Heritage Tour around Colonial Changi

Changi, best known for the internationally famous airport Singaporeans are proud of. Or, to some, that delicious nasi lemak at the hawker centre of Changi Village. But Changi is much more than that. More than a dozen buildings and landmarks with significant heritage can still be found in this vicinity with a rich vibrant past.

Colonial History

Development of Changi

Changi was originally well-known for its coconut and sago plantations in the 19th century. Its actual development only began in the 1920s after the Army Council in London approved a proposal to convert Changi into a defensive fortress of Singapore. In summary, a colonial Changi could be divided in three phrases: Artillery Base (1927-1942), Japanese Occupation (1942-1945) and Royal Air Force (RAF) Changi (1946-1971).

temple hill 1945

In 1927, prominent British general Webb Gillman (1870-1933), who had Gillman Barracks named after him, surveyed the Changi area. It was a land of swamps and forests, with three hilly areas later known as Fairy Point Hill, Battery Hill and Temple/Changi Hills. The only accessible route from the city was an unpaved track that ended at the rural police station at the old Changi Village.

japanese hotel at changi 1928Buildings were few at Changi in the 1920s. Other than the attap houses at Changi Village, there was a Chinese temple at Temple Hill (hence its name), a Public Works Department (PWD) government building, a grand bungalow owned by wealthy Jewish businessman Sir Manasseh Meyer (1843-1930) and a Japanese hotel by the sea that housed prostitutes. The wooden hotel by the sea was later bought by the British to serve as a temporary Officers’ Mess for the Royal Engineer team.

Soon, the Chinese coolies and Indian labourers were roped to clear the forests and fill the swamps. The development took three years, with the workers constantly battling against bees, mosquitoes, snakes, heat and the thunderstorms. In 1928, the Royal Engineers, assisted by the Federated Malay States Railway, began to construct a network of railway lines, known as the Changi Railway. The pier was also built in 1928 for loading and unloading of construction materials, largely granite from Pulau Ubin.

construction-of-new-road-1928The early permanent roads built in Changi were the New Road, Quarry Road and Artillery Road, all of which reflected the historic significance of the early development of Changi. After the war, they were renamed as Netheravon Road, Cranwell Road and Martlesham Road respectively, after other RAF stations in the United Kingdom.

The construction of Changi was suddenly put to a halt in 1930 when Britain was hit by the Great Depression. However, with Japan’s ambitions in the east began surfacing in the early 1930s, the British resumed the work on the Changi defense. By the mid-1930s, the basic military facilities at Changi were ready. The Royal Engineers moved into the Kitchener Barracks, whereas the Robert Barracks were reserved for the Royal Artillery. Selarang Barracks became home for the Gordon Highlanders, the infantry battalion from Scotland. The Anti-Aircraft Regiment later arrived to live at the India Barracks located on the east side of Changi Road.

Sport facilities, cinemas, clubhouses and schools were also built for the welfare and the benefits for the military personnel and their families. By 1941, the development of Changi as a self-contained base was completed. It took 15 years for Changi to transform from a swampy land of forest to a modern military base.

Second World War

british pows marching to changi 1942On 7th February 1942, the Japanese captured Pulau Ubin but did not attempt to land at Changi. The monster 15-inch guns installed by the British bombarded Johore with little effect. It was a tactical ruse deployed by the Japanese, as they instead advanced from the western side of Singapore. With the invaders rapidly closed in to the city areas, the British had to withdraw the troops at Changi to defend the city.

With the fall of Singapore, Changi was turned into a gigantic prison camp. More than 50,000 Allied prisoners-of-war (POWs) were marched to Changi by late Febuary 1942. Batches of POWs were soon dispatched to the borders of Thailand and Burma for the construction of the infamous Burma Railway, also known as the “Death Railway”. It would represent a death sentence for those who were sent there, as many of them did not survive to return.

A New Air Base

When Changi was occupied by the invading forces after the British surrendered Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese forced thousands of POWs to build an airstrip. It took more than year before the new runway was ready for the first aircraft to take off in late 1944. After the war, the airstrip was not destroyed by the returning British forces. Instead they capitalised on it and handed the airfield over to its Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1946. This permanently changed the face of Changi, as it evolved from an artillery base to an air base.

map of raf changi 1965

The withdrawal of British military presence from Singapore began in 1968. The Seletar Air Base was taken over by the Singapore government a year later. But the British was keen to hold on to RAF Changi until 1971.

raf changi and netheravon road 1960s

The final closure arrived on the 15th of December 1971, when the treaties were signed for a complete handover to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The history of colonial Changi finally came to an end.

The Selarang Barracks was renamed as Selarang Camp, whereas the Roberts and India Barracks became part of Changi Camp (now Changi Air Base). Majority of the former Kitchener Barracks was placed under the management of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

Changi & Trees

Changi was likely to be named after the trees that were abundant in the vicinity in the 19th century. The disputes, however, arose from the species of the trees in which the name originated from. The legendary Changi Tree, or sindora wallichii, was a gigantic 76m-tall tree that became an obvious landmark at Changi and had to be blown off by the British with explosives in order to avoid being used by the Japanese as a map marker.

changi tree 1936Another species was the timber tree named Chengal, or neobalanocarpus helmii, suggested by Henry Nicholas Ridley (1855-1956), an English botanist who served as the first director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, to be the actual origin of the name Changi. Chengal, however, was abundant in Peninsula Malaysia but not in Singapore. The third possibility was Chengal Pasir, or hopea sangal, but most of the Chengal trees were cleared during the construction of the military base.

The last Chengal Pasir tree in Singapore, standing at Halton Road and estimated to be more than 150 years old, was tragically chopped off without approval by a property company in 2002.

Selarang Barracks

Selarang Barracks Incident

In the mid-1930s, the British decided to reinforce Changi Garrison with the construction of a military camp at Loyang. It was named Selarang Barracks upon its completion in 1938 and was mainly used to house the infantry troops from Scotland. The camp, like others, fell into the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army when Singapore surrendered in 1942.

