My grandfather moved in from Tras Street to the pre-war SIT flats in late 1937. Incidentally the original house at Tras Street still stands and renamed as the Acclaim House. The Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats were built and offered for rent by the British Colonial Government. In 1966 the HDB, in the first acid test for public home-ownership, offered the SIT flats for sale to the existing tenants. I understand there were many criticisms and grouses from the ground and it prompted the speedy intervention of the then Prime Minister. Many took up the government offer for alternative public housing but our family took up the government offer. We paid S$20,000 for our flat.
For some people, Tiong Bahru area is an area bounded by the CTE, Yong Siak Street, Kim Pong Road and Tiong Bahru Road. For me my best recollection is on the Pre-war SIT housing. I guess it is due to my observations as a child who grew to adulthood and the stories that were told to us by our forefathers.
My soft-spoken grandfather was an ARP (Air Raid Protection) warden at the onset of WW2 and loved to tell us “grandfather stories”. Promptly on a Saturday at 5 pm, he brought his grandchildren on a heritage tour. There was a string of us walking and laughing; the older ones holding the hands or piggy-back the younger ones (youngest was 2 years of age), as we walked down the corridor of the pre-war SIT flats. I believe this experience is one reason for our close bonding till today even down to the level of our children. By the way if you thought that we were “hum sup”, I like to point out that Tiong Bahru pre-war SIT ground floor flats have bedroom windows that face the main street. A slight breeze blows the curtains wide open. We saw the air raid shelter at Block 78 and the spots where sandbags lined the streets. My grandfather pointed-out to us where the first Japanese bombs landed on the pre-war SIT flats; funny thing many did not explode after landing on the flat roof-top. The Japanese bombs landed in Tiong Bahru Estate because they missed their target at the Singapore General Hospital.
Eng Hoon Street does have a bit of history. It was the path taken by the retreating Australian and Indian soldiers when Singapore was about to fall to the Japanese in February 1942. My grandfather told me the soldiers took off their uniforms and helmets, and threw away their medals on the street before heading towards Cantonment Road. The kids picked up the left-overs but soon threw it away because the Japanese soldiers entered Eng Hoon Street to set-up a Sook Ching “Desk”. After the war, it was the street that sick patients from all parts of Tiong Bahru Estate walked all the way through College Road to get to “Say Pai Por” A&E Department.
For some reason, the Cantonese group was the dominant group at Eng Hoon Street since 1937. The Hokkiens and Teochews, the Cantonese being the minority, in other parts of the Tiong Bahru Estate. So we conversed in Cantonese with our immediate neighbours. This all changed after 1966 when other dialectical groups moved in. At one time our immediate neighbour was the Chinese comedian Wong Sar, the “Skinny One”; he was Teochew-speaking. The Cantonese families felt the other dialectical groups were “loud-mouth” but for me I found Teochew girls especially better looking than the others.