On 8 February 1942, in a quiet and dark night at Lim Chu Kang, the worst nightmare had arrived at Singapore as the Japanese invaders crossed the Straits of Johore and landed near the Sarimbun Beach.
Sarimbun Beach Landing
It was not unexpected, as Malaya was already lost to the Japanese since end-January 1942, after the invaders swiftly swept through the peninsula in only two months. Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival (1887-1966), the overall commander of the Allied Forces, decided to deploy his strongest defensive troops at the eastern side of causeway in anticipation of an imminent Japanese attack via Singapore’s northeastern coastline. His strategy would later prove to be disastrous.
The Australian 22nd Brigade was tasked to defend the northwestern side of Singapore. On the night of 8 February 1942, the Japanese began to bombard the Lim Chu Kang area with heavy artillery. Under the cover of darkness, the 5th and 18th divisions of the Japanese army crossed the Johor Straits in small assault boats and landed on Sarimbun Beach. Despite twice repelling the enemies, the Australian brigade was eventually overrun by the numerical superiority of the Japanese forces.
Almost 13,000 Japanese soldiers landed in batches at the northeastern coastline of Singapore that night. The Allied troops had to be retreated to the Jurong-Kranji defence line; the following day, on the 9th of February 1942, Tengah Airfield fell into the hands of the Japanese.
The Battle of Singapore lasted only a week. By the mid of February 1942, the supposedly impregnable British fortress of Singapore had fallen. On 15 February 1942, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival and the British delegation officially surrendered to the Japanese at the Ford Factory at Bukit Timah.
Jalan Bahtera and the Camps
The Sarimbun area was made up of forested and farming areas before it was designated as a military premises in the seventies. It once had a small network of rural tracks at the 19.5 milestone of Lim Chu Kang Road, which consisted of Jalan Bahtera, Jalan Perahu, Jalan Kapal and Jalan Rakit. Bahtera, perahu and kapal all refer to “boat” in English, probably to reflect the vibrancy of the local fishing trade at Lim Chu Kang in the past.
In 1976, part of Jalan Bahtera was repaired in a gotong royong effort by the volunteering Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers, boy scouts and the Chua Chu Kang Citizens’ Committee members. Jalan Bahtera and Jalan Perahu still exist today, but have been absorbed into the restricted compounds of Sungei Gedong Camp.
A stretch of Jalan Bahtera is still accessible to public, one that leads to the three Sarimbun campsites – the Ministry of Education (MOE) Adventure Centre, Singapore Scout Association Sarimbun Camp and the Singapore Girl Guides Association Camp Christine. Unpaved and laid with gravel, it is otherwise known as the Bahtera Track, and is linked to the junction of Lim Chu Kang Road and Lim Chu Kang Lane 5.
Scouting in Singapore, also called the Boy Scouts Movement, was inaugurated in 1910. It had its first campsite, named Purdy Camp, at Changi’s Wing Loong Road between 1932 and 1953. In 1954, the association purchased a 27-acre plot of land at old Boon Lay Road as the boy scouts’ new campsite, and named it Jurong Park. In 1960, it had another campsite leased from the government at Nicoll Drive in Teluk Paku. Situated by the sea, it was suitable for water sports and activities and was named Jubilee Camp after the Golden Jubilee of Singapore Scouting.
When the Jurong Park campsite was earmarked for industrial development in 1965, the government granted the Singapore Scout Association another 20-acre land at Jalan Bahtera. It became known as the Sarimbun Camp, and was used in 1970 to hold the Diamond Jubilee Camp as the commemoration of Singapore Scouting’s 60th anniversary, where boy scouts from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Pakistan and Nepal were invited.
In 1985, a new Sarimbun Scouts Camp, equipped with dormitories, multi-purpose hall and central kitchen, was built to replace the old one. It was completed a year later at a cost of $1.7 million with a grant by MOE. A 7-storey rock wall, A-frame huts and campfire circles were added in 1994. Since then, the camp has been used as the venue for the National Scout Jamborees, National Camps, leadership courses and pre-National Service camps.
In 1988, Camp Christine, of the Singapore Girl Guides Association, was opened opposite of the Sarimbun Scouts Camp along Jalan Bahtera. The Singapore Girl Guide Movement, like the Singapore Scouts Movement, also has a significant long history. The Singapore association was started in 1917 as a District of the Malayan Girl Guides Association. It had its first headquarters, fondly known as “The Hut”, built at Buyong Road in 1941. After independence, the headquarters of the association, named the Guide House, was relocated twice, first at Clemenceau Avenue and later at Bishan.
In the mid-eighties, a fruit tree resource centre owned by the Primary Production Department was set up at Jalan Bahtera. In the vicinity, clusters of wild durian, rambutan, jambu and jackfruit trees were abundant. The resettlement plans in the late eighties and early nineties saw many villagers moved out of Lim Chu Kang, and, as a result, many ownerless fruit trees were either bulldozed by the authority or plucked empty by outsiders during the weekends.
The end of Jalan Bahtera is now fenced up with high security gates and barbed wires. As it is only about 1km from Johor, it was speculated that Mas Selamat bin Kastari had used this route to make his escape from Singapore in 2008. He, however, escaped via the Johor Straits near Woodlands and was captured in a small village at Johor in 2009.
Due to this incident, the jetty at Jalan Bahtera end, a makeshift structure which the fishermen at Lim Chu kang had used for more than 10 years to load and unload their catches, was forced to shut down in 2009. The Sarimbun Beach is now prohibited to public access.
Date: 17 July 2016
Updated: 21 July 2016