Saturday, December 31, 2011

A grave discovery

In 1990,  during a land survey of the area that used to be where the defunct Old Jurong Road ran, an old Japanese war grave was discovered in the foliage.



This was at the edge of an untouched forest area beside St Mary's Church and the discovery created quite a stir and lots of speculations. It was believed to be the grave of a Japanese soldier ( a corporal according to the Kanji inscription) from World War II. Bukit Batok was an area that saw some of the biggest firefights in the battle for Singapore.

Bukit Batok Blk 287 now sits on the spot where the old grave was lying.
Anyone has any more information of the the above?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Call back in 5 mins !

In the 1960s, there were only 2 public telephones in the whole of Princess Elizabeth Estate.
One was near the market at Philip Walk and the other was at the bus terminus.
Public telephones were not the later era ubiquitous Coinafons but were specially built booths constructed by the Singapore Telephone Board (STB). And STB didn't build many of them in the rural areas!
It was housed in a cabinet with swing doors and had a telephone directory chained inside.


The telephone booth at the bus terminus was initially located on a slope between the bus terminus and Block 21. It was built along a pedestrian desire path that was carved out simply by human foot traffic. Whenever it rained, the path would be muddy and slippery. Because of that, the phone booth was moved a number of times.
First to an open spot by the entrance to the bus terminus. But being in the open, it was once struck by lightning. It was finally positioned next to the bus timekeeper's hut.


My house was actually the nearest one to the public phone booth. Whenever we heard the phone ringing, we would rush to the booth to answer the phone. Back then, the phone was the most exciting electronic gadget around, akin to the iPad today!  It was exciting to know that the phone was ringing.  Not many households had telephones in the 1960s.

It was no secret that in those days, the public phones were duplex instruments, i.e. it could both make and receive calls like any other phone.  The caller would say "Please go and call house no. 122A or house xxx" and we would reply " Ok wait I go call them!" and then run off to get the tenant being ask for. The tenant would then rush back to answer the call at the phone booth.
Occasionally, when the house was a bit farther away, we would say "Call back in 5 mins" and go the longer distance to inform the tenants that a call would be coming in 5 mins for them.

No, I was not the errant boy who answered every call, but in those days kids were always playing about, and to all of us answering and getting the caller was like a big game.

My family had a STB rotary phone installed around 1963. The number was 65232.  And the very first call that came in to this phone was made from the public telephone at the bus terminus! It was such a big event back then. I remembered neighbours would constantly come over to  'borrow your phone?"

Our first telephone was similar to this.
Photo by Jeffrey Abdullah. Used by permission.


(This article is an expansion of a comment I made on Lam Chun See's blog Good Morning Yesterday)


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Princess Elizabeth Estate School

It goes without saying, a blog on P.E.Estate will never be complete without mentioning our old alma mater, the Princess Elizabeth Estate School. Started in 1955, a whole generation of children, especially those from P.E. Estate, will have enough stories to fill up an entire blog of its own!

My siblings and I all studied at this primary school, the first from 1961 till the last graduated in 1974. I was there from 1962 to 1967.


Whenever I recall those school days, I fondly think of the teachers and events that were a part of my childhood. I remembered my Principal Mr George Catherasoo, who drove his white Volvo and was always dressed in his starched white shirt and pants. My form teachers, Ms Tan Gek Eng, Miss YH Chew, Mrs Lee Siew Choh, Miss LK Goh, Mr Liow Poh Yong and finally the frightening Mr Jimmy Tan Cheng Kwang!  So many tales to recall  about the tuckshop, the school field, and especially all the close friends we had all those years.

My dad also had close ties with the primary school. No, he wasn't a student there but for many years he sat on the school advisory committee and assisted in the development of the school programmes.


The School Advisory Committee. (1979)


I am sure that there are lots of stories just waiting to be told! I hope those reading this will share theirs with all of us. Here are some picture from the later years.

