the Blakang Mati Command Centre. The bunker, with several chambers is in a damaged condition and has a vertical escape shaft at the top of which is a hatch.

The National Heritage Board, through a series of guided tours to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, offers an excellent opportunity to learn more about and see these remnants. One tour, Fort Serapong @ Fort Siloso, for which 3 sessions on the 25 February, 4 and 11 March (from 9.30 am to 12 noon) will be held. Places are limited. More  on the tours and other programmes can be found below.

For more on the guns at Serapong, on Sentosa and also across Singapore, do visit Peter Stubbs excellent FortSiloso.com site.


Photographs of the ruins on Mount Serapong

On the spur, the Gun No. 1 Gun duty personnel rooms and gunners’ shelter.

On the spur, the Gun No. 1 Gun duty personnel rooms and gunners’ shelter.

The collapsed structure of the 6 inch Gun No. 1 emplacement on the spur.

The collapsed structure of the 6 inch Gun No. 1 emplacement on the spur.

The underground 6-inch Gun No. 1 magazine on the spur, converted from that for the 9.2 inch spur battery.

The underground 6-inch Gun No. 1 magazine on the spur, converted from that for the 9.2 inch spur battery.

Inside the Other Ranks shelter in the magazine.

Inside the Other Ranks shelter in the magazine.

In the 'courtyard' of the magazine.

In the ‘courtyard’ of the magazine.

Inside the magazine.

Inside the magazine.

The 1936 kitchen complex.

The 1936 kitchen complex.

More of the kitchen complex.

More of the kitchen complex.

Another view.

Another view.

The 1936 bathroom.

The 1936 bathroom.

Fort Connaught's Battery Command Post (BCP), positioned on the highest point.

Fort Connaught’s Battery Command Post (BCP), positioned on the highest point.

Another view.

Another view.

9.2 inch gun mounting studs.

9.2 inch gun mounting studs.

A close-up.

A close-up.

The 9.2 inch shell hoist.

The 9.2 inch shell hoist.

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Nature reclaiming the space.

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Stairs at the casemate.

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Space inside the casemate.

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Part of the casemate.

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Inside a casemate space.

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Another collapsed structure.

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A underground reservoir.

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Magazine inside the casemate.

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Another view.

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The Blakang Mati Command Centre.

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Another view.

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The view up the escape shaft.

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The hatch at the end of the escape shaft.



Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore

This 15 February will mark 75 years since the Fall of Singapore, an event that brought about 3½ years of occupation by the Japanese and a period of immense hardship.  The National Heritage Board is commemorating the anniversary with  “Battle for Singapore – Years under the Sun Empire: Tales of Resilience” that will see guided tours, talks and activities organised by various Museum Roundtable museums from 16 February to 12 March.

There would be 12 different tours with a total of 49 tour runs to look out for. These will cover 11 World War II related sites and structures, including some rarely opened places such as the former Fort Serapong and the former Command House. There is an opportunity to also hear accounts of battle and survival and learn about the contributions and courage of the local population to the effort to defend Singapore.

Also to look forward to is the re-opening of the Former Ford Factory, which has been closed for a year-long revamp. This will reopen to the public on 16 February 2017 and see a new exhibition gallery with never-been-seen-before archival materials, There is also an interactive component offering a more immersive account of the days of war and suffering. Special exhibitions and programmes are also being put up by the Army Museum, Battlebox, the Singapore Discovery Centre. the Eurasian Heritage Centre, and Reflections at Bukit Chandu. More information is available at  www.museums.com.sg. Sign-ups for the Battle for Singapore 2017 programmes can be made at this link: https://www.eventbrite.sg/o/national-heritage-board-9384989257 (available from 6 February 2017 at 10.00am onwards). Slots are limited and will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis.






Not all Black and White at Mount Pleasant

1 11 2015

In a Singapore now overrun by the clutter of the modernised world, there is nothing that better celebrates the Singapore we have long abandoned better than the “Black and White” houses we still see scattered across the island. Characterised by their whitewashed and black trimmed exteriors and set in lush green surroundings, the houses – built in the early decades of the twentieth century to house the colony’s administrators, carry themselves with a poise and elegance that is sadly lacking in the architecture of the modern world.

The 'black and white' house at 159 Mount Pleasant Road.

The ‘black and white’ house at 159 Mount Pleasant Road.

The rear of the house - with the kitchen and servants quarters arranged in typical fashion behind the main house.

The rear of the house – with the kitchen and servants quarters arranged in typical fashion behind the main house.

I am always grateful for the opportunity to have a look into one of these houses, a good number of which are today leased out for quite a tidy sum by the Singapore government. One that I recently got to see – thanks to arrangements made by a friend and fellow blogger James Tann and with the kind permission of the house’s occupant, was at 159 Mount Pleasant Road. Laid out in a style typical of the early “Black and White” house – of single room depth and with a carriage porch arranged under a projecting second storey verandah, the house at #159 is one of a cluster of similar houses built in the 1920s along the north facing slope of Mount Pleasant to serve as residences for the fast developing municipality’s Municipal Councillors.

The carriage porch and projecting second storey verandah.

The carriage porch and projecting second storey verandah.

The projecting second storey verandah.

The projecting second storey verandah.

Located close to the top of Mount Pleasant, one of the high points in the series of undulations that extend to the burial grounds to its northwest at the area of Bukit Brown, there is much to admire about the house and its expansive grounds. I was to learn from James that what was most interesting about the house was however neither its architecture nor the beauty of its setting but a secret it held for some seventy years.

From the porch one steps into an entrance hall and the stairway - again typical of an daly 'Black and White' house design.

From the porch one steps into an entrance hall and the stairway – again typical of an early ‘Black and White’ house design.

The dining room on the ground level, as seen from the entrance hallway.

The dining room on the ground level, as seen from the entrance hallway.

James, who was photographing the house for a book on the Adam Park Project, shared what had been learnt about #159 and about some of the houses in the vicinity from piecing together evidence found in history books, maps and also what had quite recently been uncovered on the grounds. The project, which is led by battlefield archeologist Jon Cooper, seeks to establish what did go on in and around Adam Park in the dark days of the first half of February 1942 from archaeological evidence.

The area in the foreground was where both spent ammunition and a cache of unused British ammunition was recently uncovered.

The area in the foreground was where both spent ammunition and a cache of unused British ammunition was recently uncovered.

Jon Cooper paints a picture of the events of the last days leading up to what does seem to have taken place on the morning of 15th February 1942, the day of the surrender, in a video that relates to a dig carried out at #159 early this year. Meeting with stiff resistance from the Cambridgeshire regiment who held the ground for three days at Adam Park, the Japanese forces move slightly to the north. On the evening of 14th of February, the Japanese break through positions held by 4th Battalion of the Royal Suffolks at the Singapore Island Country Club and at Bukit Brown. The Suffolks retreat, falling back across a valley (which would be the low ground at Jalan Mashhor / Gymkhana Avenue), to positions on Mount Pleasant. Here, a mixed of units including the 125th Anti Tank Regiment, the Royal Engineers and elements of the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers, have the area fortified for a Japanese attack, with the “Black and White” houses there serving as defensive positions.

Cooper tells us also of two well documented attacks on Mount Pleasant that follow. One comes from an account recorded by Henry Frei, who once taught at the NUS, based on interviews with Japanese veterans. This account makes mention of an attack on “Hospital Hill” which wipes out a whole company of Japanese troops.

The house that was thought to be used as a hospital on the top of Mount Pleasant.

The house that was thought to be used as a hospital on the top of Mount Pleasant.

