This chronology of the Japanese invasion was compiled by James Tann, a heritage blogger,  in the lead up to the  72nd anniversary  of the fall of Singapore on 15 February, 1942.

Feb 8, 1942.
The Japanese Army invasion of Singapore Island begins with the crossing at Lim Chu Kang.

Feb 8 Australian War Museum

Photo credit Australian War Memorial

February 9, 1942.
Having landed the night before along the Lim Chu Kang coast, by the afternoon of 9th Feb, Tengah Airfield was in the hands of the invading Japanese Imperial Army.

Feb 9

Also on 9 Feb, the Japanese Army opened a 2nd battle front by landing the Imperial Guards Division at Kranji and the Causeway. This Division was to move east heading towards the Sembawang & Thomson regions.

The Jurong-Kranji Line – 9th February, 1942.
The Allied forces formed a futile blockade called the ‘Jurong Line’ stretching east of Tengah Airfield, through Bulim to the Jurong River (where Chinese Garden is today) to try and contain the Japanese forces within the western sector of Singapore.

By evening of 9th Feb 1942, the Jurong Line had collapsed completely due to miscommunication. The main Australian 22nd Brigade retreated, resulting in a domino effect leading other units to retreat as well.

Luckily for them, the Japanese forces did not press their advantage as they had to wait for reinforcements and logistic supplies to follow up across the Straits to continue the invasion.

Map 9 Feb James Tann

Map of the battle lines by James Tann

You can also read how a jungle dirt track saved the lives of 400 soldiers by James Tann here

10th Feb 1942.
The capture of Bukit Panjang and the massacre at Bukit Batok.

With the overnight collapse of the ‘Jurong Line’ blockade, the Japanese 5th Division easily manoeuvred down Choa Chu Kang Road and overpowered the defences by the Argylls & Sutherland Highlanders and the Hyderabad Regiment at Keat Hong. Pushing them back all the way to Bukit Panjang Village. It was the first encounter with Japanese tanks in Singapore by the British.

By the early afternoon, Bukit Panjang Village had fallen to the Japanese. Some British units managed to escape through the farmlands of Cheng Hwa and eventually followed the water pipeline down to British lines near the Turf Club region.

Intending to re-establish the ‘Jurong Line’, the British High Command despatched 2 battalions from Ulu Pandan to Bukit Batok (West Bukit Timah).
X Battalion made it way to 9ms Jurong Road (opp today’s Bukit View Sec Sch), while Merret Force lost its way and camped at Hill 85 (Toh Guan Road today).

The Japanese 18th Div coming down Jurong Road encountered both X Battalion and Merret Force during the night. X Bn, caught totally off guard, was annihilated and lost over 280 men, while Merret Force had half its force killed in the ambush.

The Japanese Commander, Gen Yamashita, had ordered both his 5th and 18th Division to take Bukit Timah Village and Bukit Timah Hill by the 11th Feb. Thus, both units were in a frenzied rush to capture the strategic high point.
By midnight of 10th Feb, Bukit Timah Village was ablaze and effectively conquered by the invasion force.

Photo credits: Australian War Memorial
1. Japanese soldiers at Bukit Timah Hill
2. Japanese Type 95 HaGo Light Tanks in Bukit Timah Village

10 Feb Japanese soldiers at Bukit Timah hill

10 Feb Japanese soldiers at Bukit Timah hill (photo Australian War Memorial)

10 Feb Japanese Type 95 HaGo Light Tanks in Bukit Timah Village

10 Feb Japanese Type 95 HaGo Light Tanks in Bukit Timah Village (photo Australian War Memorial)

Map 10 Feb by James Tann

Map of battle lines on 10 Feb by James Tann

11th February 1942.
The Fall of Bukit Timah Hill and the Tragedy at Sleepy Valley.

By the time Gen.Yamashita’s army crossed into Singapore, he was critically short of supplies, fuel, ammunition and even food for his troops. His strategy was thus to conduct a tropical blitzkrieg – ‘hit them fast hit them hard’ – to capture Bukit Timah. It being the high point for observation also held the British ammunition, food and fuel depots which he coveted.

To raise morale of his troops, he set Feb 11 as the day to capture Bukit Timah Hill. The significance of Feb 11 was that it was the Japanese Kigensetsu, the day they celebrate the ascension of the 1st Emperor and the founding of the Japanese Empire. The task was assigned to competing 5th and 18th Divisions with untold glory going to the unit achieving the objective first.

By midnight of 10th Feb, both units had already reached Bukit Timah Village and the resultant battle against the British defenders set the entire region ablaze. The British retreated and held their line at Reformatory Road (Clementi Road)

By early morning of the 11th, the Japanese had secured Bukit Timah Hill.

Meanwhile back at Bukit Batok…
By the morning of 11 Feb, the senior commander of 15th Brigade, Brigadier Coates, who was to lead the re-taking of the Jurong Line, knew that the Japanese had surrounded his position. He cancelled the order and proceeded to retreat, together with the Special Reserve Battalion, back to allied lines at Ulu Pandan.

Forming 3 columns consisting of 1500 men from the British, Indian and Australian units, they proceeded from Bukit Batok to cross an area called Sleepy Valley.

Unknown to them, the Japanese 18th Division was already waiting to spring their trap on the British soldiers.

