Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Twin Towers on Bukit Batok

Each morning as I awake and draw the curtains in my room, I get to see this sight.
The twin towers on Bukit Batok.


Having lived most of my life in this area, it has become like a symbol. A symbol that tells me that I am home. If you have passed through Bukit Batok East, Hillview or driven along Upper Bukit Timah Road, you surely can't miss this iconic landmark as it's been there for as long as most people can remember. Only a few of us, the oldies now, may be able to remember a time when the towers were not yet erected.

Most people will know it as the television transmission towers belonging to Mediacorp and some will know that it was the location of the Japanese War Memorial a long time ago. Some will simply know that it's where Bukit Batok Nature Park is.

My earliest recollection of Bukit Batok hill would be of the early 1960s. My dad would drive the family to the top of the hill whenever there was a fireworks display in town. This happened occasionally but on what special event days I can't now recall. From the summit, you could see all the way to the city, and people would gather at this hill top, sitting on the steps, watching the fireworks display far off in the distance.

The view from the summit of Bukit Batok hill before the Nature Park obscured the scene.
You could see the cityline in the distance.
The steps leading up were in a decrepit stage at that time but was still usable to get to the summit.

We young kids would be running around the summit which was a flat top. To us it was simply a playground. We had no inkling whatsoever of the significance of that flat top. All I can still remember was that we could see all around in every direction.


This was the Bukit Batok hilltop in 1958. You can see the flatten summit from which we would watch the fireworks in later years (top right circular feature). There were hardly any trees tall enough to block the panoramic view.

Of course, we now know that the hilltop was the location where, in 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army built their war memorial shrine called the Syonan Chureito. The shrine contained the ashes of their fallen war comrades. All the Japanese soldiers were required to attend the annual Yasukuni memorial service there. (link here to the Syonan Chureito memorial). There was also a British Memorial Cross erected behind this shrine to honour the fallen Allied soldiers who died during the war. Both memorials were dismantled in 1945 when the Japanese Army surrendered to the Allied Forces.

The Dedication of the Syonan Chureito shrine at Bukit Batok on 7 December 1942.

In 1962, in preparation for the introduction of television service in Singapore, a new signal transmission tower was required as the equipment at Caldecott Hill was unable to completely cover the island. Bukit Batok hill was chosen as the site for the new transmission tower. It was to be built over the same spot where the Japanese shrine once stood.


The RTS TV Tower on the summit of Bukit Batok.
(The factory in the distance below was Cycle & Carriage Ltd at Hillview Ave)

The site became known as the Bukit Batok TV Transmission Station.  It made its first ever transmission on 15th February 1963 broadcasting in black & white a feature programme called 'TV looks at Singapore' produced by TV Singapura. There was only one channel then, Channel 5. By November 1963, a new channel called Channel 8 was added to broadcast mainly programmes in Chinese.

In 1965, when Singapore gained independence, the TV station was renamed Radio & Television Singapore (RTS) and thus the broadcasting tower at Bukit Batok came to be called the RTS TV Tower. The tower was used for an additional FM Radio service broadcast in 1967.


(Photo source: National Archives Singapore)

In the above 1967 photo, the road leading up to Bukit Batok was truncated and diverted due to the construction of Jurong Road (bottom left) to meet Upper Bukit Timah Road (bottom right). The road to the summit was then named Lorong Sesuai. It was previously unnamed or simply called Hume Heights, which was actually the street at the top leading out from Hume Industries.  The kampong at the base of Bukit Batok beside Lorong Sesuai was Kampong Mendoza.


In 1981, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), successor to RTS, planned a new TV channel called TV12. It was found that the TV transmission tower was at its limit and could not handle any additional broadcasting. So a second transmission tower was built beside this first tower to handle the new increasing broadcasting requirements.

The Twin Towers as seen from Bukit Batok Nature Park.

However, here is something that may surprise most of you!
There was a time when there were THREE towers on Bukit Batok hill.
I remembered that I had once really seen three towers but then noticed only two towers later.
It was so long ago that I myself became unsure whether I had really seen three towers. Was I mistaken? So I searched and searched the records but found nothing, until.....bingo!

