By Claire Leow
This week marks the second anniversary of this blog, started to support a volunteer effort to raise awareness of Bukit Brown’s intrinsic value: its heritage, habitat and history. More importantly, it marks the 72th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore to Japanese occupation during World War II. The two anniversaries dovetailed neatly as All Things Bukit Brown hosted a special tour to mark the Remembrance of the War Dead, tracing the routes of the Japanese advance and the British retreat to defend the city as the battle spilled over from Bukit Timah and Adam Park to Sime Road and into the cemetery grounds, a prelude to dreaded hand-to-hand combat in the thick forest. This is the battle at Bukit Brown in the last hours before the fall of the “Impregnable Fortress” that was Singapore, the jewel of the British empire. James Tann contributed a moving chronology of events.
On Feb 15, 2014, we were able to guide 55 participants in an energising walk to retrace the steps of the soldiers as Bukit Brown is unique as a battle site from WWII that is still largely intact, according to the findings of battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper, who serendipitously landed in Singapore to find himself living at Adam Park, the site of a battle and near to the Sime Road prisoners-of-war (POW) camp during Japanese Occupation (February 1942 to September 1945). This has enabled Jon to advance his research and fieldwork, reinforcing the historic value of the endangered heritage site, as the government has started its project to exhume more than 4,000 graves to make way for an 8-lane highway despite arguments for alternatives.
In January last year, we discovered his research had taken him to Bukit Brown and collaborated with him to start battlefield tours and talks.
Indeed as exhumations started in recent months, Jon accelerated his search for missing soldiers, initially the nine missing Suffolks soldiers. His research recently led him to archival materials from a Reverend Eric Cordingly about a massacre of five Indian soldiers, with burial records that they were laid to rest at a now-defunct village on the outskirts of Bukit Brown. Their last known resting place is unknown.
As Jon writes, “it was noted in the initial report that we only had details for missing Suffolk men and that most likely there are many more of other units who could have gone missing on Bukit Brown. This addendum to the report is a great case in point. Here we have independent reports which tie in nicely with the existing documents and shed light on more missing soldiers. The fact that they were Indian troops reminds us of the global heritage that is encompassed in this battlefield site. Also the suggestion that men were rounded up bound together and then shot is a vivid reminder that the Kheam Hock road was a scene of one of the horrific atrocities that were taking place across the island at the time.”
Tomorrow, February 18, marks the 72th anniversary of the start of the Sook Ching massacre, after the Japanese forces conducted an island-wide scourge to execute able-bodied Chinese men aged 18 to 50, partly in revenge for the overseas Chinese support during the Sino-Japanese war. There are no records of the final numbers killed but the official estimate stands at 50,000 men.
Grace Seah is one of many descendants of the victims of Sook Ching, as she tells here in this blog post, Sook Ching: Our Loss, of how her uncle Tan Kim Cheng failed to heed her father’s plea to flee. Our tours to the ornate tombs of Tok Cheng Tuan and his widow Oon Tuan Cheng always moved participants, in a personal tragedy in reported in “Oon Tuan Cheng: A Life of Loss“ as a young widow with six children to raise, only to lose her sons to Sook Ching. A young lady Soh Koon Eng was cut down in her prime in a bomb raid. Her story was brought to light after a niece opened up to the volunteers. These are moving stories of the civilians caught up in the throes of war.
Among the most wanted on the Sook Ching list was Wong Chin Yoke. Wong, a decorated police inspector (he received the Coronation Medal) who had escaped Singapore with 10 men before the fall in 1942, fleeing to Indonesia to start an underground resistance movement. He was betrayed and then caught and eventually killed by Japanese in 1943. His body was whisked away by a friend from the Japanese Military hospital and buried. It was not for another 11 years before this war hero was re-interred in Singapore. Nonetheless, his remains were buried with full police honours in Bukit Brown on 21st September 1954. Suitably, a fearsome pair of Sikh guards stands guard at his tomb. They never fail to wow visitors.
Next on the most wanted list was another war hero, Tay Koh Yat, a community leader. Tay was admired for his patriotism and daring-do in leading a 20,000-strong self-defence force which he formed just before the Japanese invasion to aid those injured by the Japanese air raids. His rallying cry was “20,000 people, one heart.” The force helped to maintain order and prevent panic and chaos as people started to flee the country with the invasion of the Japanese forces.
Tay stood his ground until the eleventh hour and fled to Indonesia to escape certain death only on the eve of the fall of Singapore. After the war, Tay returned and immediately started to compile the fatalities from his volunteer force and lobbied the colonial government for the same compensation given to widows and children of servicemen who died during the war. Tay next went on to form the Singapore Chinese Appeal Committee for the Japanese Massacre victims to seek justice and compensation for the estimated 50,000 people massacred. In March 10, 1947, the War tribunal committee found Lieutenant General Kawamura Saburo, Singapore garrison commander and Lieutenant Colonel Oishi Masayuki Kempeitai commander guilty of war crimes and sentenced them to hang.
Tay was one of only six people to witness their execution; such was his standing in the community. And, on seeing the two generals, he burst out in anger and sorrow: “You have committed big sins and really deserve to die, but even when your soul descends to hell to suffer further punishment, still it is not enough to atone for your sins.”
His great granddaughter Jaime Ho read of his exploits on this blog and wrote her of her mother’s emotion. It was equally prescient that as we ended our tour at Tay’s tomb, the Civil Defence siren went off at noon, very similar to the air raid sirens that haunted Singapore in 1941 and 1942. We held a minute of silence for Tay.
There were notable volunteers, such as Tan Chow Kim, one of the original members of the Singapore Voluntary Infantry (S.V.I) , a company within the Singapore Volunteer Corps. Another was Tan Huck Wan, a Corporal of the Singapore Voluntary Field Ambulance, Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, who probably died as a prisoner of war on 31st May 1944. That same year, his daughter Ruby Tan died on the 26th Oct 1944. She was only 6 months old. His widow had to raise two sons alone. (Sadly, both father and daughter have been exhumed to make way for the highway.)
The losses were great during the war. Many died in unmarked tombs. Norman Cho found his grandfather’s grave after 66 years, and retells the story of a man of wealth and repute who lost his fortune during the war. Though Cho Kim Leong survived the occupation, he died a broken man mere months after Singapore was liberated. His bereft widow was too impoverished, a single mother with two young sons, and had no money for a tomb. Norman built a tomb for his grandfather only in 2012.
Many others are remembered only as burial entries which record that “SMC” (Singapore Municipal Council) trucks dumped their bodies in trenches at Bukit Brown in March and April. It is not clear how they died. We are still searching for these mass graves.
From the civilian defence force to the police force, community leaders to defenceless civilians, many were felled during the war. Families suffered. Children died premature deaths. Poverty, disease and malnutrition were rife.
Bukit Brown is not just another cemetery. It is the final resting place of pioneers from the 1830s right up to victims of the war in the 1940s. It represents universal heritage and a reminder of our frailty and also a measure of our resilience.
The volunteers have now guided more than 10,000 visitors to Bukit Brown. As much as this is a testimony to the dedication of these amateur historians and researchers, it is a greater testimony to the intrinsic value of Bukit Brown as a repository of historical artifacts and resources as well as heritage values. It would not have been possible to move so many with mere passion. Once there, the participants recognise immediately the natural serenity and lushness of the habitat, bird calls rising from the forests. With the aid of some story-telling, the meanings of the sculptures, inscriptions, motifs and tomb designs become clear.
With research comes deeper knowledge of the lives and times of those interred there, a story arc of Singapore from the early years, through good times and bad. Fortunes were made and lost. Lives ordinary and deeds extraordinary came to pass. It would be a great loss to the nation and to students of history to have Bukit Brown lost to a highway and housing.
