Located at Gunner Lane, off Artillery Road, of present-day Sentosa, Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack was built in 1904.
The former British stronghold was named after the island where it was established. Pulau Blakang Mati, which means “behind death” in Malay, would be renamed as Sentosa in 1970 as a redevelopment project to turn the island into a place of leisure and recreation.
Before the construction of Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack, the British already reinforced the island as early as 1860 with gunneries and forts. In 1878, new gun batteries were added to each end of Blakang Mati (Blakang Mati East and Siloso). The reinforcement was due to the threats by Tsarist Russia, who was thought to harbour territorial ambitions in the central and other parts of Asia.
At the start of the 20th century, two more batteries were deployed on Blakang Mati’s Mount Serapong and Mount Imbiah, but by the 1920s, the Great Depression in the United States of America had hit the global economy badly. British Empire was not spared as it struggled to rebuild its economy.
When the Second World War hit Singapore in 1942, military personnel and volunteer units were given duties to defend the forts of Blakang Mati. In three days of intensive battle, the defense of Blakang Mati was lost to the Japanese invading forces. The British deliberately destroyed some of the gunneries to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Japanese.
After the Japanese occupied Pulau Blakang Mati, they used the barrack to house the prisoners-of-war (POWs). There were horrific stories of the inhumane treatment of the POWs, who were tortured and starved throughout the Occupation. After the surrender of Japan at the end of the war, the same barrack was used to imprison the Japanese POWs.
The famous part of the barrack is the main parade square which was previously used extensively by the British military for their official events. It was also the venue where Singapore’s first artillery division First Singapore Regiment Royal Artillery (1FSRRA) was established. Formed in 1948, 1FSRRA was given the task of training the local military enlistees and to protect Singapore during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960).
Other than the main parade square, Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack consisted of four blocks designed in typical British military style for the Far East. High ceilings and wide corridors suited the hot tropical weather of Singapore, and rows of wooden rectangular doors and windows lined up the walls providing easy accessibility.
The barrack was well-equipped with many housing quarters for the junior staff, senior officers and married military personnel. There were also lecture rooms, store rooms, cookhouse, officer mess, rifle range, church, laundry bay, grocery shop and a small cinema for entertainment purposes. It even had its own medical facilities, reservoir and football field. By 1940, three more buildings were added to the camp.
The Singapore government took over Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack after achieving independence in 1965. Two years later, the newly formed Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) relocated some of its subsidiaries, the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force, School of Maritime Training and Naval Medical School, to the camp.
The local military presence, however, existed only for a short period on the island. In 1972, the government decided to develop the island into a tourist spot, leading to the abandonment of the barrack.
As it fell into disrepair during the nineties, the former camp became a favourite place for exploration by the chalet-goers.
It was not until 2005 when the barrack was renovated to become the offices for the Sentosa’s Tourism Agency. In August 2012, it was announced that the site of the century-old barrack would be used for the development of a new hotel.
As many as sixteen landmarks on Sentosa were given conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Board (URA) in 2004. They were significant buildings built by the British between 1880s and 1930s, but unfortunately Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack was not one of them. With its new development plans, it was unclear whether and which parts of the barrack would be conserved.
Published: 26 September 2012
1948 – British and Indian contingents’ passing out parade at Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack
1960 – Gurkha units marching at Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack
1967 – Singapore Naval Forces stationed at Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack
(notice the rows of new 3-tonners)
All three photos are from the National Archives of Singapore
How Old Is This?
Is that area still around i want to go check it out
I was attached to the 1st Singapore Regiment RA on Blakang Mati from 1953 to 1955,and stayed in one of the Barracks mentioned,it was for British Other Ranks (BOR’s)and consisted mainly of REME personnel from the Light Aid Detachment,with a few RAOC,ACC & Royal Signals thrown in.As a Corporal I was in charge of the small 443 BAD Ammunition Sub Depot next to Serapong Jetty where we kept most of the ammunition for the guns at Fort Siloso.Also at that time Fort Connaught up the hill was still being used to store a small amount of shells,it was a deep dismal place,which stiil had electricity powered from a small petrol generator.
Hi Alan, Are you still in Singapore?
Sorry Phil,no I am in the UK.
