Wednesday, March 11, 2009

SAF (public) training areas – Where is Hill 265? (by Peter Chan)

Hill 265 was used as a site for Company and Platoon-level defense exercises for “active infantry units” or those attending OCS and SATO courses. For trainees after a hard day’s work of “grave digging”, they retreated to the bunkers to chat about our future after NS or to look to the Johore skies at night. Duck-walk and kissing a single tall tree that grew at one end of Hill 265 remained in the memories of the very unfortunate soldiers who were often punished for breaches of field training safety.

Photo 1: Impressions of the Mandai forest area taken 40 years ago. Hill 265 is at the top right corner and Lorong Asrama is at the bottom right corner. Tracts of cultivated vegetable plots are found north of Hill 255. South of Hill 251 are the ponds.

It was a big challenge to “rediscover” the origins of former SAF camps and training areas but I can tell you the immense satisfaction and surprises after finding one. To begin with, I had very little intelligence on Hill 265. Through the years, I was told the following;
a) Has a good view of the Sultan of Johore’s palace whose tower resembles very much like our St Andrew’s School tower,
b) Former SAF regulars pointed out that Hill 265 is still around and was in the Singapore Sports School” compound,
c) Another hill from the era of Hill 265 - Hamburger Hill - is still used by the SAF, and
d) Hill 265 was linked to Mandai Road through Lorong Asrama.
Photo 2: Left - A fire trench with a soldier armed with mounted AR15 on look-out duty. Right – Platoon marching in a single file formation on Lorong Asrama towards Hill 265. Platoon Commander and his runner are at the back of the single line formation. (circa 1974)

Photo 3: the Line of Sight from a hill in Mandai/Marsiling training area points to a tower called the Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim which is now blocked by Waterfront City (circa 1981). From a distance, we saw the top of the tower emitted a yellow glow at night. During WW2 General Yamashita stood in this building peering through his binoculars across the Straits of Johore into the Kranji area.

We had to summon all historical knowledge on what the SAF had previously trained us to be good mapping specialists and intelligence scouts. Frankly, what we did was rather primitive. Finally the big day arrived. Initially it was quite hard to accept that this was Hill 265 but in Singapore nothing really remains after 15 years since we are always renewing ourselves.

So where was Hill 265?
Our conclusion is that Hill 265 is now the open space between Woodgrove Avenue, Woodlands Avenue 2 and the 11km Seletar Expressway. The same water-pipeline from Tebrau Water Works, Johore into Singapore runs parallel to the BKE. The Woodlands South Flyover was built over farm houses and ponds. At Exit 11 of the SLE, to your left was Hill 251.

Photo 4: This we believe is what is left of Hill 265. Behind us is the SLE. Photo taken on 5 Mar 2009.
Chun See continues ……

I am afraid I do not have much recollections of this place called Hill 265 although the name is familiar. However, whenever I drive along the SLE past what I now know is Hill 265 - or what is left of it - and exit downwards towards Woodlands Ave 2 and see the flat land before me, I am reminded of a sight from my SISL days.

I believe the exercise was called Recce Patrol. We started after lunch from the old Bt Panjang Community Centre at Lorong Malai off Upper Bukit Timah Road and made our way northwards in section-size groups (8 men) towards Marsiling. Our mission was to spy on some location there and report back. I remember the long and arduous trek through difficult terrain. Finally we climbed a ridge and as we emerged on the other sight, we were met with the unforgettable sight of a huge valley below us and lots of vegetable farms and hills in the distance. I believe that ridge that we climbed that afternoon 38 years ago must have been Hill 265.
Another encounter with Hill 265 was a night training exercise during my OCS days which involved ‘withdrawal’. As often the case, I was appointed the ‘casualty’ and my section mate had to carry me using the fireman lift method. He ran along a ridge and to our right was a steep slope. My position was very comfortable, but I dared not complain, knowing how tired my friend was. All the while, I was keeping my fingers crossed that he wouldn’t drop me down the slope.

