Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ulu Pandan Heritage Trail (3) – Mowbray Camp (by Peter Chan)

Mowbray Camp was originally a gun detachment of the Buona Vista Gun Battery. This gun battery detachment was responsible for the defense of the western section of Singapore during WW2. There is a secret tunnel that runs from one of the buildings inside Mowbray Camp down to the valley in the forest beside the camp (currently under lock). Down in the valley was a narrow-gauge railway track that formed a part of the British Military railway transport system.

The original camp area was much larger than it is today. The present Clementi Road, just before turning left into Ulu Pandan Road, was once a road within the military compound before it was acquired for road widening in the 1950s. The seafood restaurant across the camp was once a “Radio Taxi” stand in the 1960s. It was set-up to meet the needs of the British Military. The booth covered the geographical areas of Dover Road, Sussex Estate and Clementi Park. A unique practice of making a booking for a taxi meant you had to search for a specific telephone number of the “Radio Taxi” stand nearest to where one lived; in this case the taxi stand opposite Mowbray Camp. You could not expect a “Radio Taxi” stand in Jalan Jurong Kechil, King Albert Park or Holland Village to dispatch one of its taxis. Thus the present system of calling through a hotline, e.g. 65551188 is certainly better than the old system.



Fig 1: The former Mowbray Camp’s main entrance

The prevailing use of Mowbray Camp as a guard unit is something historical. After WW2, it became the home of the #3 British Army Guard Unit and in the 1960s home of the #5 Gurkha Dog Company. Armed guards and dogs were dispatched from here to various British Army camps and bases for duties. Although this facility was run by the British Army, it did not provide for security cover for RN and RAF bases. Very often when I passed this way on my way to town, I could hear dogs barking during their morning training. I was informed that even dogs also have their own “5BX” and these animals thoroughly enjoyed their daily training schedules.



Fig 2: One of the pre-WW2 buildings at the highest point of Mowbray Camp (circa 1958). It was used as a football pitch but the SAF converted that into a “Parade Square”. The secret tunnel was somewhere around that building

Between 1971 and 1974, it was used by ANZUK forces, the Commonwealth Forces of Australia and New Zealand that replaced the British Military. After the SAF took over in 1974, it became the SAF Provost Unit. Different SAF Provost units were based here including SIB, School of Provost, APC, SC and DB. The SAF also shared the facility with the Singapore Police Force before vacating it completely in 2003 for Kranji.




Fig 3: Gurkhas and their guard dogs

20 comments:

Lam Chun See said...

When I was in OCS, one of my section mates was an SAF regular who was previously from the Provost Unit in this camp. At that time I thought it was pronounce Mulberry Camp.

Peter. Can you pls enlighten us where you got this information from. It is not even found in Singapore Infopedia!

Victor said...

Why are the photos so small? Can't see much details leh. Enlarge a bit can or not?

Lam Chun See said...

Oops. I must have accidentally chosen "small".

Anonymous said...

the taxi stand is still there

Not the same use as usual and only about 3-4 taxis there at one time but it's still there. I like passing it every time with the altars and the odd person slacking around. it adds to the flavour of the area

oceanskies79 said...

Thank you for this. I have passed by Clementi Rd so often but did not know of its unique history.

Tom said...

Tom said...
Peter I remember that there were about , six guard dogs in Selarang Camp I think thay were fed once a day to make them wild,A dog was put inside the Ammunition compound, for 24 hours evey day.

sgporc said...

I served my NS at Mowbray Camp in the early 90s and the building in Fig 2 was used as barracks for the School of Provost. The location from which the photo was taken (foreground) was the football pitch/parade square; the midground showing a fenced concrete surface was eventually built into a basketball court; and a training shed was built right in front of the big building. Another point to note was that this building was not the highest point in the camp. You could still climb up higher to reach the cookhouse, some small single-storey buildings that were used as the unit hq offices, and also the dog kennels.

As for the location of the tunnel, I seem to remember that there was a very small shed-sized structure behind the CO office at the top of the hill that was locked up and never used. Maybe that was the entrance.

Another mystery structure in mowbray camp which was also rumoured to be some sort of a tunnel was located just next to perimeter fence and can be seen from ulu pandan road itself. At the bus stop near the rear gate, you would be able to see a sudden overgrowth of plants that is hiding some sort concrete structure that is sticking out of the hill. And across the road in front of pine grove tennis courts, there is a matching structure that is aligned to it. This structure seems to have been dismantled due to the presence of the road but the remnants are still there.

Cotonou said...

Thanks for the information on my old camp.

Would you know what was the origin of the name "mowbray"?

Besides the tunnel's entrance location mentioned by Sgporc, there is another one that's located at the MT Line's vehicle park. It is behind the MTO's office. When I was serving there in late 80s / 90s, it was a sealed "manhole"-like door.

Rumour was that it led to a storage area under the football field / parade square. It was almost never flooded after heavy rain, and it drains dry rather quickly.

