Monday, April 27, 2009

EX. RED BERET: Almost Lost (by Peter Chan)

0715 hours – reached first checkpoint at Serangoon Garden School @Kensington Park Drive, Serangoon Garden Estate. Thanks to one Mrs. Rozario of Tavistock Avenue who gave us Danish Butter Cookie for breakfast
1210 hours –Second Checkpoint at Hill 255, Mandai Forest
1420 hours – Third Checkpoint at Hill 270 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Ex Red Beret was a good introduction to the changing landscape of Singapore. We uncovered farmlands to residential built-up areas. We saw different types of residential dwellings; zinc-roof homes to “Ang Mo Choo”. We walked on well-defined laterite tracks and metalled roads. In those places even when we lost our way, surely we still ended up in civilization. But this was not to be the case deep inside the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. How did it happen?

Take a look at the topo map that we used in 1974 (Photo1). After the checkpoint at the foot of Hill 270 (1420 hours) we headed slightly south-west, expecting to find Hill 237 and the Y-junction in another 5 minutes time. We planned to take the track that passed Hill 169 to the Bukit Panjang Community Centre; located next to a canal. Instead we found ourselves at the water edge.

Photo 1: What was the missing “piece” in this old topo map?

This was puzzling. Did we end-up somewhere by mistake? We were forced to create our own path as the original track was covered by water and ferns. We backtracked and bashed our way through unfamiliar territory, each step made things even far worse than before. The problem begins when you end up disoriented and not knowing exactly where you are; every direction held up great hopes. By 1500 we confirmed we lost our bearings. If this was MacRitchie Reservoir we certainly headed too far south. If this was Pierce Reservoir, we must have come back to Old Upper Thomson Road.

Photo 2: The “missing piece” was Upper Pierce Reservoir. Today’s BKE is indicated by the thick yellow line.

Out of frustration we gave up using the topo map and the compass to navigate. We followed the afternoon sun and walked on the reservoir bed. We were hot, thirsty and started to worry about having to spend the night in the forest. I now figured if we kept moving in the direction of the afternoon sun we would eventually get somewhere.

Photo 3: Left; the embankment near the Chestnut Avenue Water Pumping Station. Right; Route out from the reservoir through Chestnut Avenue (Chestnut Close on the left) to the junction with Chestnut Drive. Under Chestnut Avenue and Chestnut Drive is a 66” water pipeline that carries treated water from the Upper Pierce Reservoir into Singapore’s water distribution system.

We jumped over granite boulders and maneuvered over soft soil and puddles of water. We followed the 66” water pipe from the deepest end of the reservoir as it seemly followed the afternoon sun. As luck would have it, I saw in the distance the outline of a concrete building. Before we reached this building, we climbed up a steep embankment. This steep embankment reminded me of something similar I had seen before at the MacRitchie Reservoir; the embankment impounded the water in the reservoir with the stream below. There were water pits, water pipes, gauges, gears and wheels in the building compound. Then I caught notice of a big signboard which read: “Upper Pierce Reservoir Scheme……….Chestnut Avenue PUB Water Treatment Plant. Date for Completion: June 1975…..” We had finally arrived back into civilization.

Photo 4: Aerial view of the path through the Upper Pierce Reservoir. The Chestnut Avenue Water Pumping Station is at the bottom of the photo. The green line marks our route before the reservoir was filled with water. The steel-piled embankment separates the reservoir from the pumping station facilities.

Next thought on my mind was going to my house which was in a private estate not far away from the Upper Pierce Reservoir. Anyway since we still had to traverse this private estate to get to the next destination, we might as well rest at my house. We took “cover” at my house, filled our hungry stomach with Ayam Penyet and a quick shower before leaving at 1700 hours for the Bukit Panjang Community Center.

The Bukit Panjang Community Center (near present-day Blk 606 Senja Road) was to be the meeting-point to pick up our night ration; packet rice with veggies and curry meat. After picking up our dinner packets and bidding farewell to LOBOS, we hurriedly crossed Woodlands Road to Jalan Teck Whye for the “last mile”. There was to be one last checkpoint at West Bukit Timah Hill, off Track 22, Jurong Road.


Anonymous said...

1984 doesn't seem that long ago... By my time only a few years later, my impression was that they would have been much more careful with letting soldiers wander around civillian areas with their weapons. When you say FBO, was that including M-16 ?

Lam Chun See said...

Peter's time was 1974, not 1984.

I am really amazed that Peter can actually remember the name of the the lady who gave him butter cookies.

Icemoon said...

Does Ang Mo Choo refer to those colonial houses? Like Tudor or those houses at Prince George Park?

yg said...

peter, there were two schools then - serangoon garden south school and serangoon garden north school; both primary schools. if you were moving along kensington park from the direction of the circus (serangoon garden circus), the first school would be serangoon garden south.

peter said...

Haveshacks: - FBO including AR-15, fullpack (rifle cleaning rod also. KIWI shoe polish, "Housewife" total weight not to exceed 20KG or 20lbs but not less than 15 kg or 15 lbs. I forgot the measurement, no canned food allowed)

Chun See: _ I remembered her name because she offered to give us the whole round tin (blue colored with photo printed on the cover. Also some of the biscuits coated with sugar crystals) but we didn't want to otherwise can get into trouble with SAF. So we took a few mouthful. Actually we promised to to visit her after NS but we never kept our word. Truly sorry for this.