What happened next is a seldom mentioned debacle which actually had the highest number of casualties of any skirmish within Singapore during the war. The firefight that took place at Sleepy Valley took the lives of 1100 allied soldiers out of the 1500 who entered that valley of death.

Throughout the day, the British sent in reinforcements to try and re-take Bukit Timah. However, both Tomforce and Massey Force could do little to dislodge the Japanese.

When Bukit Timah Hill fell, Gen Percival moved his HQ from Sime Road to Fort Canning. The fear of the approaching Japanese Army also led them to destroy the infamous 15” Guns at Buona Vista Camp at Ulu Pandan that morning. It was a sign that things had come to bear…

11 Feb Japanese soldiers

Japanese soldiers at Bukit Timah Village (photo Australian War Memorial)

11 Feb General

General Tomoyuki Yamashita (photo Australian War Memorial)

11 Feb

Johore Battery 15″ Gun. Changi (Australian War Memorial)


12th Feb 1942.
Yamashita’s Ultimatum.

Tomforce’s attempt to re-take Bukit Timah and Bukti Panjang ended in futility. Unknown to them, they were up against the battle hardened Japanese 56th and 114th Regiments of the 18th IJA Division, Yamashita’s crack troops, who had fought all the way from China.

By the morning of 12th Feb, the British lines were being pushed backed.
Tomforce fell back from Reformatory (Clementi) Road to Racecourse when the Japanese overran the supply depots at Rifle Range. By the end of the day they would retreat all the way back to Adam and Farrer Road.

By then, Gen Percival had redrawn the defence line.
Massey Force would protect the waterworks from Thomson Village to the east of the MacRitchie golf links, where the former HQ at Sime Road was.
Gen Heath’s British units would fall back from Nee Soon, having abandoned the Naval Base, and form the line from Braddell to Kallang.
In the west, the Australians fell back from Reformatory Road to Holland Road (Old Holland Road), while the 44th Indian Brigade formed the line from Ulu Pandan to Pasir Panjang. Sporadic fighting occurred throughout the day along the line.

Elated with the capture of Bukit Timah, Gen.Yamashita was still faced with logistical problems including a critical shortage of ammunition. He knew he wouldn’t be able to last out in a war of attrition and thus resorted to his plan to bluff the British into surrendering, by dropping ultimatum notes into the British lines.

“To the High Command of the British Army, Singapore”

I, the High Command of the Nippon Army have the honour of presenting this note to Your Excellency advising you to surrender the whole force in Malaya.

My sincere respect is due to your army…bravely defending Singapore which now stands isolated and unaided…..futile resistance would only serve to inflict direct harm and injuries to thousands of non-combatants….Give up this meaningless and desperate resistance…If Your Excellency should neglect my advice, I shall be obliged, though reluctantly from humanitarian considerations to order my army to make annihilating attacks..”

(signed) Tomoyuki Yamashita”

Getting no response to his ultimatum message, Yamashita sent his units on probing incursions along the line.
These took place mainly at Sime Road and Pasir Panjang near Normanton.
He had no intention to enter the city as he knew he did not have the resources to fight a street to street battle.

Ian Saggers, Perth Australia.

Major Bert Saggers was CO of the Special Reserve Bn that was ambushed at Sleepy Valley. He survived and made his way to Ulu Pandan where he found only 80 of his 420 men alive but all his officers killed. (photo Ian Saggers, Perth Australia )

12 Feb Lt Jimmy Till

Lt Jimmy Till was an officer in Bert Sagger’s unit. He was buried near the spot where he was killed. This was near where today’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic Alumni Clubhouse stands. Picture is his grave now at Kranji War Memorial. (photo James Tann)


13th Feb 1942.
The noose tightens around Singapore City.

With the core of Singapore Island firmly in the hands of the Japanese Army, Gen.Yamashita moved his HQ from Tengah to the Ford Motors factory at Bukit Timah.

Strangely, the previous day ended somewhat with a lull in the fighting.
This allowed Gen Percival to continue finalising his last line of defence.
From Kallang Airfield to Paya Lebar, Paya Lebar to Braddell, Thomson Village to Adam Park, Adam Road to Farrer Road to Tanglin Halt, from Buona Vista across Pasir Panjang ending at Pasir Panjang Village.
The last unit to pull out , the 53rd Brigade, left Ang Mo Kio area around noon and the traffic along Thomson Road was so choked that Japanese planes had an easy time strafing the columns along the route.

Gen.Yamashita had actually feared that Gen.Percival would dig in and fight to the last.
In order to continue his feint, despite running low on ammunition and men, he launched attacks to give the British the appearance of Japanese strength.
He ordered the crack 18th Division to take Alexandra Barracks and the 5th Div & the Imperial Guards to attack the Waterworks at MacRitchie and the pumping station at Woodleigh.

Alexandra Barracks was the main British Army Ordnance Depot, where most of their equipment, stores and fuel storage, as well as the main Alexandra Military Hospital, were located
The attack on Alexandra Barracks began from Pasir Panjang (Kent Ridge) after 2 hours of heavy shelling at noon.
Waves of Japanese soldiers fought determined defenders from the 1st Malaya Brigade and the 44th Indian Brigade. Fighting was vicious and often hand to hand. The Malay Regiments were slowly overpowered with the Japanese winning height after height. The Gap, Pasir Panjang Hill III, Opium Hill, Buona Vista Hill, would fall one after the other but fighting would continue till the following day.

