Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Memories from an old news clipping (2) – SAF (public) training areas



Today I want to continue from where I left off the last time to blog about an item in that 1969 newspaper clipping my neighbour gave me. There was a small announcement entitled; “Military Exercises this week” which mentioned the times and places where military exercises would be conducted. Of course nowadays, the army no longer carries out training in such public places; but up to the 70’s it was quite commonplace. By that time, the announcement usually carried an extra sentence which warned the public not to be alarmed by the sound of blanks and thunder flashes.

In the above announcement, the following places were mentioned: Chua Chu Kang, Marsiling, Jurong and Tuas. As far as I know, there were a number of other areas. Those that I have personally experienced include Hong Kah, Mandai, Neo Tiew Road and Tampines in the east.

Because my time was mainly spent in Safti, I experienced a lot of training in the Jurong area. Nowadays, I often fetch my daughter to her classes at the NTU (Nanyang Technological University). Driving along some of the fringe roads, I keep thinking that I must have done a couple of “Enemy on the right … Charge!”s there. That’s because from our training area, we could see the dormitories of Nantah. At that time, to access this area, we would get out of Safti via an opening in the fence on a slope at the back of OCS.


The young reader may find this a bit difficult to picture, but in those days, all these training areas were very, very different from today. To give you an idea, I show you a sketch of the Hong Kah area from my 1981 street directory. Today this area is all empty land between the PIE and KJE. In those days, it was thriving with life. There were a lot of kampong houses, shops, schools, temples, a community centre and a big Chinese cemetery called Bulim Cemetery. The most prominent landmark was a brick factory with a very tall chimney which could be seen from miles around, including Jurong Road. It was a great boon for us soldier boys because it helped us to orientate our position on the topo map.

This is the Green Haven Half Way House in Old Jurong Road. It used to be school in the Hong Kah area (I think).

This used to be one of the many tracks that traversed this part of Singapore.


As for the Marsiling area; I remember it had a lot of vegetable farms and the area was very hilly. In my Section Leaders training days, I did lots of topo training here. The most prominent object here was the water pipe line. We were not allowed to follow it because that would make our job too simple ….. but do you think we would be so obedient? I remember one time we started off from a community centre in Jalan Malai in Bukit Panjang. There was a nearby Telecom exchange.

The most ‘memorable’ incident as far as Marsiling is concerned was when somebody in our company lost his bayonet. We wasted hours combing the area searching in the bushes, drains, ponds and vegetable plots for the missing bayonet. I cannot recall if it was found in the end.

Talking of blanks and thunder flashes, I am reminded of a tragic accident that happened during my time in NS (National Service). In those days, many civilian kids liked to follow the soldiers to pick up spent bullets (plastic blanks) in order to sell as scrap. Often they even ventured into the restricted areas like Area D in the Sungei Gedong area. In this particular accident, which I only learned from the newspapers, a young girl was rushing to pick up the bullets; and in her haste she got in front of a soldier’s rifle and was killed by the flash and hot gases emitting from the barrel. Yes; it’s true; blanks can kill if fired at close range; especially when you hit the vulnerable areas of a young victim. If you have seen the flash emerging from the barrel of the M16 firing blanks at night, you will believe me; especially when set to ‘auto’.

I am sure the older guys who have done NS will recall many incidents about doing their military training is such public areas. My friend Peter will share some of his memories the next time.

28 comments:

Icemoon said...

I thought it is chargeable offense to keep even blanks. Or does that apply to soldiers only?

By the way, where is Bulim Cemetery? It is unmarked on the maps I've seen. Is it beside Bulim Village, where the Police Training Center? near Tengah Airbase is today?

Icemoon said...

Wah, this entry I suddenly have many things to say.

Talking about blanks, 'cos I often play enemy during conscription, I get to fire at will.

We play such 'important' role that if we fire too early, they have to hide and flank to our position. Imagine bashing through few hundred metres of thick bushes, mud, slope etc. to reach our position. If we don't start firing, they have to pretend they never see us, even if we are spotted.

