Remembering the ultimate expression of love on the 14th of February

14 02 2012

The 14th of February being Valentine’s Day, is a day that is highly anticipated, rightly or wrongly, in modern Singapore. It is an indication of how far Singapore has gone in the embrace of the new world and has been influenced by the practices of cultures previously alien to Singapore. And while Singapore celebrates with a commercialised expressions of love, many in Singapore are blissfully unaware of the significance of the date in Singapore’s history – a date which 70 years ago in 1942 witness a very different and perhaps a lot more genuine expression of love by a group of valiant men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of freedom.

A World War II outpost on Kent Ridge. The ridge - then Pasir Panjang Ridge - had been defended by the Malay Regiment in a battle that lasted for two days ending on 14 February 1942 on Bukit Chandu - a battle that saw a valiant fight put up by members of the regiment led by Lt. Adnan Saidi who was brutally killed on Bukit Chandu.

It was on the 14th of February 1942, after beating a hasty retreat to Point 226, that a certain Lt. Adnan bin Saidi of ‘C’ Company of the 1st Battalion of Malay Regiment and his comrades found themselves hopelessly defending a strategic position which we commonly refer to as Bukit Chandu or Opium Hill today against the force of an all-out assault on it by the Japanese Imperial Army in one of the last battles to be fought before the surrender the very next day. The position defended the Alexandra area where the British had their ammunition and supply depots and a military hospital (Alexandra Hospital). By the late afternoon, the position was lost after fierce fighting at close quarters – Lt. Adnan and several of his comrades were killed in the most brutal of fashion and events then took place that made a very dark day an even darker one when Japanese troops in pursuit of the few surviving members of the Malay Regiment and Indian troops, stormed Alexandra Hospital and massacred scores of innocent medical personnel and patients. Over at what is the Singapore General Hospital today, 11 medical students from the King Edward VII Medical College were also killed by artillery fire on the same day – 10 of whom were attending the funeral of one of the students who was killed that morning.

A view from the canopy walk which stretches from Kent Ridge Park to Bukit Chandu looking towards the Alexandra area which Pasir Panjang (now Kent) Ridge and Point 226 had defended.

Reflecting on the brave acts of Lt Adnan and his comrades and the other dark events of the day, one is reminded not just of their heroics in the defence of the people they served, but also as a reminder that peace should never be taken for granted. That the war, and the subsequent occupation of Singapore resulted in a lot of hardship for the then residents of Singapore – and for those who rose in their defence, there is no doubt. For many of my generation and after, it is a hardship that would be hard to imagine, having been fortunate to live in, save for isolated incidents of violence, a period of relative peace. It is great to see that the National Heritage Board has, for the 70th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, organised a series of events as a reminder of the dark days of February 1942 and the hard years that followed – something that all should participate in.

A reminder of the Battle of Opium Hill and the exploits of Lt. Adnan and members of the Malay Regiment is provided a Interpretative Centre at the site, Reflections at Bukit Chandu.

One of the events that I did participate in was the very popular guided tour of the Air Raid Shelter at Guan Chuan Street in Tiong Bahru. The shelter was one that was built under pre-war blocks of flats built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in anticipation of the war. There is quite a fair bit on the Air Raid Shelters that’s already out there including this article in the 27 January 2012 edition of the Straits Times.

A peek at the air raid shelter at the bottom of Block 78 Guan Cuan Street as seen through a ventilation opening.

A red brick wall lined room inside the shelter - the shelter is a lot more spacious and airy than I had imagined it would be.

A passageway - a door on the pavement on the ground floor of the block would have served as an entrance to the shelter here. The hole in the concrete ceiling would have contained glass blocks to allow natural light into the shelter.

A room with wooden bunks that was reserved for use by members Air Raid Precaution (ARP) wardens and their families.

The writing on the wall.

I had, being the true Singaporean that I was, been amongst the first to sign up for this tour when the news first broke. I am glad I did as it wasn’t long before the tours were fully subscribed. Stepping into the air raid shelter for the first time was a surreal experience, especially knowing that it had held people in cowering in fear for their lives as sirens that might have been mixed with the sounds of enemy aircraft dropping bombs 70 years before added to the confusion above. What struck me was how airy the shelter was – and perhaps how thin the walls of red Alexandra kiln bricks seemed to be – I had imagined a shelter would have been behind think walls of concrete with only little openings provided for air and light. Looking at a photograph in the Imperial War Museums collection found on Wikipedia, it surprised me to see that there seemed very much to be an air of normalcy on the faces of the people in the air raid shelter – instead of faces etched with fear that I had expected to see. This is also evident in several photographs I have come across of Singapore during the war including one where a man is photographed having a meal with his daughter in the midst of the ruins of an air raid. That I guess highlights the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity – great adversity that we today have been fortunate not to face.

Another view inside the air raid shelter.

Civilians in a similar air raid shelter in late 1941 or early 1942 (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Air_raid_shelter.jpg).

A photograph of a man and his daughter dining in midst of the ruins left by an air raid on Singapore.

With the knowledge of the events of the 14th of February of 70 years ago and the darks days that preceded and followed it very much in my mind. The 14th of February will always mean more than the superficial expressions of love that the commercial world demands of us. It will always be a day to remember where we as a nation must never go and to ultimately remember the true expression of love that the likes of Lt. Adnan and his fallen comrades and the many others had expressed in what must be an ultimate sacrifice that they made to fight for the freedom of their fellow-men.


