The dark days of 1942 revisted

22 09 2017

This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the fall of Singapore, which the National Museum of Singapore is commemorating with an international exhibition Witness to War: Remembering 1942. The exhibition, which opens tomorrow, revisits the unfortunate period in Singapore’s history through artefacts that have not been seen on our shores since the war, as well as new takes on the darkest of days through previously untold stories of survivors. To add to that, artefacts from our own National Collection, including a recently acquired 25-Pounder Field Gun used by British and Commonwealth armies in World War Two, as well as never displayed before Japanese Army bugle, an Enfield No. 2 Mk. 1 revolver and personal artefacts of the war survivors, make their appearance. The exhibition is centred on the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 and its immediate aftermath with a section that also explores the lead up to the fall.

The recently acquired 25-Pounder Field Gun.

What is possibly one of the highlights will be a ceremonial sword that belonged to General Tomoyuki Yamashita. This, on display in its sheath, is on public display outside the United States for the first time since the war ended in 1945. The sword, the blade of which was made by a famed swordsmith, Fujiwara Kanenaga, sometime between 1640 and 1680, was surrendered to the Americans on 2 September 1945 in Luzon, Philippines and was given to the United States Military Academy at West Point. This will be the first time that the sword is being displayed outside the United States since it got there in 1945.

Yamashita’s ceremonial samurai sword.

What makes the exhibition worth the visit isn’t just the numerous artefacts but also the never heard before accounts, the collection of which rather interestingly involved school children, from war survivors and veterans. Speaking of the kids, there is a special family activity space, entitled “A Child’s Perspective”, that will appeal to the young ones – the interactive activity space includes a mock-up of a bomb-shelter which will allow the young ones a feel of what it may have been like.

School children were involved in the process of collecting previously untold stories of survivors.

Witness to War: Remembering 1942 is open to public from 23 September 2017 to 25 March 2018, and is chronicled on social media via the hashtag #remembering1942. More information on the exhibition and events related to it can be found at http://www.nationalmuseum.sg.

Poster of Hong Kong entrepreneur Ho Kom-Tong (Bruce Lee’s maternal grandfather) performing at a Hong Kong St. John Ambulance charity show Drunk Overlord in the Pavilion of a Hundred Flowers, 18 January 1941 (on loan from Hong Kong Museum of History, Leisure and Cultural Services Department).

The portrait of Sir Shenton Whitelegge Thomas painted by artist Xu Beihong, which was previously displayed in the Singapore History Gallery, makes its return in Witness to War after a period of conservation.

Artefacts from the pre-war Japanese community, who were centred on Chuo-Dori or Middle Road.

A family from the pre-war Japanese community, who were centred on Chuo-Dori or Middle Road.

Personal belongings of victims of war.

A Japanese bugle from the National Collection.

A Union Jack captured by Japanese troops marked with the date of the fall.

Changi Prison key.

Inside the mock-up of the bomb shelter.

The mock-up.

A mock-up of a kitchen.

Contributors of some of the stories.

 

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The real story behind Old Changi Hospital

11 09 2017

The real story behind Old Changi Hospital, isn’t about what the place seems to have got an unfortunate reputation more recently for.  The former hospital, which has its roots in the RAF Hospital set up after the war in 1947, is a place that many who were warded or who worked there remember with fondness.

The hospital, with a reputation of being one of the best military medical facilities in the Far East, is also well remembered for the wonderful views its wards provided of the sea and that it was felt aided in rest and recovery.

Members of the public got to learn about the background to the hospital and how some of the basis for the more recently circulated myths are quite clearly false during a visit to the site as part of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property Visits organised with the support of the Singapore Land Authority. More on the visit and the series can also be found at the links below.

More on the visit:

More on Old Changi Hospital / Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets:

Also of interest:





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.


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


Background to Old Admiralty House

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

Built 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)

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Windows into the past.






Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit to Old Changi Hospital

25 08 2017

Update
26 August 2017 8.20 am

A 2nd tour has been added at 1pm on 9 September 2017.

Details on registration will be posted at 1 pm today.


Update
25 August 2017 9.07 am

Registration for the event has been closed as of 0835 hours, 25 August 2017. All slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to Old Admiralty House being scheduled for 16 September 2017 at 9 am to 11 am (rescheduled due to Presidential election on 23 September). More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


The fourth in the series of State Property visits that is being supported by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) will present participants with a rare opportunity to visit the former Changi Hospital.

For this visit, participants will have to be 18 years old and above.