Over at MacRitchie, the Japanese 5th Division fought the 55th Brigade (1 Cambridgeshire & 4 Suffolk Regiments) to gain control of the reservoir. An all night tough fight including tanks forced the British Regiments all the way back to Mount Pleasant Road across Bukit Brown cemetery. The Suffolks lost over 250 men defending their ground.

The Japanese Army was now within 5 kilometres of the City on 2 fronts.

All this while, civilians casualties were mounting in the collateral damage from the Japanese shelling.
The City now had up to 1 million evacuees, most in dire straits without shelter, food nor water.

An Officer was to record travelling down Orchard Road:
“Buildings on both side went up in smoke…civilians appeared through clouds of debris; some got on the road, others stumbled and dropped in their tracks, others shrieked as they ran for safety. We pulled up near a building which had collapsed, it looked like a slaughter house; blood splashed, chunks of human being littered the place. Everywhere bits of steaming flesh, smouldering rags, clouds of dust and the groans of those who still survived.”

At the Battlebox, the new HQ at Fort Canning, Gen.Percival and his senior commanders were contemplating the latest orders from Gen.Wavell as well as an order from Churchill.

13 Feb Smoke arising from bombardment of Singapore City Feb 1942 Australian War Memorial

13 Feb:  Smoke arising from bombardment of Singapore City Feb 1942 (photo Australian War Memorial

13 Feb

14th Feb 1942.
Prelude to Capitulation

Throughout the night of 13/14th Feb, sporadic skirmishes occurred both at Pasir Panjang and Adam Road.

At daylight 8.30am at Pasir Panjang Ridge , the Japanese charged up for a final assault on Hill 226 and Opium Hill facing heavy resistance from the 1st Malay Regiment. Bitter hand to hand combat lasted till 1.00pm in the afternoon when the Japanese gained control of the hills and in the process annihilating the Malay Regiment.

As the loss of the strategic ridge gave way, the Japanese advanced along Ayer Rajah in pursuit of Indian troops towards the British Military Hospital. It was then that the tragic incident occurred at the BMH with the senseless slaughter of wounded patients and medical staff.

There was also little relief along Adam Road. The Japanese, with Col Shimada’s Tank Regiment, pressured the line with a bulge through Bukit Brown, towards Caldecott Hill and Adam Park. Bitter fighting occurred around Hill 95 and Water Tower Hill (today’s Adam Park/Arcadia).

The Imperial Guards Division harried the eastern battle line at Paya Lebar and were near to capturing the Woodleigh pump station by mid day.

At British HQ in the BattleBox at Fort Canning, Gen.Percival conferred with his field commanders.
Brigadier Simson advised that the water situation was extremely grave with the threat of epidemic.
Gen Heath, commander of British Forces, and Gen Bennett, commander of Australian Forces, urged Gen Percival to surrender. Percival refused to yield, having direct orders from Churchill via Gen.Wavell, the Commander in Chief based at Java, not to surrender and to fight to the last man.

However, Gen.Percival informed Gen.Wavell that the enemy was close to the City and that his troops were no longer in a position to counter attack much longer.
Gen. Wavell sought permission from PM Churchill to allow Gen.Percival to consider the option of surrendering.

Churchill replied to Gen. Wavell:

“You are, of course, sole judge of the moment when no further result can be gained at Singapore., and should instruct Percival accordingly, C.I.G.S. concurs”

With that, the final key was inserted into play for Singapore. (But the permission for Percival to consider surrendering did not go out to Percival until  the next morning of the 15th.)

*CIGS = Chief of Imperial General Staff

14 Feb Lieutenant-General A E Percival, General Officer Commanding Malaya at the time of the Japanese attack. Imperial War Museum London

Lieutenant-General A E Percival, General Officer Commanding Malaya at the time of the Japanese attack.(photo Imperial War Museum London)

14 Feb General Sir Archibald Wavell, C-in-C Far East, and Major General F K Simmons, GOC Singapore Fortress, inspecting soldiers of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, Singapore, 3 November 1941.

General Sir Archibald Wavell, C-in-C Far East, and Major General F K Simmons, GOC Singapore Fortress, inspecting soldiers of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, Singapore, 3 November 1941. (photo Imperial War Museum London)

15th Feb 1942.
Chinese New Year – The Year of the Horse

There was absolutely no joy in celebrating Chinese New Year in 1942. The country was in shambles.
The foreboding fear of the encroaching Japanese military, preceeded by tales and rumours of their atrocities in China all portent the unknown that lay ahead.The British masters and their families had all bugged out. What did this mean for the locals now?

A Japanese flag could he seen flying from the top of the Cathay Building! Was this the end?
For the locals, especially for the Chinese, it was going to be the start of three and a half horrifying years.

Morning of 15th Feb saw the opposing forces holding most of their ground, with infiltration mainly by the Japanese within the eastern sector reaching Kallang Airfield. In the west, Japanese troops reached Mount Faber.

Gen. Percival convened his most senior officers at the Battlebox at 9.30am for the latest status reports.
Brigadier Simson reported that water supply could not be maintained for more than a day due to breakages everywhere which could not be repaired. Water was still flowing despite the pumps and reservoir being in enemy’s hands!
The only fuel left were what remained in each vehicle and at a small pump at the Polo Club.
Reserved military rations could last for only a few more days.