Irrefutable proof that there was once three towers!
So it seemed that by 2003, the original 1963 tower was in a bad state of corrosion after more than 40 years of service. It was determined that it would become unsafe in the coming years and needed to be replaced.
In order to ensure that broadcasting was uninterrupted, a temporary tower was built to provide transmission while the main tower was taken down and the new replacement tower built. Thus, for a short period of time, Bukit Batok had triple towers.
Construction of the replacement tower took place in 2005 and was completed by July 2006.  The new upgraded tower began transmission at midnight, 14 July 2006. The original 1963 tower was scrapped after being dismantled.



The upgraded TV transmission tower that was built in 2006.







Saturday, November 30, 2019

The railway bridge at Hillview Road.

Before the year 1948, what would become Hillview Road was nothing more than a country track that was the land boundary between two gambier plantations belonging to Messrs. J Jacobs and Messrs. Tang Kok. This boundary track led from Upper Bukit Timah Road at 9-1/2 milestone into the Bukit Gombak farms and rubber plantations.

What had puzzled me for a very long time was the railway girder bridge that was built over the later Hillview Road.  I was confused because I knew that Hillview Road was only constructed in 1948 but the KTM (Keretaapi Tanah Melayu) railway line was built in 1932, a good sixteen years before the road was built. So my question was 'Did they build the girder bridge over a country track?'. If so, why would they do that? Was there a need to build a bridge there? It didn't make sense to me.
Moreover, about 500m further down, there was also another country track called Lorong Taluki. This track crossed the KTM line too but there was no bridge, just a slope up to the embankment and then down the leeward side. Why did they need a bridge here?



I even referred to my good friend, Dr Lai Chee Kien, who has extensive expertise with the rail system in Singapore. Dr Lai and I both lived at Fuyong Estate before where we would see the KTM trains passing everyday on the high embankment along the Hillview ridge. Dr Lai wasn't too sure of the reason as well. So, was the bridge there even before Hillview Road was built?

For a long time, I left the question open till about a month ago when I found a photomap dated 15 April 1948. The aerial map showed the on-going construction of Hillview Road and Hillview Avenue on that date. It totally resolved the question of the girder bridge!

(Click on photo for a detailed view)

The girder bridge was built at the same time as the construction of Hillview Road in 1948!
There was no girder bridge when the railway line was built in 1932. In order to construct Hillview Road, KTM had to create a temporary diversionary rail siding to allow for the construction of the girder bridge.

Hillview Road was created by cutting through the ridge from Bukit Timah Road. Passing the road today, you can still see the cut made then. Hillview Road is like a huge hump with the summit exactly where the gate of the former Union Carbide Co (then National Carbon) was. Hillview Road and Hillview Avenue were specifically created for access to the two new factories of National Carbon and Malayan Guttas.

As I had mentioned in a previous article, the creation of Hillview Road and Hillview Avenue was the first time that the area was officially called 'Hillview'. The name was used because at the other end of this Hillview ridge near Bukit Batok Hill, there was a grand private country estate called 'Hillview Estate'. This country house Hillview Estate was the wartime headquarters of the Australian Division that fought the invading Japanese army in 1942.

Though, adequate at its time, the girder bridge at Hillview Road was to become a bottleneck for vehicles with increasing economic activities in the 1970s. Hillview Road was then the only access to the industrial factories being built at Hillview. The solution, in 1969, was to extend the other end of Hillview Avenue to join Jurong Road at Bukit Batok.

The girder bridge was dismantled and removed on 26 November 2011 as a result of the return of the KTM land by the Malaysian government to Singapore. The bridge support buttresses were only removed in 2017 and we can expect that Hillview Road will be further widened in future to accommodate the increasing traffic through the area.

The KTM railway girder bridge at Hillview Road.



The bridge was dismantled in November 2011.



Other links to the girder bridge:-
The Girder Bridge at Hillview
The development of Hillview Avenue
The colonial Hillview Estate





Friday, November 15, 2019

World War Two battles at Bukit Batok

Recently, I was invited to lead a heritage tour for a group of Australians. They had one thing in common. All of them had a relative who either fought or died in Singapore during World War Two. They wanted to follow in detail the footsteps that their grandfathers or grand-uncles had taken during the war here. And remarkably, each of their relative had fought at Bukit Batok, then known as West Bukit Timah.
Without going into too much details, here in brief is what had happened at the battle for Bukit Batok.



(Photo source: Australian War Memorial)
On 8th February 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Singapore by landing at the beaches at Lim Chu Kang.

The following day, 9th Feb 1942, the British forces tried to set up a blockade at the Bulim area. This was called the Kranji-Jurong Line. The strategy was to prevent the invaders from going past the area between the Kranji and Jurong Rivers.

