Introduction

In 2009, the Coopers arrived in Singapore from the UK. Jon’s wife had a job posting here and Jon was to be during the duration of her posting, a house husband taking care of their 2 young children and running the household. As luck would have it, on the morning after they  moved into their home, Jon on a “reconnaissance”  of his new neighbourhood spotted a National Heritage Board marker introducing the WWII history of Adam Park.

From that day onwards, Jon’s life took on a different direction. Trained as a battlefield archeologist, he was to spend the next 9 years, juggling his responsibilities as husband and father with his passion for battlefield history, Singapore after all is rich and fertile ground for the “digging up” of WW II history.

 

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Jon Cooper and the NHB marker about Adam Park. The marker had been refurbished and revised  by NHB recently (photo by Simone Lee)

Jon and his family moved back home to Scotland in July this year. In the time Jon was here, his contributions to WW II history  included the regular once a month “Battle at Cemetery Hill”  guided walks for All Things Bukit Brown which started in June 2012, an exhibition co-curated by Jon under Singapore Heritage Society held at National Library in commemoration of the 70th Anniversary in 2012 of the Fall of Singapore  –Four Days in February: Adam Park the Last Battle-  over 20 archeological digs as part of The Adam Park Project (TAPPcapping it all by the publication of Tigers in the Park. Published just weeks before he left for home, Simone Lee attended the last of the Tigers in the Park tours held in conjunction with the book’s launch.

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Jon Coopers Adam Park Project by Simone Lee

Adam Park is a significant place in Singapore’s history because it was where one of the last and fiercest battles was fought and was subsequently  a prisoner of war (POW) work camp.

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Along Adam Road (photo by Simone Lee)

Located  at the crossroads between Bukit Timah and MacRitchie Reservoir, Bukit Timah is the highest point in Singapore and where the British army supplies were kept. The Japanese  captured Bukit Timah on 12th February 1942 and set its sights on cutting off the water supply to the city. The British troops guarding the Water Tower along MacRitchie Reservoir were ordered to move the defence line outward towards Bukit Timah, and engaged in battle with the Japanese troops at the halfway point which was Adam Park.

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Engagement with participants from the start at Tigers in the Park (photo by Simone Lee)

At Adam Park, Jon sets up the battlefield of engagement and from his research which includes oral interviews  with  war veterans, former residents of Adam Park, descendants and pouring over diaries and other private papers,  Jon brings to life compelling stories of the people at Adam Park, igniting an important component of WW II , its social history.

An introduction to  Adam Park estate before going up the hill  (photo by Simone Lee)

An introduction to  Adam Park estate before going up the hill  (photo by Simone Lee)

The colonial black-and-white bungalows at Adam Park were built in 1929 for the European community. Generous lawns allowed for  tennis courts and putting greens. The driveways had space for cars owned by residents and their guests. It is a beautiful, genteel  estate away from the city and conveniently located close to the golf course which now belongs to the Singapore Island Country. Here are some highlights of the various houses with significant stories to tell in the book.

House No.16

The biggest house on the estate, no.16 (photo by Bianca Polak)

The biggest house on the estate, No.16 (photo by Bianca Polak)

Located on top of the hill, and dubbed ‘Bachelor’s Mess’ during the war, the first family to occupy house  was the Dutch Consular General, Mr.Hendrik Fein, his wife and their “celebrity” daughter, Concha. They lived there for a few months in 1938 before moving to Mount Alma. Concha was reputed to be a great beauty, young and vivacious who became popular for helping the Singapore Charity Cabaret and regularly entertained the Allied troops. Unfortunately, Concha and her family were in the plane which went missing on its way to Australia when they were evacuated at the onset of war. Their plane was one of 2 carrying passengers from Java.  The other plane landed safely in Melbourne with one of its passengers being Lieutenant General Gordon Bennett, who relinquished his post as the Commander of the Australian Army’s 8th Division in Singapore to escape being captured by the Japanese when it fell.

A page taken from Jon's book, Tigers in the Park

Photos of Concha and her family in Tigers in the Park

 

The Seefelds moved into No.16 after the Feins’. They had escaped Hitler’s persecution of Jews  in Germany to England and then joined their sons in Singapore in 1939.  Seefeld Snr continued his practice as a dentist here, but when WW II arrived on our shores, his family were rounded up along with other Germans and deported. Leaving in haste, the family left all their belongings, including a complete set of what was considered high-end dental equipment then and,  furniture that he had brought with him from Germany. The dental set was later used by the Japanese military during their occupation. To the Seefeld familys’ astonishment, the entire set was then shipped to them in Australia, intact, shortly after the war ended.

While the city was being bombarded with daily air raids which began in December 1941, the Adam Park estate was barely touched by the bombings. No.16 became home to the Morrisons after the Seefelds and a few other families had also taken refuge in the house after homes in the city were destroyed. It was a short lived refuge. On 31st January 1942, the Morrisons left their home to board a ship out of Singapore. Their ship, the Empress of Japan had docked 2 days earlier carrying British soldiers from the 18th Division.  The Empress left Singapore with civilians escaping the war, and by the time it arrived at Liverpool, it had a new name, the Empress of Scotland.

As the city was  besieged, allied troops retreated to Adam Park. House No.16 saw action in the  battle between the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshires and the 41st Regiments of the Imperial Japanese Army at Adam Park on  13 February 1942, 2 days before the British was to surrender Singapore.

House No.12

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House No.12 (photo by Bianca Polak)

Despite being one of the last residents to evacuate the estate, Philip Cooper Sands returned to his home at No.12 each day during the battle at Adam Park and gave vivid accounts of the bombardments surrounding the house in his diary, and letters to his wife who had left on the same ship the Morrisons were on. 

Read more about  their stories in ‘The Residents of Adam Park’ page 33 of ‘Tigers in the Park’. 

House No.20

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With some imagination, we could assume that the patches on the walls of house no.20 may have been battle scars from the mortars fired to drive the Japanese soldiers out of the house (photo by Simone Lee)

 

A few metres down the hill from house No.16, a triple coil Dannert barbed wire fence had been erected in front of house No.20. While about 100 men from the 1st Battalion’s D Company held on at houses No.13 and 14, C Company joined them late in the night on 13th February and set their positions at the remaining houses surrounding the defense line. To their dismay, they woke the next morning to find some 23 Japanese soldiers in house No.20. Apart from being exhausted from combat at MacRitchie the day before, the men at C Company were not aware that D Company had shifted their positions and unknowingly left house No.20 empty. A battle ensued between the new “neighbours”

Read more about the battle at house No.20, and how Corporal Pearson and Lieutenant Clift earned their medals from this battle in ‘Adam Park: HQ, C and D Companies, 1st Battalion Cambridgeshires Regiment’ and ‘The West End of Adam Park Estate: C and D Company, 1st Battalion Cambridgeshires Regiment’ from page 140 of ‘Tigers in the Park’.

