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The very grand house that Brewer built

2015 April 5

Perched on a small hill just south of hills given to the those who have passed on at Bukit Brown, is a place built as a dwelling for the living, so grand, that it has had members of royalty, a president as well as many powerful military men, find shelter within its walls. The dwelling, Command House, is well hidden from the public eye. It only is on the incline of its long driveway, well past the entrance gate at Kheam Hock Road, that we get a glimpse of its scale and appearance; the drive in also provides an appreciation of the expanse of the sprawling 11.5 acre (4.5 ha.) estate the house is set in.

Command House at 17 Kheam Hock Road. Command House at 17 Kheam Hock Road.

The scale of the mansion, built in 1938 with six bedrooms with bathrooms attached, a huge wine cellar as well as servants quarters and other service buildings laid out over its grounds, must impress. It however is its simple but aesthetically pleasing design that catches the eye. Said to have been inspired by the Arts and Craft movement of which its creator, the well respected Singapore based architect Frank W. Brewer, once of Swan and MacLaren, was a keen follower of, the mansion features elements of Brewer’s interpretation including the distinctive exposed brick voussoirs that is also seen in other Brewer designed houses (some examples: 5 Chatsworth Park and 1 Dalvey Estate).

Many of Brewer's work feature very distinctive exposed brick voussoirs. Many examples of Brewer’s work feature very distinctive exposed brick voussoirs.

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Several recognisable architectural contributions have been attributed to Brewer. In Singapore, these include the Cathay building and St. Andrew’s School. Visitors to Cameron Highlands would not have missed another of his works, the Tudor style Foster’s Smoke House, a landmark in the popular Malaysian mountain resort.

A Google Maps satellite view of the grounds and the surrounding area. A Google Maps satellite view of the grounds and the surrounding area.

Built as Flagstaff House, the residence of Malaya’s most senior military commander, the importance placed on its intended occupants can be seen in the house’s grand appearance, as well as in its expansive setting and its somewhat lofty position. Flagstaff House’s completion had come at the end of decade in which the emphasis was on building Singapore up militarily to support its role as an outpost for the British in the Far East.

Command House after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority). Command House after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

The back of the mansion. The back of the mansion.

Laid out on a ”butterfly plan”, commonly seen in the architecture of the early Arts and Crafts movement, the mansion and its beautiful grounds must be as perfect a spot as any in Singapore for a dream wedding. While that may not be possible today given the current use of Command House, playing host to a grand wedding reception was in fact what Flagstaff House’s very first act was, shortly after its completion. In September 1938, Flagstaff House played host to a reception for a wedding described in this Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser article of 8 September 1938 as being “the biggest military wedding yet seen in Singapore”.

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The wedding was of Lieutenant O C S Dobbie and Ms Florence Mary Dickey, held just a month or so before the house’s intended occupant, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Malaya, was to move in. This was possible as the groom, Lieut. Dobbie, was not only the GOC’s aide-de-camp, but also his son. Lieut. Dobbie’s proud parents, Major General W G S Dobbie, had then still not moved from the older Flagstaff House at Mount Rosie.

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Two other GOCs were to occupy the house before the Japanese made nonsense of the illusions the British held of their invincibility. The last before the inglorious event was Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, the unfortunate face of what has been described as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”. Based on an account by an eyewitness, Herman Marie De Souza, an officer in the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, at his interview with the National Archives, the last time Percival set foot in the house would have been on Saturday 14 February 1942:

“On a Saturday afternoon, I was at Flagstaff House ground when I saw a large car approaching. I jumped to the road and stopped the car. And there was Percival in the car. I recognised him, I had met him before. And I said, I don’t think you place is very safe, because the shells are flying all the time. You hear the whizzing over. But he said he had something to do there.  He went in there, and I didn’t realise he was burning his papers. And there I was holding, looking after him, sort of, until he finished what he had to do and went off. He wished me goodbye and went back to Singapore.”

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Following the fall, the mansion is thought to have been used to accommodate Japanese troops. The British military commanders returned to live in the house after the occupation ended. Lord Mountbatten, the uncle of the future Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, was one, he stayed in the house in his capacity as the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command, in 1946. Prince Philip, the consort to the Queen, was also to stay as a guest later, doing so during a visit to Singapore in February 1965, by which time, the property was already referred to as Command House.

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In all, Flagstaff / Command House was to see some fifteen commanders pass through its doors as residents; Commanders-in-Chief of the British Far East Land Forces in the post-war period. The pull-out of British forces in 1971 gave the Singapore government possession of the property and it continued its distinguished service when it became the official residence of the Speaker of Parliament. Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng, who held the position from 1970 to 1989, was the only speaker to have taken up residence at Command House. Dr Yeoh’s successors, Mr Tan Soo Khoon in 1989 and Mr Abdullah Tarmugi in 2002, decided against using the official residence.

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It was during Mr Tan’s tenure as Speaker that Command House was briefly made the official residence of the President of the Republic of Singapore, who was then Mr Ong Teng Cheong. The move was necessitated by the extensive renovations to the Istana that took place between 1996 and 1998.