With unanimous concurrence of all present, the decision to cease hostilities and to capitulate was made.
A deputation comprising Brigadier Newbigging, HQ Chief Admin Officer, the Colonial Secretary Mr Fraser and Major CH Wild as interpreter, left Fort Canning for the enemy lines at Bukit Timah Road.

At the junction of Farrer Road, they proceeded on foot with Union Flag and a white flag across the defence line for 600 yards where they were met by the Japanese soldiers. They were later met by Col Sugita who refused their ‘invitation’ to the City for negotiations. Instead, Col Sugita demanded that Gen.Percival was to personally surrender to Gen.Yamashita.
To acknowledge this condition, the British were to fly a Japanese Flag from the top of the Cathay Building.

At 5.15pm, the British surrender party drove up to the Bukit Timah Ford Motors factory.
The delegation was made up of Lt-Gen AE Percival, Brigadier Newbigging, Brigadier Torrance, Gen Staff Officer Malaya Command, and Major Wild, the interpreter from III Corps.

Though Gen.Percival tried to negotiate for some terms for his men, Gen Yamashita thought that he was playing for time and pressed Percival for an unconditional surrender, telling him that a major attack on the City was scheduled for 10.30pm that night and any delay, he might not be able to call off the operation in time.
“The time for the night attack is drawing near! Is the British Army going to surrender or not?”
Banging the table he shouted in English “Answer YES or NO.”

At 6.10 pm. Gen.Percival signed the surrender document, handing Singapore over to the Japanese Empire.

15 February The Surrender (photo Imperial War Museum London)

15 February, 1942 Singapore Falls (photo Imperial War Museum London)

15 February The Surrender 1 (photo Imperial War Museum London)

15 February, 1942 The Surrender (photo Imperial War Museum London)


Read about the Battle at Bukit Brown on 14 February, 1942, a day before the surrender to the Japanese,  here

And the latest on missing soldiers here



All Things Bukit Brown broke the news that Bukit Brown had been included on the list of the World Monuments Watch 2014,  on the evening of Tuesday 8th October, 2013. It was the first listing for Singapore, and international recognition of Bukit Brown as a heritage site.

24 hours later, on Thursday 10th October, 10 am, a media session to meet the Brownies behind the submission to the World Monuments Fund, was held at Bukit Brown, under the rain tree at the roundabout. It was an appropriate setting, as this is the spot where all our guided walks begin.

brownies _ Terry Xu TOC

Supporters and the Brownies behind the submission for World Monuments Watch 2014 listing (photo Terry Xu)

Full video recording by Jasmine Ng here

This is a compilation of highlights and quotes  of the media coverage online, in the press and in the broadcast media from 9 October to 13 October, 2013

10 October Channel News Asia  TV report on Bukit Brown’s World Monuments Watch listing.

Interest group hopes that this(the listing) will lead to more engagement and a more sustainable strategy for development. Claire Leow “We hope this listing by shining international attention on Singapore will also help Singapore’s bid to get UNESCO listing for Botanic Gardens and of course eventually Bukit Brown as well and eventually other sites as well in Singapore”

The full CNA TV report here

Claire Leow, co-founder of All Things Bukit Brown, said: “It goes beyond what we’ve done for Bukit Brown; it’s more like what we can do for Singapore.

She added: “I hope it shows that we are serious, that we want a seat at the table, just so we can present what we have heard from the community, what we have heard from the people who have encouraged us, and we can share their voices too.

The full online  CNA report here.

10 October Zaobao

“I hope to use this opportunity open a dialogue with the government and find a sustainable path to development.  I do not think that conservation of heritage monuments and development  has to be confrontational. On the contrary, we hope that conservation can aid development and vice-versa“

She pointed out that at present, talks about development and conservation are always framed in terms of trade-offs –  e.g. do we want to keep land for our ancestors or make room for our descendants. Why do we not talk about other issues, e.g. are we not willing to let go of a site that could potentially be a world heritage site? In the face of global warming and the need for nature to maintain stable temperatures, can we afford to lose a site of certain environmental value to us? Claire Leow.

The full Zaobao report with translation here

10 October The Online Citizen (TOC)

“There’s more to Bukit Brown, than my own family. And I realised the things I do not know about this place and it’s going to go. And that nothing will be left for my children, grandchildren and great grand children. ” Ong Hui Lin (descendant with 3 ancestors buried in Bukit Brown)

“Yes Bukit Brown is now on the World Monument Watch but it is more than that. We nominated Bukit Brown because it is significant to our history, culture and society. I hope that this will prompt people to look into all 3 aspects.” Claire Leow

The full video report on TOC here

10 October Razor TV online

“Now with the listing, it gives credence to the fact that this is a world class heritage site. So my sense is that one has to think again about the questions,, I appreciate the challenges that urban planners face. But maybe they don’t have a larger picture and that larger picture is history and heritage, history that affects out identity” Chew Kheng Chuan (descendant with 8 ancestors buried in Bukit Brown”

“I am very mixed because I am a road user and I love homes. Homes for my children. But for Bukit Brown, it is very painful because when we lose it, we would never get back the very essence. the soul” Ong Hui Lin (descendant with 3 ancestors buried in Bukit Brown)

The full online video of Razor TV here

10 October the breakfast network

“They (All Things Bukit Brown)  hope more researchers, historians, cultural studies students et cetera would step up and get involved in Bukit Brown in one way or another. “We need to think differently; we need to reframe the conversation,” said Ms Leow, who wanted people to stop seeing the trade-off as space for the living vs space for the dead. Rather, she wants to foreground Bukit Brown as a potential world monument site, with environmental value, that is at stake.

