The old Boys’ Brigade Headquarters at Ganges Avenue is currently undergoing demolition. Located at the junction of Zion Road and the Singapore River, the premises had been The Boys’ Brigade’s base for 36 years.
The history of The Boys Brigade went back to 1883, when it was founded by William Alexandra Smith (1854-1914) at Scotland’s Aberdeen as an organisation for instilling discipline, ethics and Christian values to teenage boys and nurturing them into responsible men. It was also the world’s first uniformed group for the youths.
As part of the global movement, The Boys’ Brigade in Singapore was established on 12 January 1930 by James Milner Fraser (1905-1978), an architect and town planner who arrived at Singapore to work for the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). James Fraser, who was a member of the 23rd Aberdeen Company of The Boys’ Brigade back home, set up the Singapore branch as a promise to his ex-captain. At the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, the 1st Singapore Company was therefore created with an initial membership of 40.
The Boys’ Brigade (originally called The Singapore Battalion) steadily grew in Singapore; it had 200 members by 1936. James Fraser was the captain until 1940, and would also become the Battalion President in 1936, a position he held for 20 years till 1956. As for The Boys’ Brigade, a series of new Battalions and Companies were formed throughout its history.
During the Second World War, The Boys’ Brigade activities had to be halted with its documents, flags and drums hidden in the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church’s storerooms. James Fraser was caught and became a prisoner-of-war (POW), and was forced to work at the construction of the notorious Burma Railway (also known as the Death Railway). He survived and returned to Singapore after the war to revive The Boys’ Brigade together with Chua Siak Phuang, whom he passed the captaincy earlier in 1940.
James Fraser went on to serve as the President of Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Chairman of Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in the fifties. At SIT, he supervised the construction of more than 10,000 units of public flats and shops, and made several important publications such as the SIT annual reports and the studies of town planning and housing issues in Singapore. James Fraser later returned to Scotland and died there in 1978.
In 1968, The Singapore Battalion was officially renamed The Boys’ Brigade. In 1971, it had the distinguished honour to have Benjamin Henry Sheares (1907-1981), the second President of the Republic of Singapore, as its patron. The patronage of the Singapore President to The Boys’ Brigade continues till this day.
In November 1985, The Boys’ Brigade Headquarters and Training Centre was shifted from Armenian Street to Ganges Avenue, where it took over the former premises of Havelock Primary School. The Boys’ Brigade stayed here for almost four decades.
Havelock Primary School (formerly called Havelock School) was established in 1952. It was one of the many new primary schools built in Singapore in the fifties to accommodate 15,000 students born during the post-war baby boom. Delta East School and Delta West School used to be the neighbouring primary schools with Havelock Primary School. Their old school compounds were demolished in the mid-2010s.
One of The Boys’ Brigade’s major events at the new headquarters was its convention during the 1986 National Day weekend, where officers from The Boys’ Brigades in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia were invited to participate in the brigade etiquette and religious discussions and also to observe Singapore’s National Day celebrations. Other events held at the headquarters included regular training courses, passing out parades and fund-raising campaigns for the needy.
In September 2021, The Boys’ Brigade departed its old Ganges Avenue headquarters and moved to its temporary office at Sembawang Road’s Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade Campsite. It will eventually shift to its new Kwong Avenue headquarters at the MacPherson Estate when the premises are completed.
As for the old Boys’ Brigade Headquarters, its demolition project started in February 2022, and is expected to be completed by April 2022. The buildings, occupied by Havelock Primary School (1952-1984) and The Boys Brigade (1985-2021), will officially walk into the history books after 70 years of existence.
Published: 12 March 2022