Monday, February 12, 2018

Valley of Death (Siglap)

There was a series of pictures that were recently published on PictureSG, donated by Foo Chin Hwa 胡拯华 1962 that got me curious. It was a series of pictures that shows and describes exhumation being carried out and bones found in Siglap. However nothing further was added in the description and credit line of this pictures except for a few. For this series of pictures, a few things were consistent, the year the pictures were taken and the donor, Foo Chin Hwa 胡拯华. 

source: PictureSG

Bones found in Siglap
(source: PictureSG)

Piles of discarded footwear
source: PictureSG

Storing bones in jar
(source: PictureSG)

Siglap's "Valley of Death"

The newspaper article headline of 24 February 1962 caught my attention. It describes a recent sandwashing activity at 7.5 mile Siglap Road which led to a discovery of mass war graves. The location of this place is off Evergreen Avenue and very close to Puay Poon School. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce set-up a 3 man committee to organise the retrieval of the remains. This was led by Mr. Ng Aik Huan, Mr. Toh Keng Tuan and Lam Thian. Further digs led to discovery of 40 more mass graves and another two mass graves were found at 10.5 milestone along Changi Road where claims of a 1,000 were machine-gunned and buried. 

Mass War Graves Found (source: NewspaperSG)

source: NewspaperSG

Eye Witness Accounts 

From the article, stories of how the mass grave came about started to unraveled. Mr. Chue Choon Kwee, 72 years old (in 1962) and a farmer living near the area shared how the Japanese forced him and 30 other villages to dig five trenches each . Once done, the villages were chased out of the area. He however, hid among the bushes on a hilltop. Choon Kwee witness and counted 66 lorries entering the valley and each lorry carried about 60-70 civilian internees. They were lined up by the trenches and machine-gunned.

Mr. Lai Siang Yong, 62 (now a principal of a Chinese School) was one of the lucky survivor from the massacre. He recounted how he was part of a large group who were rounded up and later transferred from a concentration camp at Lorong 3 Geylang and brought to Siglap. They were tied in groups of six each and when the firing began, he managed to break loose the bonds and ran to hide in the bushes. Although hit in his thigh, he survived.

Ngo Yong Seng, 63, principal of Puay Poon School which is situated 100 yards from the site was forced to dig graves before being driven off. Three days later he returned to see bodies heaped in the graves with loose sand over them. A week after the shooting, the Japanese brought labourers to cover the graves with more earth.

Aftermath - Civilian War Memorial

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announced in March 1962 that the Singapore government had asked the British government to seek amends and atonement from the Japanese government, in connection with the massacre committed by the Japanese during the war. There was also a suggestion that a memorial park be built at Siglap for those massacred by the Japanese during the war, if the Japanese would make compensation. On 13 March 1963, the Singapore government announced that it would set aside 4.5 acres of land along Beach Road for the building of a memorial park to commemorate the civilian victims massacred during the Japanese Occupation. The memorial was completed in January 1967 at a cost of approximately $500,000. Before its completion, a ceremony was held on 1 November 1966, during which 606 urns containing the remains from the mass graves were interred on either side of the memorial podium. The President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Soon Peng Yam led a large gathering of mourners in observing a 3 minute silence. The Civilian War Memorial was officially unveiled by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 15th February 1967.
Urns being interred
(source: NewspaperSG

War memorial is unveiled
(source: NewspaperSG) 

Mass War Graves found in Siglap's Valley of Death. (1962, February 24). The Straits Times.
Ceremony at  New War Memorial. (1966, November 2). The Straits Times
War Memorial is unveiled. (1967, February 16). The Straits Times, page 17
Urns,Siglap[1]. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG
Man washing bones, 1962 [2]. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG
Bones and skulls in two baskets. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG
Man putting bones into urns. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG.
Five skulls on tray. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG.
Piles of discarded footwear. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG.
Civilian War Memorial. Vernon Cornelius-Takahama. Singapore Infopedia.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tan Koon Hong and family (Bukit Brown)

Tan Koon Hong passed away at the age of 63 on 21st June 1938. On is tomb are listed the name of his grandson; Tan Chin Guan and two daughters, Tan Poh Neo, Tan Kim Geok. On the obituary, i found out that Tan Koon Hong was a cashier or banker for Chartered Bank of Singapore. He is survived his beloved wife, 1 son, Kow Leong Huat, 2 daughters; Tan Poh Neo, Tan Kim Geok, 1 son-in-law; Khoo Leng Chye and 1 daughter-in-law. His residence was at No. 20 Rambutan Road, off Joo Chiat Place. He is buried in Hill 4 Section C, plot 1400.

