Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Photos from ex-residents (#23) - Gerald Cheah BK.

For many of us who grew up in Princess Elizabeth Estate, the primary school at Princess Elizabeth Drive was a big part of growing up there in our early school life.

Gerald Cheah Beng Kin moved with his family in 1955 and lived on the ground floor at Block 22 which was adjacent but nearer to the back of Princess Elizabeth Estate School. Spending his first six years of primary school there and leaving in 1960, he fondly recalls the Principal, Mr Ponnusamy, his scout master Mr Bernard Fernandez and his Science teacher Mr Nair.
Most memorable for him was his Geography teacher Mr Lim Mou Shen, who took his classmates all over the countryside in his car, especially to the mangrove swamps at Sungei Buloh where they would bring back root stumps to make handicraft like lamps stands and table legs.

Gerald was kind to send me photos to share on my blog in order that those who went to Princess Elizabeth Estate School would remember those days. Some of the photos below are not from his time at the school but were taken later after the demolition of the SIT estate.

The class of 1960. Gerald is second boy from the left.
They are beside the dreaded mobile dental van that visit schools.

Blk 3 of the HDB Hillview Estate.
The old S.I.T. Princess Elizabeth Estate was located in the green field beside the HDB block of flats.

The cleared land was where the old estate once stood.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

The sarabat stalls at Hillview Road

A sarabat stall is basically a makeshift coffee stand, in days gone by.
Unlike an itinerant or travelling hawker, the sarabat stall was usually rooted temporarily at the same spot for a period. It would sell freshly brewed coffee, tea, cold drinks and snacks for a quick bite.

Often ramshackle and unkempt, they were found usually at places like construction sites or near places where people gathered like markets, factories and bus terminals. It was mainly good for a quick cuppa or a smoke during office break or while waiting for the bus.
The name sarabat derived from the Malay sarbat or ginger juice that was mixed with the milk tea, the main beverage sold at these stalls. This concoction is still available today as Teh Halia.

The sarabat stall opposite the Eveready battery factory gates along Hillview Road.
Behind the fence is the Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing Co. 

There were two sarabat stalls that operated along Hillview Road in the 1950s and 1960s.
These were located aside the main road directly opposite the main gate of the National Carbon factory. This factory was also known as Union Carbide or the Eveready battery factory.  The factory began production way back in 1948 but it is not clear as to when the sarabat stalls starting operating at this location.

The above photo shows one of the two sarabat stalls in existence then and was taken pre-1963. 
The aerial photo below of Hillview Road was shot in 1958 and already shows the two sarabat stall along the fence of the Hong Kong Rope factory (yellow circle).

Beside the two semi-permanent sarabat stalls, I was told that there was also an occasional push cart hawker selling cut fruits and cold plum and starfruit juice at times. These hawkers catered mainly to the factory workers during their lunch and tea breaks, especially to the staff of both the Eveready factory and the adjacent Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing factory. Customers included the occasional kampong folks and residents of Princess Elizabeth Estate as well, who had to pass the stalls as they walked along Hillview Road to reach the main road at Upper Bukit Timah.

(Photo source: NAS)

The sarabat stalls were located at the top of the ridge, across which Hillview Road ran from Upper Bukit Timah Road to Hillview Avenue. It was at this very point that the Green Bus Co #5 bus had Request Bus-stops* on both sides of the road, obviously to serve the factory workers as it was just by the company's main gate. 

In the above picture of Hillview Road, you might be able to make out the sloping road that peaked at the area where the stalls were. Today, the slope is not as steep as it once was. The gradient having been reduced with the building of the condominiums around the mid 90s, as well as with the regular accretion from road re-surfacing and maintenance over the decades.

(Photo source: NAS)

Green Bus Co Service #5 driving up the slope from Hillview Circus.
It would crest the Hillview ridge just where the sarabat stalls stood at the top of the ridge.
Note that even in 1955, there were no concrete footpaths along the sides of Hillview Road.

(Photo source: NAS)

Green Bus #5 coming up the slope from Upper Bukit Timah Road side.
The KTM Railway girder bridge was built when Hillview Road was constructed in 1947.

(Photo source: ijamestann.blogspot.sg)

Photo taken in 2011 after the removal of the KTM railway line over Hillview Road.
You can see that the slope is much gentler than in the old days.