32 comments:

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. That JB tower in your photo (3) is the one that I saw from Hill 180. You mean it was part of the Sultan's palace? How on earth did I get the impression that it was part of a prison complex?

peter said...

Chun See, how on earth you associated that bdlg with a prison? JB Prison is further out of town. Where prison tower look so beautiful at night? In the daytime we already can see got one big lawn in front of the tower.

This bdlg was visible from both hills BUT more clearly from Hill180. Now I think I know where "Marsiling Girl" parked her bicycle to sell soft drinks - must be present Blk 123 or the carpark next to it. There were rows of terraced vegetable plots next to a hut which I had put up in my previous article.

peter said...

Chun See
There was another white colored bdlg to the left of the tower when viewed from Singapore. It has 2 short towers - I am not sure what is that bdlg but some friends say it's a mosque.

Back in the 1970s when travellers from Singapore headed to Mechinta Night Club@Sewview Hotel to watch striptease show, you sure can see this sultan tower. Of course that all changed when people now headed to Taman Sentosa for food and fun.

Icemoon said...

Wah, AR15 with bipod?! This is new to me, not having seen M16 with bipod.

Keith said...

Peter, your air photo is amazing and has squeezed much memory out of my brain about that area. Your 'lone tree hill' most probably still exist. Recall we saw troops walking up and down (last time I leopard crawled up) the slope between Hill 255 and the training shed. The 'lone tree' is at the top right after the slope. Is a pity we cannot go to 255.

2ndshot is absolutely correct; SLE probably runs straight through the peak of Hill 265.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. I think I got the impression that it was a prison becos it was old and grey and similar to the Changi Prison wall that we saw when we exit old Tampines Road in the old days.

Must not forget that I was on Hill 180 for a few days and saw the tower clearly in the day time. I think that is also the reason why I remembered the 2 KD Malaya blocks. We had to go downhill several times to collect rations, water etc. Must have seen them and the school many times.

If only I have someone else who was also from my company to exchange memories with, more will surely re-surface. Right now I am exchanging emails with an primary school classmate and each email brought up forgotten images and recollections.

ordinary guy said...

I wonder if "Peng Kang Hill" is still around? Anyone has any info given that SAFTI has relocated to SMI. The parade square at SAFTI can "mati".

Lam Chun See said...

Yes. Peng Kang Hill is definitely around. In fact, they allowed Peter and I to make a visit in 2006 and I blogged about it here.

Lam Chun See said...

Talking about the parade square in Safti, did you know that yours truly had a part in planting the trees there. I think it was recently that an old friend from my recruit days reminded me.

In those days, you know, they liked to plant 'instant trees'. So they made us did these big holes at the edge of the parade square for the trees.

Sigh ... it looks like long before the defence camp and combat engineers, I was already getting lots of practice in the fine art of what Peter calls, 'grave digging'.

peter said...

Chun See
How can u take all the credit? I too trimmed the grass around the SSL parade square - the cookhouse drains to the company line. We were not provided with sheers but had to improvise using scissors for the edges and our hands to pull our the weeds.

BTW have you seen the bird-cage your truely built at OCS company line? But I never become an architect or join NParks Board.

Ngiam Shih Tung said...

Sorry I put this up so late - it might have made your task a little easier (was very tired lately). This is a scan of a 1978 topo map of the area.

http://picasaweb.google.com/stngiam/MarsilingArea1978?feat=directlink

I think I went to Marsiling 265 once when I was in NCC (~1981 ?) and remember seeing a hut which sold drinks presumably to thirsty NS men. By the time I went there again several years later, the residents had all been moved out and there was no more drink stall, but I managed to recognise it by a huge mound of plastic bottle cap liners ! The metal bottle caps had all rusted away and all that was left were the plastic liners. Talk of non-biodegradable :-)

peter said...

Ngiam,

I wrote one article with a photo of drink stall in Chun See blog. Can u verify this was the one? It was taken in 1974 by the way.

peter said...

