Pulau Tekong

January 23, 2011

I had hoped to see Roberts Hospital, if any of it remained, as that is where my father had spent his first seventeen months as a POW before being moved to Selarang Barracks.  One place I knew I wouldn’t be able to visit was Pulau Tekong  in the Straits of Johore.  This is where he had been during the last few weeks before the surrender scuttling back and forth in a small motor boat between the island and Pengerang on his various anti-malarial errands.  Tekong is now a military training area and so off limits to the public.  Still, you can get a good view of it from Changi Village as it’s only a few hundred yards away. A visit to the adjacent island of Pulau Urbin probably provides as good a sense as any of how it used to look as there has been little development on it in recent decades.

The Japanese invasion of Singapore ignored Tekong but made a diversionary feint through Ubin.  Seeing how close these islands are to each other, to the mainland and to Singapore it is easy to imagine just what a “grandstand” view he had.  By the same token, he was probably lucky to be where he was.  Well, comparatively speaking, that is.

Looking Towards Pulau Tekong from Changi Village

On a bumboat to Pulau Ubin

Pulau Ubin

Changi Village then and now

January 22, 2011

Changi Village is quite a bustling little place these days.  There’s a hawker center, a hotel and a golf club.  You can also watch Premier League games in at least three or four restaurants along Changi Village Road though of course at any one time it’s going to be the same game.

It would have been a much sleepier place in 1942, just one of several kampongs or hamlets dotting the Changi coastline.  Still, though the pre-war photograph my father brought back doesn’t indicate it, changes must have been evident even then given the construction of the British military base.

What I had not expected is that quite a few of the old army buildings are still standing.  Take a stroll up Netheravon Road past the sailing club and you suddenly come across the old army hospital half hidden in the trees.  Turn left up Hendon Road and you’re in the heart of what I take to be Kitchener Barracks.  The buildings seem deserted now but look essentially as they must have done when they were part of the POW camp.   Which immediately raises the question:  how much, if any, of Roberts Barracks is left?  Inexplicably, I had neglected to find this out before the trip.  Now it becomes the burning question.

Changi Village pre-1942

Changi village today

Changi hospital

Visiting Changi

January 1, 2011

 


In my first post I envisaged this blog as something of a personal journey and one that was likely to veer off down all sorts of side roads and byways. In what I suppose is something more than a byway, it’s a journey that has finally taken me to Singapore.
I’m writing this in Changi Village, a place my father knew well as a POW. Much has changed since then of course and large parts of the camp have either disappeared through commercial development or are otherwise inaccessible as military installations.

A lot can still be seen, however, and much more mentally reconstructed. For instance, if you walk down Changi Village Road, go past the mosque at the corner of Loyang Road and turn right up a little side road that looks as though it leads nowhere you will find yourself at a rather fashionable little watering hole called Lava Edge. Here you can enjoy a cold beer while looking out over the local golf course. As it happens, you’re also looking in the general direction of  Changi Hill. And the other side of that is where Roberts Hospital was located and where my father spent the first part of his captivity.
Let’s just say that knowing this (while enjoying the cold beer) is enough to bring on a fairly complicated mix of thoughts and emotions.  After all, it’s been quite a journey to get to this place.