Icemoon: - the Hokkien term given to the residential dwelling which has tiled roof and concrete walls. No need to be upmarket black & white bungalow. Semi-D and terraced single story included.

YG - I am not sure whether south or north but the name Serangoon XX School stuck in my head. We were behind the school perimeter fence. We went round the school fence (thereby passing some of the Serangoon Garden estate houses) to find the checkpoint (which was actually a post box (round elongated tube usually used by the police) where instructions were stuck for us to pick up.

peter said...

Since this is a blog I didn't have space to squeeze everything in it. So here are some details.

Journey from Lowland Road to Serangoon Garden School - Lowland Road to Glassgow Road to a cemetery in Chuan Hoe Avenue to Jalan Hwi Yoh to Kensington Park. Walk behind Tavistock Avenue to Cheng San Road (got 2 branches one to Pek San Teng, the other to Yio Chu Kang Road). Came to Sembawang Hills Drive near one Ahmad Ibrahim School (looks like Swiss Cottage in architecture) to New Upper Thomson Road (Tagore Lane side), to Nee Soon 300m Range, behind Mandai Post Office to Jalan Ulu Sembawang (to avoid Seletar Reservoir bcos no cover). Walked over farmers terraced vegetable plots to Jalan Asrama where we found Hill 255 (same one used by SAF today).

Life is Short said...

Peter, is Hill 270 just south west of the Nee Soon rifle range?

I remembered having one of my SAF exercises at the Chestnut embankment area. It was a nice-looking area then.

peter said...

FBO items include: - Inside canvass backpack had complete set of mess tins for both side pockets of the canvass pack, ground sheet, raincoat, 3 pairs of uniform, singlets and PT shorts, short changkol, wollen long sleeve sweater (for our tropical climate?), underwear, powder pack, toothbrush & colgate. What else? Cant recall.

peter said...

Keith, Hill 270 could be sw of Nee Soon 300m range.

One other thing that stopped us from bashing thru jungle was the fear of hornets. None of us have ever seen one except probably for small beehive.

Icemoon said...

> to a cemetery in Chuan Hoe Avenue

Could this be the Japanese Cemetery?

Unk Dicko said...

The only cemetery in Chuan Hoe Avenue is the Japanese Cemetery. For those not so familiar with this place, this cemetery has a very long and old history dating from the the mid 1800's.
Among those who were buried here...was the most famous Japanese mamasan and the high ranking Japanese Imperial army officials who were found guilty for war crimes in WW2 and after their execution, were laid to rest here.
Many Japanese tourists still come to visit daily by the busloads.
Within the grounds is a surviving lychee tree!

Bryan said...

Hi Peter, I'm interested to find out if its possible to trek from Upper Pierce Reservoir towards Chesnut Avenue. You are probably the only person i've seen on the net who has done it. Must you bash through?

peter said...


I doubt it can be done today. You probably can enter via Mandai Road towards Upper Pierce reservoir BUT you can't walk on the bed of the reservoir towards the Chestnut Avenue Pumping Station because it is now flooded with water. You probably have to "skirt around" the reservoir onc eyou go beyond Mandai Road. Assuming you reach the pumping station, you are locked-out because there is a security fence. In those days once we emerged from the high cofee-dam, in front of us was the pumping station.

I have seen somewhere from the BKE coming down from Mandai Road (near Bukit Panjang area) there are stretches of water (presumably from the reservoir)edging towards the BKE. Yew Gee got to confirm this as he lives there and more familiar than I now.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading several of your recollections of your army days. I get lost in my imagination of tired young men trudging under our tropical heat from present day Kovan to Choa Chu Kang, but aided by kind civilians and wonderful views of the path less travelled in Singapore.

I can tell you that it is still possible to re-trace sections of your path from Old Upper Thomson Road to Chestnut Drive. Although it is still under as SAF's training area and National Parks Officers can fine you if caught, hikers and mountain bikers use this path unofficially known as Woodcutter's regularly.

The posted picture of the embankment of Chestnut Avenue still looks pretty much the same today. And this path, even more so today, is the road less travelled which preserves certain elements of the good old days.

Lam Chun See said...

How nice if somebody were to form a team and try to retrace this route and document the changes and their memories.

But I can't do it. Too much work and I never did Ex Red Beret. Maybe Safra.

Keith said...

I recently went with a friend a few months ago to trace the route. We started off from Chestnut. At around the middle of Woodcutters trail, there's a left turn into a trail which punch through dense primary forest before reaching Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. The latter trail is very unclear and any first timer would easily get lost. Along this trail, I believe we walked through the peaks of Hill 237 then 260 as mentioned by Peter.

Anonymous said...

Yes that left turn would bring you up a hill until you see a landmark - a big boulder with į‰›įžŠ written on each end of it. After that, there is a maze of trails in very thick jungle winding all around this hill. I once got lost for 4 hours when I entered from Upper Seletar Reservoir Park.

Anonymous said...

Would those modern apps found on iphones be able to tell you where you are inside the jungle?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I use the free app Endomondo. It is fairly accurate, even in thick jungle like in our central forest.

Just to let you know, Google Maps now shows trails like Woodcutters. Unfortunately not the one that heads north to Upper Seletar Reservoir. So chances of you getting lost is quite minimal.