While the nearby Changi Prison was used to detain the British civilians, the Japanese used the Selarang and Roberts Barracks to imprison the Australian, Dutch and some of the British POWs. In early September 1942, four POWs were recaptured when they attempted to escape from the Changi Prison. In a bid to prevent such cases from occurring again, the Japanese wanted the POWs at Selarang Barracks to sign a “no escape” pledge, but was rejected by majority of the Allied forces’ POWs.

selarang barracks incident 1942As they had not signed the Geneva Convention, the Japanese had no qualms punishing and torturing the POWs. Under the orders of Lieutenant General Shimpei Fukuye, some 17,000 POWs were forced to gather at the parade square of the 800-capacity barracks. For four days, the POWs had to endure without sanitation and limited water supply. This was later known as the notorious “Selarang Barracks Incident” (other names include “Selarang Square Squeeze” or “Changi Incident”). At the same time, the four captured escapees were dragged to Changi Beach for execution.

The situation at Selarang Barracks’ parade square worsened by each day. The lack of food and water failed to break the POWs’ resistance, but the poor hygienic conditions caused diseases to spread, resulting in rising fatality. To prevent more losses of his men, senior Allied officer Colonel E. B. Holmes persuaded the POWs to sign the “no escape” pledge using false names. The rest of the POWs were eventually allowed to return to their respective barracks.

selarang camp old2

Camp’s Redevelopment

Selarang Barracks came under the British’s control again at the end of the Second World War. It was later used as a base by the Australian Army units from the ANZUK forces, before taken over by the SAF upon the withdrawal of the British military presence in 1971. The 42nd Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment was housed at Selarang Camp until its retirement in 1984. In the same year, the 9th Singapore Division/Infantry made the camp their new home after six years at Tanglin’s Loewen Road Camp.

selarang camp old3

Demolition of the aging colonial buildings began in 1987. Due to the growing demands and expansion of the unit, the premises of the camp underwent an extensive $50-million redevelopment in 1991, adding new cookhouse, canteen, training centre and other facilities. The new Selarang Camp also welcomed the 9th Direct Support Maintenance Battalion (9 DSMB) as part of its family in the early nineties.

selarang camp

Most of the colonial buildings in Selarang Camp, including the three blocks at the parade square, were torn down in the 1987 redevelopment project. The only sole survivor is the double-storey block currently used by the 9 Div/Infantry as their headquarters, Officers’ Mess and heritage centre. For more than 70 years, it stands as testimony to Selarang’s colonial-to-modern transformation.

selarang camp4

selarang camp5

selarang camp2

The building was briefly used as a hospital by the Australian troops between 1942 and 1945, when Selarang Barracks became a POW camp. The stone signage hanged on the main entrance bears the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom and the initials “G.R.” (stands for George Rex) which refers to King George VI (1895-1952).

selarang camp3

The other remnant of Selarang Camp’s colourful colonial past is the Garrison Church Bell. The bell was originally mounted on a 30-foot tall structure as part of the Garrison Church, which was built in 1961 as a replacement for the St. Xavier Chapel. The former chapel had held a significant place in many British veterans’ hearts as it served as a place of solace by many POWs during the Japanese Occupation.

selarang camp7

The Garrison Church, however, was demolished in 1987 along with other colonial buildings at Selarang Camp as part of the camp’s redevelopment plans. The bell was then shifted to Sungei Gedong Camp, before it finally returned to its original site in July 1999. It is now mounted on a smaller structure that resembled the original design.

selarang camp6

selarang camp9

selarang camp10

The 9th Singapore Division underwent a transformation in January 1995. Joined by the Singapore Infantry Regiment, it became a full army unit supported by both active soldiers and the national servicemen. A new symbolic sculpture was created to commemorate the successful merger. The panther represents the 9th Singapore Division whereas the soldier with his M16 and bayonet is synonymous with the camp’s infantry history.

selarang camp8

Today, the parade square that had witnessed the horrific incident still exists but the surrounding buildings have been changed to the modern types. Over the years, many British veterans have paid their visits to the camp. To some, the memories and the emotional scars inflicted by the war years still linger after several decades.

Changi Murals

Block 151

The original Changi Murals are located at the three-storey Block 151 of Roberts Barracks, off Martlesham Road. There were once many similar blocks along the road, such as Block 126, 128, 131 and 144, which were utilised as stand-in operation theatre and sick bays for dysentery patients during the war. Most of them were torn down by the early 2000s, with only Block 151 and its murals preserved by Mindef. The building, however, is off-limit to the public except during special visits.

changi murals7

In the seventies and eighties, Block 151 was occupied by the SAF Boys’ School. The school was established by then Defence Minister, Dr Goh Keng Swee, in 1975 to take in 14- to 17-year-old teenagers, providing them with facilities in studying and training, and, later, the opportunity in joining the SAF as regular specialists and non-commissioned officers.

changi murals8

The school, however, was closed in 1984 due to the lack of premature school leavers. The intake had dropped to 140 from an average of 500 in its final two years. In the same year, a new recruitment concept, known as the SAF Education Centre, was launched. Its Learn-As-You-Earn (LAYE) Scheme provided studies, Basic Military Training and life-coping skills to promising young men who had chosen a regular combat specialist career. The education centre would last until December 2002.

changi murals5

Stanley Warren

Stanley Warren (1917-1992) was the artist of the famous Changi Murals. He was originally an painter before being posted to Malaya as a bombardier of the 15th Field Regiment Royal Artillery during the Second World War. When Singapore surrendered, Stanley Warren was imprisoned as a POW at Bukit Timah before being moved to Changi in a critically ill state.

