Over the years, much changes have taken place in Marsiling. A whole new Woodlands New Town, complete with MRT lines, have emerged and I had assumed that Hill 180 had long vanished from the face of this earth. Still I was very curious to find out where exactly Hill 180 used to be, and where would it be today.
With the help of my friend Peter Chan and one of my readers, Keith, we went on a ‘mission’ to find Hill 180 and Hill 265 last week. I am very happy to report that our ‘mission’ was a success. We believe that Hill 180, or at least part of it is still intact. We also found what was left of Hill 265. I will blog about the former and let Peter tell you about Hill 265.
We did not have much to go on. First, my memories from 38 years ago.
1) I saw two blocks of flats
I remember that as our 3-tonner approached the foot of Hill 180, there were two blocks of what looked like HDB flats on the right side the road. I saw some Malay women and children in front of these flats. A short distance after passing the flats, we reached the foot of the hill where we unloaded our defence stores – stuff like iron pickets, sandbags, wooden beams and changkols. We carried our stores up the hill along a gentle slope, continuing in the easterly direction from where the road ended.
The reason these two blocks of flats remained quite fresh in my memory is that in subsequent years, when I traveled along the present Marsiling Road, I often saw these two blocks of flats. But last week, when we went there, I did not expect to see them anymore. Hence I was happily surprised to see them still there in an open field, but fenced up. According to Peter, they belonged to KD Malaya, or Royal Malaysian Navy and were the housing quarters for staff of the Malaysian Navy camp which used to be located at Admiralty Road (near the present Riverside Road).
2) I could see JB
The hill was divided into sectors. My platoon was in charge of one sector called Apple (or maybe Orange) Sector. One night I was on guard duty. In the dead of the night when most of the others were asleep, I sat in my shell-scrape and admired the beautiful sight of the Johor causeway as well as the neon lights of Johor Bahru. (I seem to recall seeing a grey tower-like structure which was part of the JB prison. Can anyone confirm?). Of course, it was also a time for reflection; and as you might expect, I felt lonely and homesick.
3) A newspaper article
Another vital piece of clue was this 1974 news clipping with Peter sent me. It was about a soldier who was killed by lightning on Hill 180. It mentioned that Hill 180 was off Marsiling Avenue. With the help of a map from YG’s 1970 street directory, we were thus able to work out the rough location of Hill 180. We suspected that it should be next to Woodlands St 13. Peter even singled out Block 118.
What we saw last week
As we traveled along Woodlands Street 13, I was so glad to see the Marsiling Apartments and thought to myself – could these be the same blocks that I saw in 1971?
It soon became apparent that they were. And then we saw this hill near the bend in the road. There was a track leading up the hill which I was so sure was the very same one that we took in 1971. Once we reached the top of the hill, the first thing I tried to confirm was, would we be able to see JB from here?
The answer was yes. Even though the view was blocked by some flats, JB and the causeway would definitely be visible had the flats not been there.
We were thus very sure that we had found Hill 180 or part of it at least. But two doubts lingered.
a) Peter remarked that the hill was too low to be Hill 180.
b) I recall clearly that the 2 blocks of flats were to my right hand side in 1971 when we approached the hill; and they were quite near to the road.
Hence, our final conclusion is that Hill 180 was located in what is today the Woodlands Town Park East. In 1971, there was another road parallel to Woodlands Street 13 which was north of the Marsiling Apartments. Maybe it was today’s Marsiling Road. The actual Hill 180 would be slightly to the north of and probably joined to this hill that we climbed on 5th of March 2009.