Registration is closed as all slots have been taken up. An email will be sent to registered participants with admin instructions a week prior to the visit.


Old Changi Hospital

The hospital traces its origins to the Royal Air Force(RAF) Hospital Changi. That was set up in 1947 to serve the then newly established RAF Station, Singapore’s third. The hospital operated out of two Barrack Hill buildings, one of which was actually designated for use as a medical centre in the context of the military camps of today. The buildings were built as part of the Changi garrison’s 1930s vintage Kitchener Barracks, which housed the Royal Engineers. Separated by a flight of 91 steps, it took quite an effort to move from one wing to the other.

Despite its less than ideal layout, the hospital gained a reputation of being one of the best medical facilities in the Far East. It was well liked by those who were warded there with its proximity to the sea. The hospital also played an important role during the Korean War. A ward was set up for use as a stopover for the “Flying Ambulance” service the RAF mounted. The service allowed wounded UN Command troops to be repatriated to their home countries via Singapore and London.

The hospital was also an important maternity hospital that served families with all arms of the military (not just the RAF) who were stationed in Singapore and counted more than 1000 new arrivals during its time as the RAF Hospital. An expansion exercise in 1962 gave the hospital a third block.

RAF Hospital Changi became the ANZUK Military Hospital following the 1971 pullout of British forces, then the UK Military Hospital, the SAF Hospital, and finally Changi Hospital. It closed in 1997 and the buildings have been left empty since. I will be sharing more on the hospital, its buildings and the history of the Changi garrison during the visit.






Gambling at the original sands at Marina Bay

24 08 2017

Gambling at the sands at Marina Bay actually started well before Marina Bay Sands landed – on the evidence of the accounts of Munshi Abdullah. In his autobiography, “Hikayat Abdullah“, Munshi Abdullah describes the events at the time of modern Singapore’s founding in 1819 to which he had not been witness to. He did however have a reliable enough source in the form of  William Farquhar. Farquhar’s observations, as recorded by Abdullah, extended to the physical landscape around the mouth of the Singapore River and the adjacent shoreline and rather interestingly to some of what seemed to go on around the shores.

Especially interesting is a description of mouth of the river in its natural state and the superstitions the local population held of a particular stone at which offerings were made:

In the mouth of the Singapore River there were a great many large rocks, but there was a channel in between the rocks, which was as crooked as a snake when it is beaten. Among all those stones there was one with a sharp point like the snout of a swordfish, and that was called by the sea-gypsies Batu Kepala-Todak (Sword-fish-head Rock), and they believed that that stone had an evil spirit or ghost. It was at that stone that they all paid their vows, and that was the place they feared, and they set up banners and paid it honor: for they said, “If we do not honor it, when we go in and out of the straits it will certainly destroy us all”. So every day they brought offerings and placed them on that stone.

Also interesting is what must have been a most gruesome of sights greeting the newly arrived of skulls, some with hair still on them, rolling about the edge of  the shoreline. The shoreline and its sands, two centuries before it was made into part of Marina Bay and the Sands casino arrived, was also a location for what must have been some of the earliest instances of gambling in Singapore:

And all along the edge of the shore there were rolling hundreds of human skulls in the sand, some old and some new, some with the hair still remaining on them, some with the teeth filed, and others not, skulls of all kinds. Mr. Farquhar was informed of this, and when he saw them, he had them picked up and thrown out to sea; so they were put in sacks and thrown into the sea. At that time the sea-gypsies were asked, “Whose skulls are all these?”‘ And they said, “These are the heads of the victims of piracy, and this is where they were killed.” Wherever native vessels or ships were attacked, the pirates came here and divided the plunder; in some eases they killed one another in struggling for the booty; in other cases it was those whom they had bound. It was on the shore here that they tried their weapons, and here also they had gambling and cock-fighting.

A very different shoreline and river, 1819 (source: The Singapore River: A Social History, 1819-2002 by Stephen Dobbs).

Boat Quay – the site of a swamp when Raffles first landed on the opposite bank. Soil from a hill at what is today’s Raffles’ Place was used to fill the swamp (what would be the very first reclamation to take place in Singapore).

Marina Bay today, a body of fresh water where the sea had once washed up to.





Kinloss at Lady Hill Road

16 08 2017

Occupying an area of some 2,400 square metres – the size of ten HDB 4-room flats – the gem of a house at 3 Lady Hill Road is huge by any standards. Set in 1.9 hectares of land that was once part of Scottish merchant Gilbert Angus’ Lady Hill estate, the house is laid out is an untypical fashion and has over the years been put to a variety of uses.