The full report of the breakfast network available here.

All Things Bukit Brown clarifies on the report : We did not submit the application for World Monuments Watch listing to “throw a spanner in the roadworks”. We submitted it because we wanted  recognition, to heighten awareness and draw attention to Bukit Brown as a heritage and nature site worthy of preserving.

10 October (The Economist) Banyan Blog

“In an interview republished in his latest book, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s elder statesman, who left the cabinet two years ago but still reflects the views of many in the government he led for so long, is, characteristically, yet more blunt in an interview reprinted in his latest book:  “if we need the land, and we have to dig up the whole of Bukit Brown to build on it, and put the ashes in a columbarium, we will do it.”

The Brownies point out that the government presents a false choice between space for the dead and space for the expanding population that Singapore needs to sustain its growth. Bukit Brown is also for the living, and for future generations interested in how Singapore became what it is today.”

The full report on the Banyan here

10 October : Singapore Heritage Society statement on the listing:

This is the first time a Singapore site has been included in the World Monuments Watch. Together with the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ UNESCO nomination, Bukit Brown’s inclusion represents widespread international recognition of the historical importance of local heritage sites. Indeed, Bukit Brown’s narrative of early immigrants and regional histories complements the Botanic Garden’s narrative of colonial empire to provide a more complex and complete story of Singapore. 

13 October Yahoo News

“With the World Monuments Watch listing, the first time a site in Singapore has been included, atBB thinks that Bukit Brown and the Gardens, which are located fairly close to each other, could be paired up for a stronger nomination, said (Catherine) Lim.

“What we’re saying is there’s an opportunity here to relook our application (to UNESCO),” she said. “It has started, but it’s going to take two years (to complete), so why not explore? We’re offering up an opportunity of a possibility… It’s for the government to consider this. I’m not sure whether they actually have considered the actual status that’s accorded Bukit Brown being on the list.”

The full report on Yahoo News here

A Question of Public Value : Bukit Brown . a thought essay by Z’ming Cik was submitted for the “My Say” category of the blog on 13th October.

9 October 2013 Straits Time (ST)  Report

SINGAPORE’S Bukit Brown Cemetery has been named as an at risk site on the 2014 World Monuments Watch – a biennial listing by the World Monuments Fund which compiles cultural heritage sites that are threatened around the world.

Bukit Brown Cemetery, where the graves of pioneering Chinese immigrants to Singapore since the mid-nineteenth century stand, is one of 67 sites from 41 countries and territories.

More on the ST report here

9th October Channel News Asia (CNA) Report

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s Bukit Brown Cemetery has been placed on the 2014 World Monuments Watch, which compiles cultural heritage sites threatened around the world.

More  CNA report here

All Things Bukit Brown clarifies on the report below by ST News October 10, 2013 : When asked by the reporter about the call for a moratorium to stop road works issued in March 2012, the’s response was “we have moved on from that” as opposed to what was reported ” the group, which hosts weekly guided tours at the site, is also sticking to a call it made last year for a moratorium on plans for Bukit Brown and for more public engagement with the Government.”

ST News Oct 10, 2013

All Things Bukit Brown, an interest group which is keen to preserve the site’s heritage and habitat, nominated it to the New York-based World Monuments Fund watch list. It was picked from 248 nominations – making it the first time that a Singapore site has made it to the list. The WMW citation said of the road and redevelopment of the site: “In destroying the cultural landscape of Bukit Brown, it is a loss to all of society.”
The non-profit World Monuments Fund has issued its watch list since the 1990s to raise awareness about threatened cultural sites. It has helped to helped restore sites in more than 90 countries, including the historic enclave of Georgetown in Penang .

The full ST report here

From The Diplomat on 30 October 2013

Abstract : “We must be reminded that there are other land uses that take up enormous amounts of space, yet hardly anyone is questioning the utility of those spaces. Singapore has 18 golf courses, one of the highest numbers per country area in the world. They take up a total of 1,800 hectares. By contrast, Bukit Brown takes up 233 hectares; one-ninth of that area. Does Bukit Brown seem very big now?”Else Teo, a freelance researcher specialising in history and heritage issues.




by Szeto Hiu Yan

The World Monuments Fund (WMF) select sites that are under threat on its watch list once every 2yrs. 3 days ago, they announced the 2014 list which included 67 sites from 41 countries selected from a list of 248 applications.

At a news conference held on location yesterday, a.t.BB (All Things Bukit Brown) said that the successful listing did not imply that it is putting pressure on the government or is attempting to block the impending construction of the road which would affect some graves.

As one of the founders of atBB, Claire Lim said “I hope to use this opportunity open a dialogue with the government and find a sustainable path to development.  I do not think that conservation of heritage monuments and development  has to be confrontational. On the contrary, we hope that conservation can aid development and vice-versa. “

She pointed out that at present, talks about development and conservation are always framed in terms of trade-offs –  e.g. do we want to keep land for our ancestors or make room for our descendants. Why do we not talk about other issues, e.g. are we not willing to let go of a site that could potentially be a world heritage site? In the face of global warming and the need for nature to maintain stable temperatures, can we afford to lose a site of certain environmental value to us?

