Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chia Keng Wah remembers Gillman Barracks

After reading my January 2006 article of my memories of Gillman Camp at, reader Chia Keng Wah posted a lengthy comment sharing his own memories of what was then called Gillman Barracks. Since many of my readers are unlikely to have seen his comments, I have posted them here as a separate article for your enjoyment. Thanks Keng Wah.


I would like to add my recollection of Gillman Barracks. I was stationed in Gillman Barracks after three years training as a boy soldier in the Army Boys Trade School in the Far East Training Centre, Nee Soon Barracks (January 1962 to June 1964) and at the Royal School of Military Engineering in Chatham, England June 1964 to November 1964).

After the three years training I was posted to Gillman Barracks in January 1965 till it's closure as a Royal Engineers Barracks in 1971. That was the year when the British Army pulled out completely from Singapore and Malaysia. My unit, known as the Singapore Engineers Squadron was among one of the six squadrons that made up the Engineer Base Group for the British Army in Singapore. By the way, the Royal Engineers name their units as Squadron from military traditions rather than as Company as in other infantry units.

Our squadron had only two Troops (platoons), one being the Plant and the other the Field Troop, commanded by an OC with a Major rank. The Plant Troop (this Troop was later commanded by then Cpt Cheah who later joined the SAF Engineers) had the earth moving equipments for roads and airfield construction while the Field Troop did the bridging and other field constructions.

Our squadron office is the first building on the left as you enter Gillman Barracks. It is that building behind the red umbrella in the photo posted by Lam. The building is still there after all those years that it was used as a Pub. Further along the entrance road was the Base HQ where the Commandant (a Full Colonel) had his office. Also in the same office block we had the no nonsense, RSM.

For entertainment in those days we had the Regal Cinema managed by the Army Kinema Corporation popularly called the AKC which screened shows twice nightly except Tuesdays. That building is still standing to this day. It was last used as an Italian restaurant till the Gillman Village ceased operation in early 2011. That building you can also see in Lam's photo.

That photo posted by Lam as the officer's mess was used as our WO and Sgt's mess. The RE Officer's mess then was across Alexandra Road where the HortPark is. It was converted into the Institute of Dental Health till the late 1990s or early 2000s which after that was being used as the Jain Institute after the Institute of Dental Health moved to its new home at the Sepoy Lines beside the SGH. I suppose it was from there that those Dental Nurses went swimming on Thursday afternoon?

Lam was correct about the swimming Pool in the valley between the then our WO and Sgt's Mess and our accommodation blocks. It was packed with swimmers every afternoon during those days in the sixties. The Brits were as now, sun worshippers and there was more sun tanning rather than swimming!

As a small Squadron, we carried out many small scale development projects for Singapore during our existence between 1965 till 1971. Just to mention a few: we built the Sarimbun Scout Camp; cleared the land on which the NUH and ITE at Ayer Rajah now stands. We had two powerful tractors with Rolls Royce engines and four smaller powered Fowler dozers to do the job over a year in 1965. Other major projects we did was the Runway improvement for the FPDA exercise up at Trengganu state in 1967 and an access road at the then Jungle Warfare School (JWS) in Ulu Tiram, just before Kota Tinggi in 1968. We would commute to and from the JWS daily. One good thing was that the traffic in those days was much lighter than now in 2011.

Now that all those accommodation blocks have been demolished, I wonder what will be built in their place.

There were eight accommodation blocks on top of the hill next to the Hiap Guan San cemetery. One of the blocks was occupied by the Royal Military Police in Block A, while another was occupied by Bourne School in Block B. Of course we had an other ranks' club known as the NAAFI in Block E. That was the place for beers in the evenings.

There was Local Married Quarters behind the Gymnasium on Maran Road. Together with other buildings on the hill these were also being demolished, I suppose after the HQSCE pulled out those buildings were of no use anymore.

One more mention, that Brazil Restaurant that stood on a small hill between our Squadron office and the Commandant's office was our Guardroom in which I spent six months - as Provost Corporal of course.

I ended ten years of service in the British Army in total from 1962 to 1971 and now live just next door in Telok Blangah Heights. It will always be part of my life I suppose.

Below are some old photos of Gillman Barracks from Memories of Singapore courtesy of Tom O’Brien.


Lam Chun See said...

Keng Wah. One of these days we must get together and work out a sketch of the layout of Gillman Barracks. I get quite frustrated because I could not figure out what belongs where even though I spent 4.5 months there. In comparison, I can remember clear details of Safti (Pasir Laba) and Mandai Camp. I wonder why?

Safti I can understand becos I spent a lot of time there, plus when you do guard duty, you really have lots of time to 'walk around'. I think it's becos my time spent in Gillman was extremely hectic and most of the exercises where held outside camp.

Andrew said...

Fantastic info! Gillman actually stretched all the way behind to the bus park? (power station area).

Any idea what were those buildings with what seem like cages (or pens) in them? :)

Andrew said...

Oh another query,

If the RE's mess was across the road at the Jain institute, what was the purpose of that lone house sitting just outside Hort Park?

(,103.802704&spn=0.00125,0.002642&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=1.279888,103.802635&panoid=30Y6yF_E4W3udosb7mFAPQ&cbp=12,193.42,,0,-9.96 )

I have asked around, most are stumped, usual answers i get is some park superintendent's house or caretaker's home. There was no record, description or whatsoever in my old street directory as well. Im puzzled.