Saturday, August 02, 2008

Changi Coastal Defense in 1964 (by Peter Chan)

When one speaks about “Pantai Chantek” or Changi Beach, it conjures up images of people swimming in the sea, people paddling koleks or families spending their lazy Sunday afternoons consuming French loaves with curry chicken. Changi Beach was the strip of coastal beach from the junction of Telok Paku Road/Nicoll Drive to the junction of Tanah Merah Besar Road/Nicoll Drive. The one best spot most people preferred was the area next to the present SAF Ferry Terminal. But next time when you head to the SAF Ferry Terminal to send your boyfriends, brothers or sons to Pulau Tekong, think back to 1964 and ask yourself what was on that spot.

Fig 1: Aerial view of Changi Beach at Nicoll Drive

This SAF military installation was the former China Sea Beach Club but before 1959 it was called the RAF Signals Transit Center. It was easy to recognize this building because it was painted pink in colour and had a concrete tower. It was here that some of our Singapore’s top Rock & Roll bands made a living playing to the British RAF military personnel on week-ends.

Fig 2: Someone I befriended in 1965. He faces the camera for the last time at China Sea Beach Club before leaving Singapore after his tour of duty was completed (circa 1965). In the background are the hills in Johore which can be seen from the waving gallery of T1 Changi Airport

Coming from Tanah Merah Besar Road, the China Sea Beach Club was after old Telok Paku Road. If you are wondering where is old Teluk Paku Road, it is now renamed as North Perimeter Road. Some people confuse old Telok Paku Road with the road that leads into the cargo complex area. Next time, I will share with you what I saw on old Telok Paku Road because usually after a swim, my cousins and I rode our bicycles to this place. Now back to the story.

Sharing the beach with the civilians was the British Military forces. In 1964, the stretch of Changi Beach was a coastal defense zone with low–level anti-aircraft guns. The guns were meant to defend RAF Changi from potential Indonesian aerial infiltration from Batam. Roughly in terms of today’s context, the defense-line would be between the present SAF Ferry Terminal to Changi Airport Terminal 3 facing the Control Tower. I saw barbed wires and sandbags. It looked as if it was a protected area but the British Military forces were friendly to the locals, especially the children. The gun batteries were disbanded in 1966 after the Indonesian Confrontation ended. Many decades later I found the anti-aircraft units came from Nee Soon Camp and Telok Paku Road Camp.

Fig 3: One of the Bofors 40/70 guns at Changi Beach. Changi Creek is very far behind the bushes. In the background are the hills of Johore

Fig 4: Fire Control Unit at old Telok Paku Road provides assistance to gun battery on Changi Beach. This site is at the present Singapore Aviation Academy

Changi Beach is so different from yesterday. Maybe someone can help me identify the following places:

In which part of Changi Airport do you think does the end of Tanah Merah Road meet Nicoll Drive?

Which part of the Changi Airport vicinity looks exactly like the RAF Changi era?

Fig 5: Map of Changi Beach (Pantai Chantek) in 1963

Fig 6: Map of Changi Beach in 2007


Icemoon said...

I don't understand. Why does Peter say Tanah Merah Besar Road/Nicoll Drive junction when they do not meet? Help ..

Icemoon said...

For his second question, one plausible guess will be ......... the dispersal area. :P

Lam Chun See said...

Oh yes they do meet (or rather met). In the old days, to get to Changi Beach, we usually go by Tampines Road, turn into Tanah Merah when you come to the prison and then when you rach the coast, turn left into Nicoll Drive.

Lam Chun See said...

Actually, to retrace the old roads in Changi area and paste them over present Changi Airport I believe is relatively easy compared to the old cemeteries at Bishan.

Icemoon said...

I think Nicoll Drive either got cut off or was Changi Coast Road part of Nicoll Drive?

I have seen the old Changi coastline where after the SAF Ferry Terminal, it dips down; on reaching the Beting Kusah Battery, it curves gradually inland until Terminal 1 where it becomes straight again. The coastline cuts through/parallel to Terminal 3. Many innocent lives were lost on this spot during Sook Ching. To answer Peter's question, Tanah Merah Besah Road ends on one of the airport's runway.

So I didn't know Nicoll Drive extends so far south-west.

Lam Chun See said...

Nicoll Drive definitely cut off. It used to be quite long. Changi Coast Road not part of Nicoll Drive. That area is on reclaimed land.

I remember Tanah Merah Besar Road in those days was a very straight road becos it ran alongside the perimeter of the Changi Prison. That's why I say it is quite easy to work out the old coastline. It just goes straight towards the sea and then makes a 90 deg left turn into Nicoll Drive.

Ngiam Shih Tung said...

Interesting that that British were so lax with security if they were actually using live AA ammunition. Things were more innocent then.

Talking of coastal defence, in 1998, Police Coast Guard deployed coastal radars in the same area, ok, actually the reclaimed beach along Changi Coast Road. The fear, presumably, was that we might be overwhelmed by a flood of refugees fleeing the instability in Indonesia after the Asian financial crisis

Victor said...

In the early 80s, a group of colleagues and I used to go to the perimeter fencing (in Telok Paku Road, I think) and watch the planes take-off in close proximity - only about a few hundred meters away, I guess. Besides watching the planes, we also noticed that there were many courting couples in cars parked by the roadside.