Command House, when it was used as the official residence of the President. Here, we see the then High Commissioner-designate of Zambia at his ceremonial welcome in 1997 (Photo: National Archives of Singapore online catalogue).

Command House after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority). Command House after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

Today, Command House, stands not as a residence, but as a place of learning, the UBS Business University. Its tenancy was taken up in 2007 by UBS, a Swiss based financial services company, who initially used it as the UBS Wealth Management Campus-Asia Pacific, before relaunching it as the Business University. Command House was gazetted as a National Monument on 11 November 2009.

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An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority). An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority). An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).

An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority). An view of the interior after refurbishment in 2007 (photo courtesy of Singapore Land Authority).


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

Panguni Uthiram 2015

2015 April 4

Panguni Uthiram, a Hindu festival similar in the way it is celebrated to the better known Thaipusam, is celebrated during the full moon in the Tamil month of Panguni (which falls in March or April). In Singapore, the tradition is observed at the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar temple, a temple now at Yishun Industrial Park A with its origins in the British Naval Base. The original temple was located off Canberra Road and it was there that the festival was first celebrated at the temple in 1967.

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The lively festival, which unfortunately music and singing has been disallowed (along the procession route), features both a procession of the Silver Chariot on the eve and a kavadi procession on the day itself. More on the festival and photographs from the previous festivals can be found at these links:


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The beautiful campus at Hyderabad Road

2015 March 19

A good reason to visit the S P Jain School of Global Management’s campus at 10 Hyderabad Road, I am told, is the great naan and curries that the canteen there serves. Set in generous and lusciously green surroundings with two glorious old buildings from the 1930s, even if not for the naan, the school and its grounds are well worth a visit.

The Singapore campus of the S P Jain School of Global Management is surrounded by lush greenery, The Singapore campus of the S P Jain School of Global Management is surrounded by lush greenery.

The S P Jain School of Global Management with a bust of its founder. The S P Jain School of Global Management with a bust of its founder.

S P Jain’s Singapore campus, one of Asia’s top ranked business schools, lies on the fringe of Alexandra Park, an area with a distinctively colonial flavour, seen in the structures and in the street names. That is, except for Hyderabad Road. Curiously out of place next to Berkshire, Bury, and Cornwall, it seems that Hyderabad became so due to a connection it has with the Nizam of Hyderabad.

The canteen, where good naan is served. The canteen, where good naan is served.

The Nizams, a line of princes that stretched back to the days of Mughal India, held great wealth during their reign, all of which was to come to an abrupt end with the passing of the British Raj. The last Nizam, once labelled as the world’s wealthiest man, is said to have owned property along the road (see The Hindu, 10 April 2007), and so the road was named after the then princely state.

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Whatever the case may have been, the links the road has with the subcontinent has now been reaffirmed with the Mumbai based business school having established one of its three international campuses there in 2007. The school, which came to Singapore at the invitation of the Singapore government, runs both graduate and undergraduate programmes and students enrolled in its MBA courses get to spend a term at its beautiful Singapore campus and a term each at its two other campuses in Sydney and Dubai.

A portal for learning that is also a portal into the past. A portal for learning that is also a portal into the past.

Having taken over the tennancy for the premises from the Singapore Land Authority in 2006, the school set off by refurbishing the buildings for its use. The work also involved restoration on the two heritage buildings. Having been left vacant since 1998 when its previous occupants, the Institute of Dental Health (IDH), moved out, the structures needed quite a fair bit of effort to bring them back to their original glory.

The condition of the heritage building before S P Jain refurbished it (photographs courtesy of S P Jain School of Global Business. The condition of the heritage building before S P Jain refurbished it (photographs courtesy of S P Jain School of Global Management).

The current boundaries of the property would probably have been defined in the early 1970s when the Ministry of Health (MOH) took over. It housed the Dental Health Education Unit in 1973 and then the IDH, into which the Dental Education Unit would be incorporated into. The setting up of the IDH in 1975 was to allow for the centralisation of training for dental therapists, nurses, dental assistants and technicians, and in doing so, also provided outpatient dental health facilities. A six-storey third building on the grounds was constructed in 1976 for this purpose, for which two older buildings were demolished. This new annex is the same building that the business school now uses as a learning centre (where it holds its classes) as well as a hostel.

The IDH gate still graces one of the exits that is now used as a service gate. The IDH gate still keeps one of the exits that is now used as a service gate, closed.

At its opening in 1977, the annex housed administrative offices, demonstration surgeries, X-Ray rooms, dispensaries, laboratories, sterilising rooms, teaching facilities, as well as two dental surgery wings. It also played host to the Ministry of Health (MOH), when that had to be moved there temporarily in 1978 after a fire had damaged the building MOH was using in Palmer Road.

The 1977 annex, seen from the corridors of the heritage buildings. The 1977 annex, seen from the corridors of the heritage buildings.

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It is the two older buildings that have more of a story. The two, one probably an annex of the other, provide the clearest hint of what the grounds were before the MOH took over. Visually, they can very quickly be identified as the remnants of the British military build-up in the Far East that took place between the wars, the height of which was in the 1930s. The build-up was part of a strategy of deterrence the British adopted against what was seen to be an increasingly aggressive Japan. This saw airbases and a naval base established on the island with buildings with identical appearances, replicated in the several other barracks established during the era across the island.