Tan Koon Hong

Advantages of being Straits Born

A legal case brought against Tan Koon Hong in 1909 for criminal breach of trust amounting to $25. It is from here we know that Tan Koon Hong as been working for Chartered Bank for many years. He denied the charge. In the article the magistrate highlighted that non-Straits born would be dealt with a more sever sentence compared to a straits born one. Was Tan Koon Hong actually finally charge? I am not sure.
source: NewspaperSG

Wife: Madam Kow Choo Neo (Si Besar)
Mrs. Tan Koon Hong (Si Besar) passed away at the age of 80 at her residence, No 141A Kallang Airport on 21 October 1962. Madam Kow Choo Neo tomb lies close by her husband's Tan Koon Hong's tomb. She was 56 years old when Tan Koon Hong passed away at 63 years old. She is survived by 1 son; Kow Leng Huat, 2 daughters; Tan Poh Neo, Tan Kim Geok.
Grandsons; Tan Chin Guan, Kow Chin Geok, Kow Chwee Hock
Granddaughters; Kow Whatt Neo, Kow Whatt Eng,
Great-Grandson; Jeffrey Kow Hock Guan.

Kow Choo Neo is the daughter of Kow Hock San (also buried in Bukit Brown). Se is buried in Hill 4 Section C, plot 1380.

Mrs. Tan Koon Hong nee Madam Kow Choo Neo (Si Besar) 

Advantages of being Strait Born. (1909, August 7). The Straits Times, page 7
Death. (1938, June 24). Malayan Tribune.
Death. (1962, October 22). Straits Times, page 18

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Chua Jin Swee and family (Bukit Brown)

Chua Jin Swee of Teck Choon Saw Mill passsed away on 6 October, 1924 at 547 Serangoon Road. He leaves behind a widow, 4 sons ( Chua Boon Ting, Chua Boon Teck, K.T. Chua and Chua Boon Whatt), 2 daughters and 2 grandchildren.  Madam Low Kim Lian passed away on 18 November 1929 at her residence  451-25 Pasir Panjang Road at the age of 52. She is survived by 4 sons ( Chua Boon Ting, Chua Boon Teck, Chua Kim Tee and Chua Boon Whatt), 2 daughters (Mrs Tan Hoon Hong, Mrs Yap Hock Cheng) , 5 grandsons and 1 granddaughter. Chua Jin Swe is buried in Hill 1 Dvision B, plot 386.

Chua Jin Swee

Low Kim Lian
The tomb of Chua Jin Swee and Madam Low Kim Lian are covered with vines, but fortunately, the horizontal arm of both ends contains the information of both Chua Jin Swee and Madam Low Kim Lan and that includes the name of their children.

Seh Chua (Surname Chua) 
Chua Jin Swee was part of the Seh Chua Clan or Community and became a member of the Committee in 1921. That year was an important milestone year for the Seh Chua community because the British Government was seeking to acquire the Seh Chua Burial Ground and the elected Trustees were discussing compensation in the form of new land if the acquisition took place since the Chua Community does not have a new burial after its only one at Silat Road (which was slightly more than 2 acres) was closed for burials.


Miss Chua Cheng Kee Neo nee Mrs. Tan Hoon Hong
The engagement was announced between Tan Hoon Hong (youngest brother of Mr. Tan Hoon Khim and youngest son of the late Mr. Tan Tian Chan ) to Miss Chua Cheng Kee (eldest daughter of Mrs. Chua Jin Swee and the late Mr. Chua Jin Swee). The marriage  will take place on 27 January 1927.

