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Reflections in Bukit Brown

by Eugene Ang

Living in Pasir Ris, the prospect of having to wake up early on a Sunday morning for a 9am walking tour—in a cemetery of all places—is definitely unappealing. After all, I am your typical Singaporean millennial, more in tune with the modern than the traditional and more interested in the future than the past.

That said, I was glad that I did eventually pull myself out of bed in the nick of time to join Claire and Bianca for a tour of Bukit Brown’s hills #2 and #5. This was my first visit to Bukit Brown and I certainly learnt a lot about the place from both of them.

In fact, I left the place feeling that Bukit Brown’s heritage is relevant to all of us, including us millennials. In a quintessentially millennial-style listicle then, here are the 3 reasons why I think so:

  1. Bukit Brown is an organic repository of the myriad stories of individuals, young and old, rich and poor, who make up Singapore’s history.

 You might think: how would a bunch of unrelated dead people buried in a cemetery be of any relevance to me? I definitely thought so too, especially since I personally do not know of any relatives buried at Bukit Brown.

Yet, as Claire and Bianca led the group of us around the cemetery grounds, regaling us with the stories of their lives, I thought that these individuals constituted as much a part of Singapore’s history—my history—as the usual pantheon of figures that are found in our history textbook and featured in our museums.

There is good reason why social history, the branch of history that examines the lived experiences of ordinary people in the past, is now a major branch in the academic study of history. If history is to tell a story of our collective past, then it has to accommodate the range of individuals who are representative of our society—the young and old, the rich and poor, etc.

In this respect, Bukit Brown is the perfect place to reflect Singapore’s social history. In just a short morning, Claire and Bianca got us acquainted to the diverse mix of individuals who were buried in Bukit Brown, from paupers and concubines to war heroes and business tycoons. For instance, Lee Kim Soo, who made his fortune selling latex cups and other manufactured goods in the pre-war era in Singapore, is buried at Bukit Brown in an impressive Art Deco-inspired grave.

The grave of Lee Kim Soo

There were also seemingly ordinary people there who we can easily identify with, such as Soh Koon Eng, a young woman who was presumably engaged. Unfortunately, she passed away at the tender age of 19 in a Japanese air raid in January 1942.

The grave of Soh Koon Eng

The grave of Soh Koon Eng

Perhaps, just as they are traditionally believed by the Chinese to serve as portals to the world of the deceased, the graves of Bukit Brown can serve as a portal for all of us to access the myriad stories of the individuals who make up Singapore’s history. As we learn about them then, it should not be surprising that we come away with a fuller and more holistic sense of our past.

  1. Bukit Brown is emblematic of Singapore’s multicultural and diverse landscape.

Taking a walk around Bukit Brown, Singapore’s multicultural past is evident. For instance, the graves of Teo Chin Chay, a trader in commodities in the pre-war era, and his wife are flanked by two Chinese lions, two Sikh guards and two topless angels, while adorned with many exquisite engravings of Chinese motifs. The décor of this grave certainly shows the mingling of Chinese, Indian and Western cultural influences by the time of the early 20th century.

The grave of Teo Chin Chay

The grave of Teo Chin Chay

One of the statutes of a Sikh guard at the grave of Teo Chin Chay

One of the statutes of a Sikh guard at the grave of Teo Chin Chay

Another fascinating “multicultural” grave is that of Dolly Tan. Although not much is known of her, her grave has an interesting feature: it has Japanese inscriptions. In fact, as Claire pointed out, there are not only three different languages on her tombstone—Chinese, English, and Japanese—but also three calendar systems on it too: the Chinese mínguó calendar, the Japanese kōki imperial calendar, and the Western Gregorian calendar.

grave of Dolly Tan with powder applied to bring out its inscriptions

The grave of Dolly Tan with powder applied to bring out its inscriptions

Indeed, the fact that disparate cultural symbols can appear in a single tombstone at Bukit Brown shows clearly that Singapore has always been multicultural and diverse. We are defined by the connections between cultures, rather than their divisions.

Hence, as we head toward an increasingly diverse population in Singapore thanks to globalisation and immigration, it is worthwhile to consider this past. As Bukit Brown shows us, being accepting of different cultures is a part of who we are.