This chronology of the Japanese invasion was compiled by James Tann, a heritage blogger, in the lead up to the 72nd anniversary of the fall of Singapore on 15 February, 1942.
Feb 8, 1942.
The Japanese Army invasion of Singapore Island begins with the crossing at Lim Chu Kang.
February 9, 1942.
Having landed the night before along the Lim Chu Kang coast, by the afternoon of 9th Feb, Tengah Airfield was in the hands of the invading Japanese Imperial Army.
Also on 9 Feb, the Japanese Army opened a 2nd battle front by landing the Imperial Guards Division at Kranji and the Causeway. This Division was to move east heading towards the Sembawang & Thomson regions.
The Jurong-Kranji Line – 9th February, 1942.
The Allied forces formed a futile blockade called the ‘Jurong Line’ stretching east of Tengah Airfield, through Bulim to the Jurong River (where Chinese Garden is today) to try and contain the Japanese forces within the western sector of Singapore.
By evening of 9th Feb 1942, the Jurong Line had collapsed completely due to miscommunication. The main Australian 22nd Brigade retreated, resulting in a domino effect leading other units to retreat as well.
Luckily for them, the Japanese forces did not press their advantage as they had to wait for reinforcements and logistic supplies to follow up across the Straits to continue the invasion.
You can also read how a jungle dirt track saved the lives of 400 soldiers by James Tann here
10th Feb 1942.
The capture of Bukit Panjang and the massacre at Bukit Batok.
With the overnight collapse of the ‘Jurong Line’ blockade, the Japanese 5th Division easily manoeuvred down Choa Chu Kang Road and overpowered the defences by the Argylls & Sutherland Highlanders and the Hyderabad Regiment at Keat Hong. Pushing them back all the way to Bukit Panjang Village. It was the first encounter with Japanese tanks in Singapore by the British.
By the early afternoon, Bukit Panjang Village had fallen to the Japanese. Some British units managed to escape through the farmlands of Cheng Hwa and eventually followed the water pipeline down to British lines near the Turf Club region.
Intending to re-establish the ‘Jurong Line’, the British High Command despatched 2 battalions from Ulu Pandan to Bukit Batok (West Bukit Timah).
X Battalion made it way to 9ms Jurong Road (opp today’s Bukit View Sec Sch), while Merret Force lost its way and camped at Hill 85 (Toh Guan Road today).
The Japanese 18th Div coming down Jurong Road encountered both X Battalion and Merret Force during the night. X Bn, caught totally off guard, was annihilated and lost over 280 men, while Merret Force had half its force killed in the ambush.
The Japanese Commander, Gen Yamashita, had ordered both his 5th and 18th Division to take Bukit Timah Village and Bukit Timah Hill by the 11th Feb. Thus, both units were in a frenzied rush to capture the strategic high point.
By midnight of 10th Feb, Bukit Timah Village was ablaze and effectively conquered by the invasion force.
Photo credits: Australian War Memorial
1. Japanese soldiers at Bukit Timah Hill
2. Japanese Type 95 HaGo Light Tanks in Bukit Timah Village
11th February 1942.
The Fall of Bukit Timah Hill and the Tragedy at Sleepy Valley.
By the time Gen.Yamashita’s army crossed into Singapore, he was critically short of supplies, fuel, ammunition and even food for his troops. His strategy was thus to conduct a tropical blitzkrieg – ‘hit them fast hit them hard’ – to capture Bukit Timah. It being the high point for observation also held the British ammunition, food and fuel depots which he coveted.
To raise morale of his troops, he set Feb 11 as the day to capture Bukit Timah Hill. The significance of Feb 11 was that it was the Japanese Kigensetsu, the day they celebrate the ascension of the 1st Emperor and the founding of the Japanese Empire. The task was assigned to competing 5th and 18th Divisions with untold glory going to the unit achieving the objective first.
By midnight of 10th Feb, both units had already reached Bukit Timah Village and the resultant battle against the British defenders set the entire region ablaze. The British retreated and held their line at Reformatory Road (Clementi Road)
By early morning of the 11th, the Japanese had secured Bukit Timah Hill.
Meanwhile back at Bukit Batok…
By the morning of 11 Feb, the senior commander of 15th Brigade, Brigadier Coates, who was to lead the re-taking of the Jurong Line, knew that the Japanese had surrounded his position. He cancelled the order and proceeded to retreat, together with the Special Reserve Battalion, back to allied lines at Ulu Pandan.
Forming 3 columns consisting of 1500 men from the British, Indian and Australian units, they proceeded from Bukit Batok to cross an area called Sleepy Valley.
Unknown to them, the Japanese 18th Division was already waiting to spring their trap on the British soldiers.
What happened next is a seldom mentioned debacle which actually had the highest number of casualties of any skirmish within Singapore during the war. The firefight that took place at Sleepy Valley took the lives of 1100 allied soldiers out of the 1500 who entered that valley of death.
Throughout the day, the British sent in reinforcements to try and re-take Bukit Timah. However, both Tomforce and Massey Force could do little to dislodge the Japanese.
When Bukit Timah Hill fell, Gen Percival moved his HQ from Sime Road to Fort Canning. The fear of the approaching Japanese Army also led them to destroy the infamous 15” Guns at Buona Vista Camp at Ulu Pandan that morning. It was a sign that things had come to bear…
12th Feb 1942.
Tomforce’s attempt to re-take Bukit Timah and Bukti Panjang ended in futility. Unknown to them, they were up against the battle hardened Japanese 56th and 114th Regiments of the 18th IJA Division, Yamashita’s crack troops, who had fought all the way from China.
By the morning of 12th Feb, the British lines were being pushed backed.
Tomforce fell back from Reformatory (Clementi) Road to Racecourse when the Japanese overran the supply depots at Rifle Range. By the end of the day they would retreat all the way back to Adam and Farrer Road.
By then, Gen Percival had redrawn the defence line.
Massey Force would protect the waterworks from Thomson Village to the east of the MacRitchie golf links, where the former HQ at Sime Road was.
Gen Heath’s British units would fall back from Nee Soon, having abandoned the Naval Base, and form the line from Braddell to Kallang.
In the west, the Australians fell back from Reformatory Road to Holland Road (Old Holland Road), while the 44th Indian Brigade formed the line from Ulu Pandan to Pasir Panjang. Sporadic fighting occurred throughout the day along the line.
Elated with the capture of Bukit Timah, Gen.Yamashita was still faced with logistical problems including a critical shortage of ammunition. He knew he wouldn’t be able to last out in a war of attrition and thus resorted to his plan to bluff the British into surrendering, by dropping ultimatum notes into the British lines.
“To the High Command of the British Army, Singapore”
I, the High Command of the Nippon Army have the honour of presenting this note to Your Excellency advising you to surrender the whole force in Malaya.
My sincere respect is due to your army…bravely defending Singapore which now stands isolated and unaided…..futile resistance would only serve to inflict direct harm and injuries to thousands of non-combatants….Give up this meaningless and desperate resistance…If Your Excellency should neglect my advice, I shall be obliged, though reluctantly from humanitarian considerations to order my army to make annihilating attacks..”
(signed) Tomoyuki Yamashita”
Getting no response to his ultimatum message, Yamashita sent his units on probing incursions along the line.
These took place mainly at Sime Road and Pasir Panjang near Normanton.
He had no intention to enter the city as he knew he did not have the resources to fight a street to street battle.
13th Feb 1942.
The noose tightens around Singapore City.
With the core of Singapore Island firmly in the hands of the Japanese Army, Gen.Yamashita moved his HQ from Tengah to the Ford Motors factory at Bukit Timah.
Strangely, the previous day ended somewhat with a lull in the fighting.
This allowed Gen Percival to continue finalising his last line of defence.