Claire is of the opinion that government and society should take this opportunity to reframe the conversation and exercise our mutual imaginations to allow more perspectives to bear on this matter. This frame of mind will expand the possibilities in our dialogue.

a.t.BB also shared its plans for Bukit Brown in their application to WWF.  They hope to collaborate with National Heritage Board (NHB) and NParks and turn Bukit Brown into a cultural heritage site and a nature park to attract visits.  Bukit Brown will retain most of its original state with the addition of basic facilities such as rest rooms. a.t.BB will continue to provide free guided walks and to increase its community outreach especially towards the young.

With the listing, a.t.BB hope to heighten overall public awareness of BB’s repository of cultural heritage both locally and abroad.  E.g. instead of expensive overseas trips to learn about culture and heritage , educational institutions could look first at visits to local sites. a.t.BB also hopes to promote edu-tourism by attracting more visits by foreign students and overseas academic scholars.

As the a.t.BB current expenses are still manageable, it does not have any plan to apply for WWF funding.

According to Catherine Lim, another founder, WMF routinely provides  assistance to countries that wish to elevate WMF sites to UNESCO sites.  She therefore hopes that Singapore’s current UNESCO application for Botanical Gardens could in future be twinned with Bukit Brown to increase the chances for both sites to be listed. a.t.BB also hopes that it could work closely with Penang and Malacca as UNSECO sites, to raise the profiles of both countries’ cultural heritage

Catherine said that since the founding of BB in Dec 2011, over 7,000 people have been acquainted with Bukit Brown, through the free tours conducted by it. a.t.BB could also learn from the other WMF listed sites about how to raise awareness of BB.

The report first appeared in Zaobao on 11 October 2013 and is translated by Brownie Fabian Tee.

Zaobao’s  Sunday 13 October round-up of quotable quotes also  included the quote by Claire Leow:

“I absolutely do not think that the dialogue between preservation and development is necessarily confrontational. I hope that preservation of cultural heritage can aid urban development and vice-Versa.” – said co-founder of all things Bukit Brown Claire Leow who expressed the hope that that the listing of BB in the World Monuments Watch 2014 would open more channels of dialogue to find a common path for sustainable development.

Zaobao report 11 Oct quote

Zaobao round-up of quotes for 13 October 2013

The Chinese report follows:

Zaobao report 11 Oct

武吉布朗学会: 武吉布朗列世遗观察名单并非向政府施压

司徒晓昕 报道


世界历史遗址基金会(World Monuments Foundation)每两年选出濒危的世界遗产,将之列入观察名单。基金会三天前公布了2014年世界历史遗址观察名单(World Monuments Watch),共有41个国家和地区的67处文化遗址从248份申请书脱颖而出。
武吉布朗学会(All Things Bukit Brown)昨早在武吉布朗举行的记者会上表示,武吉布朗成功申列世界历史遗址观察名单,并不意味着要向政府施压或阻止部分坟墓让路给明年初展开的道路建造工程。










Dateline 6 October 2013

A tomb with a loving  epitaph was found by Brownie Simone Lee at Kopi Sua today . It reads:

A bitter grief
A shock severe
to part with one
I love so dear
My loss is great
I wont complain
But hope through God
to meet again
In memoriam
my dearly
beloved father
Gone but not forgotten

Epitaph Kopi Sua _ Simone Lee

The moving epitaph at Kopi Sua (photo Simone Lee)

Kopi Sua – a clan cemetery – is part of the Greater Bukit Brown Complex which includes Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery and the adjoining clan cemeteries of Seh Ong and Lao Sua.  Together they have a combined total of 200 tombs



At Bukit Brown, one often finds couplets on the “pillars” of the tombs. They embed  auspicious  meanings and also tributes to the departed.

The tomb of Chen Yen Soon has a pair which speaks of the rewards which await those who live a good life.

为善百世興 Hundred years of prosperity for kind acts.

Chen Yen Soon 为善百事兴 Ee Hoon.jpg 1

積德千年好 A good thousand years for those who accumulate good deeds.

Chen Yen Soon 积德万年好 Ee Hoon

積德千年好 A good thousand years for those who accumulate good deeds. (photo Khoo Ee Hoon)

An  inscription  found in a temple in Silat Road on a photo of the Earth Deity or Tua Pek Kong, evokes the same sentiments.. Brownie Fabian Tee summarises:

The couplet reads fortune with virtue inspires respect from a thousand families (from many) the uprightious shall inherit the earth as deities for innumerable (ten thousand) generations. When read together, it’s an allegory to 福德正神。


Temple in Silat Rd with inscriptions_Fabian Tee

Temple in Silat Rd with similar inscriptions (photo Fabian Tee)


More examples of couplets here

Mian-Yu-Ting Cemetery, Johor (Part II)

by Choo Ai Loon

(Ai Loon continues from  part one  of her blog post on Mian-Yu-Ting Cemetery )

Among the tombstones at the Mian-Yu-Ting , is one belonging to  Wu You-Xun (邬有询),  which pays tribute to his alma mater, Chinese High School (華僑中學 in traditional Chinese characters)


The tombstone of Wu You-Xun (邬有询) (photo Choo Ai Loon)

A student with a promising future, Wu You-Xun (邬有询) aspired to become a doctor, In 1920, after completing his Senior Cambridge examination (equivalent to GCE “O” levels) , he enrolled at Chinese High. He graduated among the first batch of students, two years later. In the graduation year book, he was described as a hardworking student who “had no time to chit-chat as time was too precious”.