School teaching staff 1979.
Sitting: L-R: Mrs Ng Ko Kim, Md Fadzuli Bajuri, Wendy N Bava, Tan Cheng Kwang, Mrs M Dairianathan, Ooi Kew Ghee, Pakir Maideen (Principal), Mrs Pancharatham, Mr Liow Poh Yong, Mrs R Kannan, R Sittampalam, Ms Kee Bee Leng, Tirlok Singh

Centre: L-R: Cik Alus Zam Zam, Mrs E Cherian, Mrs A mani, Mrs Loi Sok Kiang, Miss Hasiave Abdullah, Miss Teng Tin Wah, Mdm Tan Kah Eng, Mdmd Chan Yuet Sim, Miss Hoon Sow Leng, Miss Rama Devi, Mrs Lim Choon Hui, Mrs Agnes Lim, Mrs Jane Pereira, Mdm Khew Kang Nyong, Mrs K Krishna, Cik Saimah Temon, Miss Brema Shanmugam, Mrs Mary Anne Koh.

Rear: L-R: Mr Jayaseelan, Robert Yeo Hock Seng, Low Chew Poh, Yeo Kian Ho, Ho Kam Loong, Mr Ariffin Sengari, Chua Khoon Kok, Tay Whye Urn, Said Talib, Ismail Ibrahim, Chua Lai Seng.


The School Band c. late 1970s
The Primary 6C class of 1980.
The Primary 1A class of 1960.
Click here for article.
The primary 3A class of 1965
Click here for article

If you were an ex-student or staff from PEES, please leave a comment and share your stories here.

I leave you with an anecdote which I commented on my friend Lam Chun See's Good Morning Yesterday website about my P6 days at PEES. I am sure many of you can relate to it.


 During recess or after school, we P6 boys would always run to the small school field, play hatam bola or shoot arrows using lallang. We would run to the furthest end of the field, jump over the drain and there was an area with lots of tembusu saplings and small trees, like a jungle. 
We would play in that 'jungle' often. The P6, P5 and P4 boys would each have their own special area in that jungle. 
We would sometimes run up the slope above the field retaining wall to the top and look down onto the field and school. The slope was covered with shrubs and we would bash through till we reach the rocky stream at the other end of the field. 
The stream had lots of crabs under the rocks. The rocky stream flowed from Bukit Gombak down the side of the field and was joined by another stream flowing from Lor Kemunchup, they joined and flowed under the bridge that led up the elevated school field.

About 8 years ago, I had a chance to return to the old PEES building. My company was a major Red Cross sponsor and there was a big PR event at the Home for the Disabled. I took the opportunity to visit the school which had then converted the classrooms into wards. 

I wanted to look at the old school field. 
Walked acrossed the tiny 'bridge' and walked up the elevated steps. 
OMG! The field was so tiny. Was this the field we played on? 
Yes it was. The retaining wall was still there, the drain at the end was still there,
but I couldn't believe it. 
It seemed so HUGE when we were pupils then! 

Now when you think about it, the field had hardly contained more than the netball court.
I guess it was all relative when we were small kids.


Here is a picture of the school field taken in 1960 or 1961.
(Courtesy of Anne Duncan Moss, Melbourne Australia)
The slope in the background was part of Bt Gombak and as yet unfenced. The lower portion was the 'jungle' that I mentioned above. Bamboo Grove Park would be built later in the decade on that hill.

The man in white on the left is Mr Venugoplan, Sportsmaster of PEES.
Miss Pat Ortega is the lady teacher standing on the right side.


Related blogs:
History of our Primary School
Princess Elizabeth Estate School in 1979
The School Crests
The 1st School Magazine 1962
School 60th Anniversary


Monday, December 26, 2011

Factories around P.E.E. (2) - Cycle & Carriage

Cycle & Carriage set up Singapore's 2nd car assembly plant at Hillview Avenue in 1965.
Singapore's first car assembly plant was, of course, the venerable Ford Motors nearby.

This article is not a history of the company, of which I do not claim any expertise of, but is of my personal experience when I worked there from 1977 to 1980.

It was immediately after completing my NS and I was just adjusting to life outside the military.
Coming with a technical background, I was employed as a Quality Inspector in the car assembly line.
My job was to inspect the workmanship of Mercedes Benz cars coming off the Trim Line. This was where they fitted the luxuries into the bare chasis, i.e. all the trimmings. At this stage, the vehicles were still without the engine and wheels!

About a year into the job, I was promoted to the Final Line.
This was the best part of the assembly line as this was where the cars were given their identity plates and came alive. My job was to ensure that all the cars were up to the required German standards and fit for delivery to the customer.
Ensuring everything is bolted tight before going out! ha ha.