Block 151 was used as a hospital and chapel for the POWs during that period, and despite being very sick, a religious Stanley Warren started his Christian-themed mural works, motivated by the encouragements from the chapel pastor and his imprisoned comrades, who risked their life in searching for the coloured materials used for the paintings.

changi murals2

The work on the first mural “The Nativity” started in October 1942, and was finished in time for Christmas that year. In the following seven months, a weak yet determined Stanley Warren continued another four pieces of art (“Ascension“, “Crucifixion“, “Last Supper” and “St. Luke in Prison“). By May 1943, the last mural “St. Luke in Prison” was completed.

The murals played an important role during the Second World War, as they gave hope to the Allied POWs, including Stanley Warren himself, through prayers and worships. The Japanese, however, soon discovered the wall murals and attempted to conceal them with layers of distemper. One mural was partially destroyed when a doorway to a larger office was built. Stanley Warren was subsequently transferred to Woodlands Hospital until the end of war.

changi murals10

changi murals3

Stanley Warren returned to England after the war, believing that his works were destroyed by the Allied bombings. He continued his life as an art teacher at a school. In 1958, the murals were rediscovered by the RAF servicemen, and the investigations and search for the original artist were carried out. It took more than a year before Stanley Warren was finally identified.

changi murals

Plagued by the terrible memories of the war, Stanley Warren initially refused to come to Singapore. After much persuasion by the RAF, Stanley Warren eventually agreed to return for the restoration of the murals.

changi murals11He made three trips back to Singapore in December 1963, July 1982 and May 1988 for the restoration works. The work in 1982 was an extensive one. The officers and men from the SAF Boys’ School, which was occupying Robert Barracks during that period, was roped in to provide help to Stanley Warren.

Scaffolding were set up for the restoration works at the top portions of the walls. A bed was also placed inside the room for Stanley Warren to rest during breaks.

changi murals9

The fifth mural “St. Luke in Prison” was never restored as Stanley Warren lost his original sketch and could not remember the details. The original drawing was later discovered in 1985, owned by Stanley Warren’s former prison mate Wally Hammond, but by 1988, a 71-year-old Stanley Warren could only complete the restoration of the fourth mural. It was his third and last trip to Singapore.

changi murals4

When asked about his feelings and experiences about the war, Stanley Warren replied: “There is no problem that cannot be solved without war… I hope that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would never have to find themselves firing the first shot in anger. War is never good.” In February 1992, Stanley Warren passed away in his home in England at an age of 75.

changi murals6

Fairy Point

Old Command HQ

The grand double-storey Neo-Classical-styled building standing at the top of Fairy Point Hill was constructed in 1935 as part of the Changi air and naval defence in the north-eastern front of Singapore. Housing the Royal Engineers, it overlooked the Kitchener Barracks built in the late 1920s around the Fairy Point area. In the sixties, the building was converted into an Officers’ Mess for the RAF personnel.

changi commando barracks2

After the withdrawal of the British in 1971, the building was briefly utilised as a venue of retreats and seminars by private companies and organisations. It was later taken back by the SAF to be their command headquarters. Now popularly known as the old Command HQ or former Commando Barracks, the dominant building was give the conservation status in 2002. The premises is now part of a hotel development at Fairy Point.

changi commando barracks3

Colonial Bungalows

They were once the residences of the senior British officers. Others were used as club houses. Built in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the group of colonial bungalows along Andover, Catterick and Luchars Roads formed part of the Kitchener Barracks meant for the Royal Engineers. Like Selarang and Roberts Barracks, Kitchener Barracks were captured by the Japanese as POW camp during the war.

changi fairy point chalet2

The refurbished bungalows at Fairy Point now belong to the resort group Aloha Changi, and are available for rentals as venues of wedding, family parties or company retreats. The group also owns some of the other colonial bungalows scattered around Biggin Hill, Cranwell, Netheravon and Halton Roads.

changi fairy point chalet

Johore Battery

changi historic area 1942-2002Monster Guns

Installed in 1938 as part of the coastal defence of Singapore, the Johore Battery was once deemed formidable with its three huge 15-inch naval guns supported by a network of ammunition storage tunnels. The battery got its name from Johor Sultan’s £400,000 monetary gift to the British to install the guns.

The three “Monster Guns” were placed in a straight line facing the southeastern direction along the coast. The coast has since been reclaimed and extended, forming the runways of Changi Airport today. Two of the big guns had firing arcs of 270°, and could be turned in the opposite directions, whereas the third one could only fire out to the sea. All three, however, were proved ineffective during the war.

The Johore Battery was also supported by four smaller 6-inch guns installed at Changi Battery, Beting Kusah Battery, Changi Outer (Palm) A.T.M.B. Battery and Changi Inner (School) A.T.M.B. Battery. All the guns were controlled by the Changi Fire Command located at the top of Changi Hill. Ammunition was delivered from the pier at Fairy Point by the railway, but the tracks were heavily damaged during the beginning of the war.

johore battery

Demolitions

When Singapore fell, the three 15-inch guns were destroyed by the British to prevent them falling into the hands of the Japanese. Despite their return after the war, Johore Battery was never rebuilt. The emplacement remains of the second gun were removed when the RAF airfield was further developed in 1948. The third gun remnants were demolished during the massive land reclamations in 1975 catered for the development of Changi International Airport.

The ammunition storage tunnels of the first gun remained sealed until their rediscovery in 1991 by the personnel from the Singapore Prisons Department (now Singapore Prison Service). A replica of Johore Battery was built in 2002 at the original site of the first gun.

Other Landmarks

Changi Prison (Former)

The last of the four prisons to be built by the British, the Changi Prison was completed and operationalised in 1936 as a maximum-security civilian prison. When it fell into the Japanese’s hands during the Second World War, the prison acted as the headquarters of the notorious Kempeitai. It was also used to house 3,000 British civilians living in Singapore, five times the 600-capacity of the prison.

changi prison 1960s

Several chapels were built by the POWs during the occupation. In 1988, a replica of the Old Changi Prison Chapel and Museum was commissioned by the Singapore government to remember those who had suffered and died during the darkest period in the country’s history. It was later replaced by the Changi Museum in 2001.

