Monday, January 16, 2017

Labrador & Alexandra Heritage tour (My Community Heritage Trail) - Part I

I joined the latest tour by My Community for a newly minted heritage trail curated by them called the Labrador and Alexandra Heritage Tour on January 13th, 2017. My Community, if you recall is a registered charity group that have been working hard to promote and document the social memories and heritage of the communities in Queenstown and surrounding it. The meeting point was very accessible, the Labrador MRT and we got to walk along a very scenic mangrove trail called the Berlayer Creek Mangrove Trail that brings you eventually to Labrador Nature Reserve. NParks online guide (in pdf format) gives you more details about this nature trail.

Keppel boardwalk
At Labrador Nature Reserve,the first thing you will spot coming into the Nature Reserve is a rather 6 meter high replica structure that symbolically represents the granite outcrop that use to exist there in the past before it was eventually destroyed by the Straits Settlements Surveyor, John Thomson, in August 1848, to widen the channel for larger vessels to sail through.

Long Ya Men or Batu Berlayer

Long Ya Men, (龙牙门) or Dragon’s Teeth Gate or Batu Berlayer (Sail rock in Malay) refers to a series of granite outcrop in Keppel Harbour, comprising of two rocky outcrop near the present site of Labrador Park and its opposite shore of Tanjong Rimau (Sentosa Island), which served as a gateway to the western entrance to Keppel Harbour. Old Chinese navigational charts including the one used by Zheng He during his voyages uses this former granite outcrop as navigational marker for the Chinese fleets as they sailed through the Straits of Singapore.
Batu Berlayer 

Berlayer Beacon

The next structure we see is the Berlayer Beacon, an unmanned beacon that was used to guide ships approaching the Keppel Harbour. Built in 1930, i was told it was not in its original position but placed here as one of the many reminder's of Singapore's past and present role as an important maritime entrepot.
Berlayer Beacon

Fort Pasir Panjang and the Labrador Battery

The next series of landmark focuses on Labrador Nature Reserve's heritage past where the Pasir Panjang Fort was located and its hilly geographical layout was acknowledged by the British Administrators as an important site to built a fort complex to defend the western entrance to the New Harbour (before it was renamed as Keppel Harbour) . The other fort complex was built on the opposite entrance of the harbour, Fort Siloso at Sentosa.

Fort Pasir Panjang and Labrador 1892
(source: National Archives Singapore)

The Pasir Panjang Fort itself was said to have been completed around 1878, however subsequent enhancements over the years added on the emplacements, underground bunkers for ammunition storage and living spaces for the soldiers who manned the guns and defended the fort.

Wall of the Brick Cutting 

Machine Gun Pill Box at the beach
Just before the start of World War II, there were 2 large 6 inch guns with the ability to fire 46 kg shells over a range of 16 km. Contrary to popular misconception that the guns were fixed facing the sea, the Labrador battery guns could be traverse and fire inland. However their effectiveness was limited by constraints of concrete barriers making 360 degree traverse difficult in some cases, coupled with inland obstructions (e.g. other hills, buildings, trees and valley). The final difficulty that blunted its effectiveness was that most of the batteries kept Armour Piercing shells (effective against ships) by not effective against infantry movements which requires High Explosive shells.

Gun Emplacement 

Labrador Battery War Memorial Plague 

Former Alexandra Brickworks and Former Gillman Barrack

Located at the junction of Alexandra Road and Pasir Panjang Road, Alexandra Brickworks (established 1899) was the first brickyard in Singapore to produce high quality bricks using modern machinery on a large scale. The bricks were used in the construction of many iconic buildings including the former National Library at Stamford Road, General Post Office, St. James Power Station, Tiong Bahru SIT flats and Gillman Barracks. During the Japanese Occupation, the Alexandra Brickworks was renamed Syonan Renga Kozyo and its operations resume in May 1942 until Japan's unconditional surrender. Post war, competition for cheaper bricks from neighbouring countries and cheaper concrete technology eventually led to its decline. In November 1972, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) purchased Alexandra Brickworks Company’s freehold land for $13.5m. A year later, Alexandra Brickworks ceased production.

Alexandra Brickworks (source: NewspaperSG)

The Gillman Barracks was built in 1935 and was named after the late Major General Sir William Web Gillman. It housed the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment and later the 2nd Battalion Loyal Regiment.

Gillman Barracks was eventually "sold" off to the Singapore Armed Forces in 21 August 1971 for a ceremonial amount of $1. Today this place is that plays host to NTU Centre for Contemporary Art and is a contemporary art cluster for local and international galleries.

Gillman Barracks 

Gillman Barracks swimming pool (source: NewspaperSG) 

Barracks sold for $1 (source: NewspaperSG)

During the tour, the guides shared on the area around Alexandra and Pasir Panjang Park (today known as Kent Ridge Park) being scenes of many pitted battles during World War II which saw heavy losses on both sides.

The battlefield stories and the contina wire i saw as we were walking towards Alexandra and Gillman brought back memories of  the heroic action of the 1st Malay Brigade of the Malay Regiment led by 2nd Lieutenant Adnan Saidi who saw combat action in Bukit Chandhu (Opium Hill) nearby here as well as the stories of the battle that took place at Adam Park and Bukit Brown.

We remember our past so that we do not repeat its mistake in the future,
The horrors of war should never be repeated and peace never taken for granted.

Contina wire with PSA building in the background 

My experience continues in my next article post: Labrador & Alexandra Heritage tour (My Community Heritage Trail)- Part II

You can read about the other Heritage Tours that My Community organises from my previous posts:
Commonwealth and Holland Village Tour - Part I, posted on March 20, 2016
Commonwealth and Holland Village Tour - Part II, posted on March 23, 2016
Dawson & Alexandra Heritage Tour - Part I , posted on April 5, 2015
Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour-Part II , posted on April 5, 2015

Queenstown Heritage Trail (correct as of 14 January 2017)

Commonwealth & Holland
Village heritage tour

Every third Sunday

sg or email

Labrador & Alexandra
heritage tour

Every 2nd and 4th

Tanglin Halt & Margaret Drive heritage tour

Every 2nd and 4th


Media Preview of the Recreated "LongYa Men" , Singapore Tourism Board
Malaya Command's New Regiment Rich in Glorious Tradition. (1938, April 17). The Straits Times
Bricks from these works are in many of the Singapore's biggest buildings. (1939, February 19). The Straits Times, page 32
Barracks sold to S'pore Govt for $1. (1971, August 21). The Straits Times, page 32
Shareholder's meeting. (1972, October 26). New Nation, page 7

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