From Kallang Airfield to Paya Lebar, Paya Lebar to Braddell, Thomson Village to Adam Park, Adam Road to Farrer Road to Tanglin Halt, from Buona Vista across Pasir Panjang ending at Pasir Panjang Village.
The last unit to pull out , the 53rd Brigade, left Ang Mo Kio area around noon and the traffic along Thomson Road was so choked that Japanese planes had an easy time strafing the columns along the route.
Gen.Yamashita had actually feared that Gen.Percival would dig in and fight to the last.
In order to continue his feint, despite running low on ammunition and men, he launched attacks to give the British the appearance of Japanese strength.
He ordered the crack 18th Division to take Alexandra Barracks and the 5th Div & the Imperial Guards to attack the Waterworks at MacRitchie and the pumping station at Woodleigh.
Alexandra Barracks was the main British Army Ordnance Depot, where most of their equipment, stores and fuel storage, as well as the main Alexandra Military Hospital, were located
The attack on Alexandra Barracks began from Pasir Panjang (Kent Ridge) after 2 hours of heavy shelling at noon.
Waves of Japanese soldiers fought determined defenders from the 1st Malaya Brigade and the 44th Indian Brigade. Fighting was vicious and often hand to hand. The Malay Regiments were slowly overpowered with the Japanese winning height after height. The Gap, Pasir Panjang Hill III, Opium Hill, Buona Vista Hill, would fall one after the other but fighting would continue till the following day.
Over at MacRitchie, the Japanese 5th Division fought the 55th Brigade (1 Cambridgeshire & 4 Suffolk Regiments) to gain control of the reservoir. An all night tough fight including tanks forced the British Regiments all the way back to Mount Pleasant Road across Bukit Brown cemetery. The Suffolks lost over 250 men defending their ground.
The Japanese Army was now within 5 kilometres of the City on 2 fronts.
All this while, civilians casualties were mounting in the collateral damage from the Japanese shelling.
The City now had up to 1 million evacuees, most in dire straits without shelter, food nor water.
An Officer was to record travelling down Orchard Road:
“Buildings on both side went up in smoke…civilians appeared through clouds of debris; some got on the road, others stumbled and dropped in their tracks, others shrieked as they ran for safety. We pulled up near a building which had collapsed, it looked like a slaughter house; blood splashed, chunks of human being littered the place. Everywhere bits of steaming flesh, smouldering rags, clouds of dust and the groans of those who still survived.”
At the Battlebox, the new HQ at Fort Canning, Gen.Percival and his senior commanders were contemplating the latest orders from Gen.Wavell as well as an order from Churchill.
14th Feb 1942.
Prelude to Capitulation
Throughout the night of 13/14th Feb, sporadic skirmishes occurred both at Pasir Panjang and Adam Road.
At daylight 8.30am at Pasir Panjang Ridge , the Japanese charged up for a final assault on Hill 226 and Opium Hill facing heavy resistance from the 1st Malay Regiment. Bitter hand to hand combat lasted till 1.00pm in the afternoon when the Japanese gained control of the hills and in the process annihilating the Malay Regiment.
As the loss of the strategic ridge gave way, the Japanese advanced along Ayer Rajah in pursuit of Indian troops towards the British Military Hospital. It was then that the tragic incident occurred at the BMH with the senseless slaughter of wounded patients and medical staff.
There was also little relief along Adam Road. The Japanese, with Col Shimada’s Tank Regiment, pressured the line with a bulge through Bukit Brown, towards Caldecott Hill and Adam Park. Bitter fighting occurred around Hill 95 and Water Tower Hill (today’s Adam Park/Arcadia).
The Imperial Guards Division harried the eastern battle line at Paya Lebar and were near to capturing the Woodleigh pump station by mid day.
At British HQ in the BattleBox at Fort Canning, Gen.Percival conferred with his field commanders.
Brigadier Simson advised that the water situation was extremely grave with the threat of epidemic.
Gen Heath, commander of British Forces, and Gen Bennett, commander of Australian Forces, urged Gen Percival to surrender. Percival refused to yield, having direct orders from Churchill via Gen.Wavell, the Commander in Chief based at Java, not to surrender and to fight to the last man.
However, Gen.Percival informed Gen.Wavell that the enemy was close to the City and that his troops were no longer in a position to counter attack much longer.
Gen. Wavell sought permission from PM Churchill to allow Gen.Percival to consider the option of surrendering.
Churchill replied to Gen. Wavell:
“You are, of course, sole judge of the moment when no further result can be gained at Singapore., and should instruct Percival accordingly, C.I.G.S. concurs”
With that, the final key was inserted into play for Singapore. (But the permission for Percival to consider surrendering did not go out to Percival until the next morning of the 15th.)
*CIGS = Chief of Imperial General Staff
15th Feb 1942.
Chinese New Year – The Year of the Horse
There was absolutely no joy in celebrating Chinese New Year in 1942. The country was in shambles.
The foreboding fear of the encroaching Japanese military, preceeded by tales and rumours of their atrocities in China all portent the unknown that lay ahead.The British masters and their families had all bugged out. What did this mean for the locals now?
A Japanese flag could he seen flying from the top of the Cathay Building! Was this the end?
For the locals, especially for the Chinese, it was going to be the start of three and a half horrifying years.
Morning of 15th Feb saw the opposing forces holding most of their ground, with infiltration mainly by the Japanese within the eastern sector reaching Kallang Airfield. In the west, Japanese troops reached Mount Faber.
Gen. Percival convened his most senior officers at the Battlebox at 9.30am for the latest status reports.
Brigadier Simson reported that water supply could not be maintained for more than a day due to breakages everywhere which could not be repaired. Water was still flowing despite the pumps and reservoir being in enemy’s hands!
The only fuel left were what remained in each vehicle and at a small pump at the Polo Club.
Reserved military rations could last for only a few more days.
With unanimous concurrence of all present, the decision to cease hostilities and to capitulate was made.
A deputation comprising Brigadier Newbigging, HQ Chief Admin Officer, the Colonial Secretary Mr Fraser and Major CH Wild as interpreter, left Fort Canning for the enemy lines at Bukit Timah Road.
At the junction of Farrer Road, they proceeded on foot with Union Flag and a white flag across the defence line for 600 yards where they were met by the Japanese soldiers. They were later met by Col Sugita who refused their ‘invitation’ to the City for negotiations. Instead, Col Sugita demanded that Gen.Percival was to personally surrender to Gen.Yamashita.
To acknowledge this condition, the British were to fly a Japanese Flag from the top of the Cathay Building.
At 5.15pm, the British surrender party drove up to the Bukit Timah Ford Motors factory.
The delegation was made up of Lt-Gen AE Percival, Brigadier Newbigging, Brigadier Torrance, Gen Staff Officer Malaya Command, and Major Wild, the interpreter from III Corps.
Though Gen.Percival tried to negotiate for some terms for his men, Gen Yamashita thought that he was playing for time and pressed Percival for an unconditional surrender, telling him that a major attack on the City was scheduled for 10.30pm that night and any delay, he might not be able to call off the operation in time.
“The time for the night attack is drawing near! Is the British Army going to surrender or not?”
Banging the table he shouted in English “Answer YES or NO.”
At 6.10 pm. Gen.Percival signed the surrender document, handing Singapore over to the Japanese Empire.
Read about the Battle at Bukit Brown on 14 February, 1942, a day before the surrender to the Japanese, here
And the latest on missing soldiers here
Time 9 am – 12 pm
MEETING POINT: Junction of Lorong Halwa, Kheam Hock Road and Sime Road.
Feb 15, 1942 – Singapore, the “Impregnable Fortress” of the British Empire, falls to the Japanese invading forces.
Visit Bukit Brown Cemetery, site of fierce battles involving British (4th Suffolks) and Indian (Royal Deccan Horses) forces, near a village of Chinese and Malay civilians had lived.
