Saturday, March 8, 2014

Trekking Bukit Gombak in search of WW2 relics.

Last November, I wrote about the suspected World War 2 Japanese pillbox that may still exist on the slopes of Bukit Gombak. With the recent dry spell, it was perfect weather to organise a search and to identify the concrete structure, or what's left of it,

This morning a team of enthusiasts brought together over Facebook made the exploratory trip.
Among those who came along were Andrew and Christopher, who had previously been to the structure itself, Kim Frost, a WW2 vehicle expert and Jingyi, one of the few trained archeologist in Singapore, heritage blogger Jerome, and with experts from the Bukit Brown team, Andrew and Fabian.

I had brought together this team on my own premise that the structure there could possibly be Japanese or at least WW2 related. But, in order that I would not disappoint anyone if it turned out to be a wild goose chase, I decided to embellish the trip with some side itinerary.

1. A good mornings' hike up the hill.
2. An understanding of the geology of Bukit Gombak and the region.
3. A visit to the mysterious hidden lake at Bukit Gombak.
4. A history of the war in relation to Bukit Gombak.
5. The primary purpose - to view and identify the damaged concrete structure.

The trekkers reaching the base of the spur where the concrete structure is located.

Climbing the steep cliff face. Part of the concrete can be seen above/

Andrew cutting the vines to create a passageway.

The hidden lake near the top of Bukit Gombak.

Part of the concrete structure. Anyone recognise what these are?

Kim Frost digging and trying to identify the structure.

A large metal protrusion.

Were we able to positively identify the structure? Unfortunately, no.
There was simply not enough visual evidence to indicate what it was or what it was used for.  The structure was in total ruins as though it was purposely destroyed but this is not likely to be as Andrew and Christopher had seen the structure semi-intact before the roof caved in.

Even then, the group found other distractions at the site.
Apparently, some unknown people, probably the residents living in the nearby HDB flats, have created a sort of vegetable garden and it was thriving in this isolated hillside. Pandan, tapioca, pineapple, bananas, sugar cane and chillies were found in neat plots.
And, best of all, we discovered a new and easier route to the structure that didn't involve climbing the cliff!

A real Pandan garden

Alas, we also saw signs of a recent field survey, which could possibly mean that some sort of development might be on the cards for this place.

As for the concrete structure, I guess it has to be left to more professional people in future (if there is a future for it).

Here's a little trivia about Bukit Gombak which I shared with this group.
Bukit Gombak contains the oldest known rocks in Singapore.
Contrary to the misconception, Bukit Gombak is actually not made of granite but of another type of hard rock called Norite. Though one is easily forgiven for not knowing the difference.
Samples of norite can be seen strewn all over the Gombak hill.
Bukit Gombak Norite is estimated to be 500 million years old, in comparison to the granite of neighbouring Bukit Timah which is a young 250 million years old.

A geological map of Singapore,

Bukit Gombak as seen from the East (Upper Bukit Timah side)

Watch a clip of the Gombak Trek


  1. I also wonder where is the exact location of the chapel that Australian POWs built after they have completed the memorial to Japanese war dead on top of Bt Batok. The chapel was described in various accounts to be at the foot of the hill.

  2. James, I have really enjoyed your blogs on the geography and history of the Bukit Gombak/ Bukit Timah area. I grew up near Rifle Range Road and now live in Bukit Panjang. I do like seeing historical sites such as you have described in particular battlefields and I would really have liked to have seen the concrete structure. In the 90s there was a case where a secret society took a member of a rival gang up to the pill box on Bukit Batok. and tried to kill him. Fortunately for the victim, although he received several stab wounds none of them were serious and he survived, although not to tell the tale as he refused to incriminate his assailants. The case against the secret society members collapsed, although there were detained under the Criminal Law Temporary Provisions Act. That was the first time I heard there was a piillbox in this vicinity and I have always wondered where it was. Would it be possible for me to come along one one of your future expeditions? I can be contacted at Incidentally My mother was a teacher in Princess Elizabeth School in the late 60s and early 70s, and I often had to come with her to school or to the StanChart Bank at Hillview when there was no babysitter available for me.

  3. Hi Suressh,
    Who was your mom? In the late 60s, I was still at PEES so I may know your mom.

    If there's enough interested people, I won't mind leading another group around the battle sites or heritage places at Bukit Batok/Bt Gombak. (I still owe reader Yum Shoen Keng a field trip!)

    I've taken a few groups already around the WW2 battle sites that are within Bukit Batok and most were surprised and never knew the history of the places they passed so often.
    I'll keep you informed.

  4. My mum is Mrs Rajah. I have had a look at some of the class pictures that your blog has posted but she is not there, but I noticed one of her colleagues Mrs Punch, who lives just around the corner from me at Chestnut Crescent. I live at Almond Avenue. Based on your description I took a walk to the quarry lake this morning. Found it very easily.

  5. Hi James,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog and get to know a little bit more about my neigbourhood! I am interested to come along if you are going to lead another group soon.

  6. Hi Salim
    OK will KIV and put u on the list.
    Can't say when yet as my present focus are on the Bukit Brown tours.
    You might want to consider learning more of the heritage at Bukit Brown.
    This weekend (June 14) we'll be doing a WW2 theme tour.
    You can get more details at this website