Hi Alan, I am from a documentary crew. We are currently looking for stories from people who were in Pulau Blakang Mati during the 1950s. Given your unique experience, could you share with us your stories and life in the barracks
Im interested in Blackang Mati as a FEzPOW camp ’43 -‘ 45
My Dad was transferred there from Changi
He was Royal signals trans in Malaysia to 3rd Indian Signals
Any info apprecisted xxx👋❤️🏴
My father who served in British Army was stationed there after WWII. We arrived Christmas Eve 1947. As kids we swam out to the barriers that protected the island from invasion and played on and in the war bunkers on the beach. Many happy memories for myself, brother and sister.
Looking for info during WW11 when our men were prisoners of the Japanese and
I have a collection of photographs relating to buildings, military families and generally views of the island cir 1920’s
hi, my grandad was deployed there in the 50s, hes called Jack Kelly was known as ‘Paddy` he has lots of photos and stories from his time there
I was a British Army schoolgirl there in the 50’s, we have a Facebook group with lots of photos, we would love to see yours. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll give you the details.
I was there in 1952/54 as school boy. The hill was known as Church Hill I remember there being a gun salute for the death of Queen Mary.
Hi Alan, I lived on Pulau Brani as a child and went to the primary school on Blakang Mati in 1958. I have a copy of the whole school register, showing many names that you would know. Email me at email@example.com if you would like details. Regards, Lynne Copping.
Former Sentosa military parade square to be turned into hotel
Mar 12, 2014
The Straits Times
A former military parade square in Sentosa will be turned into a hotel by Far East Organization, adding to the island’s cluster of repurposed conservation buildings. The developer said on Wednesday that it trumped three other submissions to win the tender for the 60-year leasehold hotel site at Artillery Avenue from the Sentosa Development Corporation.
The site is on elevated ground and overlooks the Palawan Beach and the sea off the southern end of Sentosa. It includes six blocks of barracks and a coach park. The military parade square and the barracks have been gazetted for conservation.
Google something called SONNET TALK FORUM, a poetry forum.
Go down about five entries to LAST POST, of March 5, 2014 date.
You will find a Singapore artifact of 1942 date. In my commentary, I have reason to note that the location is probably NOT Changi Jail. I now believe the location was the POW camp at Blakang Mati.
There are other instances of this thing on the web, differing slightly from one another, which makes them hard to Google.
A copy of a WWII poem written by an unknown, possibly inscribed in a prison cell at Blakang Mati Barracks during the Japanese Occupation:
“The document is a handmade record of material inscribed on cell walls. There is a record of inscribed material in addition to the poem, namely “off to Changi.”
The person who made the document leaves no record of his location*. The copyist mere says “on cell walls.” Nor does the copied inscription say where the cell walls are. The document does NOT say “on cell walls, Changi Jail.” I believe the location was Blakang Mati, not Changi Jail.
[ *The unreadable word in the upper right is I think MOLCAB, a British military acronym for that has no bearing on Singapore. ]
There were many luminaries in Singapore in 1945 who would have had easy access to Blakang Mati. I am guessing that several people made copies on site in 1945. There is one web page which suggests this, suggesting also Blakang Mati.” – Mabool
Not sure if is relevant here but MOLCAB = Mobile Landing Craft Advanced Base.
Found that on an Imperial War Museum website.
The entire poem ( based on my source above ) is transcribed to type in a book called “Passport Not Required”, together with some background and corrections. Of about 2010 date.
Hi, I am looking for any army personal that was stationed at the old Singapore Naval Forces from 1965 onwards. I am doing a project in school for SG50. We are working on a e-book that will feature Sentosa after 1965. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are one of them.
Hi! Can anyone help me identify the place that once housed the Singapore Union Camp Centre. Thanks
It is now the Amara Sanctuary Resort.
Greetings from Melbourne. I once stayed at the barracks in the early 80s when it was the Scripture Union Camp Centre. I think Wang Sooi Fong was referring to this. At that time, the building was in a state of mild neglect but it only fired the imagination of young teens like me of bygone days. We even thought we spotted a few “bullet holes”. There used to be a display of disused military aircraft including a hunter (if I am not mistaken) that I remember playing in. Does anyone else remember this or have photos to share?
Hi, I remember exploring the area with my cousins back in the 80s while we were staying at the nearby chalets. Saw 3 static aircraft displays at the parade square. Anyone got pictures of these aircraft?