When the terrorist threat emerged after September 11, 2001, these favourite public pastimes were disallowed - the authorities have closed off that stretch of the road permanently.

Anonymous said...

these are parts of Singapore which I perhaps know best from my days in the early 1960s - just before the threat from Indonesia and indeed the whole area was far more open than it is now - and of course much smaller as the then coastal road and beach are long since buried beneath the land reclamation on which the expanded Changi Airport is now built.

The area that is probably much the same is the dispersal area to the West of the airport - that was expanded after I left and of course the Upper Changi Road ran across it to get to Changi Village. The northern end of the runway is probably much where is was before but in one of my blogs I told how I and a fried got to the end of the runway to try to take photographs and got badly frightened by a low landing aircraft - there were of course no fences to stop us.

And the old coastal road and beach was the site of one of my friends house, there were two large two storey attap houses there and he had one of them, and our times on the now buried beach included getting crabs to grip firecrackers which we then lit - terrible thing to do!

Anonymous said...

U sure u went with office colleagues in the day-time or night time? Courting couples only "operate" in the dark not bright day-light. OR were you one of the couples? Hahahaha!!

That road you indicated was not Teluk Paku Road but Upper Changi Road which ran parallel to the runway.

yg said...

from the beginning, i must make it clear to peter that i have never gone to upper changi to 'putt torr' or to 'catch monkeys' but i know that that stretch was so deserted that during the day, there were already cars parked in shady places. dunno if the activities were shady.

Victor said...

Peter, note I said "colleagues" (plural). If courting couples are sighted then of course must be at night lah - there are planes taking off at night too, you know. In fact, during peak hours, a plane takes off every 5 minutes or so.

Having said that, of course it does not rule out the possibility of me having gone there with my dates (note plurality again, but one at a time). But that's as much as I would say. Hahaha.

You are right that it's not Telok Paku Road. I looked at the 2000/2001 Street Directory again and the road is the southern end of Changi Village Road, i.e. turn left from Telok Paku Road. You would come to a dead end which was just meters away from the West Perimeter Road.

Lam Chun See said...

Looks like Victor is engaging is a bit of 'coastal defense' of his own :)

Anonymous said...

That one not "coastal defense" but 'coastal landing".

Icemoon said...

So has Victor secured the beachhead?

Unknown said...

China Sea Beach Club/SAF Ferry terminal was originally the location of 2 x twin 6 pounder AMTB (anti motor torpedo boat) guns. They were designed to rip the hauls of hostile shipping approaching the RN base. The guns were part of Changi Fire Command which was made up of a network of 6 pdrs, 6 inch, 9.2 inch and 15 inch guns to defend the western sector of Singapore and the RN base prior to the British surrender in WW2. In the photo immediately behind the caucasian man can be seen the no.2 gun position with the Fire Direction Tower. There are still several surviving gun positions similar to this one in Singapore.

EEE Gardeners said...

Fig 2!

GREAT THANKS for posting this photo!

Any more photos from him at the same place?


My gradfather stayed at Yang Kit Village (opp prison) and operated a restaurant there when I was a kid.

On some weekend nights, we (a huge group of cousins) had to help up with the business and stayed overnight at bunkers (with canons and dungeons) facing the seas. It is paited with THAT familiar PINK!!! OMG....

So happy!

Beachcomber said...

I lived for a while in a wooden bungalow - 395 Nicoll Drive, very near one end of the airfield (before it was Changi Airport). This was in 1960. To get there from Changi Village we would drive past the end of the runway - there was a sharp double-bend somewhere there. There were also mangrove swamps all around. Further along nicoll Drive, twoards Singapore City, there was a hotel called The Casuarinas. Between that and our house was some children's home or something, I can't remember clearly.

David V Smith said...

WOW! The China Sea Beach Club! Memories are floding back! The long drive along the Tampines Road past what was then the rubish dump (1967 to 1971) our destination was always the Beach club! Hiring a canoe by the hour and sinking it much to my brothers consternation! Eating chips along with ice cold coke and a fruit machine that cost 5 cents a go!

It was here I had my first experience of seeing a european Transvestite LOL!

Happy memories indeed this is the first mention of the club i have found anywhere so my thanks for the memories!

Lam Chun See said...

Whoaa .... David. You are a bit late aren't you? This article is already 4 years old. Anyway, better late than never. Welcome to Good Morning Yesterday.

To read related articles on Changi, click on the label Changi on the right side.


David V Smith said...

Hi Lam Chun See,

Many thanks for your kind replies, my pending retirement from the Civil Service (I'm a Marine Cartographer) and contacting a few few old school chums after over 40 years has started me off on memory lane! I started on google earth and moved on to the many sites with bits about "Old" singapore. I'd dearly love to settle in "singers" but alas my UK pension wouldn't be enough!

I lived first in Woodsville cout on Graham White Drive, then to Sundridge Park in Bradell Heights before moving to Poulden Court Jaln Kayu (outside the Seletar Base) Time hasn't deminished my memories of what I consider to be the happiest time in my life so may i add thanks to you for such a wonderful site.

Stick Fighter Journey said...

I learned to swim at the China Sea Club back in 1968. My Dad was in the FEAF Band at Changi. The years we spent in Singapore (1968-70) are accepted by all four of us (me, Mum, Dad and sister) as the best of our lives. I went back last November 2012 and tomorrow I return with my wife and five daughters to show them this great city-state. Thanks for the web site, Perry