Your guides are Claire and Ish Singh, and Peter Pak. Together they will help piece together an important day in Singapore history at the site, and recount personal stories of those buried there as well as an account of their families got caught up in the war. We welcome anyone with knowledge of the area and the battles fought there to join us and honour the memory of the war dead.
Disclaimer: By agreeing to take this walking tour of Bukit Brown Cemetery, I understand and accept that I must be physically fit and able to do so.To the extent permissible by law, I agree to assume any and all risk of injury or bodily harm to myself and persons in my care (including child or ward)
Please click ‘Join’ on the FB event page to let us know you are coming, how many pax are turning up, or just meet us at the starting point at 9am.
“We guide rain or shine or exhumations.” – we urge you to wear sensible shoes, carry a bottle of water, put on insect repellent, and come with an open mind as we explore together. We share and talk as we walk, and learn from each other. Our walking tours are meant to be learning journeys, for both participants and guides. We believe in building communities and growing organically.
** IMPORTANT NOTE: GETTING THERE: http://bukitbrown.com/
This was their last tour report, marking the day bombs first fell on Singapore: http://bukitbrown.com/
To read about the 4th Suffolks battling the Japanese who came across Hellfire Corner on the evening of Feb 14, 1942: http://bukitbrown.com/
To read about the Kheam Hock skirmish and massacre: http://bukitbrown.com/
Bukit Brown is the only Singapore site on the World Monuments Fund Watch List of threatened heritage sites. Read more here: http://bukitbrown.com/
Ish himself found a strong link to his Sikh roots through Bukit Brown: http://bukitbrown.com/
Claire’s TEDx talk touches on the war: http://www.youtube.com/
all things Bukit Brown will mark the weekend with tours and talks on both days. Keep an eye for updates.
By Serene Tan
Not long after my dad passed away in 2011, the government announced plans for an 8 lane highway that would cut through Bukit Brown, and graves in the way would have to be exhumed.
The news of the highway triggered a memory. The last time I visited my grandpa’s tomb was more than 40 years ago when I was a young girl. I could vividly recall my grandpa’s tomb at Bukit Brown. Concerned it might be affected, I realised it was time to visit him.
I arranged with my cousin to visit the grave for the ’Qing Ming’ festival the next year, 2012. It was a relief to learn that his grave was not staked for exhumation. But to my dismay, the tomb was in a dilapidated condition. The tomb had been neglected for more than 15 years after my dad suffered a massive stroke which left him paralyzed and wheel chair bound.
It dawned on me then, that I now had the responsibility to carry on my father’s duty to ‘sweep’ grandpa’s tomb during the ‘Qing Ming’ festival. His tombstone spoke to my roots.
Inscribed on the tombstone was my ancestral hometown , Kimen, my grandfather’s death date, 1937, and the names of his children. My father was the only son. For the first time I came to know my father’s birth name 陈天吉, Tan Tien Kiat, inscribed on the tomb. My grandpa passed away when my dad was only five and dad changed to a simpler name, 陈 亞 旺, Tan Ah Ong
I arranged with a contractor to renovate my grandpa’s tomb, and before work started, I decided it was also time to visit my ancestral home in Kinmen, Taiwan . Unconsciously, I think I was seeking the blessings of my father and grandfather.
My grandpa Tan Teow Meng （陈 朝 明 ）left his home in Kinmen, more than 100 years ago. In Singapore, I was told he worked as a lorry driver and died because of a bout of high fever.
My father had attempted to visit his ancestral home, thrice in the 80s. Kinmen is a small archipelago of islands and at that time was under a military administration because of fighting with China. The only means of transport then was by military helicopter. Visitors to the island were restricted but because Dad could claim to be descended from his ancestors in Kinmen, getting permission was not the problem. Each time, it was bad weather which prevented my father’s flight on the helicopter from taking off from mainland Taiwan.
He was so close and yet so far. I felt deeply the pain of his disappointment. Dad subsequently passed away, without fulfilling his dream.
It was in my ancestral village of Houshan (后山), now known as Bishan, that I learned my father had contributed funds to two temples. His name was inscribed on the list of donors for both temples. This one is from the smaller village temple 陈氏宗祠
My heart swelled with pride. There is an old Chinese saying “Drink Water, But Remember the Source”- “饮水思源” . My father, although he was not able to visit his ancestral home, never forgot his roots.
The family home and land in Kinmen, remains abandoned. But at home in Singapore, my grandpa’s tomb has been rebuilt with granite stone and fresh inscriptions in gold dust. My grandpa had a humble life his son – my father – worked hard and became a successful business man and never forgot his father. I have always admired my father for his work ethic and persistence.
So as I marked Qing Ming at my grandpa’s new “home” after my visit to Kinmen, I felt happy and blessed to have been able to accomplish my father’s dream of visiting our ancestral home.
My journey to my ancestral home in Kinmen in a photo essay.
The village temple 陈氏宗祠
The temple serves residents nearby to offer prayers anytime as and when they deem necessary. (陈氏宗祠）
My father also donated to the larger Tan clan ancestral temple, 陈氏 家廟. Unlike the village temple, it’s opened only for certain festival celebrations and entry restricted to only male descendants. I was privileged to be granted permission to enter, as an exception.
My father’s name 亜 旺 on the donors list.
Meeting my relatives for the first time, I learned my great grandfather’s name is 陈 正. So he is the earliest of my ancestors I have come to know.
I will be marking my father’s third death anniversary at the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, 17-19 Kim Yam Road on 23 Feb 2014 at 10 am. Friends and relatives are welcome to join us in prayers.
Chew Chai Pin
(b. 11 November 1911 – d. 13 June 1941)
Among the 4,000 graves which will have to be exhumed to make way for the highway is that of Chew Chai Pin (# 1253)
Chew Chai Pin was one of three founders of the Chinese High School in Batu Pahat. Unlike the other prominent Chinese men who contributed to the school, Chew was not well known then in the community. He held the concurrent position of director and teacher of the Ayer Hitam School. But he was soon to answer a higher calling.
On March 6, 1940, Chew went to China from Singapore to Yangon and China, to visit and give moral support to the Nanyang volunteer mechanics and drivers, as well as civilians and troops. The Nanyang Volunteers were recruited and trained from South East Asia, to transport war and logistic supplies through the notorious China-Burma highway to sustain China’s war effort against the invading Japanese. Chew represented Batu Pahat as part of a deputation comprising of representatives from the overseas Chinese communities of South East Asia.
But on March 29 1940, the vehicle he was in overturned and he sustained serious injury to his spinal cord. He was warded at a hospital at Xiaguan (Yunnan) while the rest of the deputation proceeded to their destinations. He was visited by none other than Tan Kah Kee, who was instrumental in galvanizing the support of the overseas Chinese in Nanyang (South East Asia) for the second Sino-Japanese War. Tan made arrangements to have Chew sent to Yangon for treatment as the doctors in Xiaguan were unable to heal him. Chew’s legs were numb and he could not walk for more than a year. Chew also received a letter of consolation from the Commander-in-Chief of the war and leader of the Kuomintang , Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek.
On March 4th of 1941, a year after his accident, an arrangement was made for him be transported to Singapore for treatment. Just when many thought Chew would recover, he died in Singapore on June 13, 1941 at 0615 hours. It was said that his funeral in Singapore was attended by more than 400 people. He was hailed in both Singapore and Malaysia as a patriot who sacrificed his life for China.
On his deathbed, he urged his compatriots to spare no effort for China’s salvation. He said:
“I am ashamed to have done nothing in service of my country. How can I die without doing anything for the motherland? I must do something for the nation when I come back in another life.” Chew Chai Pin.
Chew was just 30 years old when he died.