Wu excelled in English and  was a committee member of an English speech society, which I presume was the “Nanyang version of the Toastmasters Club”, and chief editor of an English magazine.

But alas! Wu passed away at just 22 years old, a year after graduation. Inscribed on his tombstone is “graduate of Chinese High School” is a reflection of how proud he must been of his school

In contrast, one grave has only 3 characters inscribed but no name. Gu-ren-mu (古人墓), literally means “the tomb of someone who has passed away”.

Tomb with (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Gu-ren-mu (古人墓) (photo Choo Ai Loon)

This typical Teochew tomb which resembles an arm chair, a pair of couplets in red on the scroll pillars.

Teochew Tomb with couplets ( photo Choo Ai Loon)

Teochew Tomb with couplets ( photo Choo Ai Loon)

The arms of the tomb curve gracefully and there is a dragonhead  carved on it The usual practice of depicting the whole dragon it seems has been adapted to just a dragon’s head. I have observed these variations in motifs and representations. This dragon appeared benign compared to the fierce-looking ones found in older tomb carvings.

Another view of Teochew tomb (photo Choo Ai Lin)

Another view of Teochew tomb (photo Choo Ai Lin)

Close up of dragon motif (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Close up of dragon motif (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Another grave had steps leading up the tombstone perhaps imitating a stupa, influenced by Buddhism.

Tomb with steps (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Tomb with steps (photo Choo Ai Loon)

The Tomb of She Mian-Wang

She Mian-Wang (佘勉旺), belonged to a wealthy Teochew family. The surname “She” is more commonly spelt as Sia or Seah.

Tomb Of  She(photo Choo Ai Loon)

Tomb Of She Mian-Wang (佘勉旺)(photo Choo Ai Loon)

The She Mian-Wang family profile in Johor parallels that of the Seah Eu Chin in Singapore. Both families had made their fortune from the cultivation and trade of gambier.

She (photo Choo Ai Loon)

She Mian-Wang (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Seah Eu Chin’s tomb was discovered in 2012 within Greater Bukit Brown, in a forested area called Grave Hill in Toa Payoh West, Singapore. He co-founded and led the  Ngee Ann Kongsi in Singapore, to look after the religious needs and welfare of early Teochew migrant workers.

Similarly, She Mian-Wang was an important figure in the Ngee Heng Kongsi The enormous plot size and the expansive tomb arms of She’s grave reflects his status and wealth in those days. Interestingly, his tablet is enshrined and worshipped at Pu Zhao Chan Si Temple (普照禅寺) in Singapore.

So could these two powerful families in the Teochew community be related? I leave you  with this parting thought .

My thanks once again to Mr Bak Jia How and Mr Pek Wee-Chuen for the insightful and enjoyable tour of Mian-Yu-Ting.

Mian-Yu-Ting Cemetery (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Mian-Yu-Ting Cemetery (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Thanks to Mr Bak Jia How and Mr Pek Wee-Chuen for the insightful and enjoyable tour.

Choo Ai Loon, works as a translator and is passionate about art and heritage, She supports Hair for Hope for children with cancer. She blogs at




霹靂州太平華聯中學初中三畢業,自中學開始對本邦歷史民俗 深感興趣,畢業後,一面協助父親小販事業,一面進行田野調查工作。並以李桃李、峇峇球等筆名,發表文章於報章雜志上。2004年成為全職的文史田野工作 者,足迹踏遍我国多个地方及国外多个国家。他也是《星洲日报·田野行脚》專欄作者。






English Introduction to the talks :

1) The Architecture and Culture of Tombs Belonging to the Five Dialect Groups in Perak

Lee Eng Kew

Eng Kew’s interest in local history and traditional customs manifested itself when he was in secondary school. After graduation, he helped out at his father’s hawker stall while pursuing his interests. In 2004, he became a full time researcher. He also writes a column for the Sin Chew Jit Poh.

This talk focuses on the architecture of tombs in Chinese cemeteries in Taiping, Ipoh and Sitiawan. The tombs examined belong to the Hokkien, Hakka, Cantonese, Teochew and Hock Chew styles.

2)A Study of the Chinese Cemetery and Tombstones in Pengarang

Bak Jia How

A graduate of Jinan University in Guangzhou, Jia How obtained his Masters in the School of International Studies in Beijing University. He was a history teacher in the Kulai branch of Foon Yew High School. He is currently a freelance historian.

Although there were Chinese settlers in Pengarang by the 1830s, historical texts make scant mention of them. In view of this, the old tombstones found in the cemeteries in the area are an invaluable resource for historical research on the chinese communities of Pengarang.




As part of Bukit Brown : Our Roots, Our Future, a series of talks were programmed to enrich the exhibition which was held at the Chui Huay Lim Club, the  co-organiser of the exhibition.