The heritage buildings are recognisable as structures put up by the British military. The heritage buildings are recognisable as structures put up by the British military.

The two buildings, built in 1935, feature a Classical style adapted for the tropics. Featuring large windows or doors and provided with generous ventilation openings and corridors, the rooms buildings were light and airy, keeping their occupants cool in the oppressive tropical heat. The two-storey design, is one seen in at least two other buildings from the era we still see, each built as an Officers’ Mess. One, the former Tanglin Barracks Officers’ Mess, is now used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Another is the former Officers’ Mess of Selarang Barracks, now Selarang Camp. This is still in active military service and is now the home of the army’s 9th Division HQ.

A front to back corridor in the middle of the main heritage building - very much the same as a similarly designed building at Selarang Camp. A front to back corridor in the middle of the main heritage building – very much the same as a similarly designed building at Selarang Camp.

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The buildings at Hyderabad Road, were built to be used as the Officers’ Mess for Gillman Barracks, a large part of which was on the opposite side of Alexandra Road. Together with other military propetry, they were handed over to the Singapore government when the pull out of British forces was completed in 1971. Initial thoughts on the reuse of these two structure included their conversion for use a motel or a rest house – something that perhaps one of the buildings is now partly used as.

The upper corridors where rooms for visiting faculty are laid out. The upper corridors where rooms for visiting faculty are laid out.

A visiting faculty room. A visiting faculty room.

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The transformation of the buildings by S P Jain has seen twenty very comfortable rooms on the upper level of the main heritage building fitted out so that visiting faculty could be put up on the premises. Along with this, a beautifully decorated lounge and banquet hall has been provided on the lower level. The buildings also see rooms fitted out for staff as well as students such as administrative offices, faculty offices, discussion rooms, a music room, a really cool chill-out lounge and a library, which is on the upper level of the smaller building.

The music room. The music room.

The Banquet Hall. The Banquet Hall.

The Lounge. The Lounge.

The Library. The Library.

Beautifully bright office space created by closing the arches along the corridor of the smaller building with glass. Beautifully bright office space created by closing the arches along the corridor of the smaller building with glass.

Having visited the campus, I must say it is the nicest belonging to an institution of higher learning that I have come across in Singapore. The grounds and its buildings, is a perfect fit with the school, providing an environment that is well-suited to learning that seems far away from the urban word - an wonderful example of how old places and buildings that have lost their original purpose can be retained and made relevant to a world that would rather have them forgotten.

Discussion room. Discussion room.

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The greenery that the school's campus is set in. The greenery that the school’s campus is set in.

What I am told are mounds that hide underground bunkers that were used for storage. On the grounds: what I am told are mounds that hide underground bunkers that were used for storage.


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

A new journey through Tanjong Pagar begins

2015 March 18

Close to four years since the close of the railway that ran through Singapore, the  much anticipated Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Rail Corridor is finally out – announced at 11 am today. Key highlights of the RFP include the submission of a Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals. This will require the development of concept designs for four key activity nodes and two special interest areas, one of which is Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, which involves a proposal for its reuse as a community space for a period 20 years until the port is moved out.  Also noteworthy is the identification of the Kranji MRT area as a northern gateway, which I understand will also involve a realignment of the rail corridor in the area. More information on the RFP can be found in the press release which is appended and at t http://ura.sg/railrfp.

We waved goodbye to the Malayan Railway trains through Singapore close to 4 years ago on 30 June 2011. We waved goodbye to the Malayan Railway trains through Singapore close to 4 years ago on 30 June 2011.

Bukit Timah Railway Station, one of four activity nodes for which concept designs are to be proposed. Bukit Timah Railway Station, one of four activity nodes for which concept designs are to be proposed.


NEWS RELEASE BY THE URBAN REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY

URA LAUNCHES REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL FOR THE RAIL CORRIDOR

Input from the community to crystallise Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals

18 March 2015 – The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) launched the ‘Rail Corridor – An Inspired and Extraordinary Community Space’ Request for Proposal (RFP) today, inviting design professionals to develop a Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals for Singapore’s Rail Corridor.

The Rail Corridor: A unique community space of exceptional possibilities

The 24 km-long Rail Corridor spans north to south of Singapore. It threads through diverse landscapes such as housing, business, industrial, and recreational areas, and key landmarks that are rich in nature and heritage. See Annex A for the current uses along the Rail Corridor.

Over the past three-and-a-half years, the URA has engaged different segments of the community extensively through various platforms to gather feedback on their aspirations for the Rail Corridor. The URA has taken on-board the community’s input and distilled them into a set of Planning and Design Goals that now forms part of the RFP brief, to guide participating teams’ proposals for the Rail Corridor. See Annex B for this set of goals.

Mr Ng Lang, Chief Executive Officer of the URA, said, “The return of the former railway land presented a unique opportunity for us to shape the future of the Rail Corridor and its surrounding areas together with the community. The Corridor has the potential to become an extraordinary cross-island green artery and an inclusive community space that provides an exceptional experience for Singaporeans from all walks of life. We have taken the time to engage the community widely, and their input will now guide the development of the RFP proposals. Our intention is to continue to sensitively stage the development of this project with the community, and not rush into developing the whole stretch at one go.”