 

House No.17 – Regimental Aid Post (RAP)

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The Regimental Aid Post, House No.17. Injured soldiers sprawled onto the lawn after evacuating the house when it caught fire (photo by Simone Lee)

Red Cross banners hung from the windows of house No.17 which became the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) for the 1st Battalion. It was the first medic point for injured soldiers before being transferred to a hospital in the city. By 15th February, the RAP was overwhelmed with Cambridgeshire casualties. The medics were working quickly to attend to every injured soldier brought in while some of those wounded but could still walk, helped out. Six medical ambulances had arrived that morning bringing some relief. But before they could be loaded and sent back to hospitals in the city, the vehicles were blown up, and the RAP was ruined. A British soldier had fired at a Japanese tank that was collecting their own wounded and in retaliation, the Japanese shot back. Rounds of bullets from their machine guns and tanks pierced through the walls of the house and the fuel tanks of the ambulances, setting them on fire. Everyone in the house scrambled out to the garden. Unbeknown to both sides, a ceasefire had already been called and received at No.7 to prepare for surrender.

Read Sergeant Len Baynes and Lance Corporal Cosford’s account of the attack on the RAP in ‘The Final Act’, page 191 of ‘Tigers in the Park’.

House No.7

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House No.7 (photo by Bianca Polak)

House No.7 sits at the bottom of the hill on the eastern end of Adam Park along Adam Road. It was thought since it was located on the reverse slope, away from sight of the Japanese troops at Bukit Timah hill, No. 7  was most strategic to house the battalion’s headquarters. The battalion held up at the estate for 3 days of battle. However, by the end of the fighting, the Japanese troops had managed to infiltrate the surrounding areas. The house was then in full view of the enemies and bombarded by Japanese artillery.

On the afternoon of 15th February, Lieutenant Colonel Carpenter who was in charge of the 1st Battalion sent a message to the 54th Infantry Brigade headquarters to explain about their dire situation and asked permission to move the battalion away from Adam Park. Minutes later, the message of the surrender arrived. It took Carpenter a few moments for the message to sink in before sending out the order to cease fire. It took more than an hour for the message to reach the units at the other end of the estate.

While the Cambridgeshires were stricken with the shame of defeat, General Arthur Percival was negotiating the terms of surrender with Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita at the Old Ford Factory.

Read ‘The Final Act’ from page 191 of ‘Tigers in the Park’.

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Jon reenacting a scene from the battle (photo by Simone)

 The Aftermath

The day after the surrender, the surviving Cambridgeshires were packed onto a tennis court at one of the houses. They dug a single latrine at the corner of the court. The stench from it, drove the Japanese soldiers farther away as days went by and the latrine trench overflowed when it rained. On 19th February, a week after the Cambridgeshires had arrived in Singapore, they marched to Changi Prison to join the rest of the POWs.

A month later, the fittest POWs were moved to Adam Park. It became a working camp for some 2000 Australian and 1000 British POWs from March 1942 to January 1943. They were chosen to help build a Shinto shrine at MacRitchie Reservoir. But the first thing they had to do was to repair the war torn estate and settle in. They organized the estate into barracks and life at the Adam Park camp was comfortable compared to Changi Prison camp. They got the electricity, even air conditioning and water heaters working and enjoyed proper sanitary and ventilation. They picked up some Japanese language from chatting with the guards. Work was not considered too hard and hours were not too long. It was no holiday camp but they were provided with ample rice to cook and bought bread rolls and sweets from the canteen at house No.11  with the little money they were paid from the ‘Shrine Job’. And because the camp was not fenced up, some of the men would sneak out after the lights are out at 10pm to trade in the city for other sources of food.

Read ‘Settling In’, the ‘Shrine Job’ and ‘Trade’ from page 230 onwards of ‘Tigers in the Park’.

House No.11 – The Prison Chapel

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House No.11 (photo by Simone Lee)

One of the major facilities set up by the POWs was the “mess hall” which also housed a chapel. It was the second POW chapel remaining in Singapore, the first being the St Luke’s Chapel in Roberts Barracks which has been reproduced at Changi Museum. Captain Eric Andrews took on the role of a ‘padre’ to the men who sought spiritual guidance.

Jon showing chapel drawings by Private Robert Mitchell

Jon showing chapel drawings by Private Robert Mitchell (photos by Simone Lee)

The house was badly damaged in battle. The chapel was on the second floor of the house, above the canteen. Because of the damage, the only access up the chapel was via the fire escape staircase at the back of house. Captain Andrews and a few volunteers repaired the remaining part of the room for the chapel and worked on designing the altar. It was plain and simple and they scavenged for materials they could find around the area – pieces of glass and transparent paper for the stained glass windows above the altar, yellow clay and Reckitt’s Blue for paintings on the wall.

The altar cross was bought from the Mortuary Chapel at Alexandra Hospital. Mother Mary and a scroll with the Bible verse; “Lift up your heads, O ye Gates and the King of Glory shall Come in” were painted. However, Captain Andrews was not able to draw faces very well hence he cut the face of Dorothy Lamour from a magazine and fitted it over Mother Mary’s. According to an account by Lieutenant Colonel Oakes, “Backlit from the outside the final image looked very impressive”.

 

Chapel Jon and Desmond Chua Ai Lin

Jon Cooper explaining about the murals to Senior Minister of State, National Development Desmond Lee on a private visit. A small patch of the mural is visible above Jon’s head (photo Chua Ai Lin)

 

Chapel Mural _Photo Chua AI Lin

A close-up of the mural (photo Chua Ai Lin)

Jon’s research into the whereabouts of the chapel murals even when he had evidence of drawings from Mitchell, drew a blank when he interviewed survivors. He finally confirmed the location, when he realised, the men were more familiar with No.11 as the mess hall and canteen rather than the chapel. He was asking the wrong question!

Read more ‘The Prison Chapel’ from page 290 of ‘Tigers in the Park’

 Today

All 19 houses at Adam Park which belong to the government are intact after repairs and available for rent.  Most of the houses  have been fenced and gated for security and privacy. House No.7 previously tenanted by National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) Guild House is at present  unoccupied. No.7  and No.11  together with a handful of others are awaiting for new tenants. Without live in tenants, the buildings tend to wear out faster. But it is prime rentals and the market is weak.

Group picture of Jon's last public tour of Adam Park, for now

Group picture of Jon’s last public tour of Adam Park, for now (photo by Bianca Polak)

Jon Cooper hopes that the estate will be preserved and protected by authorities. He believes that it is a heritage site that still has  much to offer in research, and a tangible reminder of the stories that he and his team  has uncovered. And because of its historical significance, the site can still be kept as residences by promoting low impact heritage, such as the small groups he has been conducting walks for, which don’t  encroach on the privacy of residents and respect boundaries.

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Jon Cooper’s tour becomes interactive when participants help reenact scenes from the battle (photo by Simone Lee)

Archaeology

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Jon showing participants a Cambridgeshire cap badge, one of the many items found during the archaeology projects (photo by Simone Lee)

Jon Cooper started The Adam Park Project (TAPP), organising residents  and recruiting volunteers to do archaeological work at the estate. Over 7 years, more than 1200 World War 2 artefacts have been dug up following 21 metal detector surveys and two excavations. The artefacts are now with the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute and  Singapore History Consultants.

The artefacts and the stories behind some of the items, such as artillery shells, military badges, gas masks, and 19th century coins, have also been catalogued in TAPP’s Virtual Museum: http://www.adamparkproject.com/virtual-museum/

Tigers in The Park

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Jon’s book is divided into four section, -section 1 covers civilian life in the estate before the war, 2, the battle at Adam Park, 3 POW life, and finally Adam Park, post war –  comes with icons and QR codes leading to the Virtual Museum , a website which  also allows visitors to comment and interact hence, allowing updates and amendments to the book to be made at real time.