*Request Bus-Stops
For those who are unaware, especially of the younger generation today, bus stops in the old days of the mosquito buses were known as 'Request Stop'.  A bus will stop at a 'bus-stop' only when a passenger wanted to alight by pressing the bell, or if there were passengers waiting to board at the marker, which was usually only a metal pole with a number plate. The bus would continue on if the bell was not rung, unlike today where it is usual for all buses to stop at every bus-stop in order to keep to their planned scheduled times.
In those days, there had been many incidents and arguments where the bus would not stop while a passenger will claim that they had rung the bell. Nasty bus drivers, which were common, might hesitantly and purposely stop a long way from the Request Stop and some would even continue on and let the passenger off only at the next stop! Most bus-stops did not have shelters except for those in popular areas. The Request-stops at Hillview Road were not sheltered in those days.

(Photo source: Internet)
The sarabat stall opposite the gate of the Eveready battery factory.
At the far right distant, you can see the KTM railway bridge running over Hillview Road.

My own personal recollection of the sarabat stalls is very vague. It would be in the early 1960s when my father was still working at the Eveready company. I can only recall that my dad used to stop his car at the sarabat stall and would alight to buy cigarettes from the Indian Mama (uncle). We would be driving out from Princess Elizabeth Estate and he would only patronise this stall as he was familiar with them. It was a habit he had, or perhaps he had credit with the Mama? Apart from that scant memory, I cannot recall if I ever had a drink at this stall at all. I was too young then.

Illegal itinerant hawkers as well as makeshift sarabat stalls were all moved off the streets from 1965 to 1971 as part of the government's plan to resettle all hawkers to more hygienic and proper facilities.
So, for those of you who lived at Hillview after the mid 60s, it would be very unlikely that you would have known of these sarabat stalls. There were also sarabat stalls at the #5 bus terminus at Princess Elizabeth Estate too.

In a future article...
If you look again at the aerial overhead photo, you can see a yellow square at the junction of Upper Bukit Timah Road and Hillview Road. This was directly across Hillview Road from the old Chartered Bank. 
It marks the homes of two Indian families who used their house front as shops to sell Indian food. Many will recall these two Indian shop houses as they were also beside the main bus stop heading into the estate.

I will blog about this eating house in a future article, as well as about the HDB Food Centre (photo below) that was built in 1994 at the new HDB Hillview Estate.

(Photo source: Internet)

Quick links to related articles about Hillview Road
The building of Hillview Road
The removal of the Railway Bridge
The development of Hillview Avenue
The Eveready Battery factory

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Ford Motor factory - Japanese Occupation 1942-1945.

    Though this is not directly related to Hillview nor Princess Elizabeth Estate, since both were created only after the surrender of the Japanese Army in 1945, the Ford Motor factory has featured prominently every time discussions about Hillview or Princess Elizabeth Estate arise.

Of course, we all are aware of the fact that the Ford Motor factory became infamous as the place where the unconditional surrender of Singapore took place on 15th February 1942.  GOC Lt-Gen Arthur Percival surrendered all Commonwealth forces in Singapore over to Lt-Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Imperial Japanese Army at the boardroom of the old Ford Motor factory.

The Ford Motor factory was completed and began operation in October 1941. This was just three months before the Japanese Army invaded Malaya. By 10th Feb 1942, the Japanese Army had already invaded Singapore and overran the Ford Factory in their quest to conquer Bukit Timah. It then became the field Headquarters for Lt-Gen Yamashita throughout the Battle of Singapore.

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, from 1942 to 1945, the former Ford Motor factory was handed over to Nissan Motor Company and converted for the building and maintenance of military trucks for use in the Japanese war effort. 

In 1944, the Japanese military government conducted a census of population and required all citizens to be registered. The Ford factory was the registration centre for people living in the rural Jurong, Upper Bukit Timah, Chua Chu Kang and Woodlands areas.

This photo was published by the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbum in a report of the census of 1944. It is also one of the earliest known photos of the building taken during the Occupation period.

The newly completed Ford Motor factory in 1941.
It was built on the western side of Bukit Batok hill.

A Japanese shrine, the Syonan Chureito, was built on the summit of Bukit Batok hill
to honour the war dead of the Japanese war campaign.

The famous picture of the Surrender taking place at the Ford Motors Board Room on 15 Feb 1942.
Lt-Gen Arthur Percival faces his nemesis, Lt-Gen Yamashita.

Group photo for posterity.
The victor and vanquished pose for a group photo after the surrender.

The Ford Motor factory was returned to the owners, the Ford Motor Company of Canada, in 1947.
Above photo is of the factory in 1958.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Malayan Guttas Vintage Photographs

Malayan Guttas Ltd  was a pioneer factory at Hillview, Bukit Timah. 
Many of you may never have heard of this company,  unless perhaps, you once lived nearby around Hillview or you might have known of it perusing through this blog of mine where I had previously written a few articles about it. (links below)

However, you will definitely recall its most famous product - the Wrigley Spearmint Chewing Gum.
The Wrigley Company of Chicago USA set up the factory in 1947 soon after the end of World War Two.