  1. The plight of Bukit Brown forces us to confront the trade-offs that development brings.

Since the authorities first announced plans to construct a highway across Bukit Brown in 2011, what was originally an obscure and largely-forgotten cemetery became seared into the national consciousness as many Singaporeans from all walks of life banded together to petition the authorities against doing so.

Bukit Brown with the highway under construction in the background

Bukit Brown with the highway under construction in the background

Although the construction of the highway went ahead, the advocacy work of groups like All Things Bukit Brown catalysed much discussion about larger issues revolving around the consequences of our development choices. Bukit Brown, in a sense, has forced us to confront and consider the trade-offs that development brings: heritage and nature on one side, and transportation and housing needs on the other.

There is no easy way to resolve this tension, but it is an uncomfortable one that we Singaporeans have to grapple with. The trappings of the bustling global city that we often take for granted do not come for free. Sometimes, they require us sacrificing something, of which we must ask ourselves: are we willing to give it up?

 

Eugene Ang is just a regular young adult in Singapore, who is embarking on his working life in a cubicle, like many others in Singapore. Having spent some time overseas in the US and Turkey, he returned home with a renewed curiosity about Singapore’s own unique heritage and past. 

#Flashback: 10 October 2012

by Catherine Lim

I was working on a production of History from the Hills – an 8 episode docu series which traces the history of  Singapore from the perspective of Chinese pioneers who made significant contributions to  society and the region in the late  1800s to the 1900s (post-war)  and who are buried in Bukit Brown.

We were to shoot a sequence with Ong Chwee Imm – whose great great grandfather Ong Chong Chew was one of the three Ong “founders” of Seh Ong land – with Raymond Goh.  A few weeks before, Chwee Imm had come across a document from among her father’s papers  which recorded  the graves of Ong Chong Chew together with 2 other family members exhumed from the Telok Blangah family burial ground, had been re-interred to Seh Ong Cemetery.

 

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Screen grab from History from the Hills showing the document indicating reburial location.

Seh Ong cemetery also sliced into two parts because of the Lornie Road expressway straddled the  expressway;   alongside Sime Road adjoining the  Bukit Brown Cemetery side and across where  the golf course is. There was no indication which side  the re-interred exhumed graves may have been relocated. However because extended family including that of Ong Chong Chew’s son Ong Kee Soon’s grave was located on the golf course side, the speculation was that the re-interred remains might  be located there. It was a long shot which received an extra boost, when the night before the shoot, Chwee Imm’s brother mentioned that as a child he had accompanied their mother to visit some graves before the expressway was built, and so  the mood on the morning of the shoot was palpable and brimming with anticipation.

Chwee Imm had long wanted to find  the grave of her illustrious ancestor ever since she had written and published ” The Journey from White Rock” (2006)   tracing Ong Chong Chew’s   life story and his legacy from his hometown in “White Rock” China to Singapore. It would be the final piece missing from her  story.

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Tomb of Ong Kee Soon, 2nd son of Ong Chong Chew and from whose line Chwee Imm is descended at Seh Ong ( photo Raymond Goh)

The search was undertaken around the area where Ong Kee Soon’s grave was located. It  was  “bush bashing” terrain and after an hour into shoot when    Chwee Imm fell into a depression in the ground,  it was decided that the search would be abandoned for safety reasons.

Fast forward, Saturday 17 September, 2016. Raymond Goh on his usual solitary weekend explorations and research in the vicinity of what remains of Seh Ong  bordering Bukit Brown, suddenly decided to look down and this was what he saw:

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Tomb of re-interred remains of Ong Chong Chew (photo Raymond Goh)

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Tomb of Ong Kim Cheow, eldest son of Ong Chong Chew (photo Raymond Goh)

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Tan Tay Neo – posthumous name indicated on tomb- Ong Kim Cheow’s wife (photo Raymond Goh)

Here are some notes from Raymond’s post on the FB Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown :

“Rediscovery of Ong Chong Chew, his eldest son Ong Kim Cheow and Kim Cheow’s wife in Seh Ong cemetery. Chong Chew’s tomb was a remake when he was re-interred from his family burial ground in Telok Blangah to Seh Ong. Date on tomb -1888. All his children inscribed on tomb matched the records. Kim Cheow was a founding member of Straits Chinese Recreation club and died in 1909, hence his tomb still indicated Qing era, his daughter married Tan Hay Leng, son of Tan Kim Ching”

(The original document from Chwee Imm’s papers had indicated 3 family members including Ong Chong Chew)

Ong Chong Chew also contributed to Chong Wen Ge, Heng San Teng and Sian Cho Keong 仙祖宮(Amoy St)

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Ong Chong Chew’s name on a stele at Chong Wen Ge (photo Victor Lim)

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Raymond Goh offering prayers at a shrine in the vicinity just before he chanced upon the Ong Chong Chew cluster of 3 tombs

At the time of the rediscovery of Ong Chong Chew’s tomb, Chwee Imm was abroad and relatives on FB helped to contact her to inform her.