The RFP will be looking for design professionals to develop an overall Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals for the Rail Corridor. The proposals should have nature and greenery, celebration of heritage, and connectivity as hallmarks of the Rail Corridor experience. They should be sensitive to the local context so that the Rail Corridor will become more accessible and comfortable for the wider community to enjoy. Retaining and enriching the signature ‘green corridor’ experience is also one of the key requirements. In addition, the proposals must be robust to accommodate the evolving needs of the community.

The RPF calls for an overall Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals for the Rail Corridor. These include concept designs for four key activity nodes as well as smaller community nodes. There will also be Concept Designs for two special interest areas.

(1) The Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals should create a unique and endearing Rail Corridor experience. The Concept Master Plan should be embedded with a strong identity and clear design approach that includes proposals for a community connector, amenities, and programming for community use. It should also include landscape, heritage and urban design strategies. Teams should also propose innovative design strategies to sensitively integrate developments with nature and greenery along the Rail Corridor. In addition, participating teams are to propose creative concept designs for four key activity nodes along the Corridor that can support a range of activities, namely:

(i) Buona Vista (near one-north)

This can become a vibrant community space for the nearby business park and research community, as well as residents of the Queenstown neighbourhood. Its design should consider integrating the Rail Corridor with surrounding developments using appropriate urban design strategies. As it is located next to the Buona Vista MRT interchange station and is easily accessible by the public, the space could be designed to accommodate mass activities and events. Formerly the site of the Tanglin Halt Railway Station, teams can also look at recapturing the railway heritage of the area in a creative way.

(ii) Bukit Timah Railway Station area

This is the green heart of the Rail Corridor. This midway point of the Corridor can become its green gateway with supporting visitor facilities. The planning and design of this node should be complementary to its idyllic natural setting anchored by the conserved Bukit Timah Railway Station. The Station itself should be repurposed for uses that complements the vision for this node. This is where occasional community events can be held. At most other times, it can be a place of retreat and where one can enjoy the serene, green landscape.

(iii) Former Bukit Timah Fire Station

The former Bukit Timah Fire Station and quarters will become a new gateway into the Rail Corridor. A new pedestrian link will be provided from the Fire Station site directly into the Rail Corridor where visitors could explore the parks fringing the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve such as Dairy Farm Nature Park and Bukit Batok Nature Park. The buildings within the Fire Station site will be retained and should be repurposed for uses that complement its function as a gateway into the Rail Corridor.

There could also be suitable linkages from the former Fire Station to nearby heritage sites such as the Old Ford Factory and site of the Battle of Bukit Timah, which are steeped in World War 2 history.

(iv) Kranji (opposite Kranji MRT Station)

This is envisioned to become the northern gateway into the Rail Corridor. Located across from the Kranji MRT station, it is highly accessible as a major gathering place for the community to hold events and start the journey south towards the city. Its design should complement and be sensitive to key landmarks in the area such as the Singapore Turf Club, Kranji War Memorial, and Mandai Mangroves.

The successful team for the Concept Master Plan will also be required to carry out a preliminary design for a selected 4 km signature stretch of the Rail Corridor. More details of this selected stretch will be provided to shortlisted teams.

(2) Special interest area 1: Concept Designs for the adaptive reuse of the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

This National Monument located at the edge of the city will become the most prominent and important gateway into the Rail Corridor. Participating teams should consider how the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station can be put to adaptive reuse as a community building for the next 20 years, pending the development of the Greater Southern Waterfront. They are to propose suitable uses that will give the building a new lease of life. The space should allow for multi-functional community activities that supports its position as the anchor node into the Rail Corridor. The public should have unfettered access so that they can appreciate the heritage of this building and its surroundings.

(3) Special interest area 2: Concept Designs for an urban-green-blue tapestry at Choa Chu Kang

The stretch of the Rail Corridor at Choa Chu Kang that is adjacent to the Sungei Pang Sua Canal provides an opportunity to weave a unique urban-green-blue tapestry in the precinct. Currently, that stretch has low plant biodiversity, while the Sungei Pang Sua is fully canalised. Participating teams are to come up with innovative design concepts to enhance and integrate that segment of the Rail Corridor with Sungei Pang Sua to create an ecologically richer and more vibrant natural environment, and merge it seamlessly with future housing design in the area.

See Annex C which highlights the Rail Corridor, the four key activity nodes, and the two special interest areas.

Request for Proposal process

The RFP exercise comprises a 2-stage Tender Selection Process. Participating teams’ submissions will be assessed by a distinguished 11-member Evaluation Panel. Collectively, the panel members have deep and extensive experience and knowledge in urban planning and design, architecture, landscape architecture, building heritage, nature conservation, sustainable development, and park management. See Annex D for details of the RFP process and Annex E for the list of Evaluation Panel members.

The successful team(s) of consultants will be announced in October 2015. There will be a public exhibition of all shortlisted submissions from October to December 2015.