In 2004, the old Changi Prison was demolished and replaced by a new state-of-the-art prison facility. Its iconic entrance gateway, formerly known as the Gaol Gates, was retained and reinstalled at the new Changi Prison.

Changi Hospital (Old)

The British built the Royal Air Force (RAF) Hospital in 1935 with the primary objective to serve the Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery and the Gordon Highlanders stationed at the Kitchener, Robert and Selarang Barracks respectively.

In the next 60 years, the hospital experienced several ups and downs. After being occupied by the Japanese as a prison camp, it was returned to the British at the end of the war, and was later converted into an ANZUK hospital in 1971 to serve the Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom military personnel.

old changi hospital2

old changi hospital

The Singapore government took over the hospital in 1975, and renamed it as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Hospital. A year later, it became known as Changi Hospital after its merger with the nearby Changi Chalet Hospital. Its operations lasted until 1997 after which the hospital was vacated till today. It would later become the infamous Old Changi Hospital which many Singaporeans are familiar of due to its fair share of supernatural stories.

Hendon Cluster

The British built their administrative buildings at Hendon Road between 1930 and 1936. The blocks of 35, 36 and 42, in particular, played important roles in the colonial history of Changi.

The 35- and 36-numbered blocks functioned as the Far East Air Force Headquarters after the war, housing both the RAF Malaya and Singapore. RAF Changi became the central focus of military operations, especially during the Malayan Emergency years, when its squadrons were heavily involved in the anti-communist operations. Meanwhile, Block 42 served as the post-war headquarters of the Royal Engineers, which had largely contributed to the development of Changi in the 1920s and 1930s.

hendon road blocks

hendon road blocks2

The Hendon cluster consists of about nine colonial buildings, all of which have been left empty since the late 1990s. Their current owner SLA has put up a number of the buildings for lease and redevelopment into hotels, spa boutiques, restaurants and sports facilities.

hendon road blocks3

Biggin Hill Blocks

The twin blocks of 52 and 53 at Biggin Hill were built as early as 1928, serving as the quarters for the married soldiers. Other blocks, intended for the unmarried military personnel, were completed at a much later time, in around mid-1930s.

Biggin Hill held a significant place in the hearts of some war veterans as it was the site of the “Changi University”, a makeshift university founded in 1942 by a group of scholars from Raffles College and other institutions. They provided seven faculties of courses to some 2,000 prisoners-of-war undergraduates locked in Changi. Using books and materials from other libraries, the lectures were conducted for a short six months before the university was forcefully shut down by the Japanese. After its closure, the majority of the lecturers and students were sent to Siam (now Thailand) for forced labour. Many of them died and did not return.

biggin hill blocks

biggin hill blocks2

The blocks are currently being used as part of a nursing home called Orange Valley.

Civil Service Club

One of the oldest buildings at Changi, the club bungalow was built in the early 20th century by wealthy Jewish businessman Sir Manasseh Meyer (1843-1930), who contributed much of his wealth to the society, especially the Jewish community in Singapore. His Changi bungalow was purchased by the British in 1933 to be served as a school for the families of the military personnel stationed in the vicinity.

changi civil service club

During the Japanese Occupation, the building, like many others in Changi, was used to house some of the POWs. After the war, it became a transit hotel for the RAF pilots, before being converted into a clubhouse today. The Civil Service Club is currently undergoing an intensive renovation.

The Turnhouse

The Art Deco-styled single-storey building called The Turnhouse was built by the British in 1934, possibly for recreational purposes. The road leading to it was called Turnhouse Road, named after the building itself. Since 2007, it has been leased to Ponggol Choon Seng, a famous seafood restaurant best remembered for its extremely popular outlet at the old Punggol Jetty in the eighties.

the turnhouse

Manston Road Blocks

The three similar triple-storey blocks of 79, 80 and 81 were built in 1938 around the out-of-bound Manston Road. Consisted of infant school, junior school and a publication centre, the area was well designated for the families of the RAF personnel in the sixties.

The blocks are now used by the Singapore Technologies (ST) Logistics and 708 Squadron.

changi air base block 79

changi air base block 80

Changi Air Base Medical Centre (Former)

Located at a gentle slope beside Digby Road, the three single-storey blocks numbered 137, 137A and 137B were built in 1941, as indicated on the facade of the main block. The premises used to serve as the Roberts Barracks’ dental centre and station sick quarters during the sixties.

changi air base medical centre

Little information was known about the functionality of the buildings between the early seventies, after the withdrawal of the British forces, and the mid-nineties, but the premises was reused and officially reopened as the Changi Air Base Medical Centre in June 1996. This last until the 2000s when it was vacated and abandoned.

changi air base medical centre2

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The forgotten buildings rapidly fell into disrepair after a couple of years, gradually being taken over by nature as the overgrown greenery creeps their way onto the pavements and corridors. Leftover medical items, fallen trays and dilapidated furniture could still be found inside the rooms.

Today, Digby Road appears quiet and serene, constantly lying under the shadows cast by the thick canopies of the trees on both flanks of the streets. The trees, no matter how tall they grow, can no longer match the height of the legendary Changi Tree that once stood proudly nearby.

changi air base medical centre4

Changi Village Road

First existed as a long unmetalled muddy track in the early 20th century, the road was the only accessible path between the city and the old Changi Village. It was later named Changi Road when the vicinity was being developed into a military base in the 1930s. The road was over 8km long, spanning between present-day Expo and the new Changi Village. Changi Road was renamed as Changi Village Road in the eighties, and a portion of it was absorbed into Changi Air Base in the early 2000s and became restricted to public access.

changi village road

The old Changi Road 14th milestone is now the junction of Changi Village Road and Loyang Avenue, where the Sree Ramar Temple stands.