About firing at close range, I like to place the barrel near a leaf often with insects crawling then bang! The leaf gone - that's how powerful it is.

pcwong said...

Hi Icemoon

Bulim cemetery is marked as Chinese cemetery along Old Jurong Road on the 1981 street directory that you see.

I also did training at SAFTI for my SISL course and remember Old Jurong Road. I think it's the only way to SAFTI then. When we book out, we will take a pirate taxi or bus out to Beauty World to spend the evening.

As for other training areas, there was also the Sebawang and Mandai areas. I was at the School of Signals then at Nee Soon camp and we would train in the Bah Soon Pah area, which was a road opposite the arty camp (where our PM used to be stationed) along Sebawang Road. The training area was quite huge.

The training area at Mandai was near the Singapore zoo and the Mandai columbarium. There were many vegetable gardens around our training area and you can still see some of these as you travel along the SLE towards the BKE. The first time I saw these gardens, I thought I was in some foreign country as I never knew such farms existed in Singapore. We would sometimes drop by the farms during training and buy food and drinks. There were also many villages and kampongs in these areas as we passed through them during training. Those were certainly memorable times.

Lam Chun See said...

I think the area marked 'Chinese cemetery' in my 1981 map is Bulim Cemetery. Interestingly, even in my 2001 street directory, the cemetery is still there just below the new section of PIE going towards Tuas. (Previously, PIE ended at Corporation Rd). Also a part of Hang Kah Circle and Hong Kah Road was also shown.

By the way, I think Icemoon would enjoy this article about Bulim Cemetery; especially the photos.

Another interesting thing. I search the National Archives photos and found another Bulim Chinese cemetery at Upper Serangoon???

Lam Chun See said...

As I wrote before, one of the ‘benefits’ of NS was that we were able to see many places that most Singaporeans (of my generation even), have never seen, nor will ever see again.

PCwong. You may want to check out what I wrote about the Beauty World area where I used to catch the Green Bus 175 to Safti.

yg said...

just the other day my friend was telling me about marsiling area before it was developed. yes, a lot of farms. at the junction of riverside road and woodlands avenue 9, according to him, there was a duck farm.
when the government built the flats along marsiling road, at first the take-up rate was very slow. so much so that the hdb had to combine 3 and 4 room flats into jumbo flats.
but soon after they announced the building of the mrt line, there was a rush to buy flats in that area.

Icemoon said...

Wait a minute.

Was PIE realigned? How come the PIE curves down instead of up? I was confused many weeks ago when Peter wrote about a cemetery north of the expressway. at Hong Kah. But I thought today, the cemetery (now expunged) should be south of PIE.

You can see my overlap of the area in my artillery gun article here.

For some photos of the place, look here.

Icemoon said...

Chun See, the NAS photos have quite a few mistakes in their labelling. I remember emailing them few years ago for correction. Can't remember they did it or not.

Anyway if that cemetery is Bulim, it is misleading. Distance wise, it is nearer to Hong Kah Village rather than Bulim Village right? The cemetery is at Hong Kah Drive somemore!

Lam Chun See said...

Strictly speaking PIE was not realligned but extended. Previously it ended at Corporation Road, Later they built the Hong Kah Flyover, and added the portion to Tuas. That short stretch leading to Corporation Rd is now Jurong West Ave 2.

peter said...

In 1973-75 on our way home from SAFTI Pasir Laba, we saw the construction of the PIE in stages. In some parts the PIE took over the old Jurong Road but in many places the PIE was to our right (on our way to Jalan Jurong Kechil). This was because a new dual carriage was built. The old Jurong Road actually a single carriage with 2 lanes. So land had to be acquired rather than widening the old Jurong Road. There were no flyovers yet except that part of the PIE near Buki Batok.

I am no longer familiar with this part of Singapore having detached myself for a good >25 years, the last was doing my reservist at Pasir Laba Field Camp.