Continued community involvement

To ensure that the Rail Corridor lives up to its vision as an outstanding and inclusive public space for the community, the URA will continue to engage the community to gather further feedback on the proposals during the public exhibition. Following that, URA will work closely with the consultant(s) to refine the awarded Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals, taking into account the public’s input.

The implementation will be studied carefully, taking into consideration various factors including the broader development plans for surrounding areas, the laying of underground services below the Rail Corridor, and the needs and aspirations of the community.

More information on the RFP exercise is available at http://ura.sg/railrfp.


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

Stumbling upon a Tiger’s lair …

2015 March 3
by Jerome Lim

The last tiger in Singapore may have roamed the island some eight decades ago. It does however appear that the island’s secondary forests still conceal a few tigers from a less distant past. I stumbled upon one, hidden in a lair that lies under a forested slope in the south of Singapore.

The entrance to the tiger's lair. The entrance to the tiger’s lair.

The “lair” in question is a bunker that seems to have been built before WWII. Red bricks reinforce its tunnel-like structure, a common feature among prewar bunkers. The bunker’s small entrance leads into a small passageway, which in turn opens out into a lower room on the right.

Not quiet a light at the end of the tunnel ... Not quite a light at the end of the tunnel … it is in this room that I found the crate.

The dust-covered wooden box appears to have been left undisturbed for a number of years. There’s a large Tiger logo printed on one side.

JeromeLim-0048Opening the crate.

The contents of the crate seem intriguing. Among them are a number of newspaper clippings and photographs, a Paul Cheong vinyl record, as well as a Kodak Brownie camera of perhaps 1950s/1960s vintage. These provide clues as to the crate’s age.

A first look into the crate. A first look into the crate.

A chain with a shackle, resembling something out of the prisons of old, is one the crate’s most disturbing contents. Less disturbing is a Tiger Beer bottle and an old Tiger Beer can. Both seem rather old. The can is of steel and not of the aluminum variety that is used today.

A close-up of the undisturbed contents. A close-up of the undisturbed contents.

A close-up of the undisturbed contents. A close-up of the undisturbed contents.

The crate also contains what appears to be a nameplate with the name “Chu Beng Huat” and the number “21509”. Who Chu Beng Huat may have been, and what happened to him are a mystery.

A close-up of the undisturbed contents. A close-up of the undisturbed contents.

It’s hard to say where the crate came from, or who put it there. Perhaps it was abandoned or left by mistake. I am not sure of the crate’s origins or where the crate came from and some further investigation would be needed.

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I am not really fond of putting videos up, especially when I can be seen in them, but I have included one that one of my jalan-jalan kaki took that would provide an appreciation of the “lair” and what can be found in it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3nyZwehroE


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

Digging the Empress up in search of the Singapura of old

2015 February 14

Just six months or so after the dust seemed to have settled on Empress Place with completion of a four-year long refurbishment of the now almost too clean looking Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, the dust levels seem to be rising again. Since 2 February, a huge hole has appeared in the shadow old Vic, one that is being dug so as to find pieces of our buried past.

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The archaeological excavation, the largest ever undertaken in Singapore, is organised by the National Heritage Board (NHB) with the support of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) as part of an effort to commemorate 31 years of archaeology in Singapore.

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The dig, right in a place that when I first came to know it was a car park, has unearthed artefacts that are thought to be highly significant that could possible date as far back as the 14th century. The finds in a previously archaeologically unexplored site, include pieces of porcelain and clay figurines that are thought to originate from as far away as China and  help provide an understanding of a Singapura that seemed to have been at the crossroads even before the British made it so.

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The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

All aboard the RSS Endurance

2015 February 12
by Jerome Lim

There is no better way of getting acquainted with some of what goes on on a naval ship than to have a first hand view of its operations. I got a chance to do just that on Monday, when at the invitation of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), I found myself out on the RSN’s largest vessel, the RSS Endurance for a voyage out to Raffles Reserved Anchorage for a look at her helicopter embarkation operations.

A Super Puma taking off at the Raffles Reserved Anchorage. Pulau Senang can be seen in the background. A Super Puma taking off from the RSS Endurance at the Raffles Reserved Anchorage. Pulau Senang can be seen in the background.

The RSS Endurance at berth at Changi Naval Base. The RSS Endurance at berth at Changi Naval Base.

The helo-ops conducted to embark the Super Puma helicopter, was in anticipation of this weekend’s SAF50 @Vivo event. The event launches the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) year-long celebration of 50 years of its formation and will see the first of class 140 metre long Landing Ship Tank (LST) berth at the Vivo City Promenade to allow the lucky members of the public (who managed to get their hands on the highly sought after tickets) with a rare opportunity to have a look at the most versatile asset in the RSN’s fleet.

A view of the breakwater at Changi Naval Base with a glimpse of southeastern Malaysia in the background. A view of the breakwater at Changi Naval Base with a glimpse of southeastern Malaysia in the background.

I always enjoy a trip out at sea, something I have been doing a lot of of late. Going out on the RSS Endurance was an added bonus for me, not just for the chance to see and photograph the navy in operation,  but also because it was a homecoming of sorts for me as had some involvement in her design during my days in the shipyard in which she was built – the last time I was on board was during trials that were conducted on her.