Another account Cooper refers to speaks of attempts on the morning of 15th February to retake a house that had been infiltrated by the Japanese. The house, on the north side of Mount Pleasant Road, is described as as hard to take due to its elevation below the road. Following two failed attempts to retake it, the house is hit with 12 anti-tank shells fired from a gun positioned at the junction of Mount Pleasant Road and Thomson Road. The house catches fire, is cleared of Japanese troops, and eventually burns down. Evidence provided by 1948 aerial photographs point to the house being one with a new roof at #160. This lies right across Mount Pleasant Road from #159 and seems also to be confirmed by a Singapore Free Press article of 25 June 1948 reporting the discovery of the remains of 8 soldiers on the grounds of a “bombed house” at 160 Mount Pleasant Road.

160 Mount Pleasant Road, which was infiltrated by Japanese troops and subsequently bombed.

160 Mount Pleasant Road, which was infiltrated by Japanese troops and subsequently bombed.

The far end of #159’s garden, was also where one set of remains was located, that of a British officer whose remains were subsequently moved to Kranji. One of the aims of the dig at #159 was to find any other evidence related to the officer that may have possibly been left behind.

A view towards the far end of the garden. The remains of a British officer killed in the course of fighting, was buried.

A view towards the far end of the garden. The remains of a British officer killed in the course of fighting, was buried.

While no evidence of that was found, the main focus of the dig, which took place at the near end of the huge garden, did meet with success. With some of what had lay buried in this area having been exposed following the removal of a tree and the gradual washing away of the topsoil by rainwater, the dig there managed to uncover thousands of pieces of ammunition. The find, which includes both spent cases and a cache of unused ones that had deliberately been buried, confirms that there had been fighting in the garden of #159, which would have been used as a staging point for the attack on #160. The large quantity of unused ammunition of British origin, provided evidence of the final positions of British troops as they made their preparations prior to surrender.

Mount Pleasant Road served as the final battle line before the capitulation.

Mount Pleasant Road, seen here running between #159 and #160, served as a final battle line before the capitulation.

There is probably a lot more that currently lies buried on the grounds of #159 and the other “Black and White” houses in the vicinity. It may be that the grounds of these houses may never reveal their secrets. Based on what’s seen in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s 2014 Master Plan, it does seem that the area will be the subject of future redevelopment, perhaps as part of the intended Bukit Brown estate on the evidence of the two MRT stations in the vicinity. It would be a shame if and when this happens as not only will we lose a green part of Singapore with its “Black and White” reminders of a forgotten age, we will lose a link to a chapter in our history that must never be forgotten.

The URA Master Plan 2014 indicates that the area will be redeveloped in the future.

The URA Master Plan 2014 indicates that the area will be redeveloped in the future.


More photographs of 159 Mount Pleasant Road

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Liberation, 70 years ago, remembered

2 09 2015

It was on 2 September 1945, 70 years ago today, that Japan formally surrendered on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, bringing an end to the most devastating of armed conflicts the world had seen. It was a war that “impregnable fortress” that was Singapore found itself drawn into, having been bombed and subsequently occupied by Japan over a three and a half year period that counts as the darkest in modern Singapore’s history.

JAPANESE SURRENDER AT SINGAPORE, 12 SEPTEMBER 1945

The surrender ceremony in the Municipal Chamber, 12 September 1945, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (A 30495).

The formal end of the war and occupation came to Singapore a little after the surrender in Tokyo Bay, an end that was commemorated in a simple yet meaningful ceremony held in City Hall Chamber (now within the National Gallery Singapore)  last Thursday, 27 August. Held in the very hall in which the war in Southeast Asia was formally brought to an end on 12 September 1945, the two hundred or so guests were reminded not only of the surrender, but also of the otherwise unimaginable pain and suffering of those uncertain days. Speaking during the ceremony MAJ (Retired) Ishwar Lall Singh, of the SAF Veterens League, revisited the trauma of war; his experienced echoed by the distinguished poet Professor Edwin Thumboo through a recital of verses recalling the days of Syonan-to.

City Hall Chamber, during the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the end of the war.

City Hall Chamber, during the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the end of the war.

The short ceremony was brought to a close by the sounds of a lone bugler filling the hall with the poignant strains of the Last Call and and then the Rouse on either side of the customary minute-of-silence, just as the call of the bugle on the Padang might have been sounded at the close of the events of 12 September, 70 years ago. Then, the surrender of forces under the command of Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, whose grave can be found at the Japanese Cemetery in Singapore, had just been sealed in the Municipal Chamber, an event that was witnessed by scores of jubilant residents freed from the yoke of war.

The Last Post.

The Last Post, 27 August 2015.

JAPANESE SURRENDER AT SINGAPORE, 12 SEPTEMBER 1945

The Instrument of Surrender signed on 12 September 1945, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4818).

SIGNING OF THE JAPANESE SURRENDER AT SINGAPORE, 1945

General Itagaki and the Japanese contingent being escorted up the steps of the Municipal Building fro the surrender ceremony, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CF 719).

The steps of City Hall today, now a wing of the soon-to-be-opened National Art Gallery Singapore.

The steps of City Hall today, now a wing of the soon-to-be-opened National Art Gallery Singapore.

The war had in all reality come to an abrupt end four weeks prior to the former surrender in Singapore, through the announcement by Emperor Hirohito broadcast to the people of Japan at noon on 15 August of Japan’s acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. That had called for the unconditional surrender of all Japanese forces, a surrender that was to be formalised on the USS Missouri. The impact of the announcement was however only to reach the shores of Singapore on the morning of 5 September, some three weeks later, when troops from the British-led 5th Indian Division made landfall to begin the reoccupation of Singapore.

BRITISH REOCCUPATION OF SINGAPORE, 1945

Reoccupation troops from the 5th Indian Army on landing craft headed into Singapore, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (SE 4636).

It may be thought of as fortunate that the end of three and a half years of darkness came with little of the violence that had accompanied its beginning. It could have been very different. The 5th Indian Division were poised to launch an invasion of Singapore (and Malaya), which would have taken place on 9 September 1945, if not for the surrender.

MAJ (Retired) Ishwar Lall Singh greeting Minister Lawrence Wong, the Guest of Honour.

MAJ (Retired) Ishwar Lall Singh greeting Minister Lawrence Wong, the Guest of Honour at the commemorative event.

Even with the surrender, there were many in the ranks of the occupying forces who were prepared to carry the fight on to the death. One was General Seishiro Itagaki, the most senior officer after Field Marshal Terauchi. It was Itagaki who would later sign the Instrument of Surrender on the bedridden Terauchi’s behalf, having accepted the Supreme Commander’s orders with some reluctance.  This however did not stop some violent deaths from taking place. Some 300 Japanese officers chose death over surrender and took their own lives after a sake party at Raffles Hotel on 22 August. A platoon of troops had reportedly chosen the same end,  blowing themselves up with hand grenades.

JAPANESE SURRENDER AT SINGAPORE, 4 SEPTEMBER 1945

General Itagaki onboard the HMS Sussex signing the terms of Reoccupation on 4 September 1945, source : Imperial War Museums © IWM (A 30481).

By and large, the first British-led troops to land late in the morning on 5 September, encountered none of the resistance some had feared. The terms of the reoccupation were in fact already laid out during an agreement on initial surrender terms that was signed on board the HMS Sussex the previous day. The first flight, which included a contingent of pressmen armed with typewriters alongside fully armed troops, made the two-hour journey on the landing craft from the troop ship HM Trooper Dilwara, anchored twenty miles away out of gun range, bound for Empire Dock “a few minutes after nine o’clock”. An account of this and what they encountered is described in a 5 September 1946 Singapore Free Press article written for the first anniversary of the reoccupation. The same account tells us how the flight had come ashore to “docks that were almost deserted, except for one or two small crowds of Asiatics, who cheered from the water’s edge”.