Miss Chua  Cheng Yeok Neo nee Mrs. Yap Hock Heng.
Yap Hock Cheng is the son of Yap Yeow Teck of 313 River Valley Road. In 1979, there is notice highlighting the passing of Joseph Yap Hock Heng on 16 August 1979. He is survived by his wife Chua Cheng Yeok, 3 sons (Vincent Yap, Nelson Yap, Frankie Yap), 3 daughters (Lily Yap, Christina Yap, Maggie Yap), 2 daughter-in-laws (Lilian, Vivien), 3 son-in-laws (Johnny, Charlie, Teddy ) and 10 grandchildren.

Death. (1924, October 7) The Straits Times, page 8
Domestic Occurrences. (1929, November 18). Malaya Tribune, page 8
Senh Chua
Advertisement. (1921, September 22). Malayan Tribune

Monday, February 05, 2018

Rattan furniture industry in Singapore: past and present

Exploring the HDB estate opposite Queensway Shopping Centre, i came across a Rattan furniture shop , Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture. It is not often you find a shop in Singapore that sells furniture solely made by rattan and indeed it was a pleasant and nostalgic surprise to encounter.The shop was filled to the brim with rattan furniture and ware, but what was more surprising for me, was to see a lady working on re-upholstering a chair with rattan trimmings. This indicates to me that not all the rattan ware was exported from either Indonesia and Malaysia, some were still done locally.
Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture(directions here

Rattan furniture stacked to the ceiling 

Worker reupholstering a chair with rattan trimmings

Fast forward a few weeks, this time in Joo Chiat, i came across another shop called Teong Theng Co ( directions here ) which although wasn't filled to the brim with rattan furniture (there were other types of wood furniture as well), it reminded me of Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture.

Theong Theng Co (directions here

Evolution of rattan furniture industry
A 1928 advertisement of rattan furniture by John Little & Co. perked my interest further to read up on how this industry came about and its eventual decline. Skimming through various articles, i can see that rattan furniture shops in the 30's  were clustered around Victoria Street area and attracted many local buyers as well as being exported to overseas.

Advertisement from John Little (source: NewspaperSG) 
source: National Archives 

Basket weaver from cane shop in Arab Street (source: Archives)

Source: National Archives 

In 1986, Indonesia which supplies 80% of the world rattan banned the export of raw and semi-processed rattan exports to encourage its own rattan furniture industry. This lead to the local industry to seek alternative sources or to go into partnership with Indonesian firms which allowed export of rattan furniture. This was not the first time this ban was enforced as i read of a similar ban in 1952. During the 80's countries like Singapore and Malaysia started to move towards capital and skill intensive industries which are added factors in the decline of the rattan industry in Singapore.

Advertisement. (1928, March 22). The Singapore Free Press.
Singapore's Rattan Furniture industry. (1938, November 20). The Straits Times
Rattan ban prompts joint venture talks. (1988, July 9). The Straits Times

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Batam Brick Works

At the tomb of Ong Sam Leong in Bukit Brown, you might notice surrounding its tomb shore are bricks with the word Batam embossed on it. The common information was that Ong Sam Leong was once the owner of Batam Brick Works, but beyond that what happened was not really clear. In fact reading from different sources, there was claims that Ong Sam Leong was not the owner, but rather a business partner of the Batam Brick Works for a short period of time (1898-1901). The Proprietor of Batam Bricks Company Batam Island and Singapore was said to be Rajah Ali and Rajah Ali was the sole Proprietor until it was eventually bought over by Sam Bee Brick Works in 1910. However from  1912-1921, Ong Sam Leong & Co. seem to have taken back control of Batam Bricks again. Beyond that i have no idea what has happened to Batam Brick Works or when it stopped operation.