Following the end of war, the British Government offered extremely good incentives for foreign companies to invest in the colonies to revive the war-torn countries' economies. One major incentive was that their manufactured goods would be entirely tax-free if it was manufactured, distributed and sold in any British Commonwealth nation.

As a result, Malayan Guttas became the biggest manufacturer and distributor of chewing gum in all the British Commonwealth out from its factory in Singapore.
The other major incentive for Malayan Guttas was that its principal ingredient for making chewing gum could only be found in the Malay Peninsula, i.e. the then Malaya, Borneo and Indonesia. This was the resin Gutta Percha.

Gutta Percha resin is the inedible bit that gum chewers spat out and made a mess of the sidewalks!
Gutta Percha came from the endemic Sapodilla tree, of which the Chiku fruit tree was one species.
However, extracting the gutta percha resin was primitive even in those days. It had an unsustainable and destructive process in its extraction. They had to chop the entire tree down to bits and boil the wood to extract the resin. 
By the 1960s, due to the scarcity of the Sapodilla trees, they switched to the resin of the Jelutong tree. So Malayan Guttas became the biggest source of Jelutong resin and the centre for worldwide distribution.

Ironically, chewing gum was banned in Singapore in 1992 but by a strange twist of fate, the entire region of Hillview where the factory sat was then re-designated into a 'residential development zone'. The Wrigley Company sold the land to a private developer for a fortune in the late 1990s. The land was developed into the now Hillington Condominium complex.

The newly built Malayan Guttas factory in 1948.

Recently, I was very fortunate to receive a package of old photos from Switzerland.
It came from the daughter of Mr B├╝nzli who was the General Manager in the late 50s to the early 60s.
In those days, the GM was numero uno. He oversaw the entire operations and personally lead many expeditions to Borneo to source for Jelutong resin.

The cache of vintage pictures, of which I will release periodically in future articles, were of the factory operations and of the staff.  Many of the staff were from the old Princess Elizabeth Estate and if you do recognise anyone of them in the photos, please comment below.

The cache of vintage photos I received.

The machinery used in the resin extraction

The boilers used for resin extraction

Crates of resin extract stored at the back

Staff Group Photo c.1962

Staff function at the factory grounds.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Dairy Farm @Bukit Timah in 1963

Going through the archives, I found an amazing old black & White photo that many people might have dismissed because it was improperly labelled. It had been labelled as 'Indian milk cows. Malaya 1963'.

However, when I took a closer look at it, I could straight away identify it as the old Cold Storage Dairy Farm at Upper Bukit Timah, where today the Dairy Farm Nature Park is located.

Here is the original photo I found.

Dairy Farm @ Upper Bukit Timah in 1963.

The clues to this picture lie at the top right hand corner.  
The main building is the cow milking shed that is today the Wallace Education Centre. 
If you follow the line left of this building, you will come to the uphill slope that leads to the Dairy Farm General Manager's house at the top which still exist today and which has been converted into a visitor centre. The last General Manager was Mr Phillip Fielding and the house is often referred to as "Fielding's House".

The long building in the picture in front of today's "Wallace building" was the cow shed where the cows were washed and inspected before being sent to the milk shed. Only the concrete foundation remnants of this building are left today, in the field in front of the Wallace Education Centre building.

Running right across the photo in the valley between the cows and the buildings is the location of the water pipeline that carries the raw water that Singapore buys from Johor state.

Today, this entire area in this photo is covered by secondary forest with the Wallace Trail running through part of it.

Update: 7 Dec 2020
Following my above posting of the old Dairy Farm, I search my own collection and came out with this rarely seen picture of Dairy Farm, also taken around the 1960s.

This photo shows the pasture behind the building that is now the Wallace Education Centre (right of photo). Today we see a forest there with no access into the area. The open field at the foreground of the photo is where NParks had recently built a new teaching/training shed.

You can read more about the Dairy Farm in my blog here at the following links:-
Places around Princess Elizabeth Est - Dairy Farm (Jan 2012)
The mysterious house at Dairy Farm (June 2014)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Railway lines at Hillview

In my previous article that I posted in July regarding the Hillview factories along Upper Bukit Timah Road, a lot of interest was centred on the two railway lines that ran past Hillview. These were, firstly, the 1903 Singapore-Kranji Railway, and secondly, the 1932 KTM Railway that 'replaced' the 1903 railway line. I must clarify that even though I occasionally write about the railways, I am not a rail enthusiast, nor an expert on this subject, and my writings about them only relate to my blog articles here.

