Monday, October 01, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 7 – Gun Battery at Chestnut Drive (by Peter Chan)

I must have been around 9 years old when Confrontation started between Indonesia and Malaysia. Singapore was then a part of Malaysia. The British were responsible for the external defense of Malaysia and this included the presence of the military bases such as RAF Tengah (now RSAF Tengah) and RAF Gombak (now MINDEF HQ). To protect British air bases from hostile Indonesian aircrafts, Bofor guns were placed at strategic locations around Singapore, including Changi Beach. This was a low-level air defense umbrella to protect critical military installations. I remembered very well the gun battery site at Chestnut Drive because I happened to live there.

One day, I heard the roar of Bedford trucks in an open space behind my house. There were many armed British soldiers. In the next few days, a camp was built, but I wasn’t sure what it was until I saw this interesting piece of war arsenal protected by sandbags (see Picture 1). I am sure I can sketch the camp layout if given the chance because everything seems fresh in my mind about what took place some 45 years ago.

My kampong friends and I were thrilled. We approached these British soldiers but at the same time keeping our distance because we were afraid of the bigger built “Ang Mo Kwee”. One of the British soldiers waved to us and called us to come near. Why not? He offered us Fish and Chips. From Fish & Chips, we became friends and daily promptly at 5pm we made our way to this hill off Chestnut Drive. The reason was simple: we sat on the turret for our joy-ride.

Fast forward to 1971. When the first Yang Di-Pertuan Negara and later first President of the Republic of Singapore - Inche Yusoff Ishak - died, his family moved out of the Istana and lived on the Bofors gun site. Puan Noor Ashah, the x-president’s wife was a popular figure in our neighbourhood. We knew her family well. Today she has moved to Penang to be with her children and grand-children.

(Picture 1: The exposed hill in the background is that of Bukit Timah Hill from the Dairy Farm Road side - it was a granite quarry area. Below the Hill were the cultivated vegetable plots and the paddocks for the cows. One empty plot of land next to Dairy Farm Road was the cowshed where the Herefordshire breed of cows were kept.

There were two bungalow houses behind the British soldiers – to the left of one of the houses was Prof. Wong Lin Ken’s house. Prof. Wong was the Home Minister in the 1970s. Mr Jek Yuen Tong a former minister had his house to the left of the gun. Circa 1965)

(Picture 2: The blue-roof house in the middle of the photo was the Bofor gun site viewed from Petir Road. The hill in the background is Bukit Gombak. The tower up Bukit Gombak was the site of RAF Gombak radar station. Circa 2007)


Lam Chun See said...

I won't be surprised if the 2 soldiers in Peter's photo are related to our British friends at Memories of Singapore.

Tom said...

TOM said...
Peter you must have a good memory.When you were nine years old, I was 19 years old, I thing I would have been in Brunei or some were up the Barm river in Sarawak, when these soldiers were
puting up there Gun Batterys, I
am just wondering if they were
two guy in the photo seem to be
enjoying them selfs geting a sun tan ,while I was haveing a hard
time in the Jungle. haha. Peter,
I did not know what was going on
in Singapore at that time,Peter
it brings back alot of memories.

Anonymous said...

It is said that those photos that bring back good memories - keep them, and those negative ones should be erased from one's mind. Of course the achives would not agree to such thinking. Obviously ex service men like Tom like to reminisce his youthful days in the sun under swinging palm or coconut trees.

Lam Chun See said...

Actually the most lasting memories are of the challenging times. That's why the old soldiers and NS boys remember the tough training the went thro.

Tom said...

Tom said ...
I agreee what Chun See said about National Service soldiers, and Regular soldiers, they do go through a lot of Discipline and
tough training, and it did us no harm.And you never for get your
service number.

Anonymous said...

Seeing the picture of the Bofors gun at Tengah brought back lots of good memories because in 1965 I was one of those British soldiers on one of those gunsites. My gun was located on the hill to the right of the road from Singapore city and just before you entered Tengah village. There were several young children living in the Kampongs around us who would visit us almost daily and they would take our washing away for their mothers to wash for us and we would pay them for that service. I live in Australia now and I have returned to Singapore on several occasion since those day and I prefer to remember it as it used to be, with those wonderfully friendly people in the Kampongs and their happy kids. Ken

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Ken. Thanks for sharing you memories with us here at Good Morning Yesterday. Did you know of this site from Memories of Spore?

Anonymous said...