BRITISH REOCCUPATION OF SINGAPORE, 1945

A view down Bras Basah Road during the reoccupation on 5 September 1945, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4817).

Among the 200 guests at the ceremony were survivors of the war, who were accompanied by family members.

Among the 200 guests at the commemorative event were survivors of the war, who were accompanied by family members.

The streets of Singapore had apparently been well policed in the interim by the Japanese. In maintaining sentry at major intersections, the Japanese troops also kept the streets clear to receive the anticipated reoccupation forces and it seems that it was only after word spread of the returning British-led forces that the large cheering crowds seen in many photographs circulated of the reoccupation, began to spill onto the streets.

BRITISH REOCCUPATION OF SINGAPORE, 1945

Crowds lining the streets of Singapore to greet the reoccupying forces, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (SE 4659).

For most part, the horrors of war, and the liberation that came, are now quite forgotten. While the dates were remembered as Liberation Day and Victory Day in the first years of the return to British rule, 5 September and 12 September have all but faded into insignificance in a nation now obsessed with celebrating it most recent successes. While the initial years that followed may not immediately have fulfilled the promise that liberation seemed to suggest, we are here today only because of what did happen, and because of the men and women who lost their lives giving us our liberation.

THE BRITISH REOCCUPATION OF SINGAPORE

Japanese troops being put to work rolling the lawn of the Padang during the reoccupation, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (SE 4839).

The same roller spotted at the Padang sometime last year.

The same roller spotted at the Padang sometime last year.

SINGAPORE: SIGHTSEEING. 8 AND 9 SEPTEMBER 1945, SINGAPORE.

Joy and hope on the streets. Children following a trishaw carrying two sightseeing British sailors from the reoccupying forces down High Street. Source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (A 30587).

City Hall and the Padang, where the Surrender and Victory Parade took place against the backdrop of a thriving and successful Singapore 70 years on.

City Hall and the Padang, where the Surrender and Victory Parade took place against the backdrop of a thriving and successful Singapore 70 years on.





The monster guns of the east

10 07 2015

Tucked away in a forgotten corner of Changi is a reminder of one of three monster guns of the east installed as part of the coastal defences to protect the island’s naval base from an attack by sea. The reminder, the No. 1 gun emplacement of the Johore Battery and its underground network of support structures, topped by a replica of the 15 inch gun that once stood proudly over it, is in an area today dominated by the high fences of the area’s prison complexes that make it seem an unlikely site for a coastal defence gun.

A photograph of one of the monster guns from the Imperial War Museums collection ©IWM (K 758) (Captioned as: A 15-inch coast defence gun at Singapore, November 1941).

A photograph of one of the monster guns seen in November 1941 [Imperial War Museums collection ©IWM (K 758)].

The terrain and its surroundings would of course have been very different in the days when the guns were installed. The considerations for locating them in the area go back to the 1920s, when the British were in the midst of planning on turning Changi into a military base. How it came to be chosen is already well documented by Peter Stubbs on his Fort Siloso website (see: Johore 15-inch Battery) in which there is a wealth of information also on the battery and other coastal defence sites across Singapore.

The replica gun at the site today.

The replica gun at the site today.

Named in honour of the then Sultan of Johor who had donated a substantial sum of money (in the order of £500,000) – much of which was used to set up the battery, the Johore Battery was one of several batteries of the Changi Fire Command, established to protect the entrance to the Tebrau Strait and the Naval Base. These also included 6 and 9,2 inch guns that were set up around the eastern tip of Singapore in an area that extended to Pulau Tekong and Pengerang in southeastern Johor. The 15-inch guns, installed in 1938, had a range of 21 miles.

Gun No. 2 of the Johore Battery being fired in November 1941 [Imperial War Museums collection ©IWM (K 755)].

Gun No. 2 of the Johore Battery being fired [Imperial War Museums collection ©IWM (K 755)].

Besides the Changi Fire Command, the coastal defences also included a Faber Fire Command to protect the port and the city of Singapore and a total of 29 large gun batteries were distributed between the two commands. The Faber Fire Command also included a Buona Vista Battery with two 15-inch guns.

The labyrinth above ground.

The labyrinth above ground.

Much has been discussed on the effectiveness of the guns in the days that led up to the Fall of Singapore. It could be suggested that the coastal defences did served their intended purpose in deterring an attack by the sea. What is quite certain however, was that although the flat trajectory of the guns and their ammunition made them unsuitable for use over land, two working guns of the Johore Battery were trained to the north and west and fired a total of Johore Battery (Infopedia) in the defence of the island. An account of one of the gun’s use is found in a paper “The Story of the end of Johore Battery during the Battle for Singapore” based on interviews with Malcolm Nash, the son of Gunner William Nash:

Once the Japanese had commenced their attack my father stated that his gun was turned around so that it could fire to the north. I believe that he said that turning it round took 12 hours. My father was the gunner responsible for firing the gun and thought the firing to have been merely a morale booster to frontline troops, as the shells available had been designed to pierce ships’ armour. During his time at Changi Prison he said that fellow soldiers had commented that the shells had sounded like a train going overhead when they were fired.

After eighty shells had been fired it was noticed that the rifling had started to protrude from the barrel and a member of the Royal Engineers was consulted. His view was that the gun was no longer fit for action and if fired again would not have his named attached to it. The gun was fired once more which caused its destruction, and the oil tanks around my father to explode and bathe him in oil.

An 800 kg shell on display at the Johore Battery site.

An 800 kg shell on display at the Johore Battery site.

The same paper describes an account of a Japanese Colonel, who recounts the guns’ armour piercing shells producing craters 15-16 metres in diameter and 5-6 metres deep and that the guns most intense phase came during 10-12 February 1942 when they were used to shell the centre and west of the Singapore. The guns were said to have been destroyed on the night of 12 February 1942. Following the end of the war, the remains of the 300 ton guns (the barrel alone was thought to have weighed 100 tons) were sold for scrap.

A soldier loading a shell into the lift below the 15-inch gun [Australian War Memorial, copyright expired].

Loading a shell into the lift below the 15-inch gun [Australian War Memorial, copyright expired].

Besides the emplacements, a labyrinth of underground structures – a trace of which can now be seen above ground, were also built in an around the guns, in part to allow ammunition to be fed to the guns – the shells were loaded to the guns using a hydraulic lift. It was these tunnels and the emplacement of the No. 1 gun of the Johore Battery that was rediscovered in April 1991 in an area that became the Prisons’ Abington Centre and was then turned into the Johore Battery historic site and unveiled on 15 Fenruary 2002.  The underground structures are currently unsafe and access to them is not possible.





An ‘English country manor’ in Singapore’s north once visited by the Queen

28 05 2015

From its position some 90 feet above what once was the southern fringes of the His Majesty’s Naval Establishments in Singapore, the grand and architecturally rather interesting building we know today as the Old Admiralty House would have offered its occupants with a wonderful vantage point over the area’s rolling landscape.

The former Admiralty House, likened by some to an English country manor.

The former Admiralty House, likened by some to an English country manor.

Windows into a time forgotten.

Windows into a time forgotten.

Its lofty position, and the scale of the house – likened by some to that of an English manor, tells us of the rank and status of the mansion’s intended occupant, the Royal Navy’s officer in command of the huge naval base. The house, would have been one of a trio of large residences planned for at the end of the 1930s.

The front of the former Admiralty House.

The front of the former Admiralty House.

The three were to house the each of the three commanding officers of the armed services, with what was to be Admiralty House built so as to permit the Officer in charge of His Majesty’s Naval Establishments in Singapore, a appointment held by the Commodore (later Rear Admiral), Malaya, to be moved on to the grounds of the base. The Commodore’s residence, had been at the then Navy House, located a long drive away in ‘Singapore’ at Woodstock Drive (which became the Grange Road end of today’s Orchard Boulevard).