Tigers in the Park  can be purchased at larger bookstores and also online:

https://www.ethosbooks.com.sg/products/tigers-in-the-park

 

 

 

 

On 14 August, Samira Hassan joined Brownie Peter Pak for a Ramble thru’ Bukit Brown to Kopi Sua Cemetery .

It was  Samira’s first  visit and she penned these reflections to share.

“I doubt there are textbooks or academic sources that would be able to do justice to the arcane yet insightful details the places in Bukit Brown had revealed about our past – and these pieces of our tangible history are truly irreplaceable.”

by Samira Hassan

Dateline: Bukit Brown (14th August 2016)

Trail at blk 4

The trail off the sidewalk (photo Catherine Lim)

We started the trail off the sidewalk on Lornie Road near a clearing just pass the turn in to Caldecott Hill. It would have been all too easy to miss it  whilst walking – overgrown creepers had landscaped  the steep steps that led us down the path to the trail. The steps themselves were uneven and rickety, an omnipresent feature in Bukit Brown’s landscape.

Chyen Yee photo

Into hill 4 (photo Catherine Lim)

The cemetery is sprawled over 5 hills (blocks)  as  high ground was thought to represent the back of a dragon, an auspicious symbol  in Chinese culture.

We first made our way to the tomb of Lim Kee Tong and his wife.

Lim Kee Tong

Grave of Mr and Mrs Lim Kee Tong, note the grape vines on the border to the tombstone (photo Catherine Lim)

Their tombstone was largely inspired by post-modernist designs of colonial times with Chinese lions. A mound behind the tombstone is where they are buried, enclosed in a horseshoe shape defined by a brick border.   Each feature on the tombstone it seems had its own specific meaning; for example, the vines of grapes at the border of the headstones, because of its seeds, signified the wish for many more generations to follow.

Peter Pak Chyen Yee photo

With Brownie volunteer guided Peter Pak (photo Chyen Yee)

The horseshoe shape is also reminiscent of a womb, alluding to the circle of life. The design of the grave  incorporates  a drainage system which would direct rain  water to flow to   the bottom, an important component in fengshui.  Water is “chi” or energy and also represents wealth. Diverting water away from the mound helps  to stay the course of decomposition, although it is inevitable.

Inscriptions on the tombstones  included  names of the deceased, dates of death and place of origin. It was  explained that sometimes posthumous auspicious names were given as mark of respect by the children.  Names of children are also included in the inscriptions so it seems  like each grave is family monument in itself. Features and inscriptions  on each grave  can reveal some aspect about the person’s life and hopes for the family.

And in Bukit Brown, every grave  has a story to tell – even the grave of  paupers. Moving into the pauper area of Bukit Brown, we learned of the rickshaw puller Low Nong Nong  who  died in clashes with police when  rickshaw pullers went on strike and demonstrated against   the increment of rickshaw rentals.

The other rickshaw coolies then pooled together enough money to buy Nong Nong a tombstone and a funeral to  acknowledge his sacrifice. In the midst of the other  *pauper tombstones where there was barely enough money to erect a simple headstone,  Nong Nong’s tombstone was comparable in size to the tombs in the paid plots and also because the mound itself had been cemented over, perhaps because his comrades realised that since  he died without kith and kin, there would be no one  to help maintain his grave should they themselves pass on or manage to make enough money to return home to China

*Under the colonial administration, free plots in Bukit Brown were set aside for those who died destitute

The fact that even paupers like this rickshaw puller  had a story, had a voice, was something that I really appreciated in Bukit Brown: there was no particular class, or group of people, that were entitled to the plot of land,  that all of these seemingly disparate narratives had managed to tell a bigger story of Singapore’s history. Such heterogeneity transcended into Ong Sam Leong’s tomb as well, the biggest one in Bukit Brown.

photo Peter Pak

Group photo of ramblers at Ong Sam Leong’s grave, Samira is in the middle in green tshirt, carrying  blue  and pink tote bags (photo Peter Pak)

The most fascinating thing about his grave  were the statues of the Punjabi guards stationed at each side. Around Malaya at that point in time, the British had recruited Punjabi soldiers and policemen from India. Given their positions of authority, they were almost seen as the “guardians of the state”  They became also personal body guards of rich towkays such as Ong Sam Leong at a time where lawlessness was more prevalent. For me it demonstrated   a  deep level of trust between  diverse communities  and reflected  a  nascent multicultural society Singapore in the 1900s.

Sikh guards with Kang You Wei (Photo- Lai Chee Kien)

Sikh guards protecting a Chinese reformist fugitive from the Qing Dynasty, Kang You Wei when he sought refuge in Singapore. (Photo from Lai Chee Kien)

Bukit Brown has grown to be more than a resting place for the deceased – it has become a physical emblem of a society that was present in early 20th-century Singapore. From the most minute details in the tombs to the way the entire cemetery is organized – all of these provide important snippets to what civil society used to be like back then,  I think this really goes to show that there is sometimes no alternative for trails and fieldwork such as this one.

I doubt there are textbooks or academic sources that would be able to do justice to the arcane yet insightful details the places in Bukit Brown had revealed about our past – and these pieces of our tangible history are truly irreplaceable.

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Samira is  a year 5 student with Raffles Institution, who is currently serving an internship with Singapore Heritage Society to better understand the challenges of conservation and heritage development

Information on public guided walks when and where and how to register can be found by following Bukit Brown Events on Peatix

Peter Pak

Almost the end of the 5.7km ramble off Gymkhana Rd (photo Peter Pak)

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning.”

(T S Eliot, “Little Gidding”)

The gates of Bukit Brown are now “reunited” with the pillars in the new entrance to the cemetery.

Painted black – which was established to be a common outdoor colour for gates in the past – it looks like a very different pair of gates from five years back in 2011, but its form and substance, remains.

It will take some getting use to as we all come to grips with the vast changes to the landscape of memory markers that are now being undertaken. But in time, we hope when the dust has settled, and the mechanical  cranes no longer dot the landscape,   there is much the community can contribute to  in restoring the sense of arrival, that once welcomed us into our past.

Until then here is look at the now and the before in  photographs which speak to us poignantly of what was lost. A special thanks to Leong Kwok Peng of Nature Society whose facebook album I had raided  for photos of the gates circa 2011/2013.