The planned blockade failed even before the opposing Japanese forces had reached this frontline.
Of the four groups sent to form the blockade, two withdrew far from the battle line, while another two units retreated back to the base of Bukit Batok hill to face the oncoming Japanese army there.

These latter two units were the 15th Indian Brigade and the Special Reserve Battalion.
The 15th Indian Brigade comprised the Jat Regiment, the British Regiment, the Punjab Regiment and the Leicestershire Regiment. Each regiment was deployed to defend the front-line which was basically along Jurong Road.
A further two expeditionary forces called X Battalion and Merret's Force were also sent to assist the 15th Brigade in defending Jurong Road. X Battalion was dug in to defend Hill 138, which was the Jurong I Trigonometry Station, just south of the 9th milestone Jurong Road. Merret's Force was unable to locate their planned defence position at Jurong Road but took up a new position south of X Battalion.

Just before midnight of 10th February 1942, the Japanese army confronted the defending British Forces along Jurong Road, and thus, the battle of Bukit Batok began.
First along the line was X Battalion that was caught off guard. They lost 280 men out of their force of 400, killed in battle that night. This was followed by the almost total decimation of Merret's Force at Toh Guan, losing a further 120 soldiers.
Skirmishes continued along Jurong Road with the Special Reserve Battalion who managed to hold off a few forward thrusts by the Japanese till morning.

By daybreak, the Brigade Commander, knowing that he was almost surrounded, decided that their forces would retreat south to Reformatory Road where their allies were. They began their retreat by going through the farmland and rubber estate south of Jurong Road. At a rubber estate called Sleepy Valley, the retreating British forces were ambushed by the Japanese soldiers.
You can follow the story of this ambush here at this link.

You may not be able to understand a battlefield map but here is an account of the battle at Bukit Batok from a Japanese perspective and how the Imperial Japanese Army moved through the region. Further to the Japanese map, I have included some illustrations below to explain the battle that took place at Bukit Batok on the night of 10th Feb 1942.

Extract from a Japanese map showing the battle at Bukit Batok.

This is the same area of Bukit Batok as mentioned in the Japanese map above.
The snaking 'white line' running across the picture is Jurong Road.
(click on the pictures for a detailed view)


Here I have superimposed the roads that are found today running through Bukit Batok New Town.
Please take the MRT Station for your reference to the 'blank' photo above.
(Click the picture for detailed view)
These were the areas that were defended by the British forces on 10th Feb 1942.
The area on the left from Jurong Road to Jurong River was the southern part of the "Kranji-Jurong Line"
This was defended by the 44th Indian Brigade which withdrew to Pasir Panjang before the battle.

The area on the right is at the base of Bukit Batok Hill (today called Hillview and Bukit Batok East)
This was where the 15th Indian Brigade, the Special Reserve Battalion and X Battalion
were entrenched to defend Jurong Road
The red arrows shows the movement of the invading Japanese forces through Bukit Batok.
(click on the picture for a detailed view)


This is the entire battlefield today as seen from the high-rise block at Skyline II.
The road in the foreground, Bukit Batok East Ave 6,  would approximate the former Jurong Road.








Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Living below the radar.

Perhaps, because of its ulu remote location, most people would not have heard of or knew where Princess Elizabeth Estate was. Even when taking a taxi in those days, you had to say 'Tien Tor Long' i.e. 'the Eveready battery factory', before there's some semblance of familiarity. Saying Hillview or Princess Elizabeth would simply draw a blank look. It was as though we residents of the estate were living below everyone's radar.

But then, we really WERE living below the radar!  The RAF Radar Station at Bukit Gombak.




Sometime around 1963, the Royal Air Force (RAF) built an early-warning radar installation at the summit of Bukit Gombak. It comprised the Type 80 EW Ground-Controlled Interception radar and two Height Finding Radars.

An RAF Westland Wessex helicopter.
(Photo©steve ryle Air-Britain Photo image collection)
From our flats at the base of Bukit Gombak, most residents could see the radar installation. The Early-Warning radar would be constantly rotating, while the two Height Finders would be tilting up and down, earning it the nickname the nodding radars.

Very frequently, we would also hear a loud whirring sound and the sight of a yellow RAF helicopter coming in to land at the summit.




