Monday, December 24, 2012

WWII relic at Hillview Avenue

Following my article about the massacre of the Aussie soldiers at Bukit Batok during WWII, I received an email from an old friend from Sydney Australia, Brother George Boggs, a Franciscan Friar.
Brother George came to Singapore in 1970 to work at the Church of St Mary which is located at the hilltop where the Aussie soldiers were camped during the retreat from the invading Japanese Army in Feb 1942.

This was what he wrote
"... when Fr Brendan and I cut down the jungle, we discovered 2 long trenches that were still there but  it didn’t cross our minds to record it on film. I also unearthed a bomb-shell there and had it removed by the army of the time in the late ‘70s. The excavators then came in to build the Hall over the spot.  Yes, we knew the Aussies had fought on that very spot.
Have you been up to the top of Bukit Batok Nature Reserve where the Japs had hewn out of the rocks 3 or so little caves where they hid their ammunition and were camouflaged from aircraft. I believe these little caves have since been cemented in. You know, the hill behind the Fire Station and the Green Spot Drink Factory...
...but there still exists the machine gun pillbox that is inside what used be the Wei Sin School on the road up to the present Church"

His last comment about the pillbox jogged my memory! I recalled seeing the structure about 30 years ago when the hill was still only covered by lallang. Of course, at that time I simply had absolutely no interest in the remnants of the war in Singapore.
But as a result of writing this blog, and of recent sightings of land surveyors taking measurements around the church lands, I thought I'd try and record whatever is left of the pillbox before it is completely lost to posterity.

The Church is situated at the top of a hillock. Up till the 1970s, (old) Jurong Road ran alongside the bottom of this hillock and was the only access from Bukit Timah leading to Hong Kah and Tuas. 

From the top of this hillock, you had a clear view of Jurong Road running towards Hong Kah. 
For this strategic reason, a defence line for the British forces during WW2 was set up beside this hillock facing west from where the Japanese invaded. Today, coincidentally, Bukit Batok East Ave 3 is built upon and runs along that same defensive line. The pillbox would obviously be one of many that would ring the defence line.

This morning, I went to explore the 'jungle' that has now grown around that hillock and I did manage to locate the remnants of the old pillbox. 
Unfortunately, after almost 70 years of neglect , the jungle has reclaimed most of the relic and the old pillbox is completely crumbled and ensnarled by overgrowth. A tree has actually grown through the structure. 

This would be how the machine gun pillbox looked like during its time. This picture is of the one at Sime Road.

The crumbling pillbox today completely ensnarled by overgrowth but you can still see the basic structure.
I was definitely not about to pull up the roots and branches and risk facing black cobras and scorpions!

Beside the pillbox were deep trenches that were dug into the ground and led back into forested area.
These are not the trenches mentioned in Bro George's letter. Those were further up the hillock.

The field of fire that the machine gun would cover would be across the farmlands that was in Jurong at the time. Today, HDB blocks occupy those former farm lands.

The view today from the same spot across the plains. Jurong Road ran just below the green edge.
View of the original Church of St Mary in 1971 when Bro George and Fr Brendan arrived.
The church is built on the hilltop where the Aussie soldiers defended Jurong Road.
(Old) Jurong Road can be seen running behind the building.

Related links:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Places around P.E.E. (8) - Church of St Mary of the Angels

The Roman Catholic Church of St Mary of the Angels was established at Bukit Batok in 1970 when the parish was carved out of the huge St Joseph's Church domain.

It was given to the Australian Franciscan Friars (a religious order) to manage. The pioneer team of Friar Sylvester Campbell, Friar Brendon Rogers and Friar George Boggs took over the premises that was previously used by another group of Franciscans Friars who ran a sociological institute.

At that time, there were only 12 families registered in the new parish but this was soon to change with the establishment of Bukit Batok New Town. Located at the other end of Hillview Avenue from Princess Elizabeth Estate, the parish continued to grow to such an extent that the church building had to be torn down and rebuilt twice over  the next years just to accomodate the growing Catholic community. Today it is estimated to have a congregation of 8,000.