2011 Gates _ KP

“They also serve who only stand and wait.” John Milton. The Gates, September 2011 (photo Leong Kwok Peng)

Gates restored 1_Claire Leow

The Gates 30 July, 2016 (photo Claire Leow)

gates 2013 Kwok Peng

The Gates at the old entrance in  2013 (photo Leong Kwok Peng)

 

Gates 2011 KP

Gates, Sept 2011 (photo Leong Kwok Peng)

 

detail 2-Catlim

Gates, 30 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

 

Bats 2 Cat

“Bat” 30 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

CU of Bats 1_Catherine

“Bat” 30 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

gates 2011 KP 2

Gates September 2011 (photo Leong Kwok Peng)

Detail_catlim

Gates 30 July,2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

gates where to look _Catlim

Reps from atbb, NHB and MND with Fusion Clad Precision checking out the gates (photo Catherine Lim)

Gates restored 1_Catherine 30 July

The hinges are in working order, 20 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

gates restored 2 with Serene Lee

Fusion Clad representative explaining the challenges faced in restoration (Catherine Lim)

Gates restored_ group shot Catherine Lim

Customary group shot. 30 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

On 25 July 2016:

Gates with snake_ Serene Lee

On the first day of installation, a snake was spotted at the altar of the Earth Deity (photo Serene Lee)

Gates with snake_2 Serene Lee.jpg 25 July

Embracing the “Datuk Kong” on its way to the “Tu Di Gong” or Earth Deity” 25 July. 2016 (Photo Serene Lee)

shadow _Cat

“Ampersand” A new beginning (photo Catherine Lim)

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A postscript on the installation

installation 25 July 2016 tombkeeper 1

Start of installation 25th July 2016 (photo from a well wisher)

The installation began  on Monday 25th July and was anticipated to take 5 days but all went well and by Wednesday, it was in place and on Saturday 30 July, 2016, All Things Bukit Brown together with officers from the the National Heritage Board and Ministry of National Development had a viewing with a briefing from Fusionclad Precision which had undertaken restoration works over a more than 6 months.

A report on the restoration process is available here

Blog post compiled by Catherine Lim

by Catherine Lim

Considered the foremost authority on Raffles, the National Library Board  has acquired the collection of Dr. John Bastin’s more than 5000 materials. 38 of which have been curated  for public viewing on the 13th floor.

The exhibits  both showcases and makes accessible NLB’s existing Singapore and South East Asia Collection which “form an important nucleus of works on early Singapore. “  The rare materials collection is conventionally the preserve of academics,   perhaps perceived as” high brow”    located as such on the 13th  floor.

But this collection is curated with ordinary Singaporeans in mind with  both the personal – a  hand written letter by Raffles  to his cousin which more than hints at his displeasure with Farquhar – and the quaint – a book on Malay Poisons and Charm Cures – to the spiritual – an almost complete Malay translation of the the Anglican Common Book of Prayer.

But the highlight must surely be the leaflets which were air dropped in the 50s at the height of the communist insurgency in the jungles of Malaya, in an attempt to “persuade” –  both by threats and propaganda – insurgents to surrender peacefully. These leaflets dropped by the thousands and commonplace then, have become rare. I have seen them once in a private collection. The NLB rare gallery showcases three pieces.

Propaganda Leaflets

“Propaganda” leaflets airdropped in the 50s (photo Catherine Lim)

Propaganda Chin Peng 1955 CNY

A 1955 Chinese New Year “special” designed to tugged at the heartstrings and homesickness at a time of celebration (photo Catherine Lim)

Safe Conduct Passes

Leaflets in 4 languages which provided “safe conduct” upon surrender. An indication that the communist insurgency had support from all ethnic groups ? (photo Catherine Lim)

Other Highlights:

- Treasures of the Rare Gallery - Al-Qawl al-atiq iaitu segala surat Perjanjian Lama (Old Testament Bible in Malay)

Treasures of the Rare Gallery – Al-Qawl al-atiq iaitu segala surat Perjanjian Lama ,Old Testament Bible in Malay (photo NLB)

Malay Bible

From the translated Malay Bible (photo Catherine Lim)

Exhibits on Java, Sawarak , Sumatra written by the “colonial masters ” stationed here, a reminder that Singapore was part of the “Straits Settlements”

Book 2 sketches

Thirty-two such silhouettes of different types of Malaysian people of the 20th C from “Shadows in The Malay Peninsular” by W.G. Stirling, London 1910 (photo Catherine Lim)

book 2

(photo Catherine Lim)

book on Sarawak_ NLB

Written by Margaret Brooke “Ranee of Sarawak (1849-1936) and consort of the Sir Charles Brook. The copy on display establishes the social connection between the Brookes and Swettenham (Governor of the Straits Settlements). Swettenham refers fo Ranee as Margaret darling” in 2 handwritten letters (photo NLB)

My Life in Sawarak_NLB

“Margaret darling” (photo Catherine Lim)

Book

(photo Catherine Lim)

Expressing Raffles passion for  the biodiversity of the region.

Insect book

From “Descriptive catalogue of the Lepidopterous insectsnby Thomas Horsefield London, 1828/9 (photo Catherine Lim)

Poison Book

Malay Poisons and Charm Cures. John D Gimlette London, 1923 ( photo Catherine Lim)

And lets not forget, exhibits which clearly reminds us of the collector’s primary  interest,  Raffles himself.

Raffles baptism papers

Raffles Baptism papers (photo Catherine Lim)

Raffles Letter to Cousin

Handwritten letter by Raffles to his cousin (photo Catherine Lim)

Memoir of Raffles wth baptism_NLB

(photo NLB)

Of interest for further study an exhibit of : a  bill introduced to the British Parliament on 18 June 1824 to ratify the Anglo-Ducth Treaty of 1824 which concluded longstanding territorial and commercial disputes between Britain and Netherlands. A valuable source of information of how the two rival colonial and maritime powers decided on how to carve out their colonies in the region

As a collection, its importance is to give visitors a  flavour of our past, providing historical context in print that covers different facets of political, social and community engagement at a personal level.

If there is anything more the NLB can do to get more Singaporeans to “embrace” the rare collections , is perhaps for this collection to serve as an inspiration for other activities which could revolve round art and story imagining of a past which helped defined who we are today.

Guided tours of this collection will be held monthly between July and December. Do check listings here

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Catherine Lim is co-editor bukitbrown.com

 

Moved by “unseen” hands, the deities which used to be located at the former entrance of Bukit Brown Cemetery, were also moved  when the pillars of the gates were relocated.

They now have a brand new shelter –  we have been informed by a credible source – which was “upgraded”  by Fusion Clad Precision (of their own initiative),  the company commissioned by the National Heritage Board to restore the gates.

Photos captured by Brownie volunteers help document the “sheltering” of the deities which we believe are the efforts of a community who work behind the scenes.

unsheltered in May 2016 Bianca Polak

An unsheltered Earth Diety also known as Tu Di Gong or Tua Pek Kong taken sometime in May 2016 by Bianca Polak before a new shelter was put in place.

Guanyin 2015 Photo Darren Koh

Guanyin captured in 2015 by Darren Koh before the gates were moved. According to Darren,  Guanyin is a heavenly deity unusual for a cemetery which is traditionally the purview of the Earth Deity . But then, this is Guanyin who will take any form necessary to help humankind.