We look forward to hearing more from her when she has had a chance to visit. But there is no doubt, that given the dedication which was written to her august ancestor in her book, the finding of the tomb marks another important milestone in her journey to White Rock.

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Dedication to Ong Chong Chew in the book “The Journey from White Rock” by Ong Chwee Imm

For those who are interested in the first episode of History from the Hills which featured the history of Seh Ong land and the initial search for Ong Chong Chew :

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A background of the 3 Ongs from Raymond Goh. Not pictured in slide is the third Ong, Ong Kew Ho.

More on the founders of Seh Ong here

 

By day, she has project managed some of Singapore’s transportation system projects such as the flight information displays in Changi Airport and road tunnel systems for LTA. But come the weekends or public holidays, one of Bianca Polak’s favourite places is Bukit Brown Cemetery, leading the public on guided walks.

Bianca guiding the Botanic Garden to Bukit Brown walk [photo: Theresa Teng]

Bianca guiding the Botanic Garden to Bukit Brown walk [photo: Theresa Teng]

She first visited Bukit Brown in early 2012 and came on a few guided walks conducted by the Brownies before naturally falling in step with the volunteers and started conducting guided walks in 2013. She has co curated a few themed walks such as the poetry walk, Botanic Gardens to Bukit Brown for Jane’s Walks, meet-up groups and always is among the first to volunteer when we get private requests including from the Peoples Association  and constituency community  grassroots groups who are caught by surprise not only that their volunteer is foreign but also speaks Mandarin!

Bianca traveled out of her birthplace Holland to the region when she was in her late twenties and she worked in Malaysia & China for a few years before finally ending up in Singapore where she has lived and worked for 16 years now. She knows more about Singapore’s heritage places and history than the average Singaporean and has embraced our cultural traditions, even demonstrating how to cook nasi ulam at the Baba House Museum.

Bianca doing a nasi ulam demo performance at Baba House [photo: Jennifer Teo]

Bianca doing a nasi ulam demo performance at Baba House [photo: Jennifer Teo]

Not surprisingly, the local television channel 8 which broadcasts in Mandarin featured her in their programme recently.

Here is her appearance “live” when she was interviewed in the studio after the crew tagged her on a few visits all over Singapore.

http://www.channel8news.sg/news8/ca/hellosingapore/episodes/20160823-hs-high2/3066160.html

So the next time you come on a guided walk and Bianca is your guide, you can test her Mandarin! She also speaks Dutch (of course), French, German, Swedish, and gets by in understanding Latin languages.

Information on public walks in Bukit Brown can be found by following Bukit Brown Events on Peatix : http://peatix.com/user/617188/

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Footnote: Bukit Brown Cemetery is commonly known to the  Chinese as Kopi Sua.

Screen capture of Bianca in the CH8 video at Bukit Brown

Screen capture of Bianca in the CH8 video at Bukit Brown

Bianca guiding at Bukit Brown [photo: Theresa Teng]

Bianca guiding at Bukit Brown [photo: Theresa Teng]

#Flashback

The Chamber of the Former City Hall was the site of the historic surrender of the Japanese on 12 September 1945. (c.1945. Image from National Museum of Singapore)

The Chamber of the Former City Hall was the site of the historic surrender of the Japanese on 12 September 1945. (c.1945. Image from National Museum of Singapore)

“12 September 1945, General Seishiro, along with four other Generals and two Admirals, entered the City Hall Chamber to formally surrender Singapore to Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the British Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia.” From Roots on WW II timeline.

So today marks Victory Day. But the joy and relief must have been   short lived as people woke up to victory and at the same time came to grips with the loss  and damage wreaked by three and half years of Japanese Occupation;   Closer to  the bone, came grieving for lives lost and unaccounted for.