Ngiam
Date of article Sept 25 2008

Lam Chun See said...

Shih Tung. Thanks for that topo map. I can clearly see Hill 100.

Peter's earlier article about Hill 265 is here.

Ngiam Shih Tung said...

Sorry, I can't tell for sure if that was the same stall or maybe a branch/competitor :-) Chun See - Which one is Hill 100 ? Marsiling CAU ? How were the hills numbered by the way ? I thought it was by the spot height, but if that's the case then Marsiling CAU 79.3m would be closer to 265 feet.

Peter yu said...

It is my great joy to chance upon this blog on Hill 265.

I had my recruit training there in 1973. For like countless days, after a briefing at the foot of the hill at one end of the ridge, we had to charge up the hill. The barren slope was orange-red in color with some patches of yellow soil where there still is shrub.

Last few would be punished, push-ups or running to the lone tree at the other end of the ridge.

From this end of the ridge, looking left was hill 200 where a pig farm is. We could heard the "chak chak" sound of the water pump. And for the training of find oneself around, once a fellow recruit fell into the shit pond there and the farmer had to help fish out the rifle.

To the right, looks down the valley, there were some houses, tracks and fish ponds. The greenery stretch far beyond. But don't remember or did not know seeing Malaysia. At night the view is fantastic and even nostalgic.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Peter Yu for sharing your stories of Hill 265. It helps to confirm some of the stuff that I vaguely recall.

Lam Chun See said...

I think I shared this somewhere in my blog before. Those farm areas was where we spent hours at one time searching for a lost bayonet that some poor soldier lost. I also remember buying lots of soft drinks from the kampong shops. I drank so much soft drinks that I developed a persistent discomfort in my stomache. Fortunately, when I stopped this bad habit, it went away.

Edwin said...

I am surprised no one has blogged about the memories of the Colombo training area, an old training ground long gone.

Colombo brings back fond memories to those who had the opportunity to train there up to the mid 8O's. Colombo's hilly terrain and size were close to that of Marsiling. The area is bounded by Clementi Road, Sungei Ulu Pandan and Ayer Rajah Road, which is now the Clementi housing estates.

Unlike Marsiling, where some parts of the training ground, such as Hill 265, still exist, there is no trace left behind for Colombo. On the ridges of Colombo, you could see as far as Jurong Hill and the southern islands.

Wonder anyone can share their memory of this site.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Edwin. Interesting input you gave about the Colombo trg area. Actually this is the first time I hear about this place.

But I am just wondering; could you have got the location mixed up? You mentioned that it was at the present Clementi New Town area in the mid-80's. But I checked my 1981 street directory. In 1981, much of Clementi New Town was already present; such as Commonwealth Ave West, Avenues 2, 5, 3 and 4. And also Clementi Town Cente including the Polyclinic and Empress Theatre.

Could you be actually be referring to the area near Maju Camp, and end of Sunset Way towards Toh Tuck Road and south of the PIE? In my 1981 street directory, I notice several dirt tracks there. Today its mostlly factories and Clementi Ave 6.

peter said...

Chun See
Edward is correct. The approximate location of Colombo Camp is where Clementi MRT Station is now. The SAF first Staff & Command College was located here in 1968/69.

The place was used extensiveky for motor-cross for 2-wheelers on week-ends after grand prix was banned from 1973 onwards.

Edwin said...

Sorry Chun See for causing some confusion - I was mistaken on when Clementi New Town was developed. I did my trainings in the Colombo trg area in 1974. I have checked and found that Clementi New Town was developed from 1975 to 1979. That meant we were amongst the last few batches to train in Colombo, before it make way for the devlopment of the new town.

The old trg area stretched as far west as Jln Lempeng, which has now being developed into the Faber Garden private housing estate.

You mentioned Maju Camp, the area end of Sunset Way. I believe you were referring to the old Maju Camp which was located at the end of the now defunct Lorong Gaung. Colombo trg area was just at the opposite side of Sungei Ulu Pandan.