During World War 2, there were no particular records of any battles on Bukit Gombak itself but it is known that during the Japanese Occupation, a Japanese Army camp and an Observation Post (OP) were built on the summit. It would command the entire view of Bukit Timah Road from Bukit Timah Village all the way to Mandai.
Bukit Gombak in 1960 before the installation of the RAF radars.


Picture of RAF Radar Station taken around 1965.

Height Finder Radar on Bt Gombak
Photo source: NAS

By 1963, the RAF had completed building the radar station comprising the rotating early-warning radar and one nodding height finder radar. A second height finder radar was added to the installation a few years later.  The two nodding radars faced opposite directions.


The radar station was called RAF Gombak. The base was protected by double chain-link fences. It occupied only the top around the summit and was surrounded by small farms!


Most young boys residing at Princess Elizabeth Estate would have climbed Bukit Gombak to the summit as part of their adventures or simply to view the radar installation.

I can remember my own trips to the summit, walking outside the chain-link fence and along the way would stop to pluck the starfruits, buah kelondong, rambutans and sugar cane that grew on the slope. They probably belonged to the farmers!

The radar installation was handed over to the Singapore Air Defence Command, precursor of the RSAF, when the British forces pulled out of Singapore in 1971.
Today, practically the entire Bukit Gombak hill has been taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) with several military camps built within the fenced protected zone that stretches all the way from Hillview to Bukit Panjang.

Nowadays, if you look carefully at Bukit Gombak, you might still see something there in place of the old British radar. What are those, you ask? Well, I am not going to risk a knock on my door at 2 am for revealing state secrets, ha ha. Take a trip on the MRT train towards Chua Chu Kang Station and keep your eyes peeled if you want to know.

What are those things on the summit today? I don't know and don't ask me! I prefer to remain under the radar.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hillview Haunted House - Why it was abruptly abandoned.

The ghostly Hillview Mansion.

Ever since I wrote about the haunting of the Hillview Mansion in this blog eight years ago, it has become the  most searched for, the most visited, and most read article of my blog. I guess many people are simply obsessed by hauntings, by ghost stories or just simply curious. Most are skeptical but still piqued by the possibility and like to know that little bit more. I still get requests from readers, almost on a weekly basis, wanting to know the story behind the haunted house.

Over the years, I have seen so many speculations and conspiracy theories about this place. None of which have come close to the real reason why the Hillview Mansion became as it was.
I have put off revealing the real reasons for the past eight years simply because some of the people involved were, or are still, around and it just wasn't helpful to add to the speculation.
So now, after eight long years of keeping the mystery a secret, and to dispel any further speculations, I will reveal the story....well, at least a major part of it.
There are two parts to this story:
Firstly, why the house was abruptly abandoned, and secondly, why it became haunted.


March 1986.
EVERYONE, STOP WORK AND LEAVE !

It is absolutely true that the construction of the mansion at Jalan Dermawan was stopped abruptly.
No notice of a slowdown or postponement. It was simply everything halt, down tools and get out of the property immediately. So what had really happened to reach this dramatic point in March 1986?

As in all dramas, true or fictional, the story reaches further out than you'd expect.
Here, it all has to do with shenanigans at a totally and seemingly unrelated place.

You would have known by now, if you had read the story of the mansion, that the place was owned by Mr Chua Boon Peng. He was then the chairman of Cycle and Carriage Ltd, a major vehicle distributor and land developer. C&C owned many properties in Hillview. These would be developed into houses and condominiums in future. However, this plot at the top of Jalan Dermawan, was personally owned by Chua. It was said that he paid $7m at that time for the land. He wanted to build a villa for his wife and family, and so construction of his villa began sometime in 1985.


It all happened at Raffles Place in 1985
If you are old enough to recall events in the mid-1980s, while Singapore was well on its way to become an Asian Tiger, there were also some major financial scandals that rocked, or rather caused earthquakes, in the local business world. Two separate meltdowns involved companies called Lamipak Industries Pte Ltd and Pan Electric Industries Ltd. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost and it even led to the closure of the local bourse for a time. The spectacular collapse of these darling blue chip companies caused the entire business world to go into a dizzy spin.