In 1958-1961 I was stationed in Malaya as it was known then and I was sent to Blakang Mati on a Religious Instruction course. More like a holiday really. I returned to Singapore en route to my daughters wedding in Thailand. We visited Santosa. Somewhat a different place
I went on the same course in 1964 when stationed at 13 Signal regiment, Singapore!. I had many Gurkha friends!..The cruelty of the Japanese was well documented!. I have great memories of my years in the far east and especially Singapore!..
Hello. Can anyone give me advice on who to contact in Singapore to find out about relatives stationed there with the RA in a) 1896 (or thereabouts), and b) 1952. Many thanks.
Regret not in S’pore.
Suggest you try this in GB:
Royal Artillery Museum Archive
Thank you Paul
My Dad was imprisoned in Blackan Mati during WW11 captured at Fall of Singapore, 1st 15 mths in Changi then transferred to Blakan Mati until end of war
Would love to hear from someone who had relative there also and hear any reports other than on this post
e-mail……………….email@example.com……………………many thanks xxx
I have a friend who lived in the married quarters as a child. I am on holiday on Sentosa at the moment. He has described where he lived in relation to the square. Is there any possibility that the house is still there?
Just seen your post of 3 months age. I too lived in a married quarter on Sentosa (then Blakang Mati) from 1950 to 1952. My Dad was a captain in the Royal Artillery posted to 1st Singapore Regiment. My old home became the butterfly centre so the building is still there. The house used to have a fabulous view across the harbour but trees have now grown up to block it all out. Look forward to hearing from you.
Chris, do you have a sister called Jennifer? I have got the whole school register for Blakang Mati Primary School, (from the National Army Museum archives) from when the school opened in 1950 till it closed in 1967 (it relocated to Pulau Brani in 1959). Jennifer Madden was the first pupil to go there, on 13th June 1950. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I went to the school from June 1958 to January 1961.
Chris, I have a copy of the Blakang Mati school register and the first entry, when the school opened in 1950, is a Jennifer Madden, who was born in June 1945. Would she be your sister? I went to the school in 1958. She was at the school at the same time as other pupils who I have been able to locate, and we now have a Facebook group. Please email me at email@example.com
Must have known my dad, Sgt Muckersie? He was up country in 1948/49, but was back on Blakang Mati when we arrived in 1950 or so. What a child-hood we had, school to lunch time & then running wild around the island all afternoon!
Sorry, no other Thorp’s on the register.
The school register says that Jennifer Madden was the first pupil at Blakang Mati school, joining on 13th June 1950 and leaving on 28th May 1952.Lived at 2 MQ, father a captain in the RA.
I have details of the primary school register for that time, there is a Jennifer Madden on it. We have a thriving Singapore Schools reunion group, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I lived on the next island of Pulau Brani.
I have managed to find Anthony Ellingham via Facebook, and discovered the name of his friend, who I have now contacted, and discovered that his sister was in my class at the British Army primary school on Pulau Brani in 1960. I have a copy of the school register (from the National Army Museum archives (UK)) from when it opened on Blakang Mati in 1950, transferred to Pulau rani in 1959 and closed in 1967. If anyone who was there would like a copy please email me at email@example.com
Hi Lynne, if it’s possible, I’d love a copy of the school register. My father was a Major in the Royal Artillery and commanded an Anti-aircraft Battery of the Malay Regiment, stationed on Blakang Mati in the mid-50s. I don’t remember much of my childhood there but my parents clearly had a great time! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Best regards, Howard (Crosse)
Does anyone who was stationed at Blakang Mati in the 1950s recall a John/Jack Thorpe?
Claire, I have a copy of the primary school register for Blakang Mati school, and on 3rd June 1952 an eight year old boy, Rodney Thorp, joined the school, leaving in December 1954. His father was a Major in the Royal Artillery, army number 183503. Maybe the British army can help you, with these details.
Thanks so much Lynne, that ties in with the RA service number I have. Really appreciate it.
Lynne, Can you tell me whether Rosalynde Sara Thorp was also listed on the register? Many thanks.
My father was a Major Turner, and we lived in a bungalow on blakang mati from 1952 to about 54, when we moved to Hong Hong. Working in singapore for a few days and loving the changes!