Earth Deity flanked by 2 Datuk Kongs June 2016

Fast forward to June 2016, and the altar, now relocated along with the gates, have now been “regularised” with the disappearance of the Guanyins, and the installation of a “new” Tua Pek Kong flanked by two Datuk Gongs, one on each side. (photo by Darren Koh)

The “upgrade” by Fusion Clad include the paint job and sensor lights, shelving and a dry place to store  joss sticks and  with even a lighter in place (although the last may have been placed there by others for convenience). The community who work at Bukit Brown have been observed by Brownies to pay respects before they start each construction work day  as a mark of respect and request blessings for a “safe environment”

Upgrading (photo Catherine)

Lighter hidden out of sight (photo Catherine Lim)

Bamboo with felicitious wirtings on left Darren Koh June 2012

Together with this new shelter interesting is the emergence of the green bamboo inscribed with felicitations – not our local tradition, according to Darren and he wonders wonder what is the story behind them (photo June 2016 of bamboo inscriptions on left side of altar by Darren Koh)

Bamboo with felitications wriiten on right wall Darren Koh

Bamboo inscriptions on right side of altar (June 2016 photo by Darren Koh)

 

 

Outlook iv _photo AJ Leow

Raymond Goh being interviewed for “Outlook” on May 14 (photo AJ Leow)

The news broke this morning and was headlined  “The Outlook 15”

We are pleased to share breaking news that Raymond Goh has been shortlisted as the top 15 from among 50 inspiring individuals in their home countries nominated by listeners to “Outlook” – a weekly radio programme on  the other BBC – The British Broadcasting Corporation aka The Beeb.

He sits in good company among  indefatigable individuals who have survived against the odds and individuals who strive each day in challenging environments  to make life a little better;  from granting wishes to the terminally ill to being a voice for survivors of unspeakable tragedies; from Sierra Leone to our Singapore, where our nominee  gives voice to the dead in order that our past has a future.  The full report can be found here

The nomination was submitted at the end of April 2016 by A.J Leow.

In his submission  to the BBC nominating Raymond Goh in under 200 words (the limit) he wrote:

The Bukit Brown Cemetery (BBC) was largely a forgotten site in urban Singapore until the government announced plans in 2011 to build an 8-lane highway across it and exhume for a start 4,000 graves. Raymond and his brother Charles then started to explore the site. They organized guided tours and were soon joined by more volunteers known as Brownies.

Raymond has since discovered more hidden tombs and linked many descendants to forgotten ancestors who include the real early pioneers who founded schools, banks, clan associations, public parks and lent their names to some 50 streets in Singapore. Besides his frequent sojourns to BBC in his trademark white towel and T-shirt, Raymond also combs newspaper, clan and other archives.

As a result of his research, the Brownies even got BBC listed on the World Monument list and was recognised as Advocacy Organisation of the Year 2014. Their efforts have inspired new heritage trails, award-nominated plays and new books — all thanks to our very own tomb whisperer (and Indiana Jones) who has inspired a revival of Singapore’s own history.

The news that the submission was accepted came by way of a feature interview on the BBC World Service radio programme, Outlook “They call me Singapore’s Tomb Whisperer” conducted at Bukit Brown with Raymond and his nominator. The recording  can be found here

Raymond iv by BBC - AJ Leow

Explaining tomb inscriptions (photo AJ Leow)

In sharing the news this morning that he had been shortlisted, Raymond posted on his FB page:

From 50 to 15…..truly humbled and overwhelmed by this shortlist. I have all the Bukit Brown community volunteers and tombkeepers who have accompanied me on my journey for the past 10 years to thank. Without their encouragement, support and assistance, would not have walked so far. And of course my brother Charles, partnering me along the road ….”

For more on the passion and dedication of Raymond and Charles in uncovering our lost heritage, read The Goh Brothers – A Decade of Exploring, a decade of Sharing

Our best wishes and congratulations to Raymond, as someone posted, onward to the final 3.

 

 

Change is inevitable; Memories endure; The tangible is the gateway to the intangible.

image3

A closeup of the iron wrought  design  detail shows what uncannily  looks like a bat . In Chinese “Fu” is a homonym for fortune.  (photo Chua Ai Lin)

The iconic gates of Bukit Brown which had stood in the same spot for some 90 years were removed on September 2015,  and have been  undergoing the delicate process of refurbishment since January 2016. It   is expected to be relocated back in June 2016 and enjoined with the pillars which  have already been relocated to the new entrance.

Members of All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society as part of the working committee on Bukit Brown chaired by the Ministry of National Development  were invited to a private viewing of the work in progress in March. The refurbishment is being undertaken by Fusion Clad Precision who were  hired by the National Heritage Board.

image2

Explaining the process (photo Chua Ai Lin)

image4

SHS, NHB and ATBB representatives at Fusion Clad Precision premises in March 2016 (Photo Chua Ai Lin)

According to a Straits Times report published on May 3, 2016 “Iconic Gates to Greet Visitors to Bukit Brown Cemetery Again” :

“The refurbishment, which started in January, has five core steps. Rust is first removed before coatings are applied to reduce future corrosion.

The gates’ lock and latch components as well as lampholders are then repaired before missing parts are replaced. The last step is to reinforce the gates’ structural integrity.

The team, comprising four master craftsmen and three other members, is at step two of the process.

Its managing director Teo Khiam Gee said the gates need a lot of attention as well as “the human touch”.

“Skilful hands are important as the parts are in varying states of disrepair. Its original state was very fragile. It is like handling a baby,” he said.

The structure is made up of parts, such as a pair of cast-iron gates through which cars used to pass, two side gates for pedestrians, and four free-standing square columns.

It was likely prefabricated in Britain and shipped to Singapore. Its square columns were cast on the spot.”

The report adds:

“NHB’s assistant chief executive of policy and community, Mr Alvin Tan, said retaining and refurbishing the gates are important as they “provide a sense of arrival to the cemetery and preserve a sense of continuity for visitors and interest groups”.

The refurbishment is an initiative of a multi-agency work group chaired by the Ministry of National Development. It includes NHB, the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and civic organisations All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS).

The effort is guided by conservation best practices shared by SHS. The heritage board also has its own in-house metals specialist, Mr Ian Tan, manager of the heritage research and assessment division.

When ready, the gates will be painted black – a common colour for outdoor use.”

You can find  is a  step by step graphic representation provided by ST on the process here

NHB produced a short documentary on the removal of the gates and the relocation of the pillars which supports it:

Bukit Brown Gates March 2012_Chua Ai Lin

The Way We Were : Bukit Brown Gates at Lorong Halwa Qing Ming, March 2012 (photo Chua Ai Lin)

 

We honour the memory of the gates in our recently launched book WWII@ Bukit Brown.

coverFA2_Back

An artist impression of the iconic gates which graces the back cover of the recently launched WWII @ Bukit Brown book

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love
only what we understand; and we will understand only
what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968.)

 

A quote by the Guest of Honour  Senior Minister Desmond Lee (National Development and Home Affairs) in his address , captured aptly the journey of the Bukit Brown community leading to another milestone in what has been dubbed ” a movement” with the launch on 16 April, 2016 of the book WWII@Bukit Brown –  a collection of essays, poems and stories from the community of Brownies and descendants.

In his speech, Minister Lee recounted his first guided walk at Bukit Brown Cemetery with his constituents :

“During the visit three years ago, we learnt about the history and heritage of our pioneers from the stories shared by the Brownies.

Over the years, we have all been very impressed by the passion demonstrated by the Brownies, as they have contributed so much of their personal time, personal energy and expertise to research, document and share the history of Bukit Brown with the rest of us in Singapore.

They are an example of what the community can do to connect with, and to celebrate our history. But if we reflect on it, although Bukit Brown is a cemetery, their work is so much more than just about the past. It is also very much about our future.