Sree Ramar Temple

Sree Ramar Temple started as a small shrine under a tree in its present site. Ram Naidu, a personnel from the British Indian Army, managed to secure the land from the British in 1946 to build a permanent temple called Raman Temple. It was dedicated to Hindu deity Rama, and the temple became popular with the Indian workers of RAF. Facing the east and overlooking the sea, it was believed that the temple acted as the guardian of the village. Almost forced to relocate in the 1980s, the temple managed to secure its premises through the appeals by its devotees. Today, it becomes a part of Changi’s rich heritage.

sree ramar temple

Heritage Tour Map

changi heritage tour map v2

Some of the colonial buildings left behind the British in the Changi vicinity were demolished in the past years. Most are left intact, although many have been vacated and abandoned for many years. In recent years, there are many development plans drawn for this vicinity. While it may look beneficial to turn the buildings into commercial entities such as hotels or boutiques, it is also important to seek a balance between redevelopment and preservation.

(Editor’s Note: Appreciation to Mindef for the heritage tour around Selarang Camp and Changi Air Base West organised on 14 September 2013)

Published: 20 September 2013

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50 Responses to Heritage Tour around Colonial Changi

  1. rufino1995 says:

    Truly, amazing piece of record.. Thank you again!

  2. Some old photos of Selarang Barracks and RAF Changi

    Zinc-roof buildings at Selarang Barracks

    Shops at the old Changi Village


    Old Changi Road

    The Swimming Pool for the RAF Airmen

    Airfield Cafe

    (Photo Source: Selarang Camp/Changi Air Base West Heritage Rooms)

  3. Peter Stubbs says:

    The GR cypher on the double-storey block currently used by the 9 Div/Infantry, stands for ‘George Rex’. It wasthe cypher of King George VI who was the British Monarch when the camp was completed. ‘Rex’, means King.

  4. bigbroboss says:

    Outstanding blog… I was in Hendon Camp during my NS days, and have seen or been to svseral of these places you mnetioned. Looking out of my office window now, I see the modern Marina Bay. Perhaps it may be interesting for you to document the development of the Marina Bay area. I recall there being only Marina Square when I was in Secondary School, and going to the Transit Road Market to eat at the original Ya Kun when I was in school!!!

  5. David says:

    Possibly the best writeup of colonial Changi i’ve seen on the net, very well done. Thank you so much for this amazing piece of research. I’ve been intrigued by Changi’s past since I was a child and when I served at Selarang camp. Pity there’s not much on the black and white leased homes there but that’s just a small part of a much, much bigger area. Excellent post, keep it coming, always a joy to come back here and read more interesting stories of our island’s heritage.

  6. chris milne says:

    Thank you for the memoirs……

  7. A nice short footage of RAF Changi and other parts of Singapore in the 1960s

  8. kk see says:

    Great piece. Any idea if the authorities are going to have open days to the public? What’s the point of restricting the viewing of such murals to select bloggers?

  9. cardelo says:

    great article! does Mindef organise such heritage tours regularly? I would love to go on one of those

  10. Alex says:

    Thank you for a wonderful write up of Changi, and especially the Selarang Barracks. I was from the 41st who what’s sent to Selarang barracks on 1st December morning to take over the camp from the RAF, and officially posted to the new 42nd SAR.

    I remember mounting the guards and took over the Guard Rood from the British MP, 8:00 am. Lowering of the Union Jack and hoisting of our National Flag. Needless to say didn’t realize the significance of such an event then, but looking back one, it was a milestone of the British final phase of the pull out from Far East .

    When we took over the camp, there were just guard duty for weeks until the rest of the men move in. I remember the barrack room was big and accommodates 6 to a room, hot water available in the toilets. Fans in all rooms with warm lights.

  11. Is this the school badge of RAF Changi Junior School?

  12. Veronica Bourne nee catchpool says:

    Brings back memories a great job thank you.

  13. The RAF Officers’ Swimming Club in the 1960s (now Changi Beach Club)


    (Photo source: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/)

  14. Emerson Lou says:

    Well done. An elaborate and meticulous write-up on the Changi military barracks.

  15. Hardly possible to find in land-scarce Singapore, though

    Where military vehicles go to die… Inside the abandoned RAF station where trucks and boats from D-Day to the Cold War have been left to rot

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2509208/Britains-rust-belt-Vehicle-graveyard-runway-closed-RAF-station-features-military-vehicles-machinery-dating-World-War-Two.html

  16. Sue Neve says:

    Kudos to you for all you have researched and put together. Cannot thank you enough. Just remembered my dad and his cousin were walked to Temple Hill area along with nearly a hundred others and told to dig their grave during WW2. They were shot at and dad and his cousin fell pretending to die. It was dust so the soldiers didnt go through the bodies to bayonet them to make sure they were all dead. Instead they were left for other prisoners to bury them. My dad and his cousin crawled out when it was dark and walked to Joo Chiat where my grand aunt lived. They escaped death or I certainly wouldnt be here to tell this story.
    I am writiing what my father told me and other stories that Im seeking on the Eurasians during WW2 so I may add to my book. Again thank you for writing on about Changi where I grew up.

  17. Robert Wong says:

    A beautifully written piece of research . I pray the modernisation stops somewhere before all are destroyed.

    • carole westgarth thompson ( patterson ) says:

      great memories, but I have to aree with Robert Wong please stop destroying, we loved it just as it was. RAF Changi was a fantastic posting in the late 60/70. please some of the old places

  18. Judy Corridon says:

    Thanks so much, this has brought back wonderful childhood memories. We used to spend our holidays at the Government Rest House in Changi. It was a magical place and I was disappointed that you don’t seem to have any photos of it – I must dig some out and find out how to send/attach them. The house had a huge verandah with a ping pong table on it, it was up on stilts, so my brother and I used to play underneath. A sweep of steps with stone elephants on either side at the bottom led down to a path to the sea. There were magnificent fan palms on either side, also in the gardens. There was a pagar (sp?) leading out to a covered area where we would have tea and we would swim safely inside the wire mesh surroundings.
    On either side there was just wild beach – rocks and mangrove swamp. Magical. I also used to love wandering through Changi Village with all the goods hanging overhead! I’m coming to Singapore in March and would love to know where the Rest House was (perhaps now under the runway?)