Rather delightful looking smaller buildings around the house thought to have housed the commanders' aides.

Rather delightful looking smaller buildings around the house thought to have housed the commanders’ aides.

The porch.

The porch.

The two other residences intended, were to be at Kheam Hock Road and in Tanglin. The one at Kheam Hock Road, was to be a replacement for Flagstaff House, the residence of the General Officer Commanding (GOC), Malaya. This residence is the one we know today as Command House, a National Monument. The Tanglin residence, which I have not been able to find further information on, was intended to be the home of the Royal Air Force’s Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Far East.

Command House at 17 Kheam Hock Road.

Command House at Kheam Hock Road.

As with the new Flagstaff House, the design of Admiralty House was very much influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. It is widely attributed to the illustrious architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose work left a mark not just in Britain, but also in New Delhi. However, there little evidence of this.

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Thought to have been completed in 1940, two years after the opening of the massive King George VI graving dock – an event that marked the completion of Great Britain’s most important naval station east of the Suez – the house first occupants would have been Rear Admiral and Mrs. Thomas Bernard Drew, if they had not elected to stay on at Woodstock Drive. Rear Admiral Drew, who was posted to Singapore in February 1939 as a Commodore, Malaya, was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral in August of the same year.

1945 Map Detail

Detail of a 1945 Map of the Naval Base showing the area where ‘Admiralty House’ is. The house is identified as the ‘Admiral Superintendent’s Residence’ in the map.

It was to be Rear Admiral Drew’s successor as Rear Admiral, Malaya, Ernest John “Jack” Spooner and his wife Megan, who were to be Admiralty House’s first residents, moving into the house in August 1941. Mrs Megan Spooner, née Foster, interestingly had been a renowned soprano back in Britain.

Nelson Gate

Nelson Gate at the bottom of Nelson Road at the perimeter fence of the Naval Base along Sembawang Road (photograph used with the kind permission of Mr Chan Kai Foo).

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We are able to get a feel of how the house was laid out and decorated in Ms. Mary Heathcott’s article published in the 18 October 1941 edition of The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser. Here, Ms Heathcott refers to the house as ‘Navy House’, but it quite certainly is a description of the Naval Base’s Admiralty House (Mrs. Megan Spooner also referred to the house as ‘Navy House’ in her diary entries):

Navy House has been built for about a year, was never occupied by the Drews as they were settled in Singapore.

It is large, pillared, cream coloured and grand and when Mrs. Spooner has finished her interior decoration should be a very elegant home indeed for Malaya’s Rear Admiral.

The dining room is furnished already, with solid walnut-polished teak furniture, sober jade green leather chairs. It has an immensely long dining table for big dinners, a small round one for less formal affairs.

A long, many windowed drawing room leads off the dining room, and this Mrs Spooner plans in Empire style, with the delicate graceful studied furniture of the period, mirrors on the walls, console tables, pastel colourings. Off this is a smaller sitting room, informal and restful.

Three hundred and fifty people were recently entertained at a cocktail party in the dining and drawing room of the house and there was no crush at all, which gives you some idea of their pleasant spaciousness.

Upstairs are the private quarters of the Spooners, a big landing sitting room where Mrs. Spooner has her desk, with its photographs of their nine-year old son, now at school in England. Here too, will be a corner settee to offset the rather difficult angles.

For most rooms of the house, there is a pleasant green vista, and from one side can be seen the Straits of Johore through a cutting in the trees.

The garden is as yet a plain green lawn, but there are plans for that too.

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A balcony the private quarters open into.

A balcony the private quarters open into.

What would have been the private quarters.

What would have been the private quarters.

Possibly the reading or dining room, based on Ms. Heathcott's description.

Possibly the reading or dining room, based on Ms. Heathcott’s description.

The drawing room, used in the days of the Admiralty also as a ball room.

The ‘large, many windowed’ drawing room, used in the days of the Admiralty also as a ball room.

That it was referred to as ‘Navy House’, points to the fact that the house probably did not have an official name at its completion. There are also several references to it as ‘Admiral House’ and ‘Admiralty House’ from accounts of its early years.

The main staircase.

The main staircase.

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Geoffrey Till, in his book “Understanding Victory: Naval Operations from Trafalgar to the Falklands”, makes mention of the stay of Rear Admiral Tom Phillips, Commander-in-Chief of the hastily put together Eastern Fleet, in late 1941, at “the new, rambling, vaguely “Arts and Crafts” Admiralty House in Sembawang, Singapore”, identifying Phillips’ hostess as Mrs. Megan Spooner (Admiral Phillips stay at ‘Navy House’ is also mentioned in Mrs. Spooner’s diary).

A doorway on the upper level.

A doorway on the upper level.

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We also find in another book, “Course for Disaster: From Scapa Flow to the River Kwai”, the recollections of its author, Richard Pool, of his meetings with Mrs. Spooner as a naval officer. One of these encounters was at “Admiralty House in Singapore” on the occasion of a cocktail party Admiral and Mrs. Spooner had hosted, “the day after (HMS) Repulse arrived at the Naval Base”. Pool was a naval officer serving on the ill fated HMS Repulse, and was to survive its sinking not long after that meeting.

The balcony the private quarters' opens into with the drawing room below.

The balcony the private quarters’ opens into with the drawing room below.

The front balcony.

The front balcony.

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Both the accounts are related to the events of December 1941, the month in which hostilities between the Britain and Japan rapidly escalated. Little did Admiral Spooner or his guest at Admiralty House, Admiral Phillips, know of it then, but fate was soon to deal each with a cruel blow. Phillips fate was sealed on board his flagship HMS Prince of Wales in the days that followed. Both the flagship, which Phillips went down with, and the HMS Repulse were sunk off Kuantan in the days that followed Britain’s declaration of war with Japan.

Admiral Sir Tom Phillips (hands on hips) watches his flagship HMS PRINCE OF WALES berth at Singapore on 4 Dec 1941 (source: Imperial War Museums ©IWM (A6787)).

What used to be an open sitting area that opened up to the front balcony.

What used to be an open sitting area that opened up to the front balcony.

Admiral Spooner, whose last days in Singapore was spent organising the evacuation of civilians, attempted an escape in a motor launch two days before Singaore was to fall. The launch was tracked and attached by the Japanese and having run aground on the island of Cebia (or Tjeba) near Pulau Bangka off Sumatra, Spooner was to spend his last days there, dying in April 1942. He was survived by Mrs. Spooner, who was evacuated on 10 February, and an eight year old son James, who had been left behind in Britain to attend school.

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It was only after the war, that the house was to provide the calm its seclusion was meant to give. There are suggestions that it was used as a residence of the Commodore Superintendent of the Dockyard, although I do have my doubts. What is known is that it became the residence of the Flag Officer, Malayan Area as ‘Nelson House’ from September 1948. The transfer of the British Far East Fleet Headquarters to Singapore required the Flag Officer to vacate the residence at 51 Grange Road so that it could then be used to house the Commander-in-Chief (C in C), Far East Station, as ‘Admiralty House’.

The house has been likened to an English country manor.

The house has been likened to an English country manor.

This arrangement was to last until March 1958, when a reorganisation of British forces in the Far East meant that the Flag Officer’s appointment was assumed under the responsibility of the C in C. With this, ‘Nelson House’ became the official residence of the C in C and was renamed ‘Admiralty House’. The old ‘Admiralty House’ at Grange Road was later to be demolished, making way at the end of the 1960s for Raffles Institution’s new campus. It was in the days of ‘Admiralty House’, at least in the 1960s, that open houses were to be held annually. This allowed servicemen to visit the grounds for a swim in the pool and maybe have a picnic in the garden.