The 1st Church of St Mary of the Angels (left) in 1970.
The building in the rear is called the Friary where the religious friars lived.

Pictured below is the current church building which was designed with people at its heart.
The building was planned to ensure close interaction with the congregation and provide a conducive environment for community worship.

The cobblestone Piazza provides a medieval feeling to the place.

The church nave.

Quiet spaces for personal prayer inside the church

Statues of St Francis of Assisi and St Clare at the entrance welcome visitors.

Aisle leading to the underground Columbarium

The Garden of World Peace, built above the Columbarium.
The building is the Friary where the friars live in community.

A 10m overhead cantilevered roof provides sheltered outdoor space.

Christmas Tree erected over the Reflection Pool.

Though it was never done for that reason, the church building has been recognised as a work of architecture. It won the President's Design Award in 2006, the SIA Architectural Design Award in 2004, the International Dedal Minosse Prize 2004 and the 9th SIA-ICI Colour Award.

I have been a parishioner of this church since 1971 and was the Parish Administrator from 1985 to 1990 when I left to further my career in the commercial sector (sigh).

If you are ever in the area, please do feel free to drop in and enjoy the ambience and to look at the architecture. Free guides are available by the main door for you to make your own way around the premises.

For more info, you can visit the church website at this link.

Related links:
The friars at Hillview
The Franciscans
The Columbarium

Friday, December 21, 2012

Power List in Life! 2012. - Edmund Wee

Edmund Wee, whom I previously listed as one of our luminaries from Princess Elizabeth Estate, has again been named as one of the 20 persons in the Straits Times Power List in Life! for 2012.

The Straits Times Power List in Life! celebrates the top 20 people who have made an impact in Singapore in the field of arts, entertainment and lifestyle. Edmund is on the list again for the 2nd successive year.

Edmund lived with his family and siblings at Blk 14 and was in PEES from 1959 to 1964.
He was also the winner of the President Design Award for 2008.

Our heartiest congratulations to one of our old boys!

You can read the Straits Time article by clicking on the picture.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bukit Batok Hill (3)

Here are some vintage views of Bukit Batok hill taken around 1963 to 1968.

Back then, the 'greening' of Singapore had not yet taken place and the views from the hill top were magnificent. Today, with the development of the Bukit Batok Nature Park around the hill, the views are obscured by trees.

Source: National Heritage Board PICAS Photo database. Taken in 1963.

Photo taken in 1968.

View of the Singapore Granite Quarry located on Bukit Timah across the Upper Bukit Timah valley.
The buildings in the foreground are of the Ford Motors factory.

View from the summit towards the city. Photo 1968.

The view from the same angle today (2012)

The Poh Hin Granite Quarry that worked the hillside of Bukit Batok in 1963.
Today the disused quarry has been converted to the Bukit Batok Nature Park.

Related links:
Bukit Batok Hill (1)
Bukit Batok Hill (2)
Bukit Batok Nature Park
Personal Historic Pixs at Bukit Batok

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Topographical map of Princess Elizabeth Estate

I’ve always had this long fascination with topographic maps. It started way back when I was in secondary school. No, not during geography lessons but during my time spent in the National Cadet Corps. It was an exciting learning experience and we were taught how to read maps in preparation for field exercises.

For a layman, looking at a topo map the first time would be like looking at a big mess on the sheet. What to look at? What’s all those numbers and lines and cute pictures? It’s really messy right?

The beauty of a topo map is in its details. And the key to crack its secrets lay in its ’legend’. 
I was enthralled at how, with just a compass, ruler and string, you can navigate and move through terrain that you have never been to before. And yet know precisely where you are, where you should be or where you should be heading next. 
A good topo map gives you details right down to the path to trek, the type of trees you would encounter and even if you should be climbing up or going down a slope.

I remember those years in the NCC stood me so well that during my time in National Service, my mates had always wanted me in their group during topo exercises as I was noted for being able to read maps!

Here’s a map of the region around Princess Elizabeth Estate.
It is surrounded by the hills of Bukit Panjang, Bukit Gombak, Bukit Timah and Bukit Batok.
Unnamed hills are simply marked with the height of their peaks. 
You can even see the plateau that was beside the estate which I had blog about earlier (marked .170 on the map). 

