Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Battle for Singapore Heritage Tours -Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter

The National Heritage Board of Singapore (NHB) organised a slew of activities to commemorate the 73rd Anniversary of the Battle for Singapore and also the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore. The activities included guided tours, public talks and an exhibition during the period of February and March 2015, one which featured a bunker that used to belong to the British naval base.

I played a small role in this as i was one of the guides for one of the guided tour series, In Remembrance of World War 2 at Bukit Brown and was also fortunate to be able to sign up for at least one of the guided tour. I was fortunate because the response was so overwhelming that all the tours were fully booked. The tour that i managed to sign up for was the air raid shelter in Tiong Bahru.

Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter
The air raid shelter at Block 78 Guan Chuan Street is the last remaining pre-war civilian air raid shelter, built on a public housing estate managed by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). We met our guide, Ms. Tan Teng Teng who brought us equipped with torch lights inside the air raid shelter and shared with us stories of it's used prior and after the war. We got to see the living quarters of the residents, the air and light vents as well as the area which was reserved for the Air Raid Precaution (ARP) Wardens and their families.The tour inspired me to do some basic research on my own.

Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
Entrance to the air raid shelter in Tiong Bahru
view of entrance from inside  -Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
View of the entrance from inside the air raid shelter 
Reserved for ARP Wardens Families -Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
Reserved for ARP Wardens Families 
Light vents -Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
light vents using thick glass that used to allow natural lights
to come through
Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
counting the days ? 
Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
One of the rooms facing the entrance 
The plan to build bomb-proof shelters in Tiong Bahru began in 1939 and was well documented in the newspapers during that time. A new block of flats were built by the Singapore Improvement Trust with a basement that acts as a bomb shelter reinforced with concrete floors. The space was originally meant to be a covered playground and garage for cars, but with the shadow of war getting closer, it was eventually converted to air raid shelters with walled bricks enough to hold almost 2,000 people to seek shelter in. The shelter was tendered at a cost of $16,000.
The block of flats we visited (this picture is from 1939)
(source: NewspaperSG) 
ARP Wardens (source: NewspaperSG)
A stand alone air raid shelter made of bricks undergoing stress test
(source: National Archives) 
The Cramp condition of some of the air raid shelters
(source: NewspaperSG) 
Air raids prior to the fall of Singapore
The picture below is interesting in many ways as its shows a building wrecked as a result of Japanese bombing. The picture was dated February 3, 1942 and the building as you can make out in the picture was located in Rochor Canal Road. Other than the burnt out vehicle, you can also see the ARP Post and sand bags.
A destroyed building with an ARP Post next door
(source: Australia War Memorial)
The collage of pictures compiled below gives a snap shot of the chaos leading to the fall of Singapore and the heroic efforts by the civil defence force made up of regulars and volunteers trying to save lives. Prior to war, efforts to built air raid shelters was limited only to places like military installations, homes of the family of servicemen and finally private air raid shelters.

It was not pragmatic option to mass produce this air raid shelters and this was reported in the papers that for areas of high population density areas (e.g. Chinatown, North and South Bridge Road areas), the best would be stay put in a building or if one is near and open field, to make their way there. Building underground air raid shelter in highly dense area was not feasible with high water table as well as costly. For people living in the rural areas, hiding in a forested area would be the likely choice as often than not, the bombs are targeting key military, transportation and administrative installations (e.g ports, naval base, army barracks, etc).
Air raids in Singapore (source: Australia War Memorial) 
Air raids in Singapore (source: Australia War Memorial)

Post-War Use
After the war, some air raid shelter's in Tiong Bahru was converted to storage areas and other's converted to become a community centre (e.g. the air raid shelter at Eu Chin Street). I was told by our guide that the Guan Chuan air raid shelter was used as a storage space, post war.

Location and getting there
The Tiong Bahru Air Raid shelter is not open for public access but only during official guided tours that specifically say so, or on special occasions like the one i signed up for. You might want to check out the Tiong Bahru Heritage Volunteer group for their monthly tours. The google map location of the entrance to the air raid shelter. The nearest MRT station is Tiong Bahru.

Bomb-Proof Shelters for New Block of Flats. (1939, June 28). The Straits Times
ARP Shelters for city present problems . (1940, October 26). The Straits Times
Shelter plans for 2,000 at Tiong Bahru. (1941, April 21). The Singapore Free Press
Tribune Men "Bombed" in Singapore. (1941, February 9). The Sunday Tribune.
New Community Centre opens. (1951, July 9). The Straits Times

1 comment:

Aletheia said...

Thank you very much for this informative post. Kudos!