A view over the bow of the RSS Endurance towards the vastness of the sea. A view over the bow of the RSS Endurance towards the vastness of the sea.

Besides taking those on the voyage to some of the operational areas on board, the visit also allowed us to see one of the RSS Endurance’s most important rooms, especially in the context of the Singaporean who tends to live to eat more than to eat to live – the galley. The galley, we learnt provides not just sustenance, but the cooks who the crew are often on personal terms with, work even in the nastiest of weather to help keep the morale up in serving up meals that includes many local favourites. Things did get a bit steamy during the visit to the galley, and we were quickly ushered to the cold room to cool off before settling down to a delicious lunch of nasi lemak that the galley specially prepared for our visit.

Things got a bit steamy .... Things got a bit steamy ….

... so we had to cool off in the cold room. … so we had to cool off in the cold room.

Along with the opportunity to witness the helo ops (helicopter operations), one more thing we got to see was of the operations to embark the vessel’s Fast Craft Utility (FCU) into the floodable dock on the vessel’s well-deck. The ability to launch fast landing craft and deploy helicopters are among the amazing array of capabilities, the RSS Endurance and her sister ships are equipped with. While the LSTs are designed primarily to support troop and equipment deployment, the capabilities also extend the ships’ capabilities to supporting a range of peacetime missions from disaster relief, search and rescue, and protection of merchant shipping.

One of the key capabilities the RSS Endurance has is being able to deploy fast landing craft through a stern opening from her well deck. One of the key capabilities the RSS Endurance has is being able to deploy fast landing craft, Fast Craft Utility or FCU, through a stern opening from her well deck.

Designed and built by ST Marine, the Endurance class of LSTs proved to be particularly useful during the post 2004 Boxing Day tsunami relief efforts in Aceh. The fast landing craft launched from the vessels could be used to maximum advantage in reaching coastal locations that had been cut off in the wake of the disaster.

The city's skyline as seen from the Singapore Strait. Enroute to Raffles Reserved Anchorage – the city’s skyline as seen from the Singapore Strait.

For those who missed the chance to win tickets to view this valuable asset in RSN’s fleet  through the online ballot, all is not lost. There would still be a chance to obtain tickets through a on-site draw. Balloting times slots for these are at 3 pm to 6 pm on Thursday and Friday; 9 am to 11 am, 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm, 4 pm to 6 pm on Saturday; and 9 am to 12 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm on Sunday. The winners of the ballot have the opportunity to have a glance at the Bridge, Flight Deck on which a Super Puma is tied down, and the steamy Galley. There is also the chance to ride the waves on one of the RSN’s Fast Craft Utility landing craft.

Smaller fast landing craft for personnel (FCEP - Fast Craft Equipment and Personnel) can be deployed over the shipside. Smaller fast landing craft for personnel (FCEP – Fast Craft Equipment and Personnel) can be deployed over the shipside.

The cluster of islands at which Raffles first made contact with Singapore, with the Singapore he helped create in the background. St. John's Island is on the left with Lazarus Island and Kusu next to it. Enroute to Raffles Reserved Anchorage – a view of the cluster of islands at which Raffles first made contact with Singapore, with the Singapore he helped create in the background. St. John’s Island is on the left with Lazarus Island and Kusu next to it.

The SAF50@Vivo event runs from 12 to 15 February 2015.  Besides the RSS Endurance, the capabilities of the other SAF’s services are also on display. Highlights of the event include a SAF50 launch and Total Defence Commemoration on 12 February at 5pm and a Weapons Presentation Ceremony on 15 February at 6pm, which members of the public can view from the Vivo City Level 3 Viewing Gallery. There are also a host of activities and daily performances. More information on the event and SAF50 can be found at www.saf50years.sg.

The helideck has two landing spots. A Super Puma embarked for the SAF50 @ Vivo event is seen here. The helideck has two landing spots. A Super Puma embarked for the SAF50 @ Vivo event is seen here.

A FCU being manoeuvred for entry into the well deck. A FCU being manoeuvred for entry into the well deck at Raffles Reserved Anchorage.


More photographs

Helo Ops

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Well Deck Ops

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The Galley

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The Bridge

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The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

When the lights go out

2015 February 11

Last evening wasn’t what I would call a typical Monday evening. In some rather untypical company, after the lights went off, I stood waiting for a box containing a 15th century lady to be opened, showing little of the trepidation my irrational fears of the dark would typically have invoked; the promise the evening held was an unveiling of the lady’s exquisite beauty for her debut in Singapore.

A Portrait of a Lady, attributed to Ambrogio de Predis, an associate of Leonardo da Vinci. A Portrait of a Lady, attributed to Ambrogio de Predis, an associate of Leonardo da Vinci.

Delicate but yet well preserved, the beauty of the lady of nobility, is one that is beautifully captured by an associate of Leonardo da Vinci,  Ambrogio de Predis. The portrait, one of several masterpieces from the da Vinci school that is making an appearance in Marina Bay Sands’ ArtScience Museum, as part of the Da Vinci: Shaping the Future exhibition that runs until May 2015. While the highlight of the exhibition is perhaps the pages out of da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus from Milan’s Biblioteca Ambrosiana’s collection, the masterpieces the Ambrosiana has brought over, also deserve much attention.

