Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Where have all the Nissen huts gone?

My earlier articles about the Nishat at Bras Basah Road caused me to wonder how many of these Nissen huts are still in existence in Singapore. In case you do not know, a Nissen Hut is “A prefabricated building of corrugated steel in the shape of a half cylinder, used especially by military personnel as a shelter. It is named after its inventor, Lt Col. Peter Nissen (1871-1930), a British mining engineer.”

Mention Nissen hut and my mind goes back to the early 1970’s when I was an undergraduate at the University of Singapore. At that time, there were some Nissen huts at the Bukit Timah campus. Although I attended classes at the Engineering Faculty at Prince Edward Road, I had on a couple of occasions been inside these Nissen huts. I remember there was one (or more) near to the Cluny Road entrance. My friend, Peter Chan who sent me this photo would probably be able to tell us where the others were found. Sadly, they have long disappeared from the map of Singapore.



So are there any Nissen huts left in Singapore today? As far as I know, up to maybe two years ago there were at least six places where you could still find them. So with a bit of help from Peter, I put together this quiz for you. Please tell us where these photos of Nissen Huts were taken.

Photo no. 1

I start with the easiest. This one is just next to a busy road and you certainly will have no difficulty identifying the location.

Photo no. 2

This one should be quite easy as well. This place used to be a famous army camp. The first time I came here was on an unforgettable day in my life. It was the day I was called up for full-time National Service. On the way from the CMPB to Safti where we would begin our much-dreaded army life, the three-tonner made a detour and brought us here to pick up some army gear. Read my story here.

It looks like this camp is going to be demolished soon. When I went there a few weeks ago, there was signboard at the entrance warning against trespassing. But I noticed several cars with L-plates going in and out of the camp; and so I thought to myself; “If these guys can ignore the warning sign so blatantly, why can’t I?” And so I walked in and snapped several photos. Soon I realized that this place has been temporarily rented out to a driving school and before long, a driving instructor came along and chased me out. But by then I had already accomplished my mission.


Photo no. 3


This is another famous army camp. If you have been in this area, you certainly would be able to give the correct answer. In fact, if you were to go there now, you can still see the shells of several Nissen huts and other dilapidated wooden buildings like those you would find in first generation SAF army camps. Thanks again to Peter for this photo.

Photo no. 4

This one is a bit difficult. But I have blogged about this place before, and if you have read my piece, you just might be able to give the correct answer.

Photo no. 5

This last one is probably the most difficult. I think even Peter would not know the answer. So I’d better give you some hints. I stumbled upon it quite by chance two years ago.

1) It is located in the Western part of Singapore.
2) It is not within an army camp or a huge government complex.

Peter told me that there is yet one more place where you’d probably be able to see some Nissen huts; and that is in the former Seletar Air Base. “It is just before the airport building as you drive in, on your left (if not demolished yet) was what used to be a staff canteen”. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go all the way to Seletar to check this out. If you live nearby and are able to confirm the status of these interesting buildings, please do update us. Better still take a couple of photos and send them to me so that I can add them to my collection.

And if you know of any other place where you can still find Nissen huts in Singapore, do share the knowledge with us. Or you can also set a quiz to challenge us.

24 comments:

DC said...

I know number 2! It's just opposite my house! Hahaha...

Andrew said...

My guess...

1. waterworks near Istana/cavanagh?

2. cck camp

3. kranji camp

4. this i have not visited. heh

5. near pasir laba?

:)

Victor said...

I blogged about Photo No. 3 here. Andrew's guesses 1 and 3 are probably right.

Anonymous said...

Photo No 5: Jurong Lake?

Zen said...

When I was transferred to Sembawang Wharves in 1978, I had first hand experience being inside the 2 nissen huts (right side of the basin seen from Mike Robbins photo). The huts served as hardy forklift workshops for one of our tenants. They proved very useful as a servicing and repair centre which operated 24 hrs a day. In the eighties, when the port began serving bulk cargo vessels(highly mechanised) and car carriers, forklifts and other mechanical equipment lost their 'sparks' and the contractor wanted to shift their operation en-bloc to jurong. My boss and I tried very hard to convince them not to leave (for fearing losing our revenue) but were in vain. As a last resort, on knowing that they were superstitious chinese businessmen, we brought in our 'fengshui weapon', saying that the reason they were able to accumulate wealth was because our basin was something like a 'dragon mouth' swallowing the incoming tide (wealth) and the nissen huts were rightfully located near the mouth hence moving away from such an ideal location could affect their future prosperity. Taken in, they decided to shift only a small portion of their business to jurong. Conclusion: a little knowledge of fengshui can be of much help at times.

Ngiam Shih Tung said...