Click on the map to enlarge it for a detailed view and enjoy looking out for the details. 
Can you see where you can find rubber trees, coconut trees or even lallang patches? 
It’s all marked there.

I am always amazed at how the map surveyors can manage to include details like every kampong house, temple and mosque in the right places. Anyway, with the build up today in Singapore, I guess there’s no longer a need for topo maps. And of course there’s GPS now.

     Here's the key to read and better enjoy looking at the above map.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy at Sleepy Valley

In past articles, I described some interesting places found around Princess Elizabeth Estate.
I had also mentioned some places in the vicinity being famous as World War II heritage sites like Bukit Batok Hill and Ford Motor factory.

From historical records, we learned that Bukit Batok and Bukit Timah were the places where some of the fiercest battles were fought between the defending British forces against the invading Imperial Japanese Army.
Though there is a heritage marker at the top of Bukit Batok Hill and another at Bukit Timah Hill, most people today do not know exactly where these battlefields were. I will take you to one of the sites of a battle at Bukit Batok.

One of the most tragic events of the war in Singapore happened at a place called Sleepy Valley.
Sleepy Valley was a rubber estate in then what was called West Bukit Timah. Today the area is called Bukit Batok.

During a retreat from the enemy forces, a whole battalion comprising 1500 Australian, British and Indian soldiers was trapped and almost annihilated by the Imperial Japanese Army.
 Of the 1500 men, only 400 eventually managed to escape from the ambush.

A little background of the war till that time:
At 10.30 pm on 8th Feb 1942, the Japanese Army crossed the Straits of Johor and invaded Singapore through the Lim Chu Kang Sarimbun area. These areas were defended mainly by British soldiers from the Australian regiments.

By 9th Feb, the British forces were pushed backed where they formed a defensive formation called the "Jurong Line".  The Jurong Line covered the entire stretch from Kranji River in the north to the Jurong River in the south. Tactically, this blockade would contain the Japanese forces within the western sector of Singapore island.

However, the Jurong Line didn't hold, and by the afternoon, the British forces began retreating again.

(Photo; Old Ford Factory Museum)
In the above war movement map, you can see the Allied forces spread out along the Jurong Line.
The British 12th Brigade in the north retreated towards Bukit Panjang and defended its position there.
The British 44th Brigade located south at the Jurong River, retreated towards Pasir Panjang and the City.

In the centre, the British 15th Brigade and the Australian Special Reserve Battalion moved east towards Bukit Timah.
It is this last group of soldiers under the command of Brigadier Coates that re-grouped and fought the Japanese around Bukit Batok* area.

By the evening of 10th Feb, the commander realised that they were almost surrounded by the Japanese and made plans for his troops to retreat south through Sleepy Valley towards the British lines at Ulu Pandan. This was to be at first light in the morning of 11th Feb 1942.

(* I use the term Bukit Batok as a reference to the area found today. In 1942 the entire area was still called "Jurong/West Bukit Timah" . Bukit Batok region was named by HDB/MND after the 1970s.)

Unknown to the retreating British forces, the Japanese Army 18th Division, whom they had been fighting, had already bypassed them along the ridge line that borders today's Jalan Jurong Kechil. (See the black arrow movements above)

The British forces regrouped, in an area where today the  Bukit Batok Nature Park and St Mary of the Angels Church lies, and was ordered to move in columns through Sleepy Valley.

This escape route was unfortunately open farmlands with little cover and the Japanese Army had them trapped when they closed the pincer movement at the end of the valley, a location where today's traffic turnoff from Toh Tuck Road to PIE lies.

The result was that 1100 men out of 1500 were killed at Sleepy Valley. By 10.30 pm, only 400 soldiers managed to escaped from the Japanese to the Australian defence line at Ulu Pandan.

An aerial view of the region where the British forces were caught in the open

Today, this former battle site, Sleepy Valley, is long forgotten. Very few now have heard of it, much less know about its tragic history.

Bukit Batok East Ave 3 runs through it with Yusof Ishak Secondary School and condominiums like Park View and Burgundy Hill occupying the site where the massacre of British forces took place.

