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

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Factories around P.E.Estate #13 - Malayan Textile Mill

       After all these years describing the various former companies and factories located at Hillview, you would think that Malayan Textile Mill would be on top of the list. It being one of the original four factories set up back in 1953. Yet until now, it was left out because I really did not have much information on this entity! It'll also probably be the last factory to be covered in this series on the factories around Princess Elizabeth Estate.

Fronting Hillview Avenue with its distinctive serrated roof, the Malayan Textile Mill was built on a large 3000ha piece of freehold land. In the 1950s, textile production in East Asia was becoming very popular due to the low cost and producers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan were getting renown for their quality textiles.

Malayan Textile Mill was set up to spin yarn.  Yarn being the raw material used by other textile mills to produce finished fabrics, textiles, knittings and other types of cloth.

The Malayan Textile Mill machinery spinning yarn on spools.
In the tumultuous 1960s, the factory was involved frequently with workers wildcat industrial action and strikes. This was a time of growing awareness of workers rights, mainly over the low wages and working conditions.

By the 1970s, there were up to 25 textile mills in Singapore but most were inefficient and unprofitable. It was an industry where local expertise and skilled workers were in very short supply. Experienced textile workers tended to migrate to other factories with better pay. This eventually led to a detrimental situation for the entire textile industry in Singapore, and to the eventual closure of most mills.

The Malayan Textile Mill was bought over by another company and renamed as the International Spinning Mill. It lasted well into the early 2000s when it was sold to real estate developers to built condominiums on the site.

Today, Hillview Green Condominium sits on the old factory site along Hillview Avenue.

Related links:-
#1 Factories that were located at Hillview
#2 Cycle & Carriage
#3 Ford Motor
#4 Amoy Canning
#5 Malayan Guttas
#6 Castrol
#7 Union Carbide
#8 Kiwi Polish
#9 Magnolia Dairies
#10 Hume Industries
#11 Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing Co
#12 Central Oil Refinery
#The Hillview Industrial Estate

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Factories around P.E.E. #12 - Central Oil Refinery

The factory along Hillview Avenue.
Green Bus service No. 5 about to turn towards (Princess) Elizabeth Drive.
The Central Oil Refinery was built in 1951. It was one of the four original enterprises that were set up by the Colonial Development Corporation at Hillview Avenue to spearhead what was supposed to be the Colonial Industrial Estate at Bukit Timah.

Built by local entrepreneur, Mr Lim Seow Peng, with investors from Hong Kong, it produced cooking oil, margarine and soaps derived from palm oil.
In 1964, it achieved a local first breakthrough by refining a cholesterol-free poly-unsaturated oil from groundnuts and marketed as a healthy oil, free from saturated fats.
Flag Brand Groundnut oil advertisement from the Central Oil Refinery.
(extract ©NLB microfile 12158)
When the new Popular Estate was developed in the area behind the factory in the late 1960s, the factory premises was separated from the new estate by a narrow road, Jalan Batu Nilam. 
The close proximity resulted in a torrent of complaints from the new house owners about the air pollution and heavy oil smells emitted by the factory.

The building of Popular Estate behind the refinery in 1963.

Despite much intervention and mediation by the authorities, the problem of the persistent oil smell were never fully resolved. Relief for residents only came when Hillview was re-designated from an industrial zone to a residential zone. The factory land was sold to a real-estate developer, City Development Ltd.

Today, the Chantilly Rise condominium is located where once the Oil Refinery stood along Hillview Avenue.
Related links:-
#1 Factories that were located at Hillview
#2 Cycle & Carriage
#3 Ford Motor
#4 Amoy Canning
#5 Malayan Guttas
#6 Castrol
#7 Union Carbide
#8 Kiwi Polish
#9 Magnolia Dairies
#10 Hume Industries
#11 Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing Co
The Hillview Industrial Estate