Tan Kah Kee wrote in his memoirs that when the deputation left Singapore by ship on the 6th of March, it was sent off by a crowd in high spirits. Only Chew’s mother and wife were weeping. Somebody observed to Tan, that the deputation would be away for only 3 months and it was an honour to be a delegate, so even though one could excuse Chew’s mother as she was of an older generation, his wife who was educated and a teacher was showing too much emotion. After seeing Chew in hospital six months after his accident, when he could not be cured by the doctors there, Tan Kah Kee remarked that it seemed the mother and wife had been prescient of what was to come at the point of parting.
Chew was born on 11/11/11 in the Hokkien Province, Tong An County, Au To village. He married in November 1937, and was childless at the time of his death. After he passed away, his parents adopted a son on his behalf.
postscript : Chew Chai Pin’s grave has been claimed.
Source: From the blog of 沈志堅’who is a teacher at Chinese High School in Batu Pahat. (Translated by Fabian Tee)
Additional information from the Memoirs of Tan Kah Kee
All Things Bukit Brown received an email this morning (14 January) addressed to Raymond Goh. It was from Gillian Mendy (Lim) from London, asking if her grandfather’s Lim Hock Seng’s grave was affected by the highway. Her email read:
“Your Bukit Brown website is incredibly informative and interesting. We have only just discovered about the planned road works through the cemetery.
My grandfather is buried at Bukit Brown and we are trying to find out if his grave is affected by the road project. The family now live in England. If it is affected then we would come to Singapore to claim the remains.
A personal account by Aylwin Tan who witnessed the exhumation of his grandfather and aunt at Bukit Brown on the morning of Wednesday, 8th January,2014.
I received a phone call from the exhumation office about 1.5 hours after I had registered. Picked my Dad up and went directly to the gravesite.
The green tentage is that of my aunt Tan Siok Hwa (aged 10) and the grey is my grandpa, Tan Cheng Moh. Both were killed during a Japanese raid; a bomber scored a direct hit on the bomb shelter where my grandpa had put his entire family, including his close relatives. Apparently, grandpa’s thinking was that they should all stick together and if they all died, so be it.
Their funerals were carried out in haste. A number of traditions were abandoned for fear of being caught out in the open by the Japanese bombers e.g. mourners alighting to perform rites at every bridge along the way to the burial ground.
Mr Lee (the gentleman in yellow boots seen in the first photo) told me that the coffins and remains had disintegrated and had merged with the soil. Not surprising, given that they had passed about 70 years ago. The gravediggers gathered some earth and put it in plastic bags for the purposes of cremation.
I was curious to know how the gravediggers knew that they had dug deep enough to reach the remains. Mr Lee explained that the gravediggers would know once they reached a flat surface as this was the bottom of the coffin.
The gravediggers were also able to tell that my aunt died when she was a child. If you look at my aunt’s grave, you can see a ‘step’ indicating that the coffin was shorter than an adult’s.
I was worried that Dad would not be able to negotiate the uneven terrain to the grave sites but the path worn out by the gravediggers proved manageable. Mr Lee told me that these gravediggers are the last of their kind in Singapore.
Dad spent some time telling his story to the gravediggers while I sorted out with Mr Lee the items found in the graves. Dad’s chair was provided by Swee Hong, the company that won the exhumation tender, a testimony to their planning and attention to detail. Also, you can see how they used the umbrellas to shield the boxes from the sun.
The gravediggers recovered a chain and part of a bowl from my aunt’s grave. The bowl was probably used in the funeral rites. Mr Lee asked if I would donate them for research. I shall have to ask my elders’ permission first.
My grandpa’s grave yielded a bullet and a piece of metal which looked like a cone with the top portion cut off. I had to surrender the bullet as it was not a spent round. The gravediggers surmised that the metal piece came from the bomb but I wonder where the bullet came from. Dad said that the metal piece was not the cause of grandpa’s death; a beam had fallen on grandpa’s head and cracked it open. Death was instantaneous. The sight must have been extremely traumatic for the family. Dad was only 11 or 12 then.
One unexpected development came about when Dad suddenly said that my great grandfather was also buried somewhere in Bukit Brown. Dad did not know his name or the location of the grave site. Apparently, only one of grandpa’s brothers had this information and he had since passed. According to Mr Lee, great grandpa’s remains will be exhumed and disposed of if unclaimed after a period. Mr Lee also said that there was still hope if someone in my family could remember great grandpa’s name as the tombstone would surely state grandpa’s name. I’ll try my best to ask my relatives but am not very hopeful.
I will miss the 2 “Yodas” guarding grandpa’s grave. The other 2 guards look kind of effeminate.
The left panel of the tombstone lists grandpa’s sons and daughters. Dad is ‘Geok San‘, which means ‘jade mountain’ in Chinese. In accordance with Chinese tradition, the sons and male cousins in the same generation have the same identifying name. In my Dad’s generation, the name is ‘Geok‘. In mine, it is ‘Wee’, which means ‘great‘ in Chinese. I understand that these names are predetermined by the Chinese Almanac.
The exhumation ended on a quiet note. After I had given written confirmation of the items from the graves that I had retained, I was given printed photographs of the two grave sites and that was it.
I was very impressed with the professionalism of the Swee Hong staff. They were attentive to my requests and sensitive to religious aspects of the exhumation. They worked fast but were in no hurry, allowing claimants all the time they needed to carry out their religious observances. Thanks to them, the exhumation process went smoothly.
- Aylwin Tan-
Additional Information : Both grandfather and aunt died on 18 Jan 1942.
Grave of Tan Cheng Moh 陳青茂 #769 (photo credit The Bukit Brown Cemetery Documentation Project )
Grave of Tan Siok Hwa 陳淑華 #763 (photo credit The Bukit Brown Cemetery Documentation Project)
Editor’s note: We would like to thank Aylwin Tan for giving us permission to reproduce his personal account on the blog. If you are a descendant who has ancestors staked for exhumation, please share your story with us.
Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Sugen Ramiah
While exploring Hill 4, I stumbled upon a tomb of a young man, by the name of Ee Tean Choon.(E Tean Choon on tombstone)
It was very unique because the tomb was of a modern design in marble. And so I started a little research on his family in early November 2013. It was on the 31st of December 2013, while strolling with brownies Peter and Ee Hoon, that I was told that there was another art deco tomb, similar to that of Ee Tean Choon that also belonged to the Ee family, his grandparents. Here’s what I have traced of the Ee Tean Choon family tree.
Grandparents: Ee Swee Hin and Khoo Swee Yee
Ee Swee Hin passed away on the 8th September 1942 and his wife Khoo Swee Yee, on the 19th February 1955. They are buried together in Hill 5 Division B with LTA tag #1122 and will be exhumed in March.
Father: Ee Yean Keat
Ee Yean Keat was the eldest son of Ee Swee Hin and Khoo Swee Yee. He had two other siblings, Ee Yean Bee and another adopted brother – Tan Eng Yam. Born in Malacca in the year 1884, he was educated in a high school there and came to Singapore to look for a better future. He married Seow Joo Neo and had seven children. He first started work with Netherlands Trading Society in 1904. After 6 years, in 1910, he worked as a cashier with the KPM shipping company. He wanted an early retirement after 25 years with the shipping company. However, he later joined the Straits Times Press (Malaya) Ltd and officially retired in 1959 at the age of 75. He was also known as the “Grand Old Man’ of the accounts section of Straits Times Press (Malaya). He passed away on the 24th of September 1968 at the age of 84. The Obituary section in the archives indicates that he left behind 2 wives. Seow Joo Neo the mother of Ee Tean Choon, passed away on the 4th of January 1985 at the age of 102. She left behind 19 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren. No information has been uncovered about Ee Yean Keat’s other wife.