Unscrewing the lid on the outer box in which the painting is packed for shipment. Paintings are packed into two boxes. Unscrewing the lid on the outer box in which the painting is packed for shipment. Paintings are packed into two boxes.

The rather uninspiringly named “Portrait of a Lady” that had until the 19th century been attributed to da Vinci himself, goes on display for the first time from today. It is part of a changeover of inspiring art work and pages of the Codex at the midway point of the exhibition, made necessary by a three-month limit on exposing the original works, following which they have to be returned to the dark.

Lifting the lid on the inner box. Lifting the lid on the inner box.

For a opportunity to celebrate beauty as expressed  in oil and to be awed by the genius of da Vinci contained in the pages of the Codex Atlanticus, do visit this wonderful look at what the museum refers to as history’s foremost ArtScientist, Leonardo da Vinci. The exhibition interestingly, also sees models of da Vinci’s innovative ideas on display.  The exhibition ends in May 2015. For more information and ticketing details, do visit the ArtScience Museum’s website.

Removing the artwork, which is wrapped in acid-free paper. Removing the artwork, which is wrapped in acid-free paper.

Unwrapping the painting. Unwrapping the painting.

The painting is examined for damage after being unpacked by an expert from Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. A report of an examination prior to packing is used as reference. The painting is examined for damage after being unpacked by an expert from Biblioteca Ambrosiana. A report of an examination prior to packing is used as reference.

Examining the details. Examining the details.

Once the expert is satisfied, the art work can be displayed. Once the expert is satisfied, the art work can be displayed.

The painting, seen with one of the paintings that has been taken down for storage, Saiai's St. John the Baptist. The painting, seen with one of the paintings that has been taken down for storage, Saiai’s St. John the Baptist.


More on the changeover (Art Science Museum Press Release):

Singapore (11 February 2015) – ArtScience Museum today unveiled its eagerly-anticipated renewal of the original masterpieces showcased at Da Vinci: Shaping the Future, as the exhibition approaches the second half of its run. The refreshed displays include a new collection of 13 original pages of the Codex Atlanticus, da Vinci’s largest notebook, and three new paintings from the School of da Vinci.

As part of the renewed collection, visitors will have the rare opportunity to view a neverbefore-seen original Codex Atlanticus page, Drawings of Two Compasses. This folio features two drawings of intricately decorated compasses, which were important tools employed by da Vinci to determine the proportions of his machines and to mark designs on paper before he applied ink to his drawings.

Another beautifully illustrated page in the renewed collection is the Giant Crossbow, one of da Vinci’s most striking and celebrated folios from the Codex Atlanticus. Drawn with elaborate details and technical skill, the folio includes precise measurements of the machine’s components and a figure atop the machine to provide an indication of the scale.

The Giant Crossbow is a prime example of how da Vinci used his artistic skills to illustrate complex technical concepts.

“More than any other figure in history, Leonardo da Vinci represents the unity of art and science. Therefore, it is a great privilege to be able to bring a new collection of da Vinci’s masterpieces to ArtScience Museum, as part of this groundbreaking exhibition. What is particularly exciting for us is that one of the pages from the Codex Atlanticus, which arrived from Italy this week, is being shown in public for the very first time. We are grateful to have been able to work so closely with Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana to realise an exhibition that vividly illustrates how da Vinci’s genius, creativity, and systems thinking continue to inspire and shape the world we live in now,” said Ms. Honor Harger, executive director of ArtScience Museum.

Dr Irene Lee, co-curator, ArtCORP Pte Ltd, adds, “It has been an honour to be a part of this project and to bring the original works by da Vinci from Milan to Singapore. Singapore, like da Vinci, is very forward-thinking, and it is only fitting to have these masterpieces displayed in this innovative city.”

One of the new original paintings that will be on display is the visually arresting Portrait of a Lady. Donated to the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana in 1618, the painting was attributed to da Vinci until the 19th century. While the references to da Vinci are evident, such as the knotted golden braid on the lady’s garment, the mesmeric painting remains elusive as both its subject and author have yet to be confirmed despite generations of study by critics and scholars. While some leading scholars firmly attribute the painting to da Vinci and others favour a more prudent attribution, these controversies have never debased the work’s appeal, only increasing its mystery.

Other new paintings from the School of da Vinci that will be showcased are Christ Child with the Lamb by Bernardino Luini, the most famous Milanese painter in the early 16th century, and Adoration of the Child with Saint Roch by Giampietrino.


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

The magazine under Talbot’s Hill

2015 February 9

An area of Singapore that still has much history buried under it is the area where the former British Naval Base was. Under parts of the former base, which covered an area stretching from the Causeway in Woodlands to what is today Sembawang Park, lies several underground structures, one of which is a the so-called Attap Valley bunker that has recently been brought to light.

The entrance to the Attap Valley bunker. The entrance to the Attap Valley bunker below Talbot’s Hill.