It was the debacle at the former company Lamipak Industries Pte Ltd that caused collateral damage to the Hillview Mansion. (Note: Lamipak Industries Pte Ltd of 1985 is unrelated to the similarly named Lamipak companies of today) 
Lamipak Industries in 1985 was Singapore's largest manufacturer of plastic products. Famously, they had invented a method to use high-density polymer to manufacture the ubiquitous thin plastic bags. They also made the machinery to roll these out which was sold internationally. With some push from the government, Lamipak had become a world leader and a  household name for plastic manufacturing. It was one of Singapore's industrial blue-eyed boys.
But success got into the heads of those that mattered. Books were fiddled, credit fraudulently obtained and when the game was up, they were in a $140m hole from which they couldn't get out of. Directors were jailed and the company was declared bankrupt.


How is this tied in to the Hillview House?
Lamipak Industries had a subsidiary company called Panther Pte Ltd. Lamipak owned 25% of Panther, while Panther's chairman owned 38%. Panther's chairman was none other than Mr Chua Boon Peng.
When Lamipak Industries became insolvent, the banks pulled their credit from Panther as well. Chua was personally liable for loans totalling almost $19m to the banks. He was a guarantor to the banks for the loans to Panther.

To raise funds to repay the debt, Chua had to sell many of his possessions that included a house at Oei Thong Ham Park, as well as the plot at Hillview where the villa was being built!
And so, the construction ceased immediately with the decision to sell the land.

Part One of the mystery solved!

So then, how did it evolved into a haunted house?
Was it because a lady died (true) when she was struck by lightning there at the abandoned house? Was it because of all the seances being held at the abandoned building? Was it because of bad feng shui? Were the dead cats buried there part of some nefarious ritual? Why was it left abandoned for three decades and access restricted by barbed wires?
Part two will reveal all in due time.

What's left of the Hillview Mansion being completely demolished and removed in 2007.





Monday, October 28, 2019

Snippets of Hillview from the past.

Over the years, there were many events and unusual happenings at Hillview.  I am sure there are lots of tales and gossips to be shared. I 'll just list some stories from way back that most may not have heard.
You are most welcome to add to this page anything you may have heard or known that happened at our old estates.
Comment in the section below and at the 'URL/Address' box, just type in your name. I'll edit it into the main section later.





What were they thinking??
Screen capture from the film Mogok!
The location was the Eveready factory.
In an ironic twist, in 1957 the National Carbon (Eveready) factory allowed the Shaw Brothers, makers of local feature films, to use their facilities to make a movie.  The Malay movie was called Mogok, meaning Strike! and was about disgruntled workers at a fictional battery factory. It was intended to be a social awareness film against militant instigators and to promote industrial harmony. Soon after the film release, workers at the same, real Eveready battery factory at Hillview went on strike in 1958! (Mogok here & here)








Factory worker gored to death by a deer.
In March 1971, a factory worker was gored to death by a male deer while trying to feed it. The company, Sin Heng Chan Feedmill, had kept a pair of deers, a buck and doe, in its early years for testing their feed products. The animals eventually bred till there was a herd of six deers.
After the goring, the six deers were given to the Singapore Zoological Gardens at Mandai.









Princess Girl becomes Beauty Queen
Miss Bridget Ong (aka Lily Ong), a resident of Princess Elizabeth Estate, won the Miss Singapore/Universe beauty pageant in 1967.
She represented Singapore at the Miss Universe beauty contest held in New York later that year. She said it was her first overseas trip by aeroplane and was the first time she had travelled so far on her own.











Mdm Sahorah being carried into Parliament to cast her vote.
Hillview woman cast deciding vote for government's survival.
Though the PAP won the 1959 elections, it faced a motion of no confidence in 1961 in the referendum for Merger with Malaya. With votes tied at 25-25, MP Sahorah Ahmat, was rushed by ambulance from SGH, still in her sickbed, to cast the deciding vote for the PAP. The PAP government thus survived the motion vote of no confidence. Merger with Malaysia took place in 1963.
Mdm Sahorah was a resident of Princess Elizabeth Estate, living at Blk 24.
How different history might have been if..






The PM kicks own goal losing the constituency
Dr Seet Ai Mee was the electoral candidate for Bukit Gombak in 1988. There was a highly played up incident in which she washed her hands after shaking hands with the wet market vendors. Despite this, she won. However, in the next 1991 elections, the long forgotten incident was inadvertently brought up again by the Prime Minister. Though not the major cause, it was a factor that caused her to lose her seat to the opposition candidate, Mr Ling How Doong.