Old Admiralty House in Grange Road, which was demolished to make way for Raffles Institution at the end of the 1960s (online catalogue of the National Archives).

Naval Base Police Award

A member of the Naval Base Police receiving an award at Admiralty House (photograph used with the kind permission of Alfa Andy).

The pullout of British forces in 1971 and the closure of the naval base saw Admiralty House become the residence of the Commander of the ANZUK Force. It was during this time, in 1972, that Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh had lunch at the house, as part of a visit to ANZUK forces in Singapore.  Admiralty House, also known as ANZUK House, as the official residence of the ANZUK forces commander,  was to accommodate only two commanders. The force was disbanded in 1975 following decisions by first the Australian, and then British governments’ to pull out of the arrangements. The last to leave was Air Vice-Marshal Richard Wakeford in early 1975, following which the keys to the house was passed to the Singapore government.

Another view of what I think was the dining room.

Another view of what I think was the dining room.

Much has happened since the house saw its last military officer. Newspaper reports in May 1976 point to it being rented by an undisclosed local company for S$4750 per month. It was turned into a restaurant and guest house that opened in 1978, which apparently was rather popular with an occupancy rate of 90%. In 1988, plans were announced to turn the building and its grounds into a country club with a caravan park. The application was not approved, and it was relaunched in mid 1989 as the Admiralty Country House. The house and its grounds did eventually play host to a country club as Yishun Country Club in 1991, and then from 2001 to 2006, as the Karimun Admiralty Country Club. It was during this time that the building was gazetted as a National Monument in 2002.

An old telephone junction box inside the house.

An old telephone junction box inside the house.

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Over the years, and changes in use, the grounds of the building has seen several changes. One change is to Old Nelson Road, the roadway leading up to the house. That used to be Nelson Road (it was renamed in the 1970s, possibly to avoid confusing it with the Nelson Road in the Kampong Bahru area – since expunged), and a through road. The south end of the road was at Nelson Gate, which opened up to Sembawang Road. The road was truncated in the late 1970s when Sembawang Road was widened and the gate removed. There would also have been a helipad in the grounds at the building’s north, probably added in the 1950s.

Evidence of the through road seen in an old lamp post. The post is one of three that can be found on the premises.

Evidence of the through road seen in an old lamp post. The post is one of three that can be found on the premises.

The grounds today also see more recently introduced structures such as an entrance gate, a pond, buildings around the swimming pools. Accommodation and classroom blocks were also added by the Furen International School (FIS), which since 2012 has run a boarding school for international students on the premises. As part of the arrangement for the lease of the building, FIS was required to repair and restore the building, which they have done so rather beautifully. This required a huge investment (in the order of a seven digit number) and replacement of fittings true to the original style employed in the building, where these had been previously removed.

What remains of a flagstaff moved in May 1970 from Kranji Wireless Station.

What remains of a flagstaff moved in May 1970 from Kranji Wireless Station.

Windows and brass fittings had to be recreated as part of the restoration effort.

Windows and brass fittings had to be recreated as part of the restoration effort.

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Speaking of the swimming pools, one – the deeper pool, is said to have been built by 200 Japanese Prisoners of War (POWs) in 1945. There is another suggestion however, that it was the deepest swimming pool in Singapore and it was built by British POWs in the hope that their captors, who were accommodated in the house, drown during their morning swim!

The swimming pool said to have been constructed by Japanese POWs.

The swimming pool said to have been constructed by Japanese POWs.

Another reminder of the war on the grounds is a bomb shelter located across the driveway of the building. This was rediscovered in 1990. The shelter is rather small and was perhaps built to accommodate the main occupants of the buildings. Light fittings can be found in the shelter as well as what remains of a squatting water closet.

What remains of a squatting water closet.

What remains of a squatting water closet.

Inside the bomb shelter.

Inside the bomb shelter.

Beautifully restored, the building, and its adjoining and auxiliary buildings are now ones we can and should marvel at. Much is in evidence of the Arts and Crafts influence, including the exposed brick seen on the house’s façade at the upper level and the “high-hipped roof” with overhanging eaves that is mentioned in the Preservation of Sites and Monuments write up on the monument. Also in evidence are the generously provided windows and ventilation openings – all designed to maximise comfort in the tropical heat and humidity.

The exposed brickwork on the upper levels.

The exposed brickwork on the upper levels.

The reception area with evidence of its generous ventilation openings.

The reception area with evidence of its generous ventilation openings.

What is particularly interesting is how some of the service rooms are attached to the main building – these typically were detached. It appears that these were where the kitchens and other service rooms were from which access was provided via the back of the main house into the dining room and to the bedrooms upstairs through a narrow staircase. Also around the main house are smaller single storey detached buildings, thought to have accommodated the aides to the commanders.

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The narrow stairway up to the bedrooms intended for the service staff.

The narrow stairway up to the bedrooms intended for the service staff.

The house today remains as a reminder of what once was. Much of the area around it has seen a transformation. The vantage point it offers is no longer ones of green rolling hills but of the structures of a growing population on an island state that has benefited greatly from the huge naval establishment the occupants of the house presided over.

The view it now commands is not one of a rolling landscape but of a strange new world that has replaced the naval base its occupant once presided over.

The view it now commands is not one of a rolling landscape but of a strange new world that has replaced the naval base its occupant once presided over.

While the building itself is protected as a monument, what surrounds it is not. What the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s 2014 Master Plan reveals is that the hill Admiralty House is perched on, or at least a large part of it, will be given to much needed sports and recreation facilities in an area where the pace of public residential developments is very quickly picking up. It may not be long before much of the green around it – the setting Admiralty House was meant to be given, is lost to grey. We do however, still have that opportunity to celebrate the house and the setting it is in, before that, like in the case of many others before it, is lost to us forever.

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The very grand house that Brewer built

2 04 2015

Perched on a small hill just south of hills given to the those who have passed on at Bukit Brown, is a place built as a dwelling for the living, so grand, that it has had members of royalty, a president as well as many powerful military men, find shelter within its walls. The dwelling, Command House, is well hidden from the public eye. It only is on the incline of its long driveway, well past the entrance gate at Kheam Hock Road, that we get a glimpse of its scale and appearance; the drive in also provides an appreciation of the expanse of the sprawling 11.5 acre (4.5 ha.) estate the house is set in.

Command House at 17 Kheam Hock Road.

Command House at 17 Kheam Hock Road.

The scale of the mansion, built in 1938 with six bedrooms with bathrooms attached, a huge wine cellar as well as servants quarters and other service buildings laid out over its grounds, must impress. It however is its simple but aesthetically pleasing design that catches the eye. Said to have been inspired by the Arts and Craft movement of which its creator, the well respected Singapore based architect Frank W. Brewer, once of Swan and MacLaren, was a keen follower of, the mansion features elements of Brewer’s interpretation including the distinctive exposed brick voussoirs that is also seen in other Brewer designed houses (some examples: 5 Chatsworth Park and 1 Dalvey Estate).

Many of Brewer's work feature very distinctive exposed brick voussoirs.

Many examples of Brewer’s work feature very distinctive exposed brick voussoirs.

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Several recognisable architectural contributions have been attributed to Brewer. In Singapore, these include the Cathay building and St. Andrew’s School. Visitors to Cameron Highlands would not have missed another of his works, the Tudor style Foster’s Smoke House, a landmark in the popular Malaysian mountain resort.

A Google Maps satellite view of the grounds and the surrounding area.

A Google Maps satellite view of the grounds and the surrounding area.