The former Kinloss House today.

Known for much a greater part of its life as Kinloss or Kinloss House, a name that it acquired in the early 1900s, it has in more recent times been referred to as the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus. The French insurer, AXA, having occupied the premises since beautifully refurbishing and renovating it in 2009, vacated it about a month back. The house now empty, wears much of what has gone into it in the last eight years less its furnishings. What will become of it in the future is not yet known.

A meeting room put in by AXA  located in what would have been part of the boarding house’s huge refectory.

Alexander Murray

The origins of Kinloss lies with another Scotsman, the Colonial Engineer Alexander Murray, who is best known perhaps for his work on the design of Victoria Memorial Hall. Murray, a British army engineer who moved from Calcutta, had it built as his private residence in 1903. It is not known what motivated him to name the house Kinloss, but the proximity of the Scottish village to Lady Hill Castle in Elgin could perhaps be a possible explanation. Little is known of the house that Murray built in its early years except for the fact that it became the residence of the Consul of Japan to Singapore in 1909, after Murray’s retirement and return home in 1907, until sometime in the mid-1920s.

What would have been the boarding house’s library.

Much more is certain about the use of Kinloss after the war. The British Military set it up as an Officers’ Mess in the years after, before turning it into a boarding house in 1957. As a boarding house, Kinloss House took in the children of military personnel who were posted to Malaya and also other parts of the region. Singapore had then been where the British Military Education Service had set schools up. The need for a large boarding house, with a capacity of 150 children, was very much due to the increase in postings of personnel “up-country” to deal with the Malayan Emergency. Barrack-like dormitories and sporting facilities – of which evidence still exists – were added to the sprawling grounds for this purpose. This arrangement lasted until 1970 when the property was handed over to the Singapore government for its use as the University of Singapore’s newly established Faculty of Architecture.

Kinloss House during its days as a boarding house (source: http://www.geocities.ws/jkr8m/KINLOSS_house.jpg)).

Subsequent to the faculty’s move to the university’s new Kent Ridge Campus in 1976, Kinloss was transferred into the hands of the Police force to house the Police force’s Junior Officers’ Mess and Police Welfare Unit displaced by the closure in 1979 of Hill Street Police Station. Kinloss also housed several Police units such as the Arms and Explosives Branch. A Police co-operative retail store was also located on the premises. The Police moved from the premises in 2002 when a clubhouse was built at Ah Hood Road.

Participants of one of two tours I recently conducted as part of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property visits supported by the Singapore Land Authority.


Memories of Kinloss House (by Stephanie Keenan)

I was a boarder at Kinloss House 3 Ladyhill Road Singapore from September 1963 to May 1965.

My family lived ‘up country’ in Kuala Lumpur and the only British Forces run Grammar school was in Singapore, so those who passed their 11+ exam attended there. I remember and enjoyed the train journey from KL to Singapore and back, each end of term, and also (during & after Konfrontasi) the flights on the old Fokker Friendships.

Kinloss House was a well run boarding house with about 150 boarders and a live-in staff of about a dozen adults who were either Army Education Corps teachers or army nurses or local catering staff. The teachers and prefects exerted some strict discipline, but my lasting impression is that it was a happy place.

The former Kinloss House seen from the Nassim Road end.

Those living in Singapore attended the school as day pupils. After the new St Johns School opened in Dover Road, Sept 1964, new boarding houses were built there, and the older boarders went to board there. My fellow boarders were British, Australian, New Zealanders, Gurkhas. Also some Dutch children from Indonesia. We attended school near the Gillman Barracks in the mornings and had the long afternoons to play or take part in various sporting actitvities and then a set ‘prep’ time in the evening to do our homework.

A spiral staircase.

The other boarders lived all over Malaya – some up as far as the East coast somewhere, but mainly from Terendak near Malacca and Penang as well as Taiping and KL, although I think I was the only one from there when I started school. We all have not so fond memories of climbing a steep slope there in the morning and dashing down it in the rain at lunchtimes to catch the buses back to Kinloss. And we often sang on the bus journey back and forth! We got up to all the usual high jinks too like midnight feasts (although we were told NOT to keep food in our rooms due to ants and fruit bats), dorm raids with water and flour bombs, apple pie beds and jumping off the wardrobes onto a pile of mattresses.