The research that the Brownies did led descendants to approach them for help to identify their ancestors’ resting places, and from there, an opportunity to open up conversations about their personal and family stories, which they then shared for the benefit of posterity.

I understand that some of the descendants are here. Some of your stories and stories of your forefathers have made their way into this book. This book is a testament to the hard work and effort the Brownies had invested over the years.”

We were also honoured  to have descendants among the contributors to the book grace the launch and they included the descendants of Tay Koh Yat, Tan Ean Kiam, Cho Kim Leong and Tan Kim Cheng.

Tan Keng Leck _Demond Lee Photo LC

Tan Keng Leck, grandson of Tan Ean Kiam with Minister Desmond Lee. The Tan Ean Kiam foundation is also one of the sponsors for the book  (photo Lawrence Chong)

Claire Leow wth grandsons of TKY photo Carolyn Lim

Claire Leow (Editor) with the youngest and oldest grandsons of Tay Koh Yat showing them the chapter on their grandfather.(photo Carolyn Lim)

Jenny Soh photo Carolyn Lim

Jenny Soh in maroon top is the niece who was saved by her Aunt Soh Koon Eng who died during a bombing raid at their home in Geylang. (photo Carolyn Lim)

Philip Green and Susan_Lawrence Chong

Among the guests who attended,  the Australian High Commissioner Philip Green and his partner Susan who have been guided by Brownies (photo Lawrence Chong)

Editorial Team_ LAwrence Chong

The Editorial Team (minus 2, Yik Han and Raymond Goh) with Minister Desmond Lee. L-R Catherine, Claire, Simone, Peter, Minister Lee, Bianca, Fabian, Chyen Yee, Charles (photo Lawrence Chong)

It was an occasion for connections and re-connections.

Frm Tan Cheng Bock Album

SHS President Chua Ai Lin with Dr. Tan Cheng Bock an old family friend and Alex Tan Tiong Hee who contributed a chapter in the book. (photo Lawrence Chong)

Lawrence Chong

SHS President Chua Ai Lin, Catherine (editor) Kevin Tan (former SHS President and Editor of ” Spaces of the Dead- A Case from the Living 2011″) Minister Lee and Claire (editor) – Overheard, Kevin recounting to Minister it took 11 years to raise funds for the book Spaces of the Dead also published by Ethos (photo Lawrence Chong)

Vera Teo with CW Chan Photo Carolyn Lim

Descendant of Dr Lee Choo Neo – Singapore’s first female doctor –  with CW Chan who contributed a profile piece of Lee Choon Seng – “oh to be a fly on the wall of this conversation” (photo Carolyn Lim)

 

Jon Cooper with Desmond and Ai Lin photo Lawrence Chong

Minister Lee meeting Jon Cooper who contributed a chapter to the book and recently launched his own book Tigers in the Park on the WW II  archeological digs he conducted over a span of 6 years as part of the Adam Park Project

Jon Cooper 1 Simone Lee

Jon holding the audience spell bound during his presentation (photo Simone Lee)

Jon Cooper Lawrence Chong 2Minister Lee Lawrence Chong

Jon, captivated the audience at the launch with his stories of the descendants and survivors of POW camps he had met in the course of his research  (photos of Jon’s presentation  by Lawrence Chong)

And finally a pictorial thanks  to our sponsors in no particular order :

NHB photo Lawrence Chong

Norsaleen Salleh of National Heritage Board (photo Lawrence Chong)

Darren Koh Sponsor Lawrence Chong

Darren Koh (photo Lawrence Chong)

James Khoo Sponsor Lawrence Chong

James Khoo (Lawrence Chong)

Norliag Saadon sponsor Lawrence Chong

Norliah Saadon (Lawrence Chong)

Victor Lim Lawrence Chong

Victor Lim (photo Lawrence Chong)

Bianca Polak sponsor Lawrence Chong

Bianca Polak (photo Lawrence Chong)

Ee Hoe Hean rep Lawrence Chong

Representative from Ee Hoe Hean Club (photo Lawrence Chong)

Kevin Ang

Representing the venue sponsor Kelvin Ang of URA (photo Lawrence Chong)

And as previously mentioned Tan Ean Kiam Foundation is one of the sponsors.

You can support funds for the book by purchasing a copy or more here

If you would like to bulk purchase books to donate to community organisations, drop us an email a.t.bukitbrown@gmail.com

Hoe Fang Carolyn Lim

Co publisher Fong Hoe Fang of Ethos (photo Carolyn Lim)

And here’s a reminder of “who”  this is all about:

Jon Cooper Simone Lee

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968.) Photo Simone Lee

Acknowledgments:

To everyone who came, out heartfelt gratitude. To our official photographers,  Lawrence Chong and Carolyn, thank you.

Look out for more stories about the launch and updates about the book in the blog under History : Books

Co Publishers:

Ethos Books and Singapore Heritage Society

It’s the end of another weekend and rarely a weekend passes when Raymond Goh aka  “Tomb Whisperer” is not to be found  doing ground exploration and research  at Bukit Brown, nowadays often with  tombkeeper  Soh who helps him bush bash and lends his knowledge of the grounds he grew up in.

Today’s sharing on his “finds” on  the Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown FB group included a   tomb “gift wrapped”  in Peranakan tiles, a newly refurbished tomb ( more signs that descendants are returning) , a tomb with a story to be unraveled,   and a tomb bearing 中華民國  – Republic Of China.

Chong Hua Min Kuo_ Raymond

中華民國 Republic of China (photo Raymond Goh)

Patterned Tile _Raymond

(photo Raymond Goh)

refurbished tomb_ Raymond

Tomb Keeper Soh pictured with refurbished tomb (photo Raymond Goh)

Title Tomb _ Photo Yuk Han

“Gift Wrapped” tomb (photo Ang Yik Han)

Tomb with a story inscription _Raymond

An inscription to be unravelled (photo Raymond Goh)

Unusually Raymond was also at Bukit Brown this  Saturday (he splits weekend days  between his family and his  passion ) to meet an independent researcher who hopes to write an article on a prominent pioneer whose tomb Raymond had found much earlier and wanted to tap his knowledge

Then I learned that much earlier in the week, Raymond got up at 4 am one weekday morning  so he could help facilitate a fervent request by an international documentary crew to film an exhumation at Bukit Brown.  Exhumations are  private family affairs and it was indeed a testimony to Raymond’s reputation for sensitivity and discretion  in such matters that he was able to persuade family to allow for the filming and be interviewed.

All in a weeks work  you could say for Raymond who has to juggle his passion with his career heading a multi- national healthcare company which finds him traveling on average once a month on business trips.

It is a passion which can be traced back a decade when he teamed up at the instigation of his younger brother Charles  – who heads  workplace safety and health at a Japanese firm –  to explore  and uncover the “lost heritage and history of Singapore”.  The siblings have  more than a blood bond, as they leverage on each other’s strengths.  It was Raymond’s interest  in Chinese and regional culture and history which Charles’ sought to complement his own skills in map-reading and understanding of title deeds and ownership.