In 1975 I saw the PIE stopped at Corporation Drive, this must be the road before Jalan Bahar. The old Jurong Road and prominent landmarks existed beyond Jalan Bahar where there was a field full of antennas - it was called the Jurong Transmitting Station which was operated by Radio Singapore and Singapore Telecom. This field is not the same as the British Army transmitting Station at Chin Bee Road and another one operated by the RAF called RAF Jurong. RAF Jurong became the 3 SAF Signals Bn I believe but today is the site of the Singapore Discovery Center. SAF Married Quarters with a few blocks was there and I believe it is there still today but accommodation for foreign workers.

Hong Kah Flyover is where Hong Kah Circle is today but I think the flyover is south of the old Jurong Road.

peter said...

Bulim Cemetery is opposite Tengah AB. The one at Hong Kah is not Bulim.

peter said...

The PIE stretch to Tuas is not old Jurong Road. It is sourth of Old Jurong Road, taking land from the Lokyang area.

On book-out day, I got free lift to Clementi Road via Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim. We took old Jurong Road and turned into this present road that connects Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim to SAFTI MI. There was a hill with a water tank on top - still there today. There were no flyovers like today. We like this road because the PIE construction always lead to bottlenecks and congestion.

BY this time Jurong Industrial Estate fairly developed into Gul Avenue, Gul Crescent and Gul 9whatever the name) area.

pcwong said...

Hi Chun See

Yes. I did read about your Beauty World post.

Hi Peter,

I'm surprised that Bulim Cemetery is opposite Tengah AB. I remember seeing a Chinese sign over the cemetery at Old Jurong Road during the 70s but can't remember what it said.

I remember the SAFTI married quarters. But it was used by OCS lady cadets as their barracks during my time at SAFTI in 1978.

Lam Chun See said...

I think Peter is mistaken about the PIE stretch to Tuas. It is north of Old Jurong Road, not south. A short stretch of old Jurong Road still remains near the junction of Jurong West Ave 2 and Corporation Road. But it is blocked off from the main road and deserted. I pass be this place very often. One of these days, I will take some photos for you.

Peter could be right though about the location of Bulim Cemetery. I remember attending my godmother's funeral in the late 70's. At that time I already moved out of the kampong and she was still there. She was buried at Bulim and I remember it was some distance from the main road (Jurong Rd).

Actually, I have been wanting to do a 'heritage trail' series on Old Jurong Road. That's why I took those old photos of the Green Haven and nearby last year.

passerby said...

Actually, I have been wanting to do a 'heritage trail' series on Old Jurong Road.

I'll keep my eyes peeled!

peter said...

Huh got lady cadets at Married Quarters? Must be after my time. We used to do guard duty and that place horrible. One canteen and 1 stall only selling noodle soup. Can u tahan nothing to eat and nothing to smoke during Sunday guard duty? One time Major Toh Chee keong (x-commando CO) visited his friend and asked one of the guards to buy from the canteen. After we told him the menu, he send one of us to Jurong Kechil to buy food. We took advantage of this and bought cigarettes and packet noddles from Jurong Kechil market.

Chun See can u remember we could see some red & white chimneys in the Jurong area when PIE built? If on the way from pasir Laba to Jurong Kechil, these objects on my right.

peter said...

About chinese cemetery, one time we did some exercise at Lim Chu kang chinese cemetery. There was this Sword of Honour officer (just graduated) who tekan us and also kow beh king. His name was 2LT Lim Geok Seng. During one of the nite exercise, we saw somehting on a chinese tombstone. We lighted a match and saw a photo engraved on the stone. The photo read as "Lim Geok Seng". We all alughed and this 2LT heard the noise and as usual kow beh. he came to ask us what's the fuss? So we told him what we saw. From that day, he no longer kow beh anymore.

Lam Chun See said...

Towards the end of my time in OCS, some female cadets joined OCS. Around 7-something in the morning, they would come around to Charlie Coy line to draw arms. One of my section mates (better not reveal his name) whose bunk was just next to the armskote was still happily walking around in his underwear!