Batam Bricks at Ong Sam Leong 

Batam Brick Works at 135 Prinsep Street (source: Batam Blog)

Batam Brick Works 

When scanning the advertisements of Batam Brick Works over the years from NewspaperSG, it gives some insights to the evolution of Batam Brick Works. The first advertisements for the sale of these bricks were on 1900 and the Singapore office was located at 135 Prinsep Street and the agent was Syed Sheik Alhady.  In the 1902 advertisement, we get further insight that Batam Brick Works was established in 1898 and that in 1901 it won the Bronze Medal at the Penang Agriculture Show (for the quality of bricks). By 1904, it added another accolade, Hanoi Bronze Medal. The earlier advertisements does not mention owner but rather highlights the improving quality of the bricks which won 2 important awards for its quality

Advertisement 1900 (source: NewspaperSG)

Advertisement 1902 (source: NewspaperSG)
Advertisement 1904 (source: NewspaperSG)
However things start to get hazy moving ahead and in an 1909 article titled "A complicated story from Pulo Batam", a dismissed lawsuit claim by Messrs. Behn, Meyer and Co. Limited against Rajah Ali, Proprietor of Batam Brick Works gave some insights on ownership of the company and possible hints of that business was facing cash flow problems. By 1909, bricks was going for $160 per 10,000 bricks. In 1910 there was an advertisement which highlight's the change in ownership for Batam Brick Works who was taken over by Sam Bee Brick Works and signed by Teo Hoo Lye.

Advertisement (1909)

Advertisement 1909 (source: NewspaperSG)
Advertisement 1910 (source: NewspaperSG)
In 1912, there was another advertisement highlighting that the well known Batam Bricks have changed ownership yet again, this time around under European supervision with the selling agent as Messrs. Boustead & Co. and Ong Sam Leong (41 Robinson Road) and in 1921, Batam Bricks were still for sale by Ong Sam Leong & Co. 
Advertisement 1912 (source: NewspaperSG)
Advertisement 1921 (source: NewspaperSG)

Raja Ali Kelana / Raja Ali

Raja Ali was a Prince or a descendant of royalty of the Riau-Lingga Sultante. It was reported in the Batam News (6 February 2017) that Raja Ali was one of the modern pioneers that help developed Batam which prior to 1898 was dominated by Gambier plantation. With the royal concession, Raja Ali approach his business partner from Singapore, a chinese man by the name of Ong Sam Leong and Batam Brick Works was established at Batu Aji.The partnership was shortlived and Raja Ali became the sole Proprietor from 1901 -1910. In 1910, ownership of Batam Brick Works was transferred to Sam Bee Brick Works. The story goes was that Raja Ali faced political pressure by the Dutch Government who labelled him as a potential rebel and Raja Ali decide to sell his business and move to Johor. There was a road named after Raja Ali in Batam Centre that was controversially renamed to Jalan Ochard Boulevard.

Ong Sam Leong 

Ong Sam Leong (王三龙) (1857 -1918) was the owner of Sam Leong and Company that provided and supplied manpower (indentured labourers) for the mining of phosphate to Christmas Island and businessman and owner of substantial properties, rubber plantations or estates and even a brick works in Batam. Among the Chinese community, he was influential as well, being once the head of the Ban Chye Hoe Club.
Ong Sam Leong

Advertisement. (1900, November 9). The Singapore Free Press, page 2
Advertisement. (1902, February 27). The Straits Times, page 2
Advertisement. (1904, December 19). The Singapore Free Press, page 3
Batam Island Bricks. (1908, July 31). The Singapore Free Press, page 12
Rice Transactions. (1909, February 7). The Straits Times, page 7
Advertisement. (1912, April 9). The Straits Times, page 6
Advertisement. (1921, March 4). The Straits Times, page 6
Raja Ali Kelana dan Fondasi Hitoris Industri Pulau Batam (1896-1910).[website]. Tanjung Pinang Pos
Indrawan.(Editor).Ini Sejarah Raja H Ali Kelana Membangun Pulau Batam.(2017,February 2017).[website]. Batam News
Sejarah Batam Brick Works Pabrik Pertama Berdiri Di Kota Batam. (2016, October 21).Batamblog
Riau-Lingga Sultante. Wikipedia