There is also a sealed off entrance near the rear gate, near the former Clothing Store.

On the topic of hauntings, the driver's bunk (long bunk, facing Clementi Road) has it's share of stories. We were told that it was formerly a canteen under the British army days. And the canteen operator hung himself when he was told to stop selling there. The bunk was the only structure in the camp that had a name beside a block number. It was called Low-Lee (something like that) Barracks.

The barracks itself is very strange. There are 3 shower stalls inside the but the toilet is actually located on the outside.

Having stayed in the bunk, I can attest that there are things you cannot explain when sleeping there.

peter said...

Contonou,

Thanks for additional information.

The storage under the football field is quite possible. Here's the surprise. One of the WW2 guns was mounted inside Mowbray Camp. Its position was at the edge of this football field - somewhere at the present carpark and the road leading up to the top of the hill. The gun site was so prominent that if you refer to this book "50 years Over Singapore" and locate Mowbray Camp, you see a big circular hole inside Mowbray Camp.

There were 2 attempts to bury or cover up the hole. The first was in 1956 when the British Army dismantle the gun base structure and another in the late 1960s before the British Pull-out.

doris said...

hi all!
my son was posted to mobray camp on 22nd this mth after bmt at tekong (was also worried about the grenades practice).
chun see, being born in the same year as my brother, were you also trained at jalan bahar?

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Doris. I think the Mowbray Camp that your son is posted to is located in Choa Chu Kang area. This camp that we are talking about used to be called Mowbray Camp, but now it belongs to the Police KINS (Key Installation Protection) Forces.

Coincidentally my son also turned 19 and posted to BMT @ P. Tekong at beginning of the year.

I did not go to Jalan Bahar. I think the majority of our cohort went to Safti.

Krisgage said...

Thanks for this valuable informations ! I had been overlooking this camp for many years from my flat ! I heard gun fires and dog barks. The football field or parade square I believed is the number 1 gun emplacement for the 15 inch gun from Bouna Vista Battery. Below it is the ammunition and charges magazine, about 3 floors down.

i_love_u_long_time said...

I regularly take that route when going home, and always see the camp. however, this year during the qing ming period, i saw guys there in the night burning some stuff in a huge pile of fire. this was really close to the giant banyan tree, more or less opposite sunset. i would love to hear some, i dont know, spooky stories about that camp. also, there are stories that a secret tunnel runs through the camp to somewhere else. wonder whether thats true

Anonymous said...

Hi there.

I used to be attached to the SIB during my national service during the time 1978-1980. As we were located quite close to the main gate and were free to go in and out I guess I did not carry out exploration of the camp at same level of some others. The CO, SAFPU then was one MAJ and later LTC Guan Yap Pin. Most of my travels within the camp was to the cook house and the canteen. There was also a stationary bus parked outside the camp on the other side of the road which served as a canteen for the drivers and conductors. What I remember best about that canteen was that it had the best buns with red sugar and grated coconut fillings and a very pretty Chinese canteen assistant. There were also two pretty Kaur MPs in the camp at that time - if my memory serves me right, their names were Jaspenderpal Kaur and Charanjit Kaur. Wonder where they are all are now. Miss those times.

Anonymous said...

QUOTE (Cotonou) "Having stayed in the bunk, I can attest that there are things you cannot explain when sleeping there."

I can vouch for that..... i was in the last ever batch of MP trainees posted to the old Mowbray Road Camp in mid-2002 after our BMT. We spent about 5 to 6 weeks there and thereafter, transferred to the new camp in Yew Tee for the remaining half of the course. Us trainees actually helped in the shifting of camp stuff to the new camp. Free labor mah! The food at old Mowbray Camp canteen/cookhouse was just superb.

As for supernatural stuff, I can attest to the many rumors down the years that the camp and in particular, the bunks, have a 'life" of its own. In my own bunk, I along with other trainees personally saw the fan flicking on and off by itself in the wee hours while we were trying to sleep. Thankfully, we did not see any apparitions. Our batch had 2 Bruneian MP Trainees tagged along with us and they were allocated to Section 6. And this section endured by far the worst. They were allocated the last bunk along the corridor and their bunk attracted a healthy amount of 'attention' from the spirits because of the presence of the 2 Bruneians. I was in the adjacent bunk allocated for Section 5 and our bunk people could hear metal cupboards banging at night along with other chilling noises from their room.

In fact, in our first week of training, our warrant officer in-charge (Warrant Rosman by the way to those MPs in the know - I last saw him at the new camp in 2010 when I went back for ICT) along with couple of senior specs had already warned us of the 'liveliness' of the camp. For some reason, ethnic Malays like the 2 Bruneians are more susceptible to this kind of thingy. Anyway, I think most NS boys would have heard of Brunei being quite a 'dirty place'. Our 2 Bruneians always seem unfazed the next morning after a disrupted sleep the night before and laughed it off as 'normal'; think they are already used to it in their homeland this kind of thing.