Technically, I'm not sure if the Bukit Timah waterworks are Nissen Huts. Waterworks are permanent structures and many of the other waterworks have barrel roofs too. For that matter, so does the Tanjong Pagar railway station. Could be that that shape is just the cheapest way of covering large areas

Ngiam Shih Tung said...

oh yeah - answers:

1) Bukit Timah waterworks (not a Nissen hut)
2) Keat Hong Camp
3) Kranji Camp (on the way to Sg Buloh)
4) Police Force Transport Branch (Fourth or Fifth Ave)
5) Who knows ? Possibly a former British Army camp converted to school or institutional use.

Lam Chun See said...

Shih Tung is right about No.1 not be a genuine Nissen hut technically. Still I thought it was interesting to show that photo becos I personally have seen this place many times and never noticed it's 'Nissen-ness' before.

In any case I was desparate to make up the figure 5 and was too lazy to go to Seletar to check out if the Nissen huts that Peter mentioned were still there.

peter said...

BT waterworks not Nissen Hut because Nissen Hut architecture specifies 1) must be metal in material from roof to ground.

Andrew said...

Ah Keat Hong, forgot the correct name. Was there to collect my bmt supplies when i was enlisted. Heh

Lam Chun See said...

Keat Hong Camp was also know as GEB, or General Equipment Base. Ah ... in those days, Chua Chu Kang was so very, very different. No high-rise buildings in sight and lots of greenery.

Wonder what they are going to do with this piece of land.

yg said...

chun see, those days when i visited the mushroom farm at bah soon pah road, off upper thomson road, the huts in which the mushrooms were grown looked like nissen huts.
a check on the internet gives these places which used to have and some still have nissen huts: 1 s'pore general hospital 2 tanah merah holiday camp 3 bukit timah campus 4 pasir panjang vocational institute 5 beach road 6 base ordinance camp (alexandra road) 7 kent ridge.

Tom said...

I have never seen any Nissen Huts for along time, the one's in the photos look big, I know there are two army training camps here in Scotland still have a few Nissen huts and they are still used for sleeping quarters, I think there where one or two Nissens in Selarang Camp, but again Iam not sure I will have to get in touch with my old army pal and ask him if he knows.

Lam Chun See said...

I found out that there is actually a group on Flickr that is devoted to Nissen huts. Maybe I should join them.

steffiesukey said...

Nissen has patented his invention in the United Kingdom in 1916 and patents were taken after the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia. Nissen has received royalties from the British government, and not for cabins during the war, but only for sale after the conflict. Nissen received around £ 13,000 and the ASM.
Cheap Holidays To Spain

Anonymous said...

Hello, I thought theses buildings are called "quonset" huts.

sehsuan said...

i'm thinking that there were some around the old upper aljunied road area in between late 1980's and early 1990's... somewhat near cedar's girls' school... or am i dreaming?

Lam Chun See said...

Upp Aljunied Rd somewhere near Cedar Girls Sch? I don't think I have seen any Nissen huts there. Maybe inside the old Gurkha Battalion in Mount Vernon there might have been some.

Oindrilla Maity Surai said...

I am a Curator and am attending a curatorial residency programme at Khoj International Artists's Association in Delhi, India. My project includes tracing the trail of a community of migrants whose journey starts from an area called Asoknagar near Calcutta (Kolkata) in the state of West Bengal.The area is traversed by scores of these huts and my project is based on probing the change that took place among this community through economy and other sociological factors - all that had evolved around the Nissen huts in India

Anonymous said...

I'm looking to find some information on Nissen Huts located in Gisborne, New Zealand post WW2. Where do you think would possibly be a good place to start? Any info kindly appreciated. Please contact Simon at seratonincobra@yahoo.co.nz

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I am now working in NUS Bt Timah Campus, and my 2 colleagues (quite senior in age) were talking about the Nissen Huts (which already gone) which used to stand in the NUS Bt Timah Campus, near the Jacab's Ballas Children's Garden, and near the 2 ancient tombs. They told me some 'spooky stories' about area too :)

peter said...

There was only 1 Nissen Hut in the Jacob Ballas Garden - that was for the sports equipment storage space. More Nissen HUts were in the NIE facing Dalvey Estate and formter Raffles Hall - used as lecture rooms.

Beng Tang said...

That camp is the old Ordnance Supply Base. On the East side of the road was HQ OSB with the MT line and QM department and CO's office and armoury. North of that is a Muslim cemetery serving Kampong Wak Selat. On the West side of the road is one of OSB's sub bases, and the Nissen huts were used as warehouses. There is one Nissen hut behind the old Nee Soon CC / PAP Kingergarten (later became a club then a restaurant, now derelict) which is situated beside the former tidal Sungei Seletar along Upp Thomson Rd near Mandai. The old GSB also had Nissen huts.

Terence said...

Hi I believe No.2 is inside Keat Hong Camp IV, the old SAF GEB. Indeed, that Nissen Hut looks suspiciously like the one that was located directly opposite my old Base Office building where I served my NS (1980-1982). Nice pics, thanks!