One of the many estate teams.
The Quah brothers were football rivals too
Hillview had a regulation size public football field in the centre of Princess Elizabeth Estate. It was the home ground for the Union Carbide team. In the 1960s, this team won the Business House championship many times over. The team was led by Quah Kim Choon, from the legendary Quah football family. Their nemesis was always the Wearnes Bros team that was led by another of the Quah brothers, Kim Lye!





Why the Hillview Mansion was abandoned

I apologise again here. I started to write this but found that it's too long to be a snippet and has to be an article by itself.
(Someone had said I was good at cliffhangers! ha ha.)
It WILL be my next post. Please stay tuned and return here soon.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Of Udaya and the Mendoza Cafe.

Quite recently, with all the talk about the Green and Rail Corridor proposals by NParks Singapore to preserve what's left of the natural space vacated by the KTM Railway,  the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) published a pictorial map of a proposed plan.  This was the upcoming linkage between Bukit Batok Hill to the Rail Corridor, near the old Bukit Timah Fire Station.

This is the URA plan for the Green Corridor linking Bukit Batok Hill with the Rail Corridor with an aerial walkway
and an Eco-bridge across Upper Bukit Timah Road. Picture source: URA Singapore
Superimposed labels are mine for illustration for this article. (click to enlarge)

When I saw this, I said "Ah, this is something for my blog. Something people will not know about unless they are in their 60s or older now and lived around Upper Bukit Timah!"

This 'something' is the large plot of land between Lorong Sesuai (the road leading to Bt Batok summit) and Upper Bukit Timah Road (up to the former Ford Factory).

This was the location of one of the last kampongs in Singapore. It was colloquially known as the Mendoza Village with its single road, Jalan Udaya. By the 1970s, the village had more than a hundred kampong houses within the precinct, but was completely obliterated in 1985 under Singapore's plan for the removal of all squatters and kampongs. However, the kampong was not technically 'squatters' until after the land was re-acquired by the government.

The site was until then owned by the family of a certain Mr. Joseph Png Swee Thong.
Joseph Png was a wealthy landowner who own large swathes of land in Bukit Timah and Bukit Panjang from the 1920s onwards. He also owned the stretch beside the KTM Railway line from the Bukit Timah Fire Station up to Kampong Merpati opposite the Ford Factory.

Part of the Mendoza village adjacent to the Ford factory.


This is a map produced in 1972 showing the area of Mendoza Village with its only paved public stretch of Jalan Udaya for access. Within the village, the roads were unnamed tracks. It was located immediately south of the Ford Motor factory on the eastern slope of Bukit Batok hill.

(Extract from Singapore Map 1972, National Archives)
The area shaded in blue was owned by Png Swee Thong & family.
Note the large number of kampong houses mapped.

Why was it strangely called Mendoza Village? And what was the meaning of Udaya, the name of the only road way into the village.

Mendoza Village, or Kampong Mendoza, was named after Clement Mendoza. Clement Mendoza was an Indian Eurasian descendent of the Mendozas from Mangalore, India. In 1925, Clement Mendoza married Miss Agusta Png, the daughter of Png Swee Thong, who was the landowner. Ahh, you say!
Mendoza lived at a shophouse fronting Upper Bukit Timah Road. It was an eating-shophouse selling food and drinks. They collected rent from tenants who built their kampong houses there and was in fact the de facto landlord for the village. The village, with its Eurasian name, had mostly Chinese tenants but there were many Malay and Indian families who built their homes there as well. Within the kampong, there were also a few provision shops. One was ran by an Indian and another by a Chinese who named his store Kedai Beng.

A typical Chinese kampong house that would be found at Mendoza village.
(Picture source: National Archives Lee Kip Lin collection)


























During World War II, British prisoners-of-war (POW) were forced to work at the Ford Factory. One group of POWs were from the 1st Leicestershire Battalion. They were made to build fences at the Ford Factory. Private Tom Sansome, a former POW, recalled that after toiling at the Ford Factory, they had to marched down from the factory to MacArthur POW camp at Reformatory Road. However, they were allowed to stop at the 'Mendoza Cafe' for refreshments before the start of their return march. "It was a small shack adjacent to the factory fence that we had built", recalls Pte Tom Sansome.

In an episode during the Japanese Occupation, the Mendoza family was caught harbouring an escaped prisoner from the work gang.  The Mendoza family was forcibly evicted from the house and the house was occupied by Japanese officers from then.