Hi Christopher, I lived on Pulau Brani but travelled to Blakang Mati to the primary school, by ferry each day. I have got the school register for the primary school but cannot see your name there. Were you of school age? Maybe secondary school? We have a great Facebook group for Blakang Mati school, with many photographs from people who were there at the same time as you. Email me at email@example.com for details and a chat. We have a thriving Singapore Schools reunion group, with former pupils from the many schools in Singapore and Hong Kong. Someone may remember you. Reunion in London twice a year, with others round the country, and one in Singapore planned for November 2020.
Hi, I help to run a group for ex pupils of the British army primary school on Blakang Mati in the 1950’s. We have many members who will be able to show you photos and give you stories of what life was like then. I lived on Pulau Brani and in 1958 travelled by army ferry to Blakang Mati to the little school there. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be put in touch with these people. We also have a Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1708599882742615
Hi Christopher, did you go to school there? I have a copy of the school register. Please email me at email@example.com
We have a Facebook group for former pupils. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1708599882742615
I was posted to Blakang Mati (and learned Malay) 1953/54 as an officer of 1st SSRA. Have wonderful memories of my service there and playing cricket on the Padang and golf at Keppel. Col. Salaman was C O. Would love to hear from others about their time there as I am now 86.
Hello. I was a British schoolgirl living on Pulau Brani in 1958, and went by ferry to the bigger island of Blakang Mati to go to the primary school there. I am in touch with quite a few people who were pupils at the school from 1950 onwards. Perhaps you met their parents. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I would be delighted to hear from you.
I too am 86, was on Blakang Mati at the same time. I was the RAOC Corporal in charge of the small ammunition sub depot located on the road down to Serapong Jetty. I had 2 private soldiers to assist me, 1 BOR and 1 MOR. plus 12 Malay labourers who came across from Pualu Brani by sampan each day. I think that the whole time I was there I only ever issued artillery rounds for practice or ceremonial purposes. I was billeted in the ORs Block in the main square, occupied mainly by REME personnel of the Light Aid Detachment, with a few of us odds and sods, RAOC, RE, RSigs, etc. Down some steps behind the block was the cookhouse, the cook in charge was ACC. Sgt (Busty) Berens. Happy days.
Dear Mr Hunter,
I went to primary school on Blakang Mati and have recently corresponded with Donald McDonald, who sent me some excellent photographs for our Facebook group.
Please contact me at email@example.com if you would like to see any photographs.
Colonel Salaman, an officer & a gentleman.
My Dad was a POW there 1943-45
Trying to learn more of his stay there
I was there at the same time, a corporal in the RAOC, I am 86 years old & was billeted in the British ORs quarters on the main square.
I remember you, Sir, I was the RAOC Corporal in charge of the small ammo sub depot next to Serapong jetty.
where ca I buy prints of Pulau Belakang Mati?
Donald McDonald, I too remember Col Salaman, he had a large dog, can’t remember the breed, but it used to accompany him on Billet inspections. So standing stiffly to attention, you were asking for trouble if your shorts were too short.
My Dad, Captain Peter Rowley and the family lived at No 1 Rochester Park from 1952 – 1954. We visited Blakang Mati many times and I remember playing on the gun emplacements facing South. I leaned to ride a bicycle while there. I remember attending the Queen’s Birthday Parade in 1953. Dad marched at the head of a platoon of Malay troops all wearing pillbox hats.
Hello all, my Dad, Corporal Keith Kittridge was stationed there along with mum Robertina (Bobby) and my two brothers from1962-1964. He was REME and lived in married quarters – colonial style 2 storey houses that are now really nice rooms part of a Hotel group. Would be nice to get in touch with anybody that knew him. I was there as a one year old so don’t remember much other than what I seen in old 8mm cine movies and B & W photo’s. My younger brother was born there.
Hi Malcolm, your brothers were either too young for primary school or older and went to secondary school. I have the primary school register and they are not on it. I lived on the smaller island of Pulau Brani, next to Blakang Matiat the same time, but went to secondary school on the mainland. The army primary children from Blakang Mati came by ferry to Pulau Brani for school. I have started a Facebook group for Blakang Mati, you will see many photos there, and if you join it we would be happy to see any photos that you have.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
In early 1960s my uncle Rev John Gore was based at Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack. There his responsibilities included those of Padre and Officer in Command for the Church House for the Far East. This was a place of refreshment for soldiers and airmen: each Army Command had a Church House where programmes of instruction on the Christian faith were run and visits made to Christian schools and hospitals.