Ee Tean Choon (E Tean Choon on tombstone)
Ee Tean Choon born in the year 1910 and was the first born of Ee Yean Keat and Seow Joo Neo of No.350 East Coast Road. He was the eldest of seven children. He married Ruby Chia Boey Neo , the fifth daughter of Mr & Mrs Chia Keng Chin of No.8 Saint Thomas Walk, on the 3rd of October 1936. Chia Boey Neo the grand-daughter of Mr Chia Hood Theam, was born in July 1914 and was 22 years old when she married Ee. They didn’t have their own children but adopted two babies -Willie Ee Kean Leong and Margaret Ee.
Sadly, Ee Tean Choon died of typhoid, on the 3rd of April 1938, at just 28 years old. He left behind a young widow and two infants, barely two years after his marriage. The two infants were then adopted by his brother, Ee Tean Cheng and the young widow returned to her parents’ house.
Inscribed on the tomb is an epitaph :
‘In the prime of his life death claimed him, In the pride of his manhood days, none knew him but to love him, None mention his name but with praise.’
I believe that the epitaph was taken from ‘The life of Rev. William James Hall, M. D.: Medical Missionary on the slums of New York, Pioneer Missionary to Pyong Yang, Korea’ 1897. It is about how Rev Hall ministered to the sick and wounded of Korea and his martyrdom. Coincidentally, both William (Willie for short) Willie and Margaret, were the names of Dr. Hall’s great grandparents.
Ee Tean Choon is buried in Hill 4 Division C with LTA tag #2612. He has been claimed by the family of his wife, the late Mdm Chia Boey Neo.
Brother : Ee Tean Cheng
Ee Tean Cheng was actively involved in many athletic associations such as the Useful Lads Badminton Party, Horlicks Badminton Party and was elected as vice president of the S.A.S.U (Singapore Armature Sports Union) in 1940. The tournaments, training and meetings were often held in the badminton court of the Ee’s residence at East Coast Road. He worked for Ford Motors and married to Ong Lian Neo Nellie on the 15th December 1940. Unfortunately, she passed away on the 26th October 1941 while in labour, both mother and child didn’t survive. She was buried in Bukit Brown and Raymond Goh has a blog post on her life here
Ee Tean Cheng had a second marriage to Lily Oon Siok Neo. They had a son, Winston Ee Kean Leng and also adopted the late Ee Tean Choon’s children – Willie and Margaret. He had five grandchildren. He passed away on 3rd April 1999, coincidentally the anniversary of his brother, Ee Tean Choon ( 3rd April 1938)
Brother: Ee Tean Chye
Colonel Ee Tean Chye was the first Commander of the Singapore Air Defence Command and in 1972, the first Chief of Air Force of the Republic of Singapore Air Force. He has three children, Patricia Ee, Laura Ee and Christopher Ee.
Son: Willie Ee Kean Leong
Willie Ee Kean Leong was the director of Sankyo Seiki Singapore Pte Ltd. He married Lim Eng Hong, eldest daughter of Mr Lim Kim San, former cabinet minister and first chairman of HDB. They had two children, Ee Kuo Ren and Ee Yuen Ling.
Daughter: Margaret Ee
Margaret Ee married Mr Richard Png and had two children, Dr Kenneth Png and Keith Png.
Postscript : Unfortunately both grandparents and grandson will be moving house to make way for the new highway. However both grandparents and grandson will be interned in the same block in Choa Chu Kang Columbarium. This is just another story of another ordinary family that has contributed to this country. May they rest in Peace.
Sugen Ramiah is a teacher by training and his interest includes observing and documenting Chinese festivals and rituals conducted by temples. This is his first foray into researching family trees.
References for Ee Family
The life of Rev. William James Hall, M. D. : medical missionary to the slums of New York, pioneer missionary to Pyong Yang, 1897. (E-book) Emmanuel College Library, Victoria University
Announcement. (1936, June 23). The Straits Times
Tean Cheng-Ong. (1940, December 16). The Singapore Free Press and the Mercantile Advertiser
Deaths. (1941, October 26). The Straits Times
Cashier, 75, Retires for Second Time. (1959, December 31). The Singapore Free Press
Deaths. (1968, September 25). The Straits Times
Deaths. (1985, January 5). The Straits Times
Condolences. (1994, September 4). The Straits Times
Deaths. (1999, April 4). The Straits Times
Deaths. (2000, June 20). The Straits Times
The Air Force, Singapore : Republic of Singapore Air Force, 1988
Controlled Growth Restriction Policies For Certain Closed Food-Chain Systems by Patricia G. M. Ee 1992. Simon Fraser University, April 1992.
A look back at 2013…
We lost a dear Brownie, Vicky Tan, but started the Tan Kheam Hock Tour as a tribute to her and her ancestors. Other kin have been clearing the tombs of Kheam Hock’s relatives, and in the process, prettifying entire clusters in Bukit Brown. It has added much needed cheer at a time exhumations have started.
We held 2 exhibitions, “Celebrating Bukit Brown” (above) as a “report” on our efforts to reach students and teachers and their works, and “Bukit Brown: Our Roots, Our Future” (below), an extensive exhibition at Chui Huay Lian Club that featured English and Mandarin speakers and brought attention to the threat to the Muslim graves at Jalan Kubor. Both enabled us to reach out to more communities and decision-makers. The latter also featured a rare reunion of the descendants of Seah Eu Chin. Walter Lim, Yik Han and Charlene Tan deserve special mention, aided by an army of volunteers to put it all together.
Victor Lim has added depth to the tours with his tile expertise. A tile expert team has now taken interest and plans to bring it to the attention of UNESCO.
Expats Bianca Polak and Ritsuko Saito joined the cause, Bianca avidly guiding and photographing, while Ritsuko has given talks in Taiwan and Japan on Bukit Brown. Again and again, Bukit Brown proves to be not just a treasure for Singaporeans. Brownies shared their expertise far and wide, and many a weekend, Yik Han, Mok Ly Ying, Raymond Goh, et al could be found giving talks on knowledge gleaned from Bukit Brown.
Catherine Lim helped put Bukit Brown in the living rooms of Singaporeans with “History from the Hills”, a TV documentary series that moved many and won mention in Parliament.
Ish Singh recently joined the Brownies as a co-guide after penning a reflective piece on how he felt connected to his Sikh history through Bukit Brown and Amardeep Singh has started research there – pointing to the Sikh interest in the history of Bukit Brown.
Sugen Ramiah and Ai Loon stepped outreach for the young, Simone Lee, Zhi Hao and Aaron Chan became our newest guides. More and more are coming out in support because they see the intrinsic value of Bukit Brown. We welcome anyone with the same passion.
Bukit Brown made it to Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice 2013 Winners list.
Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper continues to uncover more of our past and his Battlefield Tours are always fully subscribed in record time.
Behind the scenes, many elves abound to do good work. Khoo Ee Hoon mapped out Bukit Brown and helped with the iBBC app. She, Danny Chew and Edmon Neo-Khoo are among those cleaning tombs every weekend. Lim Su-Min would be on call with his saw to clear fallen trees to prevent damage to graves or visitors.
Needless to say, stalwarts like Raymond Goh, Peter Pak and Walter Lim blogged avidly and added to our depth of knowledge of what we stand to lose by losing Bukit Brown. Guides Chew Keng Kiat, Fabian Tee, Andrew, Peter Pak, Beng Tang, Yik Han, Bianca, Mil Phuah, Raymond, Catherine and Claire were ably assisted by many in the community who shared their knowledge, time and talents, often as co-guides. We have now guided 10,000 visitors to Bukit Brown as a community.
Jennifer Teo and Tien of SOS Bukit Brown not only guided but gathered 7,000 signatures and delivered them to the government in the petition to save Bukit Brown. Georgina Chin’s book on the birds, including many at Bukit Brown, sold out.