Built as Flagstaff House, the residence of Malaya’s most senior military commander, the importance placed on its intended occupants can be seen in the house’s grand appearance, as well as in its expansive setting and its somewhat lofty position. Flagstaff House’s completion had come at the end of decade in which the emphasis was on building Singapore up militarily to support its role as an outpost for the British in the Far East.

Command House after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

Command House after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

The back of the mansion.

The back of the mansion.

Laid out on a “butterfly plan”, commonly seen in the architecture of the early Arts and Crafts movement, the mansion and its beautiful grounds must be as perfect a spot as any in Singapore for a dream wedding. While that may not be possible today given the current use of Command House, playing host to a grand wedding reception was in fact what Flagstaff House’s very first act was, shortly after its completion. In September 1938, Flagstaff House played host to a reception for a wedding described in this Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser article of 8 September 1938 as being “the biggest military wedding yet seen in Singapore”.

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The wedding was of Lieutenant O C S Dobbie and Ms Florence Mary Dickey, held just a month or so before the house’s intended occupant, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Malaya, was to move in. This was possible as the groom, Lieut. Dobbie, was not only the GOC’s aide-de-camp, but also his son. Lieut. Dobbie’s proud parents, Major General W G S Dobbie, had then still not moved from the older Flagstaff House at Mount Rosie.

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Two other GOCs were to occupy the house before the Japanese made nonsense of the illusions the British held of their invincibility. The last before the inglorious event was Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, the unfortunate face of what has been described as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”. Based on an account by an eyewitness, Herman Marie De Souza, an officer in the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, at his interview with the National Archives, the last time Percival set foot in the house would have been on Saturday 14 February 1942:

“On a Saturday afternoon, I was at Flagstaff House ground when I saw a large car approaching. I jumped to the road and stopped the car. And there was Percival in the car. I recognised him, I had met him before. And I said, I don’t think you place is very safe, because the shells are flying all the time. You hear the whizzing over. But he said he had something to do there.  He went in there, and I didn’t realise he was burning his papers. And there I was holding, looking after him, sort of, until he finished what he had to do and went off. He wished me goodbye and went back to Singapore.”

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Following the fall, the mansion is thought to have been used to accommodate Japanese troops. The British military commanders returned to live in the house after the occupation ended. Lord Mountbatten, the uncle of the future Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, was one, he stayed in the house in his capacity as the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command, in 1946. Prince Philip, the consort to the Queen, was also to stay as a guest later, doing so during a visit to Singapore in February 1965, by which time, the property was already referred to as Command House.

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In all, Flagstaff / Command House was to see some fifteen commanders pass through its doors as residents; Commanders-in-Chief of the British Far East Land Forces in the post-war period. The pull-out of British forces in 1971 gave the Singapore government possession of the property and it continued its distinguished service when it became the official residence of the Speaker of Parliament. Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng, who held the position from 1970 to 1989, was the only speaker to have taken up residence at Command House. Dr Yeoh’s successors, Mr Tan Soo Khoon in 1989 and Mr Abdullah Tarmugi in 2002, decided against using the official residence.

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It was during Mr Tan’s tenure as Speaker that Command House was briefly made the official residence of the President of the Republic of Singapore, who was then Mr Ong Teng Cheong. The move was necessitated by the extensive renovations to the Istana that took place between 1996 and 1998.

Command House, when it was used as the official residence of the President. Here, we see the then High Commissioner-designate of Zambia at his ceremonial welcome in 1997 (Photo: National Archives of Singapore online catalogue).

Command House after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

Command House after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

Today, Command House, stands not as a residence, but as a place of learning, the UBS Business University. Its tenancy was taken up in 2007 by UBS, a Swiss based financial services company, who initially used it as the UBS Wealth Management Campus-Asia Pacific, before relaunching it as the Business University. Command House was gazetted as a National Monument on 11 November 2009.

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An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

 





Still in the dark, where the darkness began this Sunday, 73 years ago

8 02 2015

In the darkness of a Sunday night, 73 years ago today, the end was to begin for Singapore. Just after 8 pm on 8 February 1942, the first wave of landings were made by Japanese troops  along the poorly defended and mangrove lined northwest coastline of the island.

In the dark: WWII landing site at Sarimbun Beach today with its fence to prevent a new invasion of  illegal immigrants and goods.

In the dark: WWII landing site at Sarimbun Beach today with its fence to prevent a new invasion of illegal immigrants and goods.

Defended by the ill prepared and poorly equipped Australian Imperial Forces’ 22nd Brigade, who were spread out thinly over a long stretch of the coastline, coupled with Percival’s misjudgement in focusing the defence of the island in its east, the area, the mangroves proved to be no barrier and the coast was very quickly overrun. The defence of Singapore was to fail miserably just a week later, a defeat that was to plunge Singapore in more than three years of darkness as the light of the Japanese Empire’s south.

“Sarimbun battle” by Unknown; original uploader was Grant65 at en.wikipedia. – Lionel Wigmore (1957) “Defence of Western Area” in Australia in the War of 1939–1945: Volume IV – The Japanese Thrust (PDF), Canberra: Australian War Memorial, pp. 310 Transferred from en.wikipedia by Gorbi. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Much of the area today is still shrouded in darkness. Cut-off from the rest of Singapore by its relative inaccessibility and isolation – much of it is off limits as a large part of it lies within the Live Firing Area (and even where it isn’t, there is a fence intended to keep the new invasion of illegal immigrants and goods out that also cuts us off from our seas), it is an area seemingly forgotten even if there are markers in place to commemorate an event that should remain in the minds of all of us in Singapore.

A page from the Australian Imperial Forces 2/20 Battalion unit diary. The 2/20 Battalion was defending the sector where Sarimbun Beach is at the time of the landings.

A page from the Australian Imperial Forces 2/20 Battalion unit diary. The 2/20 Battalion was defending the sector where Sarimbun Beach is at the time of the landings.

Japanese forces landing on Singapore on the night of 8 February 1942 (Australian War Memorial – Copyright Expired).


Related:

Japanese footage from the Romano Archives, 1942 The Taking of Singapore, which includes some landing scenes:

Another landing site, The Pier: A lost world in Lim Chu Kang






The magazine under Talbot’s Hill

7 02 2015

An area of Singapore that still has much history buried under it is the area where the former British Naval Base was. Under parts of the former base, which covered an area stretching from the Causeway in Woodlands to what is today Sembawang Park, lies several underground structures, one of which is a the so-called Attap Valley bunker that has recently been brought to light.

The entrance to the Attap Valley bunker.

The entrance to the Attap Valley bunker below Talbot’s Hill.

Worshipping a new religion? Participants on a heritage tour to the site examining part of a ventilation system.

Worshipping a new religion? Participants on a heritage tour to the site examining part of a ventilation system.

The bunker, opened to the public for the first time today, is the last surviving structure of an armament depot constructed by the British within the huge Naval Base in the Talbot’s Hill and Attap Valley area. A ammunition and armament storage magazine, specifically Magazine No. 4, it was one of seven other bomb-proof magazines that were built into Talbot’s Hill by the British before 1942.

An extract of a 1945 map of the Naval Base showing the area and the layout of the ammunition depot, including the seven magazines under Talbot's Hill.

An extract of a 1945 map of the Naval Base showing the area and the layout of the ammunition depot, including the seven magazines under Talbot’s Hill (click to enlarge).

The National Heritage Board (NHB), which has been studying the site since April 2014, has also established with the help of a 1945 map of the Naval Base, that the magazines were part of a network of eighteen bunkers, warehouses and workshops spread over the Attap Valley site, that formed the Royal Naval Armament Depot.

The tour group being led into the bunker.

The tour group being led into the bunker.

The passage to the storage area.

The passage to the storage area.