Thank you for responding to my post, and to answer your question,…I found the link to “Good Morning Yesterday” here and I immediately became interested in Bukit Timah Heritage Trail- Gun Battery at Chestnut Drive because I am one of those British soldiers who served on one of those guns and I still have some very happy memories of those days in Singapore in the 1960s.

You have said the photo wasn’t taken at Tengah so perhaps my memory isn’t as good as it was, after all, it is 45 years ago since I was there but when I saw the photo I immediately thought it was of my site which was located some distance to the right of the road which you would travel on when approaching Tengah from the Singapore city direction.

To reach the site that I remember, you would need to follow a track leading off that main road which wound it’s way through a Kampong and then you would negotiate a steep hill which was very difficult for the trucks to ascend until several truck loads of course gravel could be laid down. Once at the top of the hill the site had such a commanding view of RAF Tengah and the runway that I can remember actually tracking larger aircraft such as the American B52 and a British Vulcan bomber which visited Tengah about 1965 as they trundled down the runway during take-offs and landings.

And I remember there were Kampongs located towards the base of the hill on three sides, but on the fourth side, although not visible to us from the top of the hill, was a cemetery which I can vaguely remember being instructed to avoid.

Incidentally, as a point of interest, if the photograph wasn’t of one of the Bofors gun deployed around Tengah then it would have to be either at Changi or Seletar because these three airfields were the only three locations where guns of that type were deployed
Cheers, Ken

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken
I am that little Chinese lad. I replied at your web site. The unit at Chestnut Drive was from the RAF air defense unit - I remembered the guys telling me they were billited at RAF Tengah. They were there to protect the Bukit Gombak radar station and RAF Tengah.

Compared to your deployment the one at Chestnut Drive only had a gun and no radar unit. They had those water trucks at the foot of the hill.

I was not aware of guns deployed at Seletar. I saw the ones in Chestnut Drive. The ones deployed at Chngni came from British Army units at Nee Soon Camp and Teluk Paku Camp - they were the air artillery of the British Army.

Pleased to hear of x-Servicemen visiting Chun See's blog abd relating more in-depth stories for us. You can always get in touch with me through my email.

Anonymous said...

The two service men were members of 63(LAA) Sqd Raf Regiment based at RAf Tengah.I remember their faces but after all these years the names have long gone.Regards. An ex Rockape

Anonymous said...

When I first saw this photo, I thought it could be of my father (the man wearing the hat and drinking tea) - he was with the RAF 66 squadron in Seletar (and Borneo) (1964-67). Don't know if that could be possible. Sadly he died in 2004 so I can't ask him...

Anonymous said...

Apologies forgot to mention in my earlier post, that photo of man with hat could be Ronald Chidgey, RAF 66 Sqd.

Ian Coghlan said...

I remember the AA guns very well. We lived at number 75 Chestnut Drive from 1962 until 1965.

It was an adventure for my brother and myself, I was 7 when we arrived and he was 4, we used to spend lots of time around the emplacements. They were interesting times and remember the curfews, riots (we got caught up in one coming back from Malaya), the odd bomb blast and all the other things that are worrying for adults but exciting to children.

Chestnut Drive was a fantastic location and the freedom we had was unbelievable. We both remember the Kampongs and countryside.

I have not been back but have seen on Google earth that it is much built up.

peter said...

Ian Coghlan

#75 was a stone's thow from my house. You must have been staying facing the cemetery grounds. We were probably of the same age group today.

Would you like to contact me via email? You can email Chun See and leave it there.

peter said...

Ian Coghlan

I like to contact you. I have taken a recent photo of your old place and you might like to take a look at the changes.

I just found your house was just behind my house. Your place was a single storey bungalow with a very high ceiling and tall trees in the garden - your immediate neighbout was next to the road junction. You and I are in the same age group

You mentioned the racial riots. That would have been the one in 1964. You probably refer to the one where the kampung Chinese and Malays had to seek shelter in the landed bungalows because their kampungs were attacked. Did you remember that the British Army was deployed that night in the Chestnut Drive area to prevent rioters from reaching the landed houses that night? I saw British soldiers with SLRs and bayonet fixed that night.


CJT said...

The photo with the two fellows by the 40/70 in Singapore.
The one on the right looks very much like my mate Eddie Watson who was in 12th Regt RA.
Why he was on the gun, im not sure because he was in HQ Battery with me.
The date looks very accurate.