Part of my tasks involved taking the cars out for a test run. The test route was Hillview Avenue, down Jurong Road, Lorong Sesuai up to the top of Bukit Batok hill, round to Upper Bukit Timah Road and back to Hillview Ave, passing Princess Elizabeth Estate along the way. A circuit about 5 km long.


Of course, the test run involved more than just taking the car out for ride. Along the way, checks were done for noise levels, rattles, brake efficiency, wheel alignment and drift and also testing the Blaupunkt sound system.

I had previously written about testing the Mercedes Benz cars along Hillview in my blog about the Bukit Batok Nature Park. Click here for that article.


Besides the Mercedes 200 and 280s models, there were the occasional 230s and 250s assembled on special orders. The C&C factory also assembled Japanese trucks from Daihatsu and Isuzu, as well as the chasis for the Mercedes Benz buses.

In 1980, the government withdraw the tariff protection for local cars and it no longer became viable to assemble cars in Singapore. All the car assembly plants in Singapore, i.e. C&C, Ford, Nissan and Volvo ceased operations. Cycle and Carriage converted their plant into a car repainting centre and maintenance workshop for their Mercedes Benz franchise.

After Hillview was rezoned into a residential area, C&C sold the property to developers who built terrace homes on the former site. C&C invested in developing a smaller site across the road which was previously used as a storage space. This became the Meralodge Condominium.

The Hillview Villas at Hillview Crescent sits where the old C&C factory was located.

Meralodge Condo at Hillview Avenue.
 Built on the site of C&C's 2 acre storage park across the road from the factory.





Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hillview Avenue to Jurong Road

The development of Hillview Avenue

Hillview Avenue was a cul-de-sac built in 1951 as an access to the new Princess Elizabeth Estate. This access road, starting at the junction with Upper Bukit Timah Road, was originally called Princess Elizabeth Estate Drive. It was changed to Hillview Avenue when the road went beyond the estate to reach the new factories of Malayan Textiles and Kiwi Polish. 


The original Jurong Road started from Bukit Timah Village (7-1/2 ms Bukit Timah Road)



Hillview Ave was further extended in 1965 during the construction of Popular Estate and ended at the Cycle & Carriage new car assembly plant. Beyond this laid the kampongs and farms of Jurong. 

Jurong Road was shortened in 1960 to connect to Upper Bukit Timah at 8ms.near Lorong Sesuai
The old stretch was renamed Jalan Jurong Kechil


In post 1965 independence period, Jurong Industrial Estate was the major focus of economic development. As a result, critical access to Jurong Industrial Estate were necessary and Jurong Road was widened, re-aligned and improved.

In 1967, Jurong Road was widened and re-aligned and a section
became the 'Old Jurong Road' (colored orange above map)


By the early 1970s, Hillview Avenue was extended to join Jurong Road by connecting it to Jalan Perang. It became an alternative bypass between Jurong and Woodlands, provided you were able to get under the girder bridge at Hillview Road.

Hillview Ave connected to Jurong Road by joining it to Jalan Perang



In the early 1980s, HDB built the Hillview Estate to the north of P.E.Estate.
While to the southern end of Hillview, Bukit Batok New Town was beginning to be developed by the mid 1980s.





In the  late 1980s, with the construction of the Bukit Batok New Town, 
a section of Hillview Ave was renamed Bukit Batok East Ave 2, 
while the part of Jurong Road that ran through the new Bukit Batok Town was renamed 
Bukit Batok East Ave 6 and Bukit Batok West Ave 6.

The stretch between Upper Bukit Timah Rd and Jalan Jurong Kechil
was renamed 'Old Jurong Road' (in orange).
The original Old Jurong Road was expunged with the re-development of Bukit Batok Nature Park


By early 2000, factories along Hillview Ave were replaced by condominiums




Old Jurong Road was like this in the 1960s.


The only remnant of Jurong Road today now lies parallel  to the PIE from Bukit Batok Road to the PIE ramp at Jurong West Ave 2. The stretch that was previously known as Jurong Lama. It is still functioning as a minor roadway today.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Princess Elizabeth Estate at Clementi? Almost!