Evidence points to the magazine, which is the size of two 5-room HDB flats, being used by the Japanese during the occupation – a cache of Japanese weapons and ammunition was found by MINDEF when they used the site for the Sembawang Ammunition Depot.

The storage area where  corrugated ceiling reinforcements can be seen along with a gantry hoist.

The storage area where corrugated ceiling reinforcements can be seen along with a gantry hoist.

What appears to be a light fitting from the time of the bunker's construction.

What appears to be a light fitting from the time of the bunker’s construction mounted on the ceiling.

According to NHB, part of the floor of the bunker, now a mess of mud and water, would have had rail tracks running over them to allow the ammunition to be moved in and out, accounting for the rusty colour of the mud and water in the bunker. While there is nothing left of the tracks to be found, there are several fixtures and fittings that might have originally been there at the time of its completion. This includes vents from an all important ventilation system, light fixtures, and pipes. A travelling gantry hoist, complete with a sign giving its Safe Working Load rating, can be seen in the inner chamber where the ammunition would have been stored. Access into the inner chamber is via a curved passageway designed so as explosions could be contained.

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Talbot’s Hill and the surviving magazine under it now lies well within a fenced up area of land, which was returned to the State by  MINDEF when the depot was decommissioned in 2002. Access to it is only via the NHB tours, being organised as part of a Battle of Singapore commemoration that coincides with the 73 anniversary of the Fall of Singapore and also the 70 anniversary of the liberation in September 1945. More information on this, including the Case Files from the Singapore War Crimes Tribunal Exhibition scheduled to open next week at the National Museum of Singapore, can be found at the NHB website.

More photographs of the bunker and its surroundings

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Postscript
An account relating to the last days of the Royal Naval Armament Depot before the Fall of Singapore: A Singapore Story – 1942.


 





Lost places: The shrine across the Divine Bridge

7 04 2014

A movie clip showing a ceremony taking place at the Syonan Jinja on 15 February 1943, the first anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, can be viewed at this link. The children seen in the clip were ones who had returned from civilian camps they were sent to in New Dehli India when the war in the Far East broke out.


The Japanese couldn’t have picked a more divine setting in Singapore for the Syonan Jinja (昭南神社), the Light of the South Shrine that was to be the grandest of Shinto shirnes erected in the southern reaches of the empire. Even today, despite its site having been reclaimed by the forest , it is not difficult to find the beauty and peace the site was chosen for, in an area that even today does seem far removed from the urban world.

The site of the Syonan Jinja where remnants of what was once South-East Asia's  leading Japanese Shinto shrine is today an eerie yet peaceful spot. What is seen in the photograph is one of the more visible remnants, a sacred granite water trough for ritual purification.

The site of the Syonan Jinja where remnants of what was once South-East Asia’s leading Japanese Shinto shrine is today an eerie yet peaceful spot. What is seen in the photograph is one of the more visible remnants, a sacred granite water trough for ritual purification.

A worship ceremony involving Japanese troops at the opening of the Syonan Jinja in 1943 (source: http://www.himoji.jp/himoji/database/db04/images_db_ori/2200.jpg).

A worship ceremony involving Japanese troops at the opening of the Syonan Jinja in 1943 (source: http://www.himoji.jp/himoji/database/db04/images_db_ori/2200.jpg).

The shrine, built with labour provided by the Allied prisoners-of-war (POW), was one of several that came up in Singapore during the Japanese occupation. One of two of the more notable shrines – another was the Syonan Chureito on Bukit Batok, the Syonan Jinja stood on a slope of a hill that rose from the water’s edge around the western reaches of MacRitchie Reservoir, across a what from the evidence presented in photographs of it, was a beautifully crafted bridge, known as the Divine Bridge.

The Torii Gate at the bottom of the stairway leading up to the Syonan Jinja seen in 1943 (Showa History Vol. 10: Pacific War Breaks Out、Mainichi Newspapers Company, uploaded to http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Shonan_Shrine.jpg).

The Torii Gate at the bottom of the stairway leading up to the Syonan Jinja as seen in 1943 with the Divine Bridge in the background (source: Mainichi Newspapers Company, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Shonan_Shrine.jpg).

The shrine and its site and the grand plans for it, which was opened to commemorate the first anniversary of the fall of Singapore in 1943, have been described in the National Library’s infopedia page on the shrine:

a beautiful wooden structure that featured the clean, simple lines of classic Japanese architecture. It was built on a raised stone platform and it had a large granite ceremonial fountain for ritual purification. The surrounding area was designed to be a Japanese garden with gentle pebbled streams, stone lanterns, a stone-stepped path, small torii gates (traditional Japanese gates commonly found at the entrance of Shinto shrines), and landscaping featuring native and imported plants. Four to five tonnes of pebbles were imported from Borneo for this project, while religious artifacts and certain plants were sourced from Japan. The wood used for the shrine, however, was from Singapore”

The area around the shrine was to be transformed into a 1,000-acre park with public recreational and sporting facilities. These facilities were to include gardens, promenades, playgrounds and a lake for fishing and boating. The proposed sports compound was to feature a stadium, a swimming pool, wrestling arenas and public bandstands, and would be a possible venue for the Greater East Asiatic Olympic Games envisioned by the Japanese. The planners also declared that a new city would develop with the Syonan Jinja at its centre

General Yamashita and Japanese troops crossing the Divine Bridge at the opening of the shirne (source: http://www.himoji.jp/database/db04/images_db_ori/shinjin_207.jpg).

General Yamashita and Japanese troops crossing the Divine Bridge at the opening of the shirne (source: http://www.himoji.jp/database/db04/images_db_ori/shinjin_207.jpg).

What remains of the Divine Bridge today - wooden stumps in the water that were part of the columns that supported the bridge.

What remains of the Divine Bridge today – wooden stumps in the water that were part of the columns that supported the bridge.

Little today is left for us to see of what it might once have been – wooden stumps, only visible when the reservoir’s water levels are low enough, tell of of the location of the Divine Bridge and where the Torii gate and the stairway up to the shrine would have been. Across the reservoir, it is through the thick undergrowth of the secondary forest that has reclaimed the area, that one finds the flight of stairs, rising first to a terrace on which a water trough hewn out of a block of granite still stands. The trough would have served to hold water for the ritual purification asked of visitors to the shrine.

A concrete retaining wall around the terrace on which the trough is found.

A retaining wall around the terrace on which the trough is found.

A panorama of the site.

A panorama of the site (click to enlarge).

Beyond the trough, the stairway leads to another platform – the main site of the shrine and except for a few slabs of stone lying around and the platform itself, there is little but that sense of an uneasy calm that one does feel at the site of the shrine, which was destroyed before the Japanese surrender to prevent it from being desecrated.

Concrete slabs at the site.

Granite slabs at the site.

The platform for the shrine seen in the forest.

The platform for the shrine seen in the forest.

Some of what we do know of what did go on at the shrine, comes through the accounts of local residents who participated in some of the rituals that did go on. One practice that did get mentioned is that of the Japanese community’s visits first to the Syonan Jinja to participate in Shinto rites early in the morning on New Year’s Day, before they made their way to the Syonan Chureito to pay respects to the war dead, an observance that also involved employees of the Japanese and would be followed by a lavish lunch (see “The Last Days of the Japanese Occupation”, The Straits Times, 5 Sep 1976).

More stone slabs.

More stone slabs.

One of the things about the shrine does does come out in some of the accounts is of the pebbled streams in what must have been a beautifully landscaped area. The pebbles, ” four, five tons” of them, as is described in one account, were apparently ones that had been had been brought in from Borneo for the Bukit Timah rapid gravity filter beds that were being constructed.

A close up of the foundations.

A close up of the foundations.