A graphic representation of the final movements of 15 Brigade and Special Reserve Battalion
superimposed on today's street map showing the location of the Sleepy Valley battle ground.

If you live in Bukit Batok or will pass through it, do remember this unmarked heritage site where once men fought and died for their country.

The Bukit Batok area today where the tragedy took place on 10th & 11th Feb 1942.
(Click on photo for enlarged view)

An aerial view of the intended withdrawal of British Forces from Jurong Road to Reformatory Road.
(click for a detailed view)

Related links:-
A grave discovery
Ford Motor Factory
Bukit Batok Hill War Memorial
Bukit Batok Hill
Bukit Batok New Town
Searching for an unmarked grave at Sleepy Valley
A dirt track saved 400 soldiers

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Factories around P.E.E. (8) - Kiwi Polish Co

This little flat tin was part of a rite of passage for all Singapore men.
Who among them can forget the endless hours spent 'kiwi-ing' their parade boots? the paraphernalia that's associated with it - shoe brush, cotton wool, lint-free cloth and the upturned tin cap to contain water?
National Service would forever be remembered with polishing boots.

From an earlier start even school children (i.e. during my time!) already knew the word kiwi. It was not the black shoe cream but rather the whitener that was applied to our canvas school shoes each weekend. At times, we kids were so lazy that we forget all about washing our canvas school shoes till the last minute and then desperately applying the white globs before going to school. Blanco, we called it.

The Kiwi Polish Company that manufactured these shoe products was located along Hillview Avenue, just beside Princess Elizabeth Estate. In fact, it was one of the original factories that was set up in the fledging Colonial Industrial Estate back in 1953. (The Colonial Industrial Estate developed into the Hillview Industrial Estate in time.)

Kiwi Polish Co (Pty) Ltd began operations in 1954 with 50 employees manufacturing shoe polish under their brand KIWI. In later years, its product range expanded to include floor polishes, floor waxes and industrial cleaners, and of course, the canvas shoe blanco whitener.

In 1967, it was given a huge boost when the Singapore Armed Forces contracted it to provide boot polish for every soldier in the SAF. I recalled during my NS days, we NSmen were entitled to 2 tins of black polish each month.

Vintage photos of Kiwi Polish Company production line.

The factory closed after the Hillview area was re-zoned for residential development in 1993.
Today, the Chantilly Rise Condominium complex sits on the former factory site.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

P.E.E.S Reunion (Class of 1967 - 1972)

Princess Elizabeth Estate School Class of 1967-1972 held its 40th anniversary class reunion last Saturday 24th November.
They have sent me some photographs showing the great time they had!
Thanks to Grace Chua and Moliano.

But first a message from Grace to all.....

Hi All (including the Absentees!)

We had a BLAST last night.

I hope most of you managed to rekindle old ties, exchange numbers and stay in close touch again.
As the saying goes...

Old Friends are like Diamonds ; Precious & Rare!

The night ended at 10.45 pm and spilled over to 1am at the poolside..

Everyone went home w at least one gift. Mostly with two. The luckier ones with three. All made possible by generous sponsors. Thank you! thank you!

There were games that brought us back to 1972... like 0-be-som n lom jiam pas !

The 'kids' went crazy!

We jammed the night away with songs from our era. Country Road, Beautiful Sunday and heated up to Hey Jude & Venus. Many jumped to their feet in rhythm to the beat! With loud speakers, rock guitarist, amateur tambourin-a n cajorn-a..real concert - Led by Mol !

Not forgetting, we had volunteers too-

Guest Relations Officers - Beatrice & Fiona Yeo
photographer (Mols Son) & projectionist (Gary). Thank you!

Finally , the moment everyone was waiting for...... the grand prize went to ... (Drumroll please)..... appropriately from the one who flew the Red flag .. to his target object..    Wong Mun Yee ... !!

Rafie gave out the prize via teleconference.

It all ended with the finale song. YOU VE GOT A FRIEND.

Thanks again to all for making the night an evenFUL one!

Without all of your presence this would not have been possible.

Warmest Wishes

Blessed Christmas to All!