  19. Valuable compilations of photos shared by Chris Bradley, who was born in Changi Hospital in 1955 and whose father was posted to RAF Changi in the 1950s

  20. Aurelia says:

    Thanks for this piece!

    I’m producing a heritage booklet with some stat boards and I would love to use the photo of British POWs marching to Changi, but I haven’t been able to find it on the NAS website. Could you please direct me to the relevant authority so that I can obtain permission for using the image?

    Thanks!

    Aurelia

  21. peter says:

    I will show this to my mother, she was out there ater the japanese moved out , amongst the first military families to move here , her father was in the Gordon Highlanders and her mother worked at Alexandra hospital , she has lovely memories and I hope she recognises some of ths pictures of Changi, her mother is still alive at 101 but not sure if she would be to see the pictures I will try.
    Unfortunatley all their pictures got lost
    Thanks
    Peter

  22. Steven says:

    Hi there,

    Can someone please advice where can i get a book of changi explained. intend to give it as momento.

  23. jim hawkins says:

    jim hawkins ex 315 sigs unit raf changi also ex feaf para jungle rescue wop 1966_1968. got to go round block 128 and found my old bed. such memories. the best time of my life.

  24. jim hawkins says:

    now live in western australia and have many opportunities of going back to changi. getting sadder each visit though

  25. Perry says:

    Is Catterick rd named after someone important?

  26. Derek Angell says:

    Great site, as a baby born at Changi in 1955 I feel I will always have a attachment to the country and in particular Changi and I have a constant hunger for any old information. I have been to see the hospital once in 2013 and was so disappointed that I could not have a good look around. Does anyone know if there are tours at all? Thanks in advance for any help.

  27. Roger Hannaford says:

    Hi.. I was in the Singapore Armed Forces for Boys in 1983 for 6 months.. Then I moved to Sweden with my mom and step dad! I will never forget my friends there.. But I am looking for Toh Brendan Mark!! Anybody know him? My name is Roger Hannaford! I was the only Mat Salleh Chelop boy in 1983!!!! Bye…

  28. Zad Yahya says:

    Hello Roger,
    I am Zainiazad Yahya, ex SAF Boy’s just like you, but I was with the 1980 badge and were there for 2 years. There were several ‘Mat Salleh’ before you as my platoon mate, Cecil and Sherman, I remembered them well and hope they go on in life as well as they were groomed to be, in the SAF Boy’s School.

  29. Neil Duncan says:

    Thank you for the memories.
    Neil Duncan
    Changi 1957

  30. WWII Tale Unravels at Adam Park Bungalow

    11 April 2016
    The Straits Times

    Capture and days of hardship

    These are some of the stories that have left an indelible mark on The Adam Park Project manager Jon Cooper.

    A SURRENDER STORY

    Over the course of the project, Mr Cooper contacted veterans who had fought or were imprisoned at Adam Park during World War II.

    One of them was Private Jack Jennings, who visited Singapore late last year. The Briton was in his early 20s when he fought in the war as a volunteer with the Cambridgeshire Battalion.

    Mr Cooper said it was a surreal experience speaking to Pte Jennings. “I had spent years researching the battle and here was a guy who actually fought in it. He was sharp as a pin. I was spellbound by his story.”

    Pte Jennings had been in the trench when a Japanese officer came down the road with a British officer. The British officer had said: “That’s it guys, everybody get out.”

    Pte Jennings then laid down his weapons such as grenades and spare ammunition, and was taken to a nearby tennis court where he and other prisoners of war (POWs) were held till Feb 19, 1942. He was eventually sent to Changi Prison and later to work on the Thai-Burma Railway.

    PACKED INTO A PEN

    About 600 British troops were packed into a tennis court near No. 6 Adam Park following the defeat of the 1,000-strong Cambridgeshire Battalion on Feb 15, 1942.

    Mr Cooper, who consulted historical records and spoke with some survivors, said: “It was an ideal pen to put people in as there was a 10ft (3m) wire fence around it and only one exit.”

    The captured troops were allowed to take shade under the trees in the day and their nights were spent squeezed in the pen. Latrines were scraped into the grass at the edge of the court.

    On the third day, it rained. The downpour failed to wash away the faeces, which rose from the latrines and covered the asphalt court. Mr Cooper said the pen and the men stunk so badly that the Japanese soldiers guarding them gradually moved farther away each day.

    On the last day, the Japanese came out wearing masks.

    The Cambridgeshires who fought against the Japanese were later sent to Changi Prison.

    WRITINGS ON THE WALL

    A calendar written in pencil, with the dates spanning September to December 1942, was discovered on the wall of an outhouse at No. 5 Adam Park.

    It was most likely drawn up by a member of the Australian 8th Division Signals that had been housed there during the war.

    Mr Cooper said the calendar had several pieces of evidence pertaining to the life of the POWs.

    For instance, the calendar features a countdown to the pay day of Adam Park POWs, who were disbursed wages of 10 cents a day, every 14 days, for their work on the Syonan Jinja Shrine at MacRitchie Reservoir. The shrine was built to house the ashes of the Japanese soldiers who died in the conquest of Malaya and Singapore.

    Mr Cooper believes the POWs would have likely spent this money at a canteen at No. 11 buying food to supplement their rice ration. “History was written on the wall,” he added.

    The bungalow’s tenant, who had been scraping away old paint to revamp the space as a guest room, has since stopped work on that section of the wall and the calendar has been left on display.

    http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/wwii-tale-unravels-at-adam-park-bungalow

  31. Kelvin T. says:

    Hi, I had the privilege to experience a piece of Changi Air Base’s history before it was expanded to its present day size (Cranwell road, Changi Village Road, Manston Blocks and the Changi Medical Centre were still areas open to public during my National Service stint).