Their decade of exploration and what they have uncovered including   the community which has rallied around them   was documented recently in a  feature  called Life Extraordinare 

http://video.toggle.sg/en/series/life-extraordinaire/ep8/358863

The Goh brothers  intrepid exploration of forgotten places – more often than not sited in thick forested areas – paired with their investigative work trawling the archives for maps and records, have helped Singaporeans  connect to their past, and sparked personal journeys into the search for their roots for a new generation of Singaporeans.

The discovery of the grave of Singapore’s foremost Teochew pioneer Seah Eu Chin (1805-1883) by the Goh brothers in November 2012 is an exemplar of their commitment and passion, one with wider resonance in 2015.

In 2011, prompted by a request from a descendant of Seah who went to school with Raymond, they found a  Straits Times obituary (1883)  that described Seah Eu Chin’s funeral procession, from his home in North Boat Quay to his plantation in Thomson Road, about 4.8km away from town. From the description of the funeral procession, Charles extrapolated the approximate location from a 1924 map. But to confirm whether it was indeed the grave of Seah Eu Chin, what was needed was an understanding of the Chinese practice whereby family members of the same generation used the same characters in their names. And that was where Raymond’s interest in Chinese culture and tradition came to the fore.
“Knowing the generation name, which was certified in an imperial edict he found, helped him confirm that the grave he found on Grave Hill belonged to Seah Eu Chin”. ST Nov 28, 2012, Teochew pioneer’s grave found in Toa Payoh

Of the discovery, Dr Hui Yew-Foong, an anthropologist at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the appointed documentarian of Bukit Brown Cemetery commented, “This grave is of the same level of historical significance as the graves of Tan Tock Seng and Tan Kim Ching, and therefore serves as an invaluable part of Singapore’s heritage.”

For the Goh brothers it was mission accomplished. For the Seah clan, it was the beginning of the unravelling of familial connections lost after the devastation of World War II. Before the war, the 2,000-strong family of descendants spanning at least five generations had gathered regularly. The 130th anniversary of Seah Eu Chin’s death was marked at his grave site in 2013 a year later by descendants and members of the two Teochew Clan Associations he help found, the Po Ip Huay Kuan and Ngee Ann Kongsi.
For Sean Seah 39, a 6th generation descendant of Seah Eu Chin who took part in the memorial prayers, it was followed by a journey tracing the steps of personal history when he made a trip back to the ancestral home and villa of Seah Eu Chin in Yuepu village, Chaozhou province in 2014 which he documented in this  video. https://vimeo.com/95650452

“When I was young, my father used to tell me stories about Seah Eu Chin.  when I went to school, I learnt more about him, but many questions still lingered. When I gazed upon and touched the tomb of Seah Eu Chin, I felt a a tangible visceral connection to my roots and moved to embark on a quest for these questions to be answered, and so to the Goh brothers, I am grateful”Sean Seah (personal communication)

Intrigued by this unearthing of history, in November 2015, the Goh brothers revealed the significance of two stone markers they found in MacRitchie area. One was inscribed with the words “Dare” in English and the other “Seah Chin Hin” in Chinese for Mr Seah’s plantation, as well as the stone and brick foundations of Mr Dare’s former home. “Dare” was George Mildmay Dare  a former secretary of the Singapore Cricket Club. The two stone markers are discoveries which tell the complementary stories of the land, of our colonial past and our migrant pioneers.
The Goh brothers cache lie in ignominious stones, the kind you trip upon when taking a road less travelled but when examined closer becomes a doorway to our historical landmarks.

The curiosity as well as the passion for our history drives them to search on the ground as well as delve into archives for supporting evidence or clues. Charles was exploring the old forested area near Macalister Road when he stumbled upon a wall in the grounds of the Singapore General Hospital in September 2014. The National Heritage Board was alerted to its discovery by the Goh brothers and through further research, found that the remnants belonged to the New Lunatic Asylum which 128 years ago was revolutionary for its time, a period when strait jackets was more the norm. The perimeter wall was to allow patients to move about freely under protection. Within the grounds of the SGH carpark, which was undergoing development in 2014, was also the remnants of a burial site belonging to a Chua clan dating back to the 1860s, occupying a private strip of land then sandwiched between Tiong Bahru (New Cemetery) and Tiong Lama (Old Cemetery) that would have been referred to as Seh Chua Sua (Chua Hill)  On a visit to the site led by Raymond and Charles organised by the Tiong Bahru heritage group earlier this year , participants found four gravestones cordoned off for protection in the midst of the construction site.

2015 is a significant year for  the Goh brothers as it marks a  decade of exploration of Bukit Brown Cemetery and the adjoining cemeteries which have become an important memory marker for Singaporeans.

It is what the Goh brothers have become most known for in the public consciousness, ironically because of the unexpected controversy which erupted in 2011 when the government revealed plans to build an 8 -lane highway across the last remaining Chinese cemetery, one with a history dating back to the 1800s. The Goh brothers had started to explore Bukit Brown as early as 2005, and uncovered the tombs of pioneers such as Cheang Hong Lim, Tan Keong Saik, Khoo Siok Wan, Seah Imm, Tan Ean Kiam, Chew Boon Lay, Chew Joo Chiat, Tan Kheam Hock – more than 30 pioneers to date whose names are immortalised in our streetscape.

By 2011, they had the best working knowledge on the ground of Bukit Brown which had closed in 1973 – the final resting place of an estimated 100,000 pioneers and whose terrain had become overgrown, the kind of challenging landscape the Goh brothers relished.

As descendants’ awareness of their familial obligations to claim and exhume their forebears grew, it was to the Goh brothers that they turned to unravel the clues to locate ancestors’ graves or other related information lost to time. Others, their interest piqued by the circumstances, started to trace if they had ancestors buried there, leading to even more leads to chase.

Many who requested help from the Goh brothers to trace their ancestors even mistook Raymond as being employed by Land Transport Authority to help them verify whether the graves of their ancestors would be affected by the highway. Both brothers were members of the Advisory Council on the Bukit Brown Documentation Project, a committee set up by the government in recognition of the heritage and historical value the cemetery. It was made up of stakeholders who could advise on documentation of the approximately 4000 graves which had to be exhumed to make way for the highway. Nonetheless, their endeavours were beyond the remit of the advisory council, and testament to the true value of the Goh brothers to the broader community.
It was this broader interest in helping descendants seek their ancestors, regardless if they were affected by the highway, that resonated with ordinary Singaporeans and residents.

Besides Seah Eu Chin, early clues in Bukit Brown also led to the discovery of Chia Ann Siang, who was not buried there. The discovery of Chia Ann Siang’s grave in a forested hilllock off Malcolm Road, also led to reunions and connections. Alphonsus Sng, 6th generation Chia Ann Siang  writes,

” We were told growing up we were descendants of Chia Ann Siang on my mother’s side, but it was not until his grave was discovered by the Goh brothers, that we could confirm, from the names of his sons etched on his grave we were in fact descendants from his 3rd son Beng Chiang, who was my great grandfather on my maternal side. The reunion at the grave was a first in meeting cousins we never knew existed of my generation, descended directly from Chia Ann Siang. We have since kept in touch, exploring our shared ancestry together”Alphonsus Sng (personal communication)

Raymond Goh estimates that he has helped to connect about 50 families whose roots are in Bukit Brown. But the Goh brothers’ contribution in a body of work that spans a decade is exponential.