Peter mentioned about 2-wheeler autocross. The rugged terrain there was definitely a haven for such activity.

FIVE-TWO said...

wow I have been thinking about Hill 265 for a long time, finally some real information on where it was.

I was on Hill 265 for SISL defense camp when we were recalled upon the death of President Sheares.

Do you have a Google Earth marker for the hill (and the drinks stall!)

- HW Choy

Icemoon said...

Ooh, interesting. So you have Maju and Colombo on different side of Sungei Ulu Pandan, and you have the Jurong Railway running just beside the Sungei.

Edward, have you seen the Jurong Railway during your training in Colombo?

Redstorm said...

Chun See, sorry for the late reply. What Edwin mentioned about the location of the Colombo Camp training ground is correct except the time. The whole place was developed into the present day Clementi Town somewhere around the late 70s. I was did my BMT final field exercise in Colombo camp training area in early 74 and we entered by Jalan Lempeng. The whole training ground was very huge with lotsa "CB" leaves. Lol When I was posted to SAFPU, situated in Ulu Pandan Rd/Clementi Rd junction, as a regular I have had the opportunity to witness the whole place being demolished to make way for the new HDB new town. I remember Colombo Camp because I had to visit the MO, who happened to be the son of the then first President, Yusof Ishak, to have a fish bone removed from my throat. Colombo Camp was accessible by a road called Jalan Cooper which runs parallel from the canal. Today, the road is still there was it has since being converted to a non-vehicular track.

Anonymous said...

I did a search on the web. Apparently, a couple of trail runs and adventure race covered the area around Lor Asrama. There were mentioned of Hill 265 by the participants. Part of hill may still.

http://www.triathlonfamily.com/forum/lofiversion/index.php/t7791.html

"JP, i remembered hearing at the briefing that Hill 265 is steep and to be careful..."

http://mingloid.blogspot.com/

"While searching for Hill 265 checkpoint..."

http://crazy2tri.blogspot.com/

"At the top of first 265 knoll was the RFID sensor..."

Tekko said...

I ran in Lor Asrama and went up Hill 265 last year. I have a post here:http://runningsucks.blogspot.com/2010/09/tnf-progressive-run-lorong-asrama.html This year, the North Face 100 Challenge will also pass through this area including Hill 265. Good chance to go in and take photo on that day.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I love to hear the name Hill 265 where troops are training at that area where i was a little young girl selling drink at the other side of the foot of the hill. And I stay further down the bottom of the hill. We call the road name Lorong Serinda - now had disappeared.

Miss those day and the life there.

Poon said...

Hi

Can anyone tell me,is the small hill between Singapore Sports School and Woodlands Ave 12 part of Hill 265?

Cho Sing Kum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cho Sing Kum said...

Hi Poon,

Hill 265 is not in that area. From my NS days memory as an instructor at SISL, SAFTI, Hill 265 is south of Hill 180 (now Woodlands Town Park). Hill 265 is still there today although I have not been back there since. Fom Google map, it now now covered with trees while back then it was quite botak at the summit.

Go to Google and search for 1.421545, 103.778469, and it will bring you to Hill 265 on Google map.

The hill at Singapore Sports School is Hill 212.

The triangle position of the 3 hills was used by SISL training for defence camp, recce patrol and attack.

Hope this help.

lioncity08 said...

Hi, Sing Kam,

I come across your post. Your coords are right. During my army days, I have recced, topo to, attacked and defended both Hill 265 and Hill 180.
They are approximaely aligned N/S. Current position of Hill 180 is correct. Not sure if that huge boulder on top and was next to my CP is still there. I still remember eating Char Kuay Teow at night at one of the then newly built HDB blocks in 1974 during my defence camp.

3 tonners accessed Hill 265 from Jalan Asrama. Topo east and we will hit Jalan Ulu Sembawang, the usual end point. I think Hill 265 is presently in a Mindef restricted area.