A view of the stairway.

A view of the stairway.

The site does attract a fair amount of interest despite it being rather difficult to access. It has been designated as a Historic Site since September 2002 and a marker / information plaque on it can be found at the junction of Sime and Adam Roads – from which it is an over 2 kilometre walk that does take one through parts of the gravel paths in the MacRitchie forest, as well as along the water’s edge past what is some of the most picturesque landscapes to be found in Singapore.and for that alone, it is well worth the effort involved.

POWs provided the labour to build the shrine (source: http://www.himoji.jp/database/db04/images_db_ori/shinjin_206.jpg).

POWs provided the labour to build the shrine (source: http://www.himoji.jp/database/db04/images_db_ori/shinjin_206.jpg).


Note: I have been advised that the area around the Syonan Jinja has since been rendered out of bounds by NParks. This is in an effort to protect the pristine forest found around the site of the former jinja.






The mystery of Bukit Gombak

13 03 2014

An area of Singapore that does seem to have an air of mystery about it is Bukit Gombak. The location of what reputedly was one of Singapore’s most haunted places, Hillview Mansion, which once stood high on its eastward facing slope, the hill and its environs has also gained a somewhat sinister reputation for other ghostly encounters, some of which seem to have been attributed as the cause of several unfortunate incidents that have taken place in the hill’s disused water filled quarries.

A mysterious collapsed structure on the one of the western slopes at Bukit Gombak.

A mysterious collapsed structure on the one of the western slopes at Bukit Gombak.

The rainwater filled former Gammon Quarry, now part of a park known as Little Guilin, is one that seems to hide much in terms of mystery.

The rainwater filled former Gammon Quarry, now part of a park known as Little Guilin, is one that seems to hide much in terms of mystery.

Besides the supernatural, a mystery that is of a less sinister nature is that of a concrete structure. Now in a state of collapse, the structure stands at the top of a steep incline that runs up from a cut leading to the former Seng Chew Granite Quarry. The structure is one that was documented by my friends from the One° North Explorers, who had first stumbled upon it sometime in 2005 when it was in better shape and was being used to house a makeshift shrine (see: The Forsaken Quarry of the West And the Mysterious Shrine).

Little Guilin is an area of much beauty that some suspect hides several secrets.

Little Guilin is an area of much beauty that some suspect hides several ghostly secrets.

It was in the company of James Tann, a long time resident of the area, and Andrew Him and Chris Lee of One° North Explorers, that I was to  pay a visit to the structure over the weekend, with the intention to search for further clues as to what it may have been.  From James, we were to learn quite a fair bit that wasn’t just confined to the area’s history, but also to the area’s geology. It was from the depths of his vast local knowledge that I was to discover that the rocky ground on which I had been standing on was in fact one of the oldest rock formations that I could stand on in Singapore (see: Singapore Landscapes: the secret lake).

Gombak norite formations seen at Little Guilin.

Gombak norite formations seen at Little Guilin.

With the area being one that had a strong connection with the military – the British having maintained a military installation and radar station on the ridge line that ran from Bukit Gombak to Bukit Panjang, and the Japanese having set up camp on the hill during the occupation, James had suspected that the collapsed structure might have been a Japanese built pillbox from World War II. There was also a suggestion from the One° North Explorers that it could have been a blasting shelter, as one might have expected to find on the grounds of the quarry.

More of the structure.

More of the structure.

Part of the collapsed roof.

Part of the collapsed roof.

The former Seng Chew Granite Quarry.

The former Seng Chew Granite Quarry.

Bashing through.

Bashing through.

Standing on its foundation of Gombak norite and in its collapsed state, there wasn’t much more that the structure did give away. What did seem like its flat roof, had completely caved in, burying whatever clues that might otherwise have been discovered under it. The only remnant of the structure that seemed to be left standing was a wall of concrete bricks with little else but a semi-corroded steel backing plate that might have been used to act as a support for a mounting inside the structure.

Remnants of the concrete structure on Bukit Gombak.

Remnants of the concrete structure on Bukit Gombak.

A view of the wall through the trees.

A view of the wall through the trees.

A close-up of the wall.

A close-up of the wall.

Built into the contours of the slope on the side of the quarry, there was also evidence of what did seem to be a substantial concrete structure. That might possibly been erected to act as a blast barrier – supporting the suggestion that what was there may have been that blasting shelter, along with the fact that the collapsed structure had its entrance on the slope away from the quarry. Kim Frost, a WWII vehicle expert,  did also unearth a grove on the top of the thick layer of concrete that does resemble a drain – possibly to provide drainage from runoff flowing down the slope.

Another look at the wall.

Another look at the wall.

The substantial concrete structure built into the quarry side of the slope.

The substantial concrete structure built into the quarry side of the slope.

From another angle.

From another angle.

Kim Frost digging for further evidence.

Kim Frost digging for further evidence.

While all does seem to point to the structure being a blasting shelter, that is still this lingering suspicion that the structure could still be a military one, including it being an entrance to a tunnel – similar to what we do see of the tunnels at Marsiling that was recently in the news, especially so when a newspaper report I came across does give evidence of their construction at Bukit Gombak.

Kim Frost working on the top of the quarry-side concrete barrier.

Kim Frost working on the top of the quarry-side concrete barrier.

What appears to be a drain that Kim unearthed.

What appears to be a drain that Kim unearthed.

The report, in the 17 November 1953 edition of The Straits Times that was headlined “$50 MIL. OIL PIPE PLAN IS ABANDONED“, relates to the abandonment of  what it called a “top-secret project”, that is spite of half the budgeted sum already expanded in the twelve years of effort, interrupted by the war, put into carving out tunnels and oil storage tanks under Bukit Gombak. That was all part of an attempt to build what would have been a hidden storage facility, capable of holding “hundreds of thousands of gallons of petrol [sic]” to fuel the Far East Fleet based at the Naval Base.

A concrete block.

A concrete block.

The project would have seen some fourteen underground oil tanks built along with access and maintenance tunnels and a pumping station, and with a network of pipelines laid. From the report, we can surmise that work would have started in 1941 with the Japanese continuing with it during the occupation. The Royal Navy recommenced work on it in 1946 before abandoning the project in 1953. The report does mention that the tunnels and tanks were filled up after the project was stopped as well as “several miles of underground pipes” dug up.

The entrance to a service tunnel at what is believed to be an aviation fuel storage facility at Marsiling.

The entrance to a service tunnel at what is believed to be an aviation fuel storage facility at Marsiling, which may have been similar in construction to the Gombak storage facility.

This certainly is an interesting parallel to set of tunnels that have been found at Marsiling that was the subject of a recent WWII related tour organised by the National Heritage Board. While that, located on what was fringe of the Naval Base, is thought to have been built as an aviation fuel storage facility, the one at Bukit Gombak located away from the Naval Base, was being built to serve as a fuel storage for the naval fleet.

Pipelines inside the service tunnel at Marsiling.

Pipelines inside the service tunnel at Marsiling.

Pipelines at the boundary wall of the service tunnel at Marsiling.

Pipelines at the boundary wall of the service tunnel at Marsiling.

With the military presence continuing at Bukit Gombak and the developments that have taken place around the hill, there is little more evidence that can be found of what the structure might once have been. It may also not be long before the structure disappears completely – survey markers seen in the area do show signs there is recent interest in perhaps the redevelopment of the area, which does mean that we may never unravel the mystery of what the collapsed structure was.

Developments in the area mean little else is left that can be found.

Developments in the area mean little else is left that can be found.

Part of the slope is now a secret garden - probably planted by some of the nearby residents.

Part of the slope is now a secret garden – probably planted by some of the nearby residents.

More evidence of the secret garden.

More evidence of the secret garden.