In 1947, the news of the upcoming marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip was the most uplifting event given that the region was just recovering from the pains of World War II.

In keeping with the joyous momentum, the colonials decided to make it a big do and to raise funds for the planned celebrations "by subscriptions", as donations were then known as. The Princess Elizabeth Wedding Fund Celebration Committee was formed.

To make it more meaningful for the Princess (no mention of the Prince), they decided to use the fund  partially to commission jewelry as wedding gifts for the royal couple, and that the balance was to be used for social benefits that the Princess would approve of, such as building a tuberculosis hospital. In the end, it was decided that about 200 flats be built to provide housing for the locals as these were in critical need.

It was further decided that the flats would be built in two lots; one in the Municipal, i.e. in the city, and the other in the rural area. Both these housing estates were to be known as Princess Elizabeth Estates. The first of the two lots was settled at Farrer Park, along the old race course road.

The location of the second 'rural' estate was more difficult to determine. Initially, the Municipal Commissioners offered 4.6 acres in the Halesworth Park area for sale to the Celebration Committee. This was initially accepted but objections were raised by nearby residents and the offer was rescinded.

The objections were raised by nearby residents who felt that the presence of low rental homes and low income residents would be out of character for the place where the prestigious Singapore Turf Club laid. The objections came from the other colonials themselves.

The football field at Dunearn Road/Swiss Club Road.
The rejected initial location for Princess Elizabeth Estate.
Halesworth Park was in the Dunearn Road area. Its location is currently where Swiss Club Road joins Dunearn Road and where a football field now lies. In time, a car park was built instead for the old Singapore Turf Club on this site.

The next consideration was at Clementi Road. This was to be beside the Reformatory Boys Home.
The Reformatory Boys Home at Clementi Road, later renamed Gimson Boys Home.
This was the tentative site for the new Princess Elizabeth Estate.
( Gimson Boys Home was renamed Singapore Boys Home after Independence.)
The current SIM University is built on the same location.

However, in 1948, the French Belgian bank, Credit Foncier, donated 12 acres of land at 9-1/4 milestone Bukit Timah to the Wedding Fund. This land was to be used for building the new estate. The following year, the bank donated a further 5 acres for a school to be built on an adjacent site. 

This new location was to be named Princess Elizabeth Park Estate.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Factories around P.E.Estate (1)

The Hillview/ Upper Bukit Timah Road district had a few prominent factories right from the early days.
Most famous of which would be the Ford Motors Factory on the eastern slope of Bukit Batok.
The Old Ford Motors Factory goes down in Singapore history as the place where Lt-Gen Arthur Percival surrendered Singapore to the Japanese during World War II.

Industrial unrest at Ford Motors in the 1960s


After World War II and into the 1950s, the area around the Ford factory became known as the "Colonial Industrial Estate at Bukit Timah". Gradually, more factories were built up in the surrounding area. These were Hume Pty Ltd, National Carbon (later renamed Union Carbide), Gammon Malaya Ltd, Dairy Farm, Amoy Canning, Singapore Magnolia Co, Malayan Guttas, Malayan Textiles, Hong Kong Rope Co. and Kiwi Polish (M) Ltd.

Hume Pipes Pty Ltd, later renamed Hume Industries Ltd
Hume factory along Upper Bukit Timah.  Far right Union Carbide

After Singapore's Independence in 1965, the area was aggressively promoted as a light industrial area and factories were encouraged to set up in the new Hillview Industrial Estate. The government pushed for industrialisation with the urgent need to create more jobs for the population. Hillview Avenue was extended to join up with Jurong Road at the other end.

Companies setting up included Castrol, Singapore Ceramics Ltd, International Spinning Mills, Cerebos, Yakult, Lam Soon Oil, Camel Paints, Metal Containers Ltd, Central Oil Refinery and Snow White Laundry amongst others.
Flatted factories were also set up within the bigger warehouse complexes like Lam Soon Industrial Building, Kelwaram House, and Hillview House.
Cycle & Carriage Industries Ltd set up Singapore's 2nd car assembly plant at Hillview together with a centralized Service Centre for Mercedes Benz in an adjoining plot of land.

In 1993, the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) rezoned the Hillview area from an Industrial Zone to a Residential Zone under the Singapore Master Plan. Companies in the area had to relocate or redevelop their land into residential properties.

