Seletar Camp became operationally ready in 1928, as part of the British’s tactical defence of Singapore in the northern part of the island. The swampy lands were filled in the 1920s, with British planner C. E. Wood placed in charge for the construction of an airbase. In 1929, the Seletar Airbase was officially opened, functioning as an airstrip for commercial aircraft as well as a Royal Air Force (RAF) station.
As more RAF personnel were deployed to station at Seletar, colonial-styled bungalows were built to house their families. Jalan Kayu, the main road leading to Seletar Camp, became prosperous with booming businesses and activities from the patronising British military.
Seletar Camp and Airbase were captured by the Japanese in 1942, who renamed it as Seretar Hikojo. With the airbase suffered extensive damages from the bombings, the Japanese forces forced the British and Indian prisoners-of-war to build a new airstrip at Changi. After the war, the British reclaimed Seletar Camp, but the military compound was eventually taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1971.
Seletar was then split into East Camp and West Camp, where much of its eastern part remained restricted from public access until the early 2000s, and the western area, named the Seletar Airport, now functions as an aviation facility for commercial aircraft. The Seletar East Camp formerly housed many SAF combat engineer units. Between 1982 and 1995, it was also the home of Command and Staff College, which had shifted from Marina Hill. The former colonial buildings left by the British were utilised by the military units until 2011.
Seletar Camp had largely enjoyed its rustic surroundings until the kickoff of the Seletar Aerospace Park project in 2006. Many old buildings were torn down, and some of the roads were expunged. Many of the roads, such as Old Birdcage Road, Morrington Crescent, Battersea Road and Piccadilly Circus, were named in heavy colonial flavours.
The inner roads of the camp still retained the once-familiar orange-top bus stops. SBS feeder bus service 214E used to ply the routes between Jalan Kayu Bus Terminal and Seletar East Camp in the seventies and eighties at just 10c per trip (214W served the West Camp).
By early 2013, the aerospace hub project finally extended its arm to an older portion of Seletar Camp. Its front gates were dismantled and the walls bulldozed to the ground. The old barracks were left vacated, quietly waiting for its fate to be sealed with eventual demolition.
Some post-Second World War lamp posts can be found at the boundaries of Seletar Camp (outside Singapore Technologies), which are possibly the oldest functioning lamp posts in Singapore.
For 60 years, they perform their jobs admirably, lighting up the streets inside the Seletar Camp and witnessing the rapid changes of their surrounding environment especially after the mid-2000s.
The designs are simple and elegant, and many modern lamp posts found in Singapore (eg along Holland Road) have similar concepts as compared to these colonial lamp posts.
With the near completion of the new Aerospace Hub, it is reported that these historic artifacts will be relocated to another site inside the camp for preservation.
Elsewhere in Dempsey, there is a similar lamp post located in an old deserted compound (Block 72) at Loewen Cluster of Tanglin Camp.
For abandoned colonial houses at Seletar Camp, refer to Portsdown, Seletar & Sembawang Colonial Houses.
Published: 22 October 2010
Updated: 04 June 2020