The old Alexandra Grammar School became a comprehensive school and was renamed Bourne school in September 1964 when St. John’s opened. The old Alexander Grammar School at Preston Road is still there and is now the International School (ISS). St Johns is also still there and is now the UWCSEA.

Kinloss House

In the main house there were female dormitories and in the grounds, which sloped down in a series of terraces towards a stream, were a series of long barrack type huts which were also dormitories for the boys and older girls, the staff quarters, ‘sick bay’ and store rooms. These huts were demolished in about the 1990s. The remains of the tennis and basketball courts can still be found, now the territory of a monitor lizard and kingfishers.

The main staircase.

The interior of the house has been re-modelled in at least one of its tenancies. When I visited last year even the staircase was in a slightly different configuration. I remember as you entered the main house there was the Junior common room on your left, the refectory hall on your right, a smaller hall ahead of you (where I learned to ballroom dance) with adjoining housemaster’s and matron’s offices. The kitchens and local staff quarters were behind the refectory area and out of bounds to us students.

What would have been the Junior Common Room.

Upstairs, at the top of the stairs was a large open area bounded by a small ‘library’ which was where we did ‘prep’, watched the occasional film, and had weekly dances. Off this were two dormitories further staff quarters, and a small store room where memorably one of the biology teachers once enlightened us with the ‘facts of life’.

The staircase seen from what would have been the library.

Beyond the ‘prep’ area and above the refectory and kitchens were more dormitories clustered around an internal courtyard, which was used for parking. The whole perimeter area was encircled by a high barbed wire fence.

The internal courtyard.

The Kinloss House song (adapted from and sung to the tune ‘Oh Island in the Sun’ ) begins “Oh Kinloss in the sun, given to me by McLevie’s hand. All my days I will sing of hate of that big big house with the barbed wire gate”. Most ex Kinlossites, however, seem to look back on their time there as very happy. We worked hard, played hard, and benefitted from firm and mostly fair discipline.

Another view of the staircase and what would have been the library.

My understanding (via Mr David Anthony, housemaster during my time there) was that the house had been owned by a Mr Tan pre World War II, who had a number of cinemas in Singapore. It was taken over by the Japanese, and then again by the RAF after WWII.

The British High Commission was next door to Kinloss House when I was there. The Commissioner had a daughter Jill Moore who was the same age as me who was apparently lonely and so girls of my age, including me, were invited there for tea from time to time. I went the day after the Rolling Stones had visited and signed my name under theirs in the visitor’s book! When I went for tea Jill’s parents were absent and she was waited on by a tall Sikh servant in imposing turban.


The visit to 3 Lady Hill Road, the second in the ‘Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets’ series of State Property Visits, was made possible with the support by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). A total of about 60 participants were able to visit the property over two 45-minute tours. Another tour in the series that has been completed was to the former Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station. Future tours include ones to Old Kallang Airport on 26 Aug 2017 (for which no more spaces are available),  a yet to be disclosed location on 9 Sep 2017, and Old Admiralty House on 23 Sep 2017. Links will be posted for registration on a Friday two weeks prior to the respective event – do look out for announcements as to when the links will be posted on this site as well as on Facebook.


 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit Old Kallang Airport

11 08 2017

Update
11 August 2017 9.15 am

Registration for the event has closed as of 0906 hours, 11 August 2017, as all slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to a surprise location being scheduled for 9 September 2017 at 10 am to 12 pm. More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


Old Kallang Airport needs no introduction. Decommissioned since 1955, what remains of Singapore’s very first civil airport has for what seems the longest of time looked out of place right next to Singapore’s very first highway. There is little in what’s left of it that tells us of the part it played in several historical moments including the arrival of a suitably impressed Amelia Earhart in the weeks after it was opened – just weeks before her mysterious disappearance, and also the dawn of the jet age in the few years before it closed. There is a chance to find out a little more of the part the airport – touted as the most modern aerodrome at its opening in June 1937, the part it played in Singapore’s aviation history, and discover some of the lovely spaces that lie within its buildings on 26 August 2017 as part of the third in the series of “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets” State Property Visits supported by the Singapore Land Authority.

The details of the visit are as follows:

Date : 26 August 2017
Time : 4 pm to 6 pm
Address: 9 Stadium Link Singapore 397750 (Access via Kallang Airport Way)

(Participants should be of age 18 and above)

Registration will close on 19 August at 11:59 pm, or when the limit for participants has been reached. Do also keep a lookout for visits being organised to other State Property in the weeks and months ahead.


Further information / previous visits in the series:


 








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