    I have always been fascinated by a particular building but never found any write up on it. It was called Block 149 and sat at a hill top towards the end of Changi Village Road and behind Changi Medical Centre. It’s a large compound made up of about 3 blocks, each about 4-5 level and it has a small parade square. During my National Service, we were told that it used to be a hospital with a mortuary, but no information turned up on records.

    Do you know of such a building?

    • Neil Duncan says:

      The only Block I can remember is 151 and it had three paintings on the wall depicting the last supper, the crucifixion and the Resurrection. This particular block was directly overlooking the dispersal area for the Varsity Hastings and Anson aircraft . This was in 1958/59. The war time medical block was over the NAFFI and was used by the Medics in that year.
      Regards,
      Neil

  32. Maddie Jones says:

    Hi all, I am researching Changi Selarang Baracks for my Grandad who served for 18 months or so in 1957. He was part of the South Wales Borderers and wondered if anyone might have known him? J Jones. He participated in boxing and swimming. Tall, dark haired. Thank you. Maddie

  33. Rare photos of the colonial buildings at Selarang!

    Shared by Professor Paul Shaw, who had lived in Selarang between 1954 and 1958.


  34. What a great historical overview that has been thoughtfully put together, thank you. My dad, Des Bettany was in serveral prison camps in Singapore as a POW of the Japanese but spent 2.5 years in Changi Jail. He painted the opposite to what he was living in to keep sane. These 400 paintings have been ‘liberated’ from 70 years in a cupboard and are now available for view on a family webste: http://www.changipowart.com for your interest.

  35. I happened across this blog – what a great read. Thank you. We were based at Selarang Barracks as a family in the married quarters in 1968. My father Midge Donaldson was with the Tank Regiment/ Queens Own Hussars for a number of years. Our house was very near – I seem to recall on the opposite side of the road to the Guard House. Unfortunately both our parents have passed away so many questions i have, some prompted by reading the blog can’t be answered. I went to the Wessex Junior School but can’t remember whether that was while we lived at Changi or when we moved to Chip Bee / Holland Road ?? about one year later. I’ve been going through photos recently will add some in the future.
    Best wishes to all readers and if this jogs any memories, please let me know.

  36. One of the last British survivors of Japan’s notorious WW2 Death Railway in Burma dies at the age of 102

    12 July 2017
    Mail Online

    One of the last British survivors of Japan’s notorious wartime Death Railway in Burma has died at the age of 102.

    Former prisoner of war John Howes has died in hospital surrounded by his distraught family – 75 years after he was captured by the Japanese. The proud old soldier’s devastated son, also called John, said his father never talked about his time as a PoW until 10 years ago when he saw pictures of Burma his son took on holiday.

    Mr Howes, 78, of Lowestoft, Suffolk, said that he had enjoyed a pint with his dad every Friday at the Cliff Hotel in Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, right up until he died.

    He said poignantly: ‘Not only was he my father, he was my best friend.’

    The late Mr Howes became one of 80,000 British Far East PoWs after he was taken captive when Singapore fell in February 1942 in one of the army’s most devastating defeats of all time. Already a married father, he spent three-and-a half-years of hell in captivity before being finally freed when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.

    Mr Howes, who died at his local James Paget University Hospital, was serving with D Company in the 4th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment when he was shipped out to Singapore. He was called up as soon as war broke out in September 1939 because he was already serving in the Territorial Army (TA) as a reservist.

    Mr Howes had married his sweetheart Irene the year before and his beloved wife died 12 years ago after 67 years of marriage. He was forced to work on the Japanese army’s infamous Burma Railway – dubbed the Death Railway – in searing tropical temperatures and given hardly any food.

    The stick-thin but gutsy serviceman said he cheated death four times during the war. And the lifelong rebel told how he wanted Frank Sinatra’s classic hit My Way played at his funeral to give him the perfect send-off.

    Looking back on a life full of amazing colour and heart stopping drama, Mr Howes recalled on his 100th birthday in August 2014: ‘I’m one of those people who takes things with a pinch of salt.

    ‘I am a dedicated fatalist.

    ‘Four times during the war I should have gone. Twice I had bombs and shells dropping within 10ft of me that turned out to be duds.

    ‘Another time I was walking along a hedgerow when a stream of bullets came by.

    ‘If my arm had been an inch to the left, I would have gone.

    ‘But it wasn’t my time.

    ‘I’m in no rush but I’m quite ready to go and see what’s up there when it does happen.’

    Educated at St George’s Infants and Nelson School in Great Yarmouth, Mr Howes’s first job was an errand boy at a tailor’s. At 16, he started work at a barrel factory near the gas works where he learned the meaning of hard graft.

    He said: ‘It was piece work – 10 hours a day, 60 hours a week for 30 shillings. It was hard work and it set me up for life.’

    He worked at the factory for six years before war erupted when Nazi tyrant Adolf Hitler invaded Poland.

    He recalled: ‘I was called up just before the outbreak of war because I was in the TA.

    ‘I did my training here and then we went to America.

    ‘This was before they joined the war. We were on US troopships, which were liners that had been converted to carry troops, and we lived like lords.’

    Even at 100, Mr Howes could still reel off his army serial number, the characters of the men he fought with and the hard years as a PoW at the infamous Changi prison. Before reaching the Far East, Mr Howes’s company served in Cape Town.

    They left South Africa just as the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the US into the war in December 1941.

    He said: ‘They sent us to India and we spent two or three months waiting around before we got the message to go to Singapore. And you know what happened in Singapore.’

    Mr Howes was one of 80,000 British Far East PoWs and saw first hand the horrors of the Japanese camp. He said the hard work didn’t affect him, but no medical treatment and a lack of food did.

    He said: ‘Eventually your body gets used to no food, and the work didn’t bother me.

    ‘I wasn’t emotional about it.

    ‘Maybe I’m a little more emotional now I’m older, but I wasn’t an emotional person then.

    ‘We always talked about going home. We didn’t all make it, of course.