Today, except for the Ford Motors Factory, which was conserved as a heritage site, and some warehouses along Hillview Ave, the rest of the factories have been replaced by condominium developments.

Lam Soon Industrial Building (left) amidst the condominiums at Hillview Avenue.

The remaining warehouses will have to move out by 2014 as gazetted under the URA Master Plan.
The last of these warehouse complexes are the Lam Soon Industrial Building, Kelwaram Hillview and Hillview House. It might interest you to know that McDonalds had their warehouse at Hillview House before moving to their own premises at Pandan Loop.

In a future blog, I will talk about Cycle and Carriage at Hillview as I once worked there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New signs of life at the old P.E.Estate.

After many years of lying dormant, the land that was formerly Princess Elizabeth Estate appears to be awakening with some signs of more developments coming up.

The Hillview area had been earmarked since 1993 by the government's URA for condominium residential development. After the rezoning, all the industrial factory owners were encouraged to develop their land into residential properties or relocate. At present, there are about 15 condominiums already completed along Hillview Avenue.

The latest, now on show and slated for completion in 2016, is The Hillier, a residential and commercial complex. This new condo will be built on the former Hillview Estate site and not at the old P.E.E location. Their showflat is currently on view at the old PEE site.



The Hillier showflat on the old PEE site on Hillview Avenue.

The Hillier complex

The Hillier's commercial area will be called hillV2.
It will be only a matter of time before the ex-PEE land will see new condominium highrises.
It will be interesting to see what 'Educational Institution' will be built at the earmarked area at the junction of Hillview Ave and Elizabeth Drive. Looks to be a very big plot. See the Singapore Master Plan 2008 for the Hillview area below.



The old Princess Elizabeth Estate School is now being refurbished into the new United Medicare Nursing Home. It is slated to begin operations by June 2012. However, if you see the Master Plan 2008 above, the plot where the old school lies is also under 'residential'. So I expect that the lease for the nursing home is only temporary.

The old PEES being refurbished. Dec 2011.


Exploring Bukit Gombak

This is an extract from the comments I made on Lam Chun See's Good Morning Yesterday blog.

I recalled there were lots of durian trees on the slope behind the two 7-storey blocks belonging to the isolated families living on the slope. 
There were 2 paths up to Bukit Gombak (i.e. from Princess Elizabeth Estate). 
One from the left beside Blk 23 and the major one on the right of Blk 24 which connected to Lorong Taluki leading to the kampong beside the railway tracks. (This would be where the Mindef field is now)

There was a catholic Cheng family living 2/3 way up the hillside to Bukit Gombak. 
The mother was my family's washerwomen and she had 2 sons and a few daughters. 
The elder son was called Thomas (In Teochew, "Tomack" who worked at Eveready and rode a Vespa which he used to park in front of my flat for security, we used look after it for him).
She had a daughter named Lucy who became the maid who looked after my younger sister as a baby. 
The mother also washed for the Moss family at 126A, my neighbours above our flat. 
When the Moss family moved to staff quarters at Hume Heights, she continued to wash for them there and used to take me along. That was how I used to play at the Moss' Hume Heights home for a number of years.

I remember their home on the Gombak slope had lots of fruit trees- durian, mangosteen, starfruit and lots of ubi kayu (tapoica) which they planted as fences to their plot of land. They also had a pig sty. We used to climb right to the top of Gombak where the radar was. There were lots of pineapple and buah susu (passionfuit) growing along the fence to the radar station. 

Up on the slope there was also a chinese temple but we feared to enter there as we were catholics and temples seemed so 'pagan' to us! There was a farmer who had a large starfruit plantation beside the temple.

From our estate perspective below, we could only see trees on Bt Gombak but it was a totally different world up on the slope.




The British radar station on the summit of Bukit Gombak.
Postscript:
There was another major path to Bukit Gombak that was Lorong Kemunchup.
This started between the primary school and blk 22. This was a very long track that passed several small farms along the way and also branched towards the granite quarry at what is now the Gombak Stadium (Little Guilin). We seldom went that way because of the numerous fierce dogs that belonged to the farmers along the track.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Locating Princess Elizabeth Estate

Today if you were to look, you would not locate Princess Elizabeth Estate on the map.
Sadly, the estate that was built in 1951 as a gift to Princess Elizabeth on her wedding to Prince Philip, was totally demolished by 1995.