Leveraging on their research, a community of volunteers came together in 2012 almost spontaneously and started conducting regular public walks in Bukit Brown to instill awareness on its intrinsic heritage and history, some later expanding on the research of the Goh brothers to conduct their own independent research. They became collectively known as the “Brownies” – a motley group from different professional backgrounds from lawyers to engineers, of different faiths, different ethnicity including a Sikh and a Catholic Indian. The youngest is below 30 of age the oldest, above 60. For them Bukit Brown has taken them to places outside of Bukit Brown and indeed out of  Singapore to explore the history and heritage of our migrant roots, our diaspora. A handful have also joined the ranks of Raymond and Charles in helping to connect descendants with ancestors.

“2015, Singapore’s Jubilee, was a year to take stock of where we are heading, and where we came from.  In this connection, very few ordinary Singaporeans can claim to have played as significant a role in helping us appreciate our past.  Raymond and Charles Goh are arguably pioneers in their own right in exploring and sharing with the public the significance of cemeteries, particularly, Bukit Brown in linking the dots between the past and the present, the departed and those living

On a personal note, I have had the pleasure to be a former classmate of Raymond and we are both alumni of Gan Eng Seng.  I was moved by the tour of Bukit Brown conducted by Raymond which culminated in homage paid at the tomb of our school’s founder. This reminded me of the Raymond Goh I remembered when he was a boy, a classmate with an enquiring mind, a strong sense of curiosity, who excelled in the sciences.  I am proud that he has applied these skills in his Bukit Brown related pursuits, for he is an excellent detective and investigator of the past.” Khir Johari, Singapore Heritage Society, SHS Vice President (personal communication)   

The  Goh brother’s  decade-long track record, and an undaunted and persevering spirit to a cause despite a lack of early support have been self-less. They have willingly shared their knowledge and skills and created space for other like-minded persons to follow in their very large footsteps. They have inspired other volunteers, but also a broader public, which has opened their eyes to alternative histories and an independent route of inquiry.

In the words of a recent reflection by journalist Lisabel Ting in the last week of 2015.
“Like a salmon swimming upstream, I think all humans have an innate desire to return to where we came from and to site ourselves in the continuum of history by knowing what has come before. …..This urge to return to our source may be particularly compelling for Singaporeans, especially the many of us who are culturally adrift and loosely moored to this island only by the strength of several generations.For the majority of us, whose parents and grandparents hail from countries across the ocean, our kin are scattered around the world, and may be culturally and linguistically distinct.Having a family tree on which to hang our heritage could, in an impalpable sense, provide a sense of deep-rooted belonging or affiliation which is sometimes missing here.” ST 29 December 2015 “ My surreal connection to my ancestral home”

Today 24 January, 2016,  I came across another  reflection which  resonated ” We cannot protect what we do not know”  and the Goh brothers have  shared what they know and will continue to explore and unravel so we can also also  embark on our personal journeys to learn.

“We cannot protect what we do not know”

Goh Brothers_ 2011

Goh Brothers (circa 2012)

ZB-Personality-of-the-Year

Goh Brothers Zaobao Personalities of the Year 2014 (photo Yap Chin Tiong, ZB)

Liberation 70 by All Things Bukit Brown

Publishers: Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos Books

Date Of Publication: 5 December, 2015

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) and All Things Bukit Brown (atBB)  are pleased to announce their plans to publish a collection of essays and poems, mined mainly from oral history and family archives, which looks at the Second World War (1942-1945) and the impact in Singapore from the perspective of those interred at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The book commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore under Japanese Occupation (Sept 1945) by offering new material and insights into the human tragedy of war, which adds another layer to the already vast literature on WWII in Singapore.

“The stories have taken us to the Endau Settlement in Johor, to Taiping (Malaysia) and to the beaches of Normandy in ways so unexpected they took our breath away,” said Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, co-founders of All Things Bukit Brown, a group of volunteers who work to raise awareness of the municipal cemetery. “It is a slow and at times painful unravelling of family history, lost in memory but for the persistence of descendants. It has taken seven decades for some of these fragments to be pulled together, and we see this not as a one-off book but a first step in the difficult journey of re-discovery and re-membering. The narratives also re-affirm to us Singapore’s place in regional and global historical narratives.”

It is a known fact that many who lived through the horrors of war and Occupation barely spoke about those days. The 70th anniversary of the Liberation, coinciding with an outpouring of emotion as Singapore celebrated the Jubilee of independence (SG50), unlocked the memory vaults of strangers who entrusted the editorial team with intimate familial stories and memorabilia. The compilation will span across the immediate pre- war, occupation and post-war years for the people of Singapore. It will also feature a poem of lamentation for soldiers lost in the battle at Bukit Brown, juxtaposed against recently unearthed official archival material on the battle that was fought at Cemetery Hill aka Bukit Brown Cemetery, with anecdotes from the diaries of soldiers, the pastor who bore witness to the aftermath, as well as memories of surviving prisoners of war who lived in the nearby Sime Road POW Camp. Most of this will be new, unpublished material.

SHS is pleased to support this ground-up project, as an extension of the advocacy the society encourages and the Bukit Brown cause that SHS has backed since 2011, when the cemetery came under threat of development first through a highway and later, housing.

“Bukit Brown has unexpectedly turned out to be a touchstone about the loss of heritage – tangible and intangible – in a Singapore eager to modernise and develop,” Chua Ai Lin, President of SHS. “The book is an important evolution of the civil society movement to uphold Bukit Brown as a site of national significance, and illuminate one of its more fragile narrative threads. It brings together at once the strategic and personal importance of the site, and SHS is pleased to once again support All Things Bukit Brown, which has evolved from a volunteer base guiding weekly public tours and regular customised tours, to hosting exhibitions and participating in arts programmes to reach as broad a support base as possible to save what is left of the site.”

The book, which now has the working title “Liberation70”, is ultimately a tribute to those among us,  civilians and soldiers who laid down their lives. In the Ode of Remembrance read at most war commemoration ceremonies worldwide, the public repeats the key line, “We will remember them.” This is our collective act of remembrance.

The book will be co-published by the Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos with a partial grant from the National Heritage Board, under its Heritage Participation Grant. All proceeds from the book will be channelled into future Bukit Brown projects.

————————————————————

Singapore Heritage Society was founded in 1987 and is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation and registered charity with Institution of Public Character (IPC) status. It is Singapore’s leading organization dedicated to research, education and advocacy on Singapore’s history, heritage and identity. SHS is behind many significant publications on Singapore history including Syonan: Singapore under the Japanese, 1942-1945 (1992); Memories and the National Library: Between Forgetting and Remembering (2000); Spaces for the Dead: A Case from the Living (2011).

All Things Bukit Brown (atBB) is the banner for a community of volunteers who conduct independent research and guided walks on Bukit Brown Cemetery. Since they came together as a community in 2012, they have collectively organised public talks with partners such as the NUS Museum and Chui Huay Lim Club, two exhibitions and successfully nominated Bukit Brown Cemetery as the first site in Singapore to be placed on the World Monuments Fund Watch list 2014-2016. Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, co-founders of the blog, bukitbrown.com are the editors for the book, backed by a volunteer editorial team from within the community.

Drama Box_

(Photo credit Han Xuemei, Dramabox)

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.57.13 pm

 

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