Lam Chun See said...

One thing about the early PIE that sticks to my mind was the row of newly planted coconut trees as you approached Corporation Road. Planted in a neat row next to the drain; they all bent in the same direction. Today, everytime I pass by this area, I can't help noticing how much they have grown.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shot of the Green Haven Half Way House. That's Jurong School where I previously studied in the 70s. To know more about the school, visit http://schools.moe.edu.sg/jurong/abthist.htm.

I am familiar with the cemetery. We played hide and seek there almost everyday.

More about the cemetery at http://spi.com.sg/forum/viewtopic.php?t=10777.

By the way, there was a school much deeper in. Guess what? It was called Bulim School. I think it was a single block school. I would know. My mom was a teacher there.

Apart from all the infantry action, the airforce flies in that area as well. There were some crashes: one crashed into an egg farm and another involved an Aus and RSAF plane; the RSAF one crashed into an attap house and killed a young lady.

Chew

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Chew for aharing this information with us.

thinkandyouwillget said...

Just discovered this website and it is interesting. You guys have served NS way before me. During my time (mid 90s), we were at this place called redhut hill, which is at the end of CCK cemetery extending from the current Singapore Shooting Range. It is also near the current 201 Squadron. Sadly, the graves have been exhumed 5 yrs ago. I have wonderful memories of that area. I hope someone have photos to share.

lim said...

When I was serving NS in the 70s, I always looked forward to training outside the camp. Somehow, I just never liked that kind of discipline they imposed in the camp. Many happy memories of training sessions outside camp especially topo marches in areas like Hong Kah, Marsiling, Tekong, Bedok, Tampines, and even Pasir Laba live firing area is a beautiful place rewarding you with a great view after you have charged up the hill, of course. My favourite place is the farming area of Marsiling. It's so pastoral, so different from the rest of Singapore. Unfortunately, it's all gone now except for Woodlands Park. I believe a bigger area could have been left as it is and developed into a recreational park like Pulau Ubin. After all, didn't they declare the old Punggol Road as a heritage Rd now. We should have been more aware of our heritage long before some of these areas were flattened.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Lim. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memoires. Fully agree with your sentiments regarding the old places. Hope you can get touch with me via email.

Anonymous said...

Hi, happened to find this blog after searching for Hong Kah Circle and Jurong Primary School. The Green Haven site was previously occupied by Jurong Primary School, the only English School in Hong Kah Circle. There was a Chinese Primary School, Xingnan Primary School. We lived at the foot of the hill from Jurong Primary School in Hong Kah Circle Kampong. For those who serve NS outside camp and went to Hong Kah for training, probably you guys had came into our home before. We used to have soldiers wearing full suit holding onto their rifles moving around our kampong and we would give them drinks. We were all very young then and excited to see them. Helicopters and some cargo planes flown very low too and we would wave to them whenever they flown passed our roof.

agongkia said...

I am looking into Bulim cemetery here as my grandpa 'stayed there' before and landed up here.Nice blog that brings me back many memories.
Your punki here reminded me of the days catching fighting fishes and your open air cinema photo here reminded me of the nights that I used to sit on the last benches of that cinema.
I was staying in Somapah Road,now Expo.
On army training,I only remember one Ah Huay plucking jambus on the trees in one marsiling training areas.
Thanks for the blog.I like it.
Keep posting.

JJ said...

I remember that red brick factory with a giant chimney....it's in lam sam village. Not that i lived there, but in my army training around 2002-2005, we frequently train in the big plot of land, entering from brickland road (before it got it's current extension to bukit batok)

we would lunch at the abandoned factory compound ("we" were the regulars, training the the ns men out in the field....)

it was quite fascinating for us to explore the abandoned compound....see could see the pink brick dust everywhere...

Chun See Lam said...

Thanks for sharing JJ. How nice if we have some old photos of this place.