And together, this community has put Bukit Brown on the world map by getting international recognition for its potential as a heritage site with the World Monuments Watch list 2014. Ian Chong deserves special mention for his help with the application. And you have been pushing the envelope with your letters to the government, giving us much encouragement.
If we missed out on anyone, think of it as a blessing that there were so many of you giving support that we cannot list everyone, and not that you have been forgotten.
We have come a long way in 2013. With the highway project starting, we need to do more, not less. We have 95,000 more tombs to save.
Rain or shine or exhumations, we carry on with our tours.
And we thank you, this wonderful community, for carrying us. We who stand on the shoulders of others see further. May you be blessed in 2014.
A call was made to the community to provide feedback to the Ministry of National Development (MND), to preserve Bukit Brown as a heritage site for future generations in the draft Master plan 2013. The closing date for feedback is 19th December 2013. For those who don’t know how to begin, there is a template available to guide you here. We encourage you to copy the email to your MP.
To those who have written, We Thank You. Some of you have shared your letters with us. We gratefully reproduce extracts with your kind permission, with the hope it will inspire others to write in and give their feedback.
If you wish to share your feedback with the community, please bcc your letter to MND to email@example.com
“We are custodians of our country’s heritage not just for ourselves but for our future generations. It is important that they continue to see for themselves how respect is being shown to our forebears and learn the very real lesson of conserving our roots even, or especially in the face of rapid urban development. Precious “history lesson materials” like Bukit Brown, once lost, may never be recovered. Let no regret come about.”
“The biggest threat to Singapore is apathy, and when Singaporeans do not feel a sense of belonging and are not bothered with what goes on here, then Singapore is in trouble. For Singapore to survive and prosper in the long term, it is necessary to have more opportunities in preserving our shared memories and creating our shared vision. And preserving Bukit Brown is an excellent opportunity that enables Singaporeans to feel that they belong here by remembering our past and creating our future.
Bukit Brown tells the stories of our forefathers who built Singapore, and creates opportunities for history education and discovery. The cemetery connects Singapore’s past and present, and allows us to understand that Singapore’s success is built up by our forefathers’ sweat and tears, and should not be taken for granted. We should preserve Bukit Brown because it helps us remember our past and keeps us rooted to Singapore.
Bukit Brown presents the opportunity for transforming the cemetery into a world-class living outdoor museum or heritage park. If this transformation adopts a bottom-up approach and with stakeholder engagement, it would allow us to come together, plan and work towards a future Singapore where heritage, nature and our economic needs can co-exist. We should preserve Bukit Brown because it enables us to work together and build bonds and resilience, and to create a space where our children and their children can enjoy and be proud of.
Singapore is a young nation and needs more common spaces like Bukit Brown to remind us how we got here and why this is home, and to create opportunities for building our future social resilience.”
“I am a fourth generation Singaporean. My great-grandfather, Chew Boon Lay, was one of Singapore’s very important pioneers.
In April 2012, my parents and I, along with my husband who is English, and our 2 children, discovered where my great-grandfather was buried in Bukit Brown. Thanks to a Straits Times journalist who did a photo-editorial on several important pioneers’ descendants, a photo shoot was conducted at the site of Chew Boon Lay’s tomb.
My parents who had not been to his tomb in more than 20 years came along as well, as did many of my extended family of cousins, uncles, and other relatives. Despite my parents both being aged and not able to walk or see well, they both made the uphill trek to Chew Boon Lay’s tomb in the dark as a huge storm was looming. That was such an important day for them and my family. I was re-acquainted with many relatives and met some whom I had never even met before. We have had several family gatherings since and as such, our April 2012 ‘reunion’ at Chew Boon Lay’s tomb in Bukit Brown served as a very important point of re-connecting with long lost relatives.
My father who is 83 was so elated to have been able to visit his grandfather’s tomb and pay respects to him again after such a long period of time. He was even happier to meet his many nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, many of whom he had never met before. My siblings live abroad and when they returned to Singapore, I brought them to my great-grandfather’s tomb. All of them were so amazed at how peaceful and beautiful Bukit Brown is, but more importantly they were so happy to be able to visit our great-grandfather’s tomb for the first time.
Having reconnected with my Singapore roots via my great-grandfather’s tomb, I feel so proud to be a 4th generation Singaporean of an important Singapore pioneer who had such humble beginnings and contributed much to Singapore’s growth and prosperity. My children are both Singaporean and English and I want them to grow up feeling connected to Singapore and to be able to trace their roots in Singapore back to my great-grandfather. It was important for me that they visit his tomb and pay respects to their great-great-grandfather and to feel proud to be his descendants. I want them to be able to do this when they are older and when I am no longer around….such a connection in our young country that is forever trying to modernize and improve itself is, for me, one of the most important things if we want our children to have roots in, and feel connected to, Singapore.”
Other than the Bukit Timah Nature Reserves, Bukit Brown is a another place where I can bring my families out to Experience nature in a SAFE environment. National Parks are wonderful but they do not give the sense of one totally immersing in Nature.
“We are in a jungle.” my 6 year old boy Isaac said that with excitement when I brought him to the Bukit Brown. We have built too many shopping malls and what values are we cultivating when weekend we see Singaporeans crowding the malls and yet complaining that we are bored to death? Our souls are not fed with Nature but shopping malls and how would that make us as a Nation? We fly out of the country during school holidays to visit other country’s nature while we are destroying one in our own backyard? An article written by a 12 year old lavanyaprakash on Bukit Brown reminded me how important it is to preserve such AUTHENTIC nature and to educate Singaporeans on Nature Outings. I want my children’s generations to be able to experience this Nature and not just Bukit Timah Reserves or other man made National Parks. Thus, not only it is a National Heritage to be preserved, it is a World Heritage to be preserved!”
Other than the Bukit Timah Nature Reserves, Bukit Brown is a another place where I can bring my families out to Experience nature in a SAFE environment. National Parks are wonderful but they do not give the sense of one totally immersing in Nature. “We are in a jungle.” my 6 year old boy Isaac said that with excitement when I brought him to the Bukit Brown. We have built too many shopping malls and what values are we cultivating when weekend we see Singaporeans crowding the malls and yet complaining that we are bored to death? Our souls are not fed with Nature but shopping malls and how would that make us as a Nation? We fly out of the country during school holidays to visit other country’s nature while we are destroying one in our own backyard? An article written by a 12 year old lavanyaprakash on Bukit Brown reminded me how important it is to preserve such AUTHENTIC nature and to educate Singaporeans on Nature Outings. I want my children’s generations to be able to experience this Nature and not just Bukit Timah Reserves or other man made National Parks. Thus, not only it is a National Heritage to be preserved, it is a World Heritage to be preserved!”
Ang Hock Chuan
“As recently as September 2011, Bukit Brown was just another cemetery to me. I only remember it as the place I learnt to drive and as the place my grandfather was buried.
My father visited his father’s tomb every Ching Ming till an illness made it difficult for him to walk in that terrain. He had prepared for the eventuality of exhumation and already bought a niche for my grandfather. Unfortunately, I stopped following my father to visit years ago and forgotten where my grandfather was buried.
When my father passed away a few years ago, I became interested to look for my grandfather’s tomb. It would be the last thing I could do for my father to ensure his father’s remains are properly taken care of.
When I heard the news about the proposed highway, there was an urgency to locate my grandfather. I started to search for people who can help me locate him and stumbled on a group of volunteers sharing about Bukit Brown.
My initial interest was to look for my grandfather’s tomb and determine if it would be affected so I can make the necessary arrangements to relocate him.
I joined their guided tours in October 2011. That opened up my eyes to the rich heritage and history contained in Bukit Brown.