In 1958, the Malayalee community around the area started a library to promote reading amongst the Malayalee workers who worked at the nearby factories of Hume, Ford, Gammon, Union Carbide and the nearby granite quarries. They registered an association called the Kairali Library and used a kampong house in the village for this purpose.

In 1959, on his victory lap around Singapore, the Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, stopped at the village to thank voters for his party's victory at the 1959 General Election. Mendoza Village was a staunch Party stronghold then. He paid a visit to the Kairali Library and when he was told that the 'road' outside the library was unnamed, Mr Lee declared that it would henceforth be called Jalan Udaya. By 1965, it was officially in the government street directory.
Udaya, a word with religious connotations, in Sanskrit or Marathi means 'growth' or 'increase'.

When Mr Chor Yeok Eng became the MP for Bukit Timah in 1966, he based his Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) at a kampong house in this village across the road.

The entire estate owned by the Png family, said to be approximately 75 hectares in area, was acquired by the government in the 1980s. It was rumoured that the compensation to the landlord was $2m at that time. The kampong folks were offered flats at the upcoming HDB Hillview Estate at Hillview Avenue. The Kairali Library with its collection of Malayalam books was offered space to display its books at the new Bukit Gombak Community Centre at Hillview Estate. It was later given a room at the Education Centre set up at Blk 11 Hillview Estate.
The kampong was completely demolished by 1985 and Upper Bukit Timah Road at that area was widened to improve traffic flow.

In the late 1960s, I had to travel to school by bus passing the Mendoza Village to and fro, and I can still recall the Mendoza eating-shop facing the roadside. This was because my regular Indian barber had shifted his shop from Fuyong Estate, where I was living then,  to set up his new shop beside the 'Mendoza Cafe'. I believe they had partitioned the food-shop to rent the space to the barber.

Here is a very interesting overhead aerial photo of the area (you must have concluded from my blog by now that I'm an aerial photo fanatic!). This was from 1950 when the RAF did aerial surveys of Singapore Island.
In the photo you can see the Mendoza village beside the Ford factory building. You can also see the summit of Bukit Batok with the foundation base of the Japanese Chureito Syonan memorial still in existence then and the little Allied War Memorial behind it.
(Click on the picture for an enlarged detailed view)


In this picture, you can also see the relic of the original Tank Road-Kranji Railway line that ran right through Mendoza Village. Dismantled in 1932, the mound on which the railway sleepers were laid can still be seen today if you search and look closely.
I was there about two months ago doing bird photography and could still see some remnants of the mound. (oops, did I just give away my secret birding spot?)

Heritage hunters may want to check it out as this is about the ONLY place where you can still see the original 1903 Tank Road-Kranji Railway line left today.
You can also see the colonial 'Hillview Estate', the namesake for the future Hillview region, at the bottom of the photo.  To learn more of this country estate, click on the related link below.


Postscriptaddendum to this article 26 October 2019.
After publishing the above blog article, I was contacted by members of the Mendoza family (Anne and Thomas) with whom I had no previous contact, expressing their thanks for highlighting their family history with regards to the Mendoza kampong. They also gave me permission to publish their private family photos here.
Anne also confirmed that the Mendozas were the landlord, and that she remembered that as a little 9-year old child, she accompanied her aunt, Ah Yee, around the kampong to collect rent from the tenants.


Joseph Clement Mendoza (with dog).
The namesake of Mendoza kampong at Jalan Udaya.
He married Agusta Png, daughter of the landowner Joseph Png Swee Thong.

The grave of Joseph Png Swee Thong, who owned Kampong Mendoza.
He lived to a full 101 years old and died in 1951.
He was buried at St. Joseph Church cemetery at Chestnut Drive.

A newspaper cutting from the Singapore Free Press of 4th Dec 1958
announcing the 'electrification for 'Kampong Mendosa Bukit Timah Road'
Postscript 2: 
I also received from a friend from the UK, WW2 researcher Ken Hewitt, a picture of the ex-POW, Tom Sansome whom I mentioned above. Tom Sansome just celebrated his 100th birthday last month.


Ex-POW, Tom Sansome (in wheelchair), who was forced to work at the Ford Factory during WWII.
Tom just celebrated his 100th birthday in Sept 2019 with congratulations from Queen Elizabeth
Photo: courtesy of Ken Hewitt



Related links:-
The Ford Motor factory
Bukit Batok Hill
The Japanese Memorial Syonan Chureito
The Colonial Hillview Estate