Resources on the Battle of Pasir Panjang and on Kent Ridge:

A Pasir Panjang/Kent Ridge Heritage

Fire and Death on Opium Hill

Reflections at Bukit Chandu

The Battle of Pasir Panjang Revisted

My post on last year’s Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk:

A walk along the ridge: Commemorating the Battle of Pasir Panjang






Where the stork once visited: Prinsep Street (Rochor to Middle Roads)

29 03 2010

In taking my stroll through the streets of what once was Singapore’s Jewish Quarter, the Mahallah, I realised that among them, Prinsep Street has probably seen the most dramatic changes since the turn of the last century. Prinsep Street, spelt Princep Street in the days of the Mahallah, was named after a Charles Robert Prinsep, a descendent of a John Prinsep who featured prominently in the British East India Company. Charles Prinsep had own several nutmeg estates in the new colony and one on nearby Mount Sophia that occupied much of the land on which are now the grounds on which the Istana stands. The street is made up of two sections, the first running from Bras Basah Road, by Dhoby Ghaut up to Middle Road, and the second from Middle Road to Rochor Road. The second section is where much of the Mahallah would have been centred on, and is where perhaps the most significant changes have taken place since the early 1900s when it was part of the Mahallah.

The door of the former Salmon's Maternity Home brings some colour to an area with a colourful past.

This was the stretch of the street that perhaps made some notable contributions to healthcare in Singapore and was where the island’s first Maternal and Child Health Clinic was set up in 1923, and where one of the pioneers of private Obstetric and Gynaecological healthcare in Singapore, a Dr. S. R. Salmon had first a practice and subsequently a private maternity hospital, the Salmon’s Maternity Home. Dr. Salmon, a General Practitioner (GP), had along with Professor J. S. English, Singapore’s first Professor of Midwifery and Gynaecology and another GP, Dr. Paglar who established the Paglar Maternity and Nursing Home on which the Parkway East Hospital now stands in Joo Chiat, been attributed with raising the understanding of the need for ante-natal and post-natal care in Singapore.

Prinsep Street has undergone a transformation where there is little left of its forgotten past.

Interestingly the wonderful Art Deco styled building (there is a nice sketch of the building at this blog) that housed Dr. Salmon’s Maternity Home, set up in 1950 on 110 Prinsep Street, still stands, as a reminder of a time when ante-natal and post-natal care was very much in the hands of GPs and midwives, before specialist ante-natal and post-natal care as a norm was established in the 1960s. It is interesting to note that Dr. Salmon’s daughter Dr. Yvonne M. Salmon, had a distinguished career in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Kandang Kerbau Hospital (KKH) in a career spanning 44 years.

The former Salmon's Maternity Home at 110 Prinsep Street was built in 1950 by Dr. S. R. Salmon..

The Art Deco styled façade of the former Salmon's Maternity Home.

A reminder of what the building was once used as.

Across the street from the former Salmon’s Maternity Home, is another landmark, the very recognisable red brick building at 77 Prinsep Street, which is the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, built in 1931. The church has an interesting history, having been established in 1843 as the Malay Chapel to serve the Malay community by Rev. Benjamin Peach Keasberry. The church was subsequently known as the Straits Chinese Church to reflect its growing ministry to the Straits-born Chinese, and was where the Boys’ Brigade movement in Singapore was born. The current church building was designed by SSwan and MacLaren and built in 1931 in place of the old chapel.

The distinctive red brick Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church was built in 1931 on the site of the former Malay Chapel.

The Singapore Life Church at 144 Prinsep Street.

Much of the area that is around the churches and the former maternity home had in the early part of the twentieth century been rather run down and has been renewed, first with the construction in the late 1950s by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) the predecessor to the HDB of the blocks of flats that include the low rise blocks that are now used by the SMU for student housing, and several high rise blocks that included Albert House and Rochor House on the plots of land between Prinsep and Short Streets leading up to Rochor Road which has since been torn down, partly replaced by the interesting looking (and award winning!) LaSalle College of the Arts building with its clean black façade of aluminium and granite and open interior spaces, between a new road McNally Road, named after the founder of LaSalle College, Brother Joseph McNally, and the pedestrian mall that was the former Albert Street. The building also sits where there was once a street called Prinsep Court and before that (up to the 1950s) Veerappa Chitty Lane. The plot from Albert Street up to Rochor Road across from Sim Lim Square, which came up in 1987, is being developed into the Rochor MRT station.

The award winning LaSalle College Building with its black façade of aluminium and granite was built in 2007 and located at 1 McNally Street off Prinsep Street.

LaSalle College of the Arts as seen from Prinsep Street, stands on the grounds of what were SIT flats that were built as part of a renewal of the district in the late 1950s.

The low rise SIT flats which are now used by the SMU for student housing.

The pedestrian mall that was Albert Street between LaSalle College and a construction site for the new Rochor MRT station where Rochor House once stood.

The SIT built Rochor House was constructed in the late 1950s along with Albert House and a few low rise blocks of flats bewteen Prinsep Street and Short Street (Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rochor_House,_Aug_06.JPG).








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