Worshipping a new religion? Participants on a heritage tour to the site examining part of a ventilation system. Worshipping a new religion? Participants on a heritage tour to the site examining part of a ventilation system.

The bunker, opened to the public for the first time on Saturday, is the last surviving structure of an armament depot constructed by the British within the huge Naval Base in the Talbot’s Hill and Attap Valley area. A ammunition and armament storage magazine, specifically Magazine No. 4, it was one of seven other bomb-proof magazines that were built into Talbot’s Hill by the British before 1942.

An extract of a 1945 map of the Naval Base showing the area and the layout of the ammunition depot, including the seven magazines under Talbot's Hill. An extract of a 1945 map of the Naval Base showing the area and the layout of the ammunition depot, including the seven magazines under Talbot’s Hill (click to enlarge).

The National Heritage Board (NHB), which has been studying the site since April 2014, has also established with the help of a 1945 map of the Naval Base, that the magazines were part of a network of eighteen bunkers, warehouses and workshops spread over the Attap Valley site, that formed the Naval Base Armament Depot.

The tour group being led into the bunker. The tour group being led into the bunker.

The passage to the storage area. The passage to the storage area.

Evidence points to the magazine, which is the size of two 5-room HDB flats, being used by the Japanese during the occupation – a cache of Japanese weapons and ammunition was found by MINDEF when they used the site for the Sembawang Ammunition Depot.

The storage area where  corrugated ceiling reinforcements can be seen along with a gantry crane. The storage area where corrugated ceiling reinforcements can be seen along with a gantry crane.

What appears to be a light fitting from the time of the bunker's construction. What appears to be a light fitting from the time of the bunker’s construction mounted on the ceiling.

According to NHB, part of the floor of the bunker, now a mess of mud and water, would have had rail tracks running over them to allow the ammunition to be moved in and out, accounting for the rusty colour of the mud and water in the bunker. While there is nothing left of the tracks to be found, there are several fixtures and fittings that might have originally been there at the time of its completion. This includes vents from an all important ventilation system, light fixtures, and pipes. A gantry crane, completed with a Safe Working Load (SWL) rating sign, can be seen in the inner chamber where the ammunition would have been stored. Access into the inner chamber is via a curved passageway designed so as explosions could be contained.

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Talbot’s Hill and the surviving magazine under it now lies well within a fenced up area of land, which was returned to the State by  MINDEF when the depot was decommissioned in 2002. Access to it is only via the NHB tours, being organised as part of a Battle of Singapore commemoration that coincides with the 73 anniversary of the Fall of Singapore and also the 70 anniversary of the liberation in September 1945. More information on this, including the Case Files from the Singapore War Crimes Tribunal Exhibition scheduled to open next week at the National Museum of Singapore, can be found at the NHB website.

More photographs of the bunker and its surroundings

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The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

Still in the dark, where the darkness began this Sunday, 73 years ago

2015 February 8

In the darkness of a Sunday night, 73 years ago today, the end was to begin for Singapore. Just after 8 pm on 8 February 1942, the first wave of landings were made by Japanese troops  along the poorly defended and mangrove lined northwest coastline of the island.

In the dark: WWII landing site at Sarimbun Beach today with its fence to prevent a new invasion of  illegal immigrants and goods. In the dark: WWII landing site at Sarimbun Beach today with its fence to prevent a new invasion of illegal immigrants and goods.

Defended by the ill prepared and poorly equipped Australian Imperial Forces’ 22nd Brigade, who were spread out thinly over a long stretch of the coastline, coupled with Percival’s misjudgement in focusing the defence of the island in its east, the area, the mangroves proved to be no barrier and the coast was very quickly overrun. The defence of Singapore was to fail miserably just a week later, a defeat that was to plunge Singapore in more than three years of darkness as the light of the Japanese Empire’s south.

“Sarimbun battle” by Unknown; original uploader was Grant65 at en.wikipedia. – Lionel Wigmore (1957) “Defence of Western Area” in Australia in the War of 1939–1945: Volume IV – The Japanese Thrust (PDF), Canberra: Australian War Memorial, pp. 310 Transferred from en.wikipedia by Gorbi. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Much of the area today is still shrouded in darkness. Cut-off from the rest of Singapore by its relative inaccessibility and isolation – much of it is off limits as a large part of it lies within the Live Firing Area (and even where it isn’t, there is a fence intended to keep the new invasion of illegal immigrants and goods out that also cuts us off from our seas), it is an area seemingly forgotten even if there are markers in place to commemorate an event that should remain in the minds of all of us in Singapore.

A page from the Australian Imperial Forces 2/20 Battalion unit diary. The 2/20 Battalion was defending the sector where Sarimbun Beach is at the time of the landings.  A page from the Australian Imperial Forces 2/20 Battalion unit diary. The 2/20 Battalion was defending the sector where Sarimbun Beach is at the time of the landings.

Japanese forces landing on Singapore on the night of 8 February 1942 (Australian War Memorial – Copyright Expired).


Related:

Japanese footage from the Romano Archives, 1942 The Taking of Singapore, which includes some landing scenes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1u-GdEyfvQ

Another landing site, The Pier: A lost world in Lim Chu Kang


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.



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