Princess Elizabeth Estate was located at the then 9-1/4 milestone (14km) Upper Bukit Timah Road. The only access from Upper Bukit Road was a small road called Princess Elizabeth Estate Drive. Today this same road is called Hillview Road/Hillview Avenue.



Maps courtesy of Lam Chun See
See his blog at Good Morning Yesterday
P.E.Estate has been taken off today's maps.
The estate was built on the south eastern slope of Bukit Gombak.
Popular Estate and Bamboo Grove Park were built in the late 1960s on the hillside west of P.E.Estate. The adjoining Hillview Estate was built by the HDB around 1980.  A Chinese kampong was located at the Lorong Taluki / Lorong Seburut area, where the current Mindef lies.

Pioneer factories operating there at the time were Ford Motors, Hume Pipes, Gammon, Malayan Guttas, Malayan Spinning Mills, Kiwi, National Carbon (Union Carbide) and Dairy Farm.

The most prominent factory then at the estate was Union Carbide. To direct taxi drivers to locate P.E.E., you would tell them to go to 'Tien Tor Long", in Hokkien - "the battery factory".

After Singapore's Independence, the Hillview area was identified for light industrial manufacturing and more factories were set up along Hillview Ave such as Castrol,  Cerebos, Yakult, Lam Soon Oil and Cycle & Carriage. Today all these factories have been relocated and replaced by condominiums.



Princess Elizabeth Estate had a unique addressing system.
Before 1965, there were no block numbers. Each house was numbered serially from No.1 to No. 142. Units on the upper floors were suffixed with A-B-C-D-E-F, representing the 2nd to 7th floor.

So a letter addressed to 126A Princess Anne Hill or just as 126A Princess Elizabeth Estate would be delivered correctly. The Estate was in District 23, making the postal code Singapore 23.
In 1965, Singapore Postal Service standardized the house numbering system.
This resulted in all the blocks getting a Block Number as well as a floor number from  #01- #07.
The postal code was later expanded to 2365 and eventually in 1995 changed to the 6-digit 650xxx format.

There was in fact only 1 paved road within the estate called Elizabeth Drive. The other street names were not 'roads' but basically footpaths leading to the various blocks. These were Princess Anne Hill, Prince Charles Rise, Clarence Walk and Philip Walk.

Passing of an era - The Railway Girder Bridge at Hillview.

So it has finally come to pass. The day that I thought I would never see the light of.
After more than 80 years, the Malaysian railway line has been dismantled and with it the freeing up of the bottleneck at Hillview Road.

I wrote a blog back in Nov 2010 about this bottleneck just after Singapore and Malaysia came to an agreement to remove the KTM railway line from Singapore. (Link here)

The traffic bottleneck at Hillview Road.

Yesterday, while online with another ex-resident, Mr SK Yum, of the now demolished Princess Elizabeth Estate, I learnt that the railway bridge was dismantled that very day we were chatting.  So I missed the opportunity to document a historic moment when the bridge was taken down.

The bottleneck will soon be a thing of the past, much to the joy of all the residents of Hillview and Bukit Batok, as well as for motorists who use that stretch.

I am not sure when the bridge was built but when my parents moved into Princess Elizabeth Estate in 1953,  it was already there. So it must be at least 60 years.

Back in 1953, when Princess Elizabeth Estate was built, the road was the only access from Upper Bukit Timah Road to the estate. It remained the only access road in, until the early 1970s when Hillview Avenue was extended and connected to Jurong Road at the other end.

Soon the old girder bridge will just be a part of people's memory, when they remember that there used to be a bridge at Hillview Road.

The Hillview Bridge with the railway line on top.
This was taken in July during the 'open' period for visitors after the train services ended.

Hillview Road with the bridge dismantled. 26 Nov 2011.

The concrete beam still across is a height warning and collision barrier. Soon to be dismantled as well.  








postscript: 12 Dec 2011
The collision barrier has been removed. Photo taken on 12 Dec 2011.


All that's remaining is the height warning gantry, which ironically has become the obstruction itself!

Related links: