My Mount Faber & Sentosa Heritage Tour

Tour Info

Created with Sketch.
Date
Every second Saturday (Siloso Route) and Sunday (Serapong Route) of the month
Time
8:30am to 12:30pm (approximately). Please arrive at 8:15am, 15mins before the start time for registration.
language
English
ic_startendCreated with Sketch.
Start
Harbourfront Bus Interchange (Berth 12).
End
Tanjong Rimau Beacon (Siloso Route) or Fort Serapong (Serapong Route), you will be taking the monorail to VivoCity.
ic_difficultyCreated with Sketch.
Difficulty Level

4/5

  • Expect four hours of walking
  • However, this heritage tour requires participants to walk for four hours long and trek some hilly terrain.

We do not recommend young children, people with disabilities and unfit individuals to participate in this tour.

ic_bagpackCreated with Sketch.
What should I bring
  • Wear comfortable clothes and suitable shoes for a four-hour-long walk
  • Bring along your headphones (compatible with headphone jack) Those without will have be charged S$2 per pair of earphones
  • Bring along insect repellent, an EZ-Link card, a bottle of water and an umbrella
  • Asthmatic individuals are encouraged to bring their inhaler

Description

My Mount Faber & Sentosa Heritage Tour visits the military encampments, tunnel complexes and secret reservoirs constructed by the British at Mount Faber and Sentosa to defend their naval base in Keppel. Follow us on an adventure to the secret dungeons within the heart of our city and hear first-hand accounts from the former villagers and soldiers at Mt Faber and Sentosa.

Site 1: Keppel Hill Reservoir

The Keppel Hill Reservoir is a catchment area that derives its water largely from precipitation and runoff from Keppel Hill. It is located about 400 metres from Telok Blangah Road, in close proximity to Mount Faber. With a shallow depth of 2 metres and a short length of less than 20 metres, roughly a third of the size of an Olympic swimming pool, it is unsustainable as a practical water source and is largely abandoned. Nevertheless, it had a functioning but rudimentary water filtration system that uses six filter beds of different rock types to remove sediment and a modern system of pipes and pumps in working condition.

Official use
The reservoir is speculated to have started out as a private pond for rainwater collection under the Singapore Harbour Board. Although the duration which the water body was used for is unknown, it is likely relatively old as it appeared on early maps as early as 1905, labelled as a reservoir under the jurisdiction of the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company. Furthermore, based on 1924 surveillance maps of the area by the former Singapore Harbour Board, it was one of three small reservoirs in the area used to support the population of the small settlement living there.

However, its small size soon made it impractical for use as a reservoir and it was left out in official documentation, an outcome partially attributed to its private ownership. In the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s 1958 Masterplan, the small reservoir existed merely as an unlabelled outline, and by the early 2000s, it had been removed from most maps. It then fell into obscurity until February 2014, when it was accidentally discovered by some National Heritage Board (NHB) researchers while they were conducting routine research on Singapore’s history. A research team was then put together to deduce the significance of the reservoir.

Informal use
According to the NHB’s director of policy, the bricks used to construct the reservoir demonstrate continuous use of the water body, with some bricks dating back to colonial times. Based on pre- and post-war maps, the reservoir was also used as a swimming pool. Remnants of a diving board remain today. According to one of the previous residents of 11 Keppel Hill, British seamen visiting the owner of Keppel Bungalow at 11 Keppel Hill would often swim there, which could account for the construction of the diving board. Maps from the Japanese Occupation also indicated the water body to be a swimming pool, though it was labelled a reservoir in a map and report from a 1944 British aerial inspection.

Site 2: Black and White Houses at Southern Ridges Conservation Area

Alfred John Bidwell is largely credited for initiating the black-and-white style in Singapore. Upon his arrival in Asia, the English architect joined Kuala Lumpur’s Public Works Department before moving to Singapore. While in Singapore, He worked for the long-established local architectural firm Swan & Maclaren from 1895 to 1911. The Cricket Club, Raffles Hotel and Victoria Theatre are among the edifices he designed.

The black-and-white houses of Pender Road were originally commissioned by the Eastern Extension Australasia & China Telegraph Co. in 1919, one of Swan & Maclaren’s biggest clients in the immediate post-war period.

Pender Road
Pender Road was named after Sir John Pender (1815-1896), the man who almost single-handedly masterminded the 1870s global cable telegraphy revolution. His Atlantic Telegraph Company was the first to connect Europe to America by submarine cable in 1865.

Design
The black-and-white houses are some of the last surviving examples of the classic, tropical Tudor-style. They are all similar in essence – two-storey with an L-shape plan. Though roomy, these houses were more compact in terms of the internal arrangement of rooms compared with pre-war houses, reflecting a new post-war austerity, with fewer servants and less opulent lifestyles. The use of louvred panels as sunscreens or in place of balustrading for verandas is a distinctive feature of most post-war houses from Swan & Maclaren. Another post-war feature was the utilisation of diamond-shaped cement shingles in place of roof tiles, which have since been replaced by contemporary roofing materials at Pender Road.

The whitewashed walls and dark timber beams were covered in tar to obviate insect infestation, resulting in the term ‘Black and White’, which described the appearance of the buildings. The houses were adapted for tropical living, with features like pitched roofs allowing heavy rain to drain away and huge roof overhands shielding the house from harsh sunlight. High ceilings and windows opposite each other enabled cross ventilation, maintaining relatively cool indoor temperatures.

Other distinctive aspects of black-and-white house like broad verandas, high ceilings, tall jalousie windows and widely overhanging eaves came from India, where the British had been since the early seventeenth century. The unique British style of domestic architecture evolved there. British settlers in Singapore first began building houses for themselves in the style that they had been familiar with in India, but started including several local features not otherwise found on the subcontinent.

One significant contrast between the Singapore bungalow and its Anglo-Indian forebears is that the Singapore variations were elevated several feet off the ground on brick piers, allowing the circulation of air underneath the building. This ventilated the wooden floors and alleviated humidity within the house. It also prevented termite infestations on a largely timber structure and was convenient in cases of inundation, which were common in Singapore’s damp and rainy monsoon climate. This innovation was most likely inspired by Malay architecture, in which houses are raised up on stilts.

Site 3: Danish Seamen’s Church

The Golden Bell Mansion was built in 1909. It is located on a hill formerly known as Mount Washington. The mansion’s owner and resident was Tan Boo Liat, a Straits Chinese businessman. The building was named after Tan Kim Ching, Tan Boo Liat’s grandfather, whose name means Golden Bell. The building had a billiard room, four bedrooms, and a smoking room. Quarters for the servants were built at the back of the house.

After Tan Boo Liat’s death in 1934, the house was sold. Today it is currently occupied by the Danish Seaman’s Church. The Golden Bell Mansion was gazetted in 2005 as part of the Southern Ridges Conservation area.

Tan Boo Liat (1874-1934)
Tan Boo Liat was a prominent Chinese businessman and community leader. He was the grandson of Tan Kim Ching (陈金钟), and the great-grandson of Tan Tock Seng (陈笃生). All three men were philanthropists. Tan Boo Liat was married to Kwok Kim Neo and had a daughter, Polly Tan Poh Li.

Tan Boo Liat was active in the community, and was a pioneer member of the Straits Chinese British Association and Chairman of the Pok Chek Kiong Temple’s Committee of Management. As a descendent of the Tan Tock Seng family, he was head of the Hokkien Chinese community in Singapore. He was highly invested in education, and was the founder of the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and a trustee of the Anglo-Chinese Boarding School. Tan Boo Liat himself was educated at Raffles Institution.

He was a member of the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance who contributed funds to Sun Yat Sen, even hosting him when he stopped over in Singapore en route to China. He headed the Fukien Protection Fund with Tan Kah Kee. Together they collected $130,000 during a nine-month campaign.

Historical and Social Significance
One of the most famous visitors to the house was Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen. Sun Yat Sen stayed in the Golden Bell Mansion on 15 December 1911, after the success of his revolution, of which Tan Boo Liat was a strong supporter. Sun was joined by his wife and three daughters during his stay in February 1912. They had come from China and were on the way to Penang.

Architecture
The architecture of the Golden Bell Mansion largely follows late Victorian era aesthetics, but is also punctuated with Buddhist influence. The Golden Bell Mansion stands out due to its red-and-white stripes. These white and red layered bricks are known in architecture as the ‘blood and bandages’ style, common in the late Victorian era. Furthermore, the numerous balconies and verandas of the mansion were built to take advantage of the cooling sea breezes around the area. This was common in colonial architecture. The stupa, which sits atop the mansion’s tower, was a homage to Tan’s ties with Thailand.

Site 4: Fort Faber and Faber Plotting Room

A fortress plotting room was a place where information about naval targets were obtained from the observation posts, plotted and extracted, and then acted on. There were two such rooms in Singapore: Faber Fire Command Fortress Plotting Room and Changi Fire Command Fortress Plotting Room.

The Faber Fire Command Fortress Plotting Room consisted of several structures, including the Flagstaff and Signal Station, and Faber Fortress and Fire Command.

ーSite 4A:Flagstaff and Signal Station

A signal station is a maritime station with multiple functions. Its primary role is to observe ship arrivals, record shipping movements, and direct ships into Singapore’s harbour. The station also arranges the supply of fresh water for ships anchored off the coast, and responds to SOS calls in the off-chance that an emergency occurred.

The signal station and flagstaff on Mount Faber was first constructed in 1845 by Indian convict labourers. Originally called Telok Blangah Hill, the hill was renamed in the same year after Charles Edward Faber of the Madras Engineers, who built a narrow winding road to the summit for the new signal station and flagstaff.

The signal station was relocated from Pulau Blaking Mati (now Sentosa) in 1845 but the reason for the shift is unclear. A contemporary article by the Singapore Free Press claims that the main reason for the shift was concerns that the pineapples grown near the signal station would prove harmful to the men working at the station when their leaves decayed. Unfortunately, the new station at Tulloh Blangah (Telok Blangah) suffered from the same issue, with the surrounding lands owned by the Temenggong also cultivating pineapples.

This signal station stayed in place for over 90 years, until it was shifted once more in 1936. The station was moved about 300 yards to the south, further away from the hilltop. The flagstaff was repainted and re-erected there, and the original wooden signal station replaced with a modern concrete station. The move made way for the construction of Faber Fire Command. The signal station continued to play an important role in managing Singapore’s shipping lanes well into the post-war years. An article from The Straits Times in 1960 described the role of the signal station in depth:

“[…] A nine-man staff keeps a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week watch at [the signal station] to handle all kinds of messages, including the occasional SOS call. Each year the station receives an average of about 2000 messages on the arrival of ships and 1620 messages of departure.
About 70 shipping firms in Singapore use the facilities provided by the station. Each pays an annual subscription of $300 [approximately $1200 today] to the Marine Department, which runs the station.

Silent contact between ships and the station is made through flag signals by day and Morse lamp by night. […]”
The functions of the signal station were eventually transferred to Jardine Steps at the former World Trade Centre in 1974. Unfortunately, the signal station and flagstaff were eventually demolished in 1994 due to the unstable condition of the structures.

ーSite 4B: Faber Fortress and Fire Command

Faber Fire Command was constructed to be a central fire control centre. The fire command would coordinate Singapore’s various artillery batteries in the event of an invasion. The location on Mount Faber was ideal for such an emplacement, as its observation post provided a view of the “Western channel, harbour, the Singapore Straits, and Eastward beyond the mouth of the Johore Straits”. Control over the 29 large-calibre gun batteries of Singapore was shared between Faber and its sister, Changi Fire Command. Faber Command controlled batteries at Buona Vista, Pasir Laba, Labrador, Siloso, Serapong Spur, Connaught and Silingsing; a total 15 guns of 6, 9.2, and 15-inch calibres.

Before the invention of modern technologies like satellite imagery, artillery fire needed to be controlled through precise calculations and close coordination with spotters on the ground. The large underground structure dug into the hill was no simple bunker, it housed the central plotting room of Faber Fire Command and contained complex mechanical computing devices. Calculation equipment included “Fall-of-Shot Indicators, a Fire Direction Table, Ballistic Correction Calculators and other equipment to collate incoming information about the type of target and its range, speed and course”. This allowed the officers to calculate precise firing angles, loads and other targeting information for firing from each of the battery locations. The room was also equipped with a communications suite linking the room with each of the batteries under its control, allowing officers to relay the calculated targeting instructions to gunners at the various batteries.

The common understanding that these gun emplacements were useless in repelling the Japanese invasion from the North is a myth. Most guns had the capability of rotational traversal, and were used to shell Japanese positions throughout the Battle of Singapore. Out of Faber Command’s batteries, Buona Vista, Serapong Spur and Silingsing were the only batteries that did not fire once throughout the war.

The Southern position of Faber Fire Command left it positioned behind British lines even after the general retreat called on 12 February 1942. On the same day, Changi Fire Command’s less defensible position forced Malaya Command to order the destruction of its guns, with the gunners abandoning their positions to join the final perimeter as infantry. The Faber batteries at Labrador and Blakang Mati were able to continue providing fire support well into the eleventh hour, only falling silent on the 14th when they were either knocked out by Japanese counter-bombardment or destroyed by their own operators to avoid capture once they realised the inevitability of their defeat.

Site 5: Singapore Cable Car

The Singapore Cable Car Sky Network was formally opened in 15 February 1974 by then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee. It was the first cable system to span a major harbour and the first to implement an intermediary station within a skyscraper. The Singapore Cable Car is a gondola lift providing an aerial link from Mount Faber (Faber Peak Singapore) on the main island of Singapore to the resort island of Sentosa across the Keppel Harbour.

As Sentosa is an offshore island, the cable car and ferry were the only modes of transport to the popular tourist attraction up until December 1986 when developmental plans were made to build the Sentosa Causeway.

Origin
The Cable Car Sky Network was first proposed by the Singapore government in 1968 as part of its masterplan for tourism projects in the country. The 5.8 million-dollar project was undertaken by Austrian ropeway experts, Doppelmayr, and took about 4 years to complete. The original Cable Car Sky Network consisted of Mount Faber Station at the peak of Mount Faber, Jardine Steps Station at HarbourFront (renamed HarbourFront Station) and the Sentosa Station at Imbiah, Sentosa. This older line was later renamed the Mount Faber Line.

A S$36 million rebuild of the entire system as a modern mono-cable detachable gondola began on 14 September 2009, and it re-opened on 21 July 2010. All the cabins are now metallic black cars with chrome trimming. Other modifications to the cabins included seating capacity, which increased to eight passengers per cabin from six, new flip-up seats and a new music system.

On 14 July 2015, an extension to the Cable Car Sky Network, the Sentosa Line, was opened by Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran and Austrian Ambassador to Singapore Dr Andreas Karabaczek. The Sentosa Line consists of the Merlion station, Imbiah Lookout station and Siloso Point station. The two lines are not physically linked, and visitors changing from the Mount Faber Line to the Sentosa Line are hence required to walk three to five minutes from the original Sentosa station to the Imbiah Lookout station. The S$78 million line has 51 multi-coloured eight-seater cabins and can move about 2,200 people per hour in one direction.

Cable Car Tragedy, 29 January 1983
On 29 January 1983, seven passengers died when two Sentosa cable cars plunged into the sea after the cableway was struck by the derrick of an oil drilling vessel, Eniwetok. It was the worst civil disaster in Singapore at the time, only second to Hotel New World building’s collapse in 1986, which claimed 33 lives. It was the first and only time fatalities were incurred on the Singapore Cable Car Sky Network.

Site 6: Sentosa Conservation Area

The conserved buildings within Sentosa Conservation Area are split into two groups; the Ironside Road Conservation Area located southeast, and the Sentosa Conservation Area, located further west. They were conserved by the Urban Redevelopment Authority because they are “representatives of British Military Architecture” that exhibit “particular aesthetic, creative and technical qualities in their design and construction”, thus depicting “a particular period of Singapore’s history”.

Architectural Features
British colonial architecture was a fusion of European and Malay architectural styles, designed to suit the humid tropical climate of Singapore. The buildings in the Sentosa Conservation Area often sport features common to both architectural styles as a result.

White Colour
The buildings are typically white in colour, in order to reduce the heat absorbed from the sun, a feature that proved useful to the British in colonial India.

Wide Overhanging Roofs
There is a Malay style pitched roof (also known as bonnet style) that features overhanging eaves, constructed with interlocking clay tiles. These roofs were designed to protect the occupants from both sun and rain; with the slanted shape preventing rainwater from ponding and deforming the roof, while also reflecting the heat rays of the sun away from the house.

Large Wall Openings
Taking into consideration the humid environment and high temperatures of tropical Singapore, British colonial buildings typically featured large wall openings and well-ventilated interior spaces to help cool the occupants.
Furthermore, the use of European-style Louvre Doors allowed the British to keep their windows and doors shut, while allowing for airflow into the building.

External Staircases
Several structures in the Sentosa Conservation Area feature external staircases, which are reminiscent of European-style architecture.

The symmetry of the staircases places emphasis on the centralised landing, thus giving prominence to the entrance of the building, creating a front hall that extends out into the open veranda.

Collonaded Veranda
Similar to Malay houses, the buildings feature a wide serambi (veranda) at the front of the building, with added European-style cross balustrades. Traditionally, the wide verandas were used to receive guests, and act as a space akin to the void-decks of HDBs today – an area for rest and relaxation.

The external support pillars (colonnades) were characteristic of British colonial architecture, featuring prominently in British mansions in India, America, and Singapore. The crossed balustrades are a recurring trend amongst buildings in Sentosa Conservation Area, making appearances at 59 Ironside Road, 26 Larkhill Road, and other sites.

While the crossed balustrades are allegedly European in origin, the choice of material to construct them – concrete – is peculiar. Traditional Malay building materials included bamboo and timber, mostly items that were organic or natural in origin. Reinforced concrete was introduced in Europe, with the first reinforced concrete house constructed in England. The use of concrete in the construction of the house is an example of the influence of British colonial architecture.

Altogether, the buildings in the Sentosa Conservation Area can fall under two groups; Malay-style buildings with a European influence, and European-style buildings with a tropical influence.

The majority of the barracks follow the Malay-style of house design, with bumbung lima-styled roofs that were influenced by the British and Dutch. European elements such as cross balustrades, concrete building materials, front halls, and Louvre Doors enhanced these two-storied buildings.

On the other hand, colonial mansions and bungalows that were synonymous with British colonialism typically followed a more European architectural style, that focused on compactness and symmetry within the building. Malay-style design elements like large wall openings were highlights of the cooling features of such bungalows.

Overall, the buildings represent the unique architectural techniques and styles that were influenced by the climate and the simple utilitarianism of British military architecture.

ーSite 6A: Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks: 16, 17, 26 & 28 Larkhill Road

During colonial times the barracks were known as Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks, and housed Indian and British gunners from the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery and Royal Artillery respectively. Blocks 16 and 17 served as a cookhouse and non-commissioned officers’ mess, while Blocks 26 and 28 housed offices, lecture rooms, and bachelors’ quarters.

During the Second World War, British offices within this complex included the Blakang Mati Fortress Commanders Office and the HQ Administrative Office. However, following the fall of Singapore, the Japanese used the Barracks as a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp, where around 400 Allied troops were kept.

The parade square was the venue for ceremonial parades, and received dignitaries including Field Marshall Sir Gerald Templer in 1960, and His Excellency Edward Heath, then Lord Privy Seal of the United Kingdom in 1961.
Today, the buildings have been integrated and repurposed as part of The Outpost, a resort in Sentosa that has conserved the Barracks “as a premium vintage hotel wing”.

ーSite 6B: 41 to 44 Larkhill Road

Originally built in the 1880s to house British officers and their families, the buildings at 41- 43 Larkhill Road were used as quarters for British Sergeants in the 1930s. Due to its relatively small size, the colonial bungalow at 44 Larkhill Road was likely used for other purposes.

Today, the buildings of 41-44 Larkhill Road have been repurposed into hotel rooms for the Amara Sanctuary hotel, with a few elements like the air raid shelters and boot scrapers restored.

ーSite 6C: Coastal Defence Command Barracks: 48-51 Ironside Road

Built in the 1880s to house British officers of the Royal Artillery’s Coastal Defence Command, the buildings at 48-51 Ironside Road were restored and integrated in 2009 into Capella Singapore, a five-star resort in Sentosa that hosted the Trump-Kim summit in 2018.

Situated on a hill, the Blocks 48 and 49 served as an Officers’ Mess and as barracks for unmarried officers. The Officers’ Mess was used both as a dining and recreational location; tennis matches and dances were also conducted in the Mess. High elevation gave the Officers’ Mess a good view of the sea, making it an attraction. As a result, parties were held at the Officers’ Mess, and it continues to offer a panoramic view of the beaches surrounding Sentosa today.

Meanwhile, Blocks 50 and 51 housed married officers and their families. The blocks were probably located further away from the Mess to afford the officers’ families some modicum of privacy.

It was rumoured that British officers buried their regimental silver in the lawn in front of the Officers’ Mess before the official surrender of Singapore. After World War II, the buildings were used to house troops from the 1st Singapore Royal Regiment Artillery (1st SRRA), a unit which was formed in 1948, in response to the State of Emergency in Malaya and Singapore. However, the 1st SRRA was disbanded in 1958, and the buildings fell out of use.

ーSite 6D: 59 Ironside Road

In addition to Blocks 48-51, 59 Ironside Road was also marked as a conserved site. 59 Ironside Road was likely used as barracks for the native soldiers that served in the coastal batteries of Sentosa.

In the 1990s, it was converted into a recreational building for Beaufort Sentosa, and housed facilities such as a swimming pool and tennis courts. Following renovation and redesign by H.U.A.Y. Architects, it is home to Spa Botanica, a resort spa facility.

ーSite 6E: Artillery Avenue: 14, 37 & 39 Artillery Avenue

The two-storied building at 39 Artillery Avenue was likely built as an office building. This observation is based on the unique design of 39 Artillery Avenue – its broad, square colonnades provide a sharp contrast to the thinner colonnades common to other barracks structures.

The relative isolation of 39 Artillery Avenue from the rest of the colonial barracks and its proximity to the main road in Sentosa imply that it served an administrative function.

Following renovation, modern glass windows were installed on the ground floor, along with murals depicting Sentosa. Today, the building is the site of the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC), the organization responsible for the promotion and management of Sentosa.

Similarly, 37 Artillery Avenue likely served as an office building as well. While the squarish shape of the building is similar to that of British colonial mansions, the main entrance’s asymmetry, and the multiple doors on the second floor discourage that assumption.

Furthermore, 37 Artillery Avenue was converted into a ranger station at one point in time, therefore supporting the hypothesis that it was an office building prior to its use as a ranger station.

Unlike many other British colonial buildings which possess roofs of the bumbung lima style, 14 Artillery Avenue has a Dutch Gable roof, also known as the bumbung potong perak style roof in Malay. The bumbung potong perak style of architecture was influenced by colonial Dutch and British architecture, which made for 14 Artillery Avenue to have been mostly European in style.

ーSite 6F: Carlton Hill Road

The three-storey buildings at 9 and 10 Carlton Hill Road were built in 1940, and were used to house British artillerymen of the First Malay Artillery Regiment during World War Two. Beyond serving as barracks, an administrative office was also located there. 11 Carlton Hill Road was likely built in 1940 as well, and shares a similar architectural style to 9 and 10 Carlton Hill Road. Due to their close proximity, it is likely that they were part of the same barracks.

Today, 11 Carlton Hill Road is home to the CapitaLand Institute of Management and Business (CLIMB) campus, which was awarded the Building and Conservation Authority (BCA) Green Mark Platinum certification in 2010. The troops stationed at this location manned the British positions at Fort Siloso. The mansions of 1 and 2 Carlton Hill Road likely housed officers, while the barracks at 6 Carlton Hill Road likely housed soldiers. Today, these barracks have been repurposed into tourist attractions.

Site 7: Fort Serapong

Built as part of Britain’s southern coastal defence of Singapore from the 1870s to 1880s, Fort Serapong was erected to deter marauding pirates and foreign invaders from entering Singapore. This preserved the peace which allowed the island to continue flourishing as an entrepot trade centre, ensuring economic sustainability.

Along with other fortifications such as the Blakang Mati Forts and Fort Pasir Panjang, Fort Serapong was constructed as a defence for the colony’s prospering port against enemies including the Dutch East Indies and pirates. Furthermore, Fort Serapong became not only a natural breakwater for the harbour but also had a geographical advantage as it was the highest point of Pulau Blakang Mati.

Historical Significance: Role In World War II
Equipped with seven-inch guns and 64 Pounders, the newly-installed Blakang Mati Forts were primarily responsible for defending southern Singapore. The installation of defence in the seaward direction was cemented by Singapore’s first resident, William Farquhar, as early as 1820, and was anticipated by the British to be the location of the Japanese invasion during World War II.

However, these defences were never utilised as the Japanese were able to conquer Malaya with ease by invading the relatively undefended Lim Chu Kang area, crossing the Johore Straits and bypassing the Royal Navy. As the British only believed the Japanese would attack Singapore from the south, it was indeed their fault that led to the early surrender of Singapore because there were insufficient defences against this attack. The weapons on Fort Serapong were rotated 180 degrees inland in an attempt to discharge ammunition towards the Jurong and Bukit Timah areas but thwarted as buildings obstructed the firing lines. Due to British miscalculations, the plethora of defences available in southern Singapore were useless against the Japanese invasion.

Within three days, Sentosa was captured by the Japanese and the Blakang Mati Forts were converted into a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp, also known as the Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack. After the Japanese Occupation, the same barrack was used to imprison the Japanese POWs. As Fort Serapong had a strategic advantage as a vantage point, it was designated the primary control station for the harbour’s traffic, known as the Port War Signal Station.

Architectural Significance: Role in World War II
During the archaeological survey and excavation at Fort Serapong in April 2006, Archaeologist Lim Chen Sian, leader of the excavation, spoke of his findings of “moveable artefacts”, which constituted of “lots of ammunition, such as six-inch shells (which weighed) sixty kilograms”.

In addition, Singapore’s only remnants of an eight-inch gun emplacement, a niche where weapons were positioned, can also be found at Fort Serapong. Threatened by the imminent fall of Singapore, the guns located at the Blakang Mati Forts were employed to demolish the oil tanks located in Pulau Sebarok and Pulau Bukom. The guns and batteries on Pulau Blakang Mati were subsequently destroyed in order to ensure that they would not become the possessions of the Japanese on 15 February 1942.

Social Significance: World War II
According to Mr Lim, the diets of the British soldiers at the Fort Serapong complex consisted largely of milk and sardines, with a scarcer number of beer cans and bottles found as compared to dairy products. There were several traces of wholesome living appearing in the form of “bits from a Monopoly set (dating) back to the 1930s and 1940s”, such as the purse and the rocking horse, which had since been replaced with the thimble and wheelbarrow by 1940. From these artefacts, it was inferred that the British soldiers had fairly interesting lifestyles, diametrically opposing previous assumptions that they led mundane lifestyles.

Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack
Following the aftermath of World War II, the Blakang Mati forts and batteries came under the command of several military forces and continued to be used in the late 1950s. After the withdrawal of the British in 1967, the fortifications were passed on to the SAF, and the structures were used as a storage space. After a few years, there was some talk of government interventions to redevelop Sentosa into a tourist destination, and a parliamentary debate was held in order to determine the course of the redevelopment of Fort Serapong.

Redevelopment
During the redevelopment, Fort Siloso was transformed into a military museum and Fort Connaught was demolished for the construction of the Tanjong Golf Course. Fort Serapong, on the other hand, was left untouched, and its ruins still lie derelict up to this day.

The remnants comprise an underground magazine, the battery’s gun emplacements, and a number of support structures for the battery, constructed around the 1930s. Casemates that are assumed to have been erected in 1985 can also be found together with the mountings for the guns, as well as a bunker that served as the Blakang Mati Command Centre.

Site 8: Fort Siloso

Construction of Fort Siloso
Although it is unclear when Fort Siloso was originally constructed, the port’s initial conception was in 1874 and completed its construction began in the 1880s. Its primary purpose was to protect the coal reserves near the western entrance of Keppel Harbour. Fort Siloso is located at Sarang Rimau (Tiger’s Nest) on the northwestern tip of Pulau Blakang Mati. The fort was part of a series of three forts that was built on Pulau Blakang Mati (Sentosa) to defend Singapore’s coast.

The main advantage of the site was its elevated location, which commanded a bird’s eye view of the Western entrance into Keppel Harbour, making it the prime location for defence against any naval threats. However, the elevated nature of the site meant that construction of the fort itself was rather laborious. First, the chief engineer of the project, Lt. Henry McCallum of the Royal Corps of Engineers, had to use 19,000 pounds of gunpowder to flatten out the top of Mount Siloso, so that the coastal-defence artillery platforms could be installed.

The British then had difficulties in transporting the heavy equipment up to the top of Mount Siloso. They thus used the labour-intensive ‘parbuckling’ method, which involved the use of sledges to drag the equipment up the slope to build the fort. The laborious nature of the construction meant that the work was assisted by the local workforce, showing a cooperation between British and local agents in the defence of Singapore.

Armaments of Fort Siloso
Fort Siloso’s first recorded use was in 1888, when the Singapore Volunteer Artillery Corps carried out ten gun drills a year as part of their regular army duties. The armaments and infrastructure of Fort Siloso were rather impressive in that time. By 1890, the fort had been stocked with state-of-the-art weapons such as 9.2 B.L. guns, which were used by servicemen as a coastal defense gun. These same guns would be used even by the British during World War One, showing that the British were committed to the coastal defence of Singapore, as they had given Fort Siloso the most advanced military equipment that they had at that point of time.

The next significant improvement of Fort Siloso’s defensive capabilities came in the 1930s. Just before the outbreak of World War 2, a 12-pounder quick-firing gun was installed, along with two machine gun posts and two searchlight posts. By 1941, Fort Siloso had been transformed into a self-sufficient stronghold of Singapore’s coastal defence line, as a reservoir gave the entire Pulau Blakang Mati an adequate freshwater supply. Along with an operational tower that was built for overall command and control of the site, Fort Siloso could be used in tandem with the other forts at Pulau Blakang Mati to cover all coastal routes into Singapore, instead of just covering the Keppel Harbour entrance.

Role of Fort Siloso in World War Two
Fort Siloso had a key defensive role in the Battle for Singapore against the Japanese. Although the heavy Japanese bombings had reached Pulau Blakang Mati by January 1942, Fort Siloso was nevertheless able to defend Singapore both by land and by sea. Although the Japanese had invaded Singapore via the northern land route, the southern fort was still able to sink a Japanese supply ship in February 1942, and also assisted in the destruction of the fuel tanks on Pulau Bukom and Pulau Sebarok to prevent the Japanese from getting their hands on more oil. Moreover, the fort’s heavy six-inch guns were rotated 180 degrees to “engage enemy concentrations at the west end of West Coast Road and Jurong River”.

Although the fort used all of its remaining ammunition to fire on the Japanese positions at Tengah Air Base, it is worth noting that the fort’s ammunition was ill-equipped to combat against the advancing Japanese troops. In particular, the coastal guns mainly used AP shells, which were more equipped to damage warships, rather than HE shells, which were more effective in combating against troops. Thus, the Japanese soon overran Fort Siloso. When Singapore eventually fell to the Japanese in 1942, the entire of Pulau Blakang Mati, Fort Siloso included, was transformed into a POW camp that housed up to 400 Allied soldiers.

Fort Siloso Post-World War Two
After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Fort Siloso came under the ownership of the Royal Navy in 1946. Its guns were manned by the 1st Malay Coast and the Singapore Regiment of the Royal Artillery (SRRA). When the SRRA was eventually disbanded in 1956, Gurkha detachments took over ownership of the site as the fort was converted into a Catholic retreat centre for servicemen until 1967.

Despite a period of relative post-war peace, the fort was used by the 10th Gurkha Rifles to protect Keppel Harbour during the 1963-65 Konfrontasi, as they prevented Indonesians from landing on the shores of Singapore via Pulau Blakang Mati or Keppel Harbour.

Site 9: Tanjong Rimau Beacon

A beacon is a signal or conspicuous mark erected on an eminence near shore or moored in shoalwater, and is used as a guide to mariners to warn them of danger. Prominent beacons include the Cape Silleiro Lighthouse, which sits on a very prominent headland at the southern entrance to the Ria de Vigo.

Singapore’s Tanjong Rimau Beacon, a small, green conical landmark, stands on the northwestern tip of Pulau Blakang Mati, or what is known today as the popular tourist attraction, Sentosa. Although often overshadowed by more symbolic landmarks such as the iconic red Berlayer Beacon and the Dragon’s Teeth Gate replica on the mainland’s Labrador Park, the Tanjong Rimau Beacon has a rich history and played a key part in Singapore’s early maritime trade at Keppel Harbour.

Keppel Harbour was the pride of Singapore in the colonial era, blessed with strategic geographical location – its location on the shipping route between India and China made it the logical bunkering station for steamships. It also boasted a natural deep-water harbour. Supplicated by Sir Stamford Raffles’ free trade policy (excluding opium, alcohol, tobacco and petroleum), it flourished as a trade centre, enticing ships in the region that carryied an assortment of goods to stop by it.

Entering the harbour proved to be a struggle for many ships due to the presence of the Dragon’s Teeth Gate. Located near the west entrance to Keppel Harbour, a jagged, protruding pair of rocks was a nautical threat to many vessels, especially when the seas were choppy. Ships had to sail through the Dragon’s Teeth gate, in between the rocks, to reach the harbour. As a result, larger vessels like cruisers were often unable to enter it. As the gate was a challenge for seafarers, a set of beacons – the Berlayer Beacon and the Tanjong Rimau Beacon – were constructed as landmarks of guidance for docking ships. The two beacons were hence crucial to ensure the crew’s safety when entering and exiting the harbour. When the British settled in Singapore, Straits Settlements Surveyor, John Thomson, blew up the gate in August 1848 to widen the entrance to the new harbour for greater accessibility.

The choice of location to build the Tanjong Rimau Beacon may seem odd to some, as it is not elevated above the water unlike its counterpart, the Berlayer Beacon. Instead, its base reaches the surface of the water at high tide and is therefore not easily accessible to the public. However, upon examining the surrounding environment, it appears that the Tanjong Rimau Beacon’s position was well chosen and holds great historical significance. The coast of Tanjong Rimau is surrounded by a coral reef which helps prevent coastal erosion as it acts as a natural barrier against the oncoming waves, which would otherwise result in a receding shoreline. Preventing erosion allows for the coast to be kept intact, protecting the beacon’s foundations from becoming unstable and causing the beacon to collapse. A large reason why the beacon has been able to stand for so many years amidst the battering waves and storms it has experienced is the protection offered by the coral reef barrier. This shows that the location for the construction of the beacon was well-thought and the environment around it taken into consideration.

The different colours of the beacons were also not arbitrarily chosen. From the perspective of a ship entering the harbour, the Berlayer Beacon would be on the left-hand side or “port” side in nautical terminology, while the Tanjong Rimau Beacon would be on the right-hand side, the “starboard”. The port is indicated by the colour red and the starboard by green. Ships would hang red lights on the left of their ships and green on their right as a visual communication to other ships of their position. Similarly, the port side Berlayer Beacon was painted red and the starboard side Tanjong Rimau Beacon green as an indication of the western entrance to Keppel Harbour.

The beacon’s position was also purposeful from a military standpoint. The Berlayer Beacon and the Tanjong Rimau Beacon stood at the positions of Fort Pasir Panjang and Fort Siloso respectively. They were separated by a 240m-wide channel, marking the shortest distance between the mainland and Pulau Blakang Mati.

Ships which wanted to dock at Keppel Harbour would have to pass through this extremely narrow channel. Thus, the beacons with their forts on either side were capable of delivering a withering crossfire to enemy ships passing through. However, the forts proved ineffective during the Battle of Singapore in World War II. During the first air raid conducted by the Japanese forces in World War II on 8thDecember 1941, the guns were inefficient against the invading Japanese land forces as the guns as they were built and designed to defend against a seaward attack.

With a large part of the original Keppel Harbour converted for the facilitation of recreational activities, Tanjong Rimau Beacon and Berlayer Beacon no longer serve a practical purpose. However, they will continue to bear much cultural and military significance to Singapore for years to come.