    ‘I remember a Cockney, Alfie Higgins, who’d say after the war we’d all go to Tilloch Street in London and have a party.

    ‘But he didn’t come home.

    ‘And there was my great mate Johnny Ayres who I’d grown up with.

    ‘He lived at Yarmouth too. We somehow got separated after we were taken prisoner.

    ‘He was on one of the Japanese PoW ships to be taken to Japan and, of course, those ships weren’t marked and it was torpedoed.

    ‘He didn’t come home either.’

    Mr Howes met and married his sweetheart, Irene, before the conflict started.

    He said: ‘All the teenagers of Yarmouth used to parade down King Street, Regent Road, up the front and along St Peter’s Road back then.

    ‘I was going along the front with a group of my mates when she saw me.

    ‘She used to tell me that she’d said, “That one’s mine”.’

    The couple married in September 1938.

    Son John arrived in 1939, followed by daughter Pat, now 77, in 1940.

    ‘My only regret is that I wasn’t there to watch the children grow up, to learn to walk and talk,’ said Mr Howes.

    During the war Mrs Howes had worked for the Boardman family at How Hill in Ludham and he went to work there too when he got home. The family, reunited at last, soon moved to Gorleston where they settled. In need of a regular income, Mr Howes joined the electricity board ‘becausethey could guarantee work for two years’.

    ‘I ended up staying for 33 years. We didn’t have anything after the war, you couldn’t afford it.

    ‘But I remember our holidays when the children were young, we used to go to Butlins and we’d have a great time.’

    Up until 2013 John was a member of the Yarmouth FEPOW (Far East Prisoner of War) association. But the group folded following the death of chairman Bert Major and joined the Royal British Legion.

    Mr Howes said: ‘Before I got too old I used to go every year to the serviceon the seafront on the Sunday closest to November 11. I laid a wreath one year.

    ‘There can’t be many of us left.’

    While war has left a shadow on Mr Howes’s life, it by no means defines it -and he’s got plenty of stories too tell. In 1939, he was on guard duty at Sandringham when he had a close encounter with a four-legged member of the Royal Family.

    Mr Howes said: ‘I was standing there when a little corgi came past with its lead trailing behind.

    ‘So, as you would naturally, I picked up the lead.

    ‘Then the Queen Mother comes past and I hand him back to her. Half an hour later a butler came out with a silver tray.

    ‘She sent me a cup of tea to say thank you.’

    Mr Howes wasn’t keen on a big birthday party to mark his 100th.

    ‘I didn’t want a fuss,’ he said.

    It took two months for his son to convince him to attend a family meal at the Cliff Hotel, where Mr Howes went every week with his son for a meal and a few pints.

    ‘It was one of the best days of my life,’ said Mr Howes.

    ‘It was wonderful.’

    Mr Howes put the secret of his long life down to fate.

    Son John said: ‘He’s always doing what he shouldn’t, he smoked, he drank, and he still puts too much salt on his food.’

    ‘I don’t live by the rules,’ admitted Mr Howes senior.

    ‘You know Frank Sinatra’s song My Way? That was written for me.

    ‘It’s my life – I do things my way. And when I do go I want them to play that song in the church.’

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4689356/British-survivor-WW2-Death-Railway-Burma-dies-103.html

  37. Michael Y K Leong says:

    wonderful article written but ther was no mention that changi air base was use by the Singapore Armed Forces from 1971 to 1985 for National Service intake which after 3 months of basic military training will be posted out to serve their non-combat vaction mostly service side as it was known in those era like clerk,storeman,driver Military police etc.. I was doing my National Service Basic Military Training there. It was heaven we were housein the old building left over by the british there were hot water bath room in every floor and the ceiling was high and airy with fans and about a section men strenght to a room, I also remember there is a canteen in front of Foxtrot company selling satay at only 15cts a stick.The atmosphere back them was like a holiday bangalow.Not to forget that the early Singapore Commando unit was also house there , the formal SAF boys school.
    Today after 40 years I still cycle to Changi Village every sunday morning for my favourite roti-prata and teh tarik at the coffee shop. It brings back many memories the place have not change much still laid back and serene and hopefully with the new Changi Airport development please retain the old changi charm, Does any one know that thelate David Marshall use to stay at Telok Paku wich is now the changi woman prison and there is also a former SAF CampI thin is the 2SIB.

    • Neil says:

      I remember Changi well. Also we use to go to “Beddo corner” probably spelling wrong. All that was in 1958 to 60 then went on a fitters course to Yatesbury

  38. Caroline Richardson says:

    My father was stationed in Borneo in the 1960’s we lived in marriage quater son the beach … I went to school in Seleata and can’t remember much else ….I learnt to swim in the singapore swimming club but would love to know roughly where the block of flats where. I don’t think we lived on any of the RAF bases …..can anyone help?

    Regards

    Caroline Richardson nee McCord

    • Michael Y K Leong says:

      Dear Mrs Caroline,
      Maybe I could help you to jog your memory. In 1960 Singapore was home to the Commonwealth Forces and they occuply two bases in Singapore. If your father is from Austrial or New Zealand you are likely to behoused in Dieppe Barrack in Sembawang which still exists today but is taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces Guards HQ and its nowhere near the sea .If your father is a Navy man from England then the most likely place is Terror Camp in Sembawang which is near the sea and have living quaters for troops as describe by you, Today it houses the Singapore Armed Forces Diving Unit and is off-limit and restricted area not open to public. You have said your school days are in Seleta area which is not far from Sembawang. So check it out.

      regards
      Michael Leong

  39. Russell Robertson says:

    I was station at Selarang Bks 70-71 then moved over to Nee Soon,while at Changi we found a mosaic that was buried near the flag pole it was a artillery badge we believe the Australian pows made it.While i was station there i also taught swimming at the R.A.F. Changi base pool and many the children achieve great results and went on to complete in many swimming carnivals.
    Regards R.A.Robertson

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