One of my contacts, a local railway expert, Trevor Sharot, had earlier re-discovered and confirmed the existence of a tunnel that was seen in old 1950 aerial photo maps. This tunnel is under the now 'Green Corridor' and is not clearly visible by any and all who trek along this conservation corridor. It is covered by shrubs and overgrowth. I have marked it out in this 1950 aerial photo. I will do a writeup on this tunnel in a future blog article.

The hidden tunnel under the old 1932 railway track.

Another old friend and railway enthusiast, Peter Chan, also got in touch with regards to the older 1903 Singapore-Kranji Railway. Peter's grandparents lived at the Chestnut area and had seen the building of the 1932 KTM railway that was to replace the 1903 Singapore-Kranji Railway.
More fortuitously, Peter's grandfather had the presence of mind to take photos of the construction in those days, and Peter shared one with me.

What is interesting about the black & white 1931 photo is that it shows the steel truss bridge being built across Upper Bukit Timah Road in 1931 for the new KTM Railway that would run to Tanjong Pagar. This now retired truss bridge is being conserved today as a heritage item along with the rail corridor.

What is of greater interest in this B&W photo (especially to rail enthusiasts) is that you can see behind the bridge, the level on the hillside where the older 1903 Singapore-Kranji Railway line ran down from the hill (where Ford Motors would later be built). It was on a higher level above Bukit Timah Road.

With Peter's permission, I enhanced the old B&W photo and found that I could then make out the old telegraph poles that ran alongside the 1903 Kranji railway tracks! The old telegraph poles were significant in determining the layout and alignment of the 1903 tracks as seen in my previous posted article. (The red line).
In the old days, telegraph poles were built parallel alongside the railway lines.

 Note the 1903 telegraph wires up on the bridge level (right of pic).
There also appears to be overhead electrical cables alongside Bukit Timah Road as well. These can be seen beneath and beyond the bridge.

Peter then sent me more photos he had!
These were the actual remnants of the telegraph poles which he found and had kept!

Parts of the 1903 telegraph poles.

The telegraph wire insulator.
(Peter's souvenir from 1903)

Monday, July 20, 2020

Hillview as seen from Upper Bukit Timah 1957.

Source: National Archives of Singapore/British Royal Air Force Collection.
Thanks to Lai Chee Kien and Trevor Sharot for confirmation of the 1903 line location

Here is a picture that is worth a thousand words!
Colorised from an old RAF Sqn 81 aerial survey photo taken in 1957, this is the Hillview region at 9th milestone (14km), Upper Bukit Timah Road.

On the left are the factories of Hillview in 1957, starting with Hume Pipes Co Pty Ltd at bottom, Rheem Hume Co Ltd, Malayan Guttas Ltd, National Carbon and finally, the Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing Co. The Chartered Bank Hillview Branch is to the right of Hong Kong Rope Mfg Co.

Fuyong Estate is across Upper Bukit Timah Road and the KTM Railway truss bridge straddles the highway prominently at this point.

The red roofed buildings today house the Rail Mall shopping arcade and eateries. It was built in the early 1950s by philanthropist, Mr Lee Kong Chian, as low-cost workers quarters to house his employees who worked his rubber plantations in the area. I used to live at Fuyong Estate from the mid-60s till the mid-1980s. My old house was the 4th semi-detached unit up the hill behind 'Rail Mall' . The back of my old house faced the factories across the road and everyday I would see the KTM trains going by.
You can't miss the trains because at this point, just before the girder bridge at Hillview Road, they were required to 'WISEL', as the signal signboard indicated. Whistle to warn of an approaching train.

Among other things to note here was the railway sidings just to the left of the bridge. There were two sidings, off the main railway line, that were used exclusively by the Hume Pipes Co. These were used to load the manufactured pipes for conveyance up to Malaya then, where Hume Industries was a major supplier of concrete pipes for the country's development. 

The first railway line that ran through Hillview was the 1903 Singapore-Woodlands Railway (aka the Tank Road-Kranji Railway). I have sketched out the approximate line location where the 1903 railway ran through this part. (red line).  The other railway line that passed Hillview was the 1932 KTM railway line. The 1903 railway line became defunct, and eventually removed, when the 1932 KTM railway line started operations.

Initially built by the Federated Malay States Railways (FMSR). It was later incorporated by the governmental Malayan Railway Administration (MRA) and in 1962 became known as the Keratapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), the name which most of us associate the railway line with. 

It was the FMSR that built the black truss bridge over Upper Bukit Timah Road, which has now been declared a heritage conservation structure.
The former KTM railway line was closed and subsequently removed in 2011 and the old rail bed is now preserved as part of the Green Rail Corridor conservation project.

Related reading.
The Hillview Road Girder Bridge
Rail Mall