The guard duty at night which every MP trainee had the misfortune of having to do at least once compulsorily was also something else. I actually say a word of prayer or two before going for the prowling tour of camp. Anyone who had done prowling in that camp before would tell you to sensibly try and chop chop complete. Still remembered the dogs howling intermittently for no reason while prowling near the kernel; always took that as an indication that my buddy and me die die must quickly clock the checkpoint near the kernel with our electronic stick and get the hell out asap.

Rahil said...

Anyone here actually seen the tunnel or know someone who has? I am a researcher working on a channel 5 documentary and am interested in this sort of hidden heritage

DC said...

happened to chance upon this article while doing stuff for MP Cmd's heritage room. yes i've heard of the tunnel from the area near chief clerk's office.. apparently it was sealed off after awhile. It's nice to know you guys have memories of the old mowbray camp! auntie v (did i get it correct?) is still running her clothing store in the new mowbray camp!

Anonymous said...

Yes the tunnel was sealed when i was there in1986. The tunnel started along the guard duty prowling near the fence along side the main road to the top of the hill where the former HQ armoury at some point snake starts to come out due to the stale air in the tunnel i guest. We instructors do kill a few snakes too. Once I remembered that the BOS was bitten by a phyton will doing duty and he pull the python off his hand. He was sent to hospital for surgery to remove the broken fangs in the hand. The guy is still in service to tell the story. Yes at nite the trainees do complete of supernatural activity but to prevent panic the instructors said no such things. Well we have shifted to the new camp in kranji which is better. Life still goes in but Mowbray Camp in Ulu Pandan is still a place to remember with full of memories and hustory.

Instructor from SOP 1986 to 1994.

Anonymous said...

I was also attached to SIB from 1978 to 1980 during my National Service. I wonder who the other person who was in SIB at that same is. Chances are I would know him. I do remember the Kaurs. In fact I was in the mess committee with Jaspenderpal Kaur. There were also two Woman MPs attached to SIB at that time and if my memory serves me right they were one Miss Mala and Ms Christine Enriquez. Wonder where they are now. We also had some other colourful characters in SIB - wondering if I should name them - here goes Cpt Teo Bian Chwee, Cpt Diriyam, Lta Lai Wee Ngien, Cpl Prakash, Lta Manjeet Singh, Sgt Bala, Cpl Shih Chi Sian (of YK Zipper fame) Cpl Raj Dev Singh, Cpl Gopala Menon, Cpl Emmanual, Cpl Clive Heng Boon Howe, Peter Lim the crime photographer and his able assistant "perturbed" Foo I think - I think I could just go on and on. The CO then was Cpt James Kwek and his 2IC was Lta Lim Ser Ho. One notable case of that time was the suicide of one of the investigators, SGT Christopher Kwan. I do remember the bus parked outside the camp on the opposite side of the road and the pretty canteen assistant and the bun with coconut filling which used to look glazed pink in colour. I myself am surprised that I can remember so much about those times.

Anonymous said...

I was sent to Mowbray Camp for my basic Provost (MP) training in mid-1999 after completing my BMT. As I live in Clementi, I could just walk home after booking out every Saturday at around noon. Then book in on Sunday night without needing to rush. That was a very welcome change after the madness of travelling to Pulau Tekong every weekend.

The buildings were very old, definitely British colonial architecture; some buildings had 1935(?) written on their facade. Vintage bathrooms, everyone could see everyone else naked when it's time to shower.

My bunk was on the corner of the building (furthest away from the cookhouse, bathroom and staircase in the middle, bunks spread out across two wings on the left and right). One morning almost everyone in the bunk complained of the beds shaking the previous night, as if someone had shaken the beds roughly. Others heard sounds from the lockers. We were all quite sure it's not some prank from someone in the bunk or by a guy from another bunk. The beds were double decker beds, with rusty iron bar frames.

There's a gift shop somewhere near the rear gate (Auntie Veron?). Above average prices, you would get your stuff cheaper at Beach Road.

There were a couple of video game arcade machines on the ground floor, next to the stairwell of our block (School of Provost). One of them was Street Fighter 2.

Guard duty at the main gate. There was a BBQ seafood restaurant just across the road, next to the T-junction between Ulu Pandan Road and Clementi Road. On some lucky evenings you could smell the delicious food from where you were standing guard, thanks to the wind blowing towards you.

After basic training I was sent to Mindef/Gombak Base and never went back to Mowbray Camp again. The other guys who went to APC (Active Provost Company) or ZPC (Zone Provost Company) stayed at Mowbray Camp till they ORD. Later on they moved to the new camp located next to the Detention Barracks (DB) in Choa Chu Kang.

P.S:

If you're driving or taking a bus along Ulu Pandan Road, you can see the slope from the camp's rear gate leading down to the main road. To the side of the slope was a thick secondary forest, full of trees. Since a couple of years ago, some of those trees were cut down and the ground turned into asphalt and concrete. Could be a new MRT station or some road widening project.