Over many visits I was also introduced to the rich bio-diversity and wildlife thriving in this habitat. Whilst I enjoyed listening to the birds in the woods, I was never an avid bird-watcher. But now, I keep a look out for the birds when I am there. I have seen uncommon and endangered species like the Changeable Hawk Eagle, the Red Jungle Fowl, the Greater Coucal and still learning each day about the special flora and fauna of Singapore there.
Bukit Brown turned into a living museum and classroom for me. History came alive. Our cultural heritage is enshrined here. A rich bio-diversity thrives here. It has an aesthetic beauty not found in our man-made parks. I count it my good fortune to have learnt about and visited this wonderful piece of our heritage before any wanton destruction takes place.
For these reasons and more, I hope to see Bukit Brown preserved, for our children’s and grandchildren’s sake. Once lost, lost forever.”
“We need not look any further than to Bukit Brown when we try to form our Singapore Identity because it is there for all to see. It is a living museum of our rich history that reminds us that our forefathers were migrants from various lands who decided to root themselves here in the Straits Settlement of Singapore, and we are their proud offspring. The fact that Singapore started as a migrant nation also helps us understand and welcome those who come here today, like our forefathers, to seek their fortune and make Singapore their home.”
Arielle Ng Rae
As a local student and youth, I finally took the time out today to join one of the tour groups organised by SOS Bukit Brown today, which I have been wanting to do ever since my ‘A’-levels finished. I was pleasantly surprised with the beauty and heritage of the site, but I was also incredibly saddened. The tour guides were very passionate and knowledgeable about local heritage, and the knowledge I gained today about Singapore and its roots, about how the locals worked together with a myriad of other races to form modern Singapore, about the roots of our unique culture that we often take for granted, made me the proudest of Singapore that I have ever been.
Through the tour, I finally appreciated exactly what it meant to be a melting pot of diverse cultures– how our customs came to be and as a result, how unique we are, and, ironically, the beauty of globalization in contributing to our shared heritage.
I plead with the most earnest and sincere heart, that you will protect Bukit Brown, for the sake of Singaporeans, who are fast becoming disillusioned with this city-state. This tour has done nothing but cement my love for Singapore and my pride for it, and I want many of my peers to feel the same. It is perhaps the natural state of the cemetery, and the untouched beauty of the landscape that lent this genuine connection and pride, but whatever it is, Bukit Brown cemetery has proven to be a beautiful reminder of what it once meant to be Singaporean, and what it could mean for future generations to come.
“Bukit Brown has helped me achieve a better understanding of a history of a part of Singapore’s local history, and has helped me gain a stronger sense of where our nation has come from as a community. It is a reminder of where our society came from and the sacrifices earlier generations made. I hope my children will be able to experience the sheer physicality of our roots, as well as Singapore’s natural heritage. The flooding in Singapore over the past few years, including the Bukit Timah and Thomson areas that are downhill from Bukit Brown, reminds me of the importance of having natural green spaces near already built-up areas.
Moreover, during the periods of heavy haze earlier in 2013, green areas like Bukit Brown were least affected. Singapore needs natural green lungs like Bukit Brown.”
“It is OUR oldest part of history. My grandfather’s grave at Bidadari was long gone more than 10 years ago to clear his “resting place” for more housing developments. Passing by that stretch of road gives us no connection anymore. Even though we have never met our grandfather before, we used to pop by his grave as a kid just to say “hello”, or just to remember how he looked like before by the photo on his grave. We felt the root of our roots. We felt proud of ourselves in some way too because of where we came from. Now I understand why history is such an important part of life.
So, please do not do to the oldest cemetery in Singapore, the Bukit Brown Cemetery what the government had already done at Bidadari. How much more land or our past that you want to “sacrifice” for economic development? Bukit Brown CAN BE an economic source if it can be converted to a tourist area, natural reserve etc. We do not want more roads, please.”
“I am a British citizen who has settled in Singapore with my family and now call it home – and I am proud to do so. My daughter was born here and we are happy here. However, my husband and I are trying to teach our children about the importance of preserving our environment and our natural heritage. We often tell them “once it’s gone, you can’t get it back” and we quote the Native American Cree prophecy “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money”. It is heartbreaking to think that in a few years’ time, such a place as Bukit Brown – with its natural, historical and cultural significance – might be concreted over. Please, please consider saving it for our future generations.”
While I have only set foot on Bukit Brown once, I am fascinated by the deep treasure trove of history it is. It is an unbias holding place of history as alot of our ancestor laid to rest. I remembered when I was young, I have to walk through Choa Chu Kang and there was this cemetery that fascinated me as it has very interesting tombs. I never get around to know it as it made way to development since. It would be a pity if we keep making concession on preservation in the name of progress as that would be a very up-rooting experience. No pictures or archive can replace the actual tombstone and the serenity is irreplaceable.
“I am the third generation of Kinmenese immigrants. My great grandparents were once buried in Bukit Brown cemetery. My father, Mr Tan Kok Meng 陈国民, had served as board member, treasurer and subsequently as vice chairman of Kim Mui Hoey Kuan 金门会馆 from late 60s to 80s. During that time, he organized many cultural activities and exchanges, including hosting the Asian literary festival. He had also proposed to setup a center to store valuable historical material of Kinmen and their diaspora. The subsequent setting up of the Cultural and Historical Resource Center 新加坡金门会馆文史资料中心 in 2003 and the publication of “I came from Kim Mui” 《我从金门来》in 2006 (which my father was one of the interviewees) were some of the visible fruits.
Now that my father has passed away for four years, I have kept this book close to my heart. My daughter recently used it to write a social science essay about her root. My father, after escaping the turmoil of war had decided to make Singapore his permanent home. Along with many others who came to Singapore between 18th – 20th century, they have contributed to who we are today. Even though we are still a young country, we do have our own history. And the major part of it, is inscribed on the tomb stones in Bukit Brown Cemetery. ”
“My daughter and I visited Bukit Brown and were deeply moved by the heritage and biodiversity of Bukit Brown. Lavanya,who’s my 13 year old daughter wrote about Bukit Brown in her blog here http://mynatureexperiences.
Singapore is not only about concrete buildings and integrated resorts: it has in Bukit Brown a huge repository of stories which when told, make people aware of Singapore as a hub of trade commerce and culture in Asia all this long time ago. It is so much easier to show a human Singapore when you bring back to mind the human stories told every week by the Brownies on their tours – these are stories that make this place, home.
Conservation does not mean no development
One point I wish to stress is that conservation does not mean no development: just as we can develop around an existing building and incorporate its uniqueness into our plans, it should be possible to conserve Bukit Brown without halting development. What is needed is more diverse, out-of-the-box thinking. For instance we will still need parks in Singapore – well, we have one already. While the older generations have reservations about going to a cemetery for a walk, the younger set do not, and Bukit Brown is already being used as one. Why not develop it’s potential? Here is a place where amidst the stones stories of old Singapore lie. The Brownies have bring the stories to life during their tours, which as noted above, have been receiving a lot of tourist publicity through word of mouth and social media. If self-funded volunteers can do so much, how much more can they achieve if they had help?”
“Each time I pay a visit there, it stirs up emotions from a sort of deep-seated ‘spiritual’ wellspring which I did not know I have. A spiritual awakening of sorts. Ironic isn’t it from a burial ground?
Maybe, it’s the tranquil surroundings, the wonderful tales of an almost forgotten past kept alive by the elan of the volunteer guides, or could it be just the spirits of the ancestors channelling….. I would often end up going away asking myself: How is it that we have neglected our past? Why? Who are we as Singaporeans? What keeps us going? What inspires us? Do we have a national soul? Did we start any fire or if there are any embers left? And so on. So here are some of those rambling thoughts…….after my latest ramble over the hills of Bukit Brown.”