Recently, I attended a talk by a researcher – delving into WW II history for next years commemoration of the 75 Anniversary of the fall of Singapore –  who shared  some  memos she came across at the National Archives of Singapore which had sent the “hairs on her arm standing” . They were written by an officer   under the  British Military Adminstration BMA.  The BMA was established in Singapore and Malaya during the period from the Japanese surrender to restoration of civilian rule on 1 April 1946.

The memos noted that reports of those missing during the war lodged by civilians to the BMA in the immediate aftermath of  wars’ end, started to show a pattern of  Chinese men  missing from the dates corresponding to what we now know as Sook Ching. For a period of 3 weeks from 21 February to 4 March 1942, Chinese males between the ages of 18 and 50 were summoned to various mass screening centres and those suspected of being anti-Japanese were executed.

The full scale and nature  of Sook Ching was certainly not known during Occupation and only painfully unraveled after the war.  But there had been records handwritten and scribbled  in secret   by individuals of  the names of the  men who were taken and never returned. Some of these records came to light and  later provided evidence needed for the war tribunals which took place a year later in 1946 in Singapore. A portal of the war tribunals  held in Singapore launched at the end of August 2016  at the NUS Law Faculty and based on records from the British is an important initiative in  documenting  WW II history in the region.

In our own research into family history, descendants shared with us their  oral records of those in their family  who perished in Sook Ching, of which is captured in both our community driven book WW II@ Bukit Brown and also in this blog here and here.

Closer to home, and perhaps most poignant is a first ever record of the Sook Ching execution of two brothers on Punggol Beach documented  in a poem by the late father of  a family friend. The title of this blog post is taking from the anthology of poems and essays which are published in ” I Found A Bone and Other Poems” by Teo Kah Leng.

I reproduce here excerpts from the title  poem:

I found a bone on Punggol Beach
Half buried in the sand,
And bleached by white by the sea and sun –
I picked it up with my hand

It was as brittle and as light
As coral in the sea
It has once an arm like mine
And a hope like me
…….
But then they came a fateful day
To shatter hope and faith
’twas nineteen hundred forty two
February twenty-eighth….

A machine gun sputtered a deadly hate
A bullet whizzed through me,
And I was dragged down by the line
That dropped before the sea

I heard my brother groan and die,
I heard approaching feet,
And Ah! I felt the welcome steel
That stopped my heart to beat

I held the arm bone in my hand
And let my warm tears fall,
My brothers were slain on Punggol Beach
My brothers Peter and Paul

Teo Kah Leng

(1909 -2001)

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(Benedict) Teo Kah Leng   was an English and Literature  teacher who started his teaching career  in  pre- war Singapore.  “Paul” in the poem is his younger brother and “Peter” his older brother.  On Teo Kah Leng’s poems, Dr. Eriko Ogihara-Shuck, who co edited the book and who  has researched  Malayan modernism writing  in colonial Singapore,  writes:

Kah Leng’s writing style clearly reflects that he was a “teacher – poet” who saw a pedagogical value in the reading and writing of poetry. Like many other English teachers of the 1950s and 60s, he adored poetry as a means of teaching students basics about English skills including pronunciation. He also believed that rhythms and rhymes are primary attractions to both his pupils and an adult audience, and hence poetry is also an effective way of transmitting important values in life.

Values such as compassion and going beyond the call of duty. Teo, was a devout Catholic who taught and served as Principal of Montfort School from 1927 to 1969 . The school was  located in a  predominantly Teochew enclave,  where families were often too poor to send their children to school.    His daughter Anne Teo writes of her father in the book:

” My father’s love, care and concern for others extended beyond the family. He would visit parents of students with financial difficulties to persuade them to allow their children to continue studying. He assisted them to seek financial assistance For some weaker students, he would stay back after school to offer them extra coaching in various subjects……..There were times to when he returned home for lunch, hungry as a bear, because he had given his lunch money to poor students who had no money for break time.”

Teo’s “legacy” to his daughter  Anne was an  anthology of 50 poems, almost all of which has been printed in this book, fulfilling her father’s  dream of publishing a book on his poems.

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by Catherine Lim, co editor bukitbrown.com

 

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.

IMG_2972

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

Archaeology

IMG_2979

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

Tigers_in_the_Park_1024x1024

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.

=================

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)

*************

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

———————————————————————————

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.

 

 

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