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:


  1. The existence of the bunker on a hill poisiton suggests the Brits were expecting the enemy to come down by Jurong Road. But that bunker is for 1-2 man. Is it a foxhole type?

    Now next question, how many more such bunkers around the area?

    Maybe next time you could chop down the vegetation to expose the bunker for the camera.

  2. Hi Peter,
    Yes, because Jurong Road was the only paved road that stretched from Tuas to Bukit Timah, as it was Gen Yamashita's main objective to capture Bukit Timah, it would be obvious that they would try and use the main road rather than go across the Hong Kah/Bulim/Jurong hills.
    The British would obviously then defend and block their path. This was done at the 9ms Jurong Road as a final blockade before Bukit Timah Village.
    Please see this war map, which I actually had in a previous post about Sleepy Valley,

    The map shows very clearly a dark red line across Jurong Road. This was the Australian 15th Bde defence line.
    St Mary Church would be where the wording 'SR' is printed on the map (near the no 9 marker on Jurong Road i.e. 9th milestone). Today this line is exactly where Bukit Batok East Ave 3 runs.

    I guess there may be more bunkers at today's Bukit Batok Nature Park but I have yet to look for them.
    Wanna arrange a exploratory search?

  3. Yes I like to join you. Have not been there for ages.... Let me know when?

  4. Actually the road was from Pasir Laba to Jalan Jurong Kechil. There was no road then to Tuas.

  5. James, thank you for the post. Is it possible for you to share the GPS coordinates of the pillbox?

    1. Hi Bryan,
      Unfortunately I don't have any GPS devices but its about 30m from the gate of St Mary Church and inside the jungle about 3m.

  6. Excellent gents... keep up the good work and record everything.. wouldn't mind a guided tour up there one day !!


    Jon Cooper
    Project manager

    1. Whenever you are free Jon, I'll give you a tour around the Bt Batok sites where the battles occurred, including the unmarked grave site.

    2. james,
      can u tell me the exact spot for the unmarked graves?

    3. The story of the unmarked WW2 graves at Bukit Batok is in this blog article:-

  7. Really interesting, thanks!

  8. Thank you so much for documenting all this for my generation to read and learn. I'd love to join you if you're conducting any tours :D

  9. we should clear up the underbrush/undergrowth and at least allow the pillbox to be seen. my friends and I are willing to help do that. how do we go about? I don't suppose the land is owned by the church - it's just SLA? I don't suppose SLA minds?

  10. Not as simple as being gung-ho, you'll be worn down by the bureaucracy.
    The land does not belong to the church. Its under the purview of SLA.
    I am involved with The Adam Park Project so I know the difficulties communicating with the various depts. You'll need an expert like battlefield archeologist like Jon Cooper to help put your proposal through. Good luck.

  11. Hi James, do you know if the pillbox is still there? I went to search yesterday based on your photos but couldn't find it.

    1. The pillbox is gone. I went down to look for it yesterday. The whole hill is cleared of thick vegetation. There is currently a depression near where the spot is on the photos. Across from the spot, in the now-barren hill, there are some concrete remnants from some structure as well. Did not take a closer look though.