Speaker  Dr Imran bin Tajudeen  gave insights into  Singapura’s Historic  Cemetery at Jalan Kubor which has royal roots.  Several old settlements existed in Singapore besides the Temenggong’s estuarine settlement at Singapore River before Raffles’ arrival in 1819. Among these, Kampung Gelam and the Rochor and Kallang River banks were also sites of historic graveyards related to old settlements of Singapura both before and during colonial rule. The Jalan Kubor cemetery is the only sizable cemetery grounds still largely undisturbed. It belongs with Kampung Gelam history but has been excluded from the “Kampong Glam Conservation District” boundary, and is important for several reasons. It forms part of the old royal port town that was developed when Tengku Long of Riau was installed as Sultan Hussein in Singapore, and is aligned along the royal axis of the town. It is also the final resting place of several traders of diverse ethnicity from the old port towns of our region – neighbouring Riau, Palembang, and Pontianak, as well as Banjarmasin and the Javanese and Bugis ports further afield. Some of these individuals are buried in family enclosures, mausolea, or clusters. Conversely, there are also hundreds of graves of unnamed individuals from Kampung Gelam and surrounding areas. The tombstone forms and epigraphy reflect this immense socio-cultural diversity, and were carved in Kampung Gelam by Javanese and Chinese stone carvers, except for a number of special cases. Several large trees of great age are also found in this lush ‘pocket park’. The talk  discusses the histories that can be retrieved from this important site and the dire need to protect it.

Speaker’s Bio
Dr Imran bin Tajudeen is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture, NUS. His research interests centre around vernacular urbanism, house and mosque architecture in Southeast Asia, and critical perspectives in urban heritage studies. Of relevance to this talk is his article, ‘Reading the Traditional City in Maritime Southeast Asia: Reconstructing the 19th century Port Town at Gelam-Rochor-Kallang, Singapore,’ published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Architecture in 2005. His research papers have won prizes at major international conferences, including the ICAS Book Prize 2011 for the best PhD paper in the field of Social Sciences.

Dr Imran bin Tajudeen( photo Bianca Polak)


Part 1 and Part 2 of theEnglish  talks from other speakers are also available.


The iBBC App Guide is a FREE App to accompany you when you visit Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery.  It has been developed by the The Bukit Brown Cemetery Documentation  Project  led  Dr  Hui Yew Foong. Brownie  Khoo Ee Hoon designed  the  artwork of the map. There will be physical markers on site to guide the way.

Download your App from the Google Android store now, here

Check out a video demo on how it works here

And once you have downloaded you can test the application here before heading to Bukit Brown!



Note: This is a sample of a few tombs. The the App itself has  data of over 20 tombs introducing you to the pioneers buried there.

Those  with accompanying numbers e.g. Tok Cheng Tuan 1948 are staked and and will be exhumed. to make way for the eight lane highway. You only have a few months left before you can catch this tomb in all its magnificent glory.

Tok Cheng Tuan & Oon Tuan Cheng (photo: Claire Leow)

The Wayang in  the Tombs

by Ang Yik Han

(Popular tales performed  in Chinese Wayang carved in iconic scenes on tomb panels.)

In  the ” Romance of the Three Kingdoms” General Guan Yu   is immortalised  as  the  epitome of loyalty and righteousness. He played a significant role in the establishment of the state of Shu Han during the period of the Three Kingdoms.

Guan Yu took a poisoned arrow in his right arm when he was besieging the city of Fanzheng. Determined not to retreat, he called upon the services of the famed physician Hua Tuo to treat him on the battlefield. Hua Tuo saw that the poison had spread to Guan Yu’s bones and he had to operate on his arm and cleanse the poison by scrapping his bones. Undeterred, Guan Yu subjected himself to the ordeal, all the while sipping his wine and playing a game of chess. ( photo by Yik Han)

Legend? Embroidered truth? It does not matter, over the ages from at least the Ming Dynasty, the image of Guan Yu smiling and sipping his wine while Hua Tuo scrapped his arm bone has been a source of wonder and encouragement for many.

This tomb is located in Hill 2 and belongs to the Teo Family.

More tombs featuring Guan Yu, here

From Madam White Snake :

A panel possibly of the White Snake parting with her husband after he was taken in by the words of the monk Fa Hai. (photo Yik Han)

The White Snake and her companion the Green Snake (the two ladies in the boat) leading the creatures of the sea in an attempt to flood Jinshan Temple and rescue her husband Xu Xian (许宣) from the clutches of the monk Fa Hai (法海). (photo by Yik Han)

From Nezha conquers the Dragon King :

Nezha storming the palace of the Dragon King with his signature Qiankun ring in one hand, his spear in the other and riding on his “fire wind wheels”. The Dragon King flanked by his courtiers are seated on his throne on the right, a bumbling turtle is trying to resist Nezha, and on the left is a shellfish nymph. (photo Yik Han)

Nezha storming the Dragon King’s domain as the Dragon King riding on a magnificent dragon beats a hasty retreat covered by his underlings. The armed figure on the right may be Nezha’s father Li Jing (李靖), furious with the havoc created by his son (Photo Yik Han)

The panels can be seen at  the   tombs of Poh Cheng Tee and his wife, and mother, in Hill 1, stake numbers 1017 – 1019. Exhumation of staked tombs in the way of the 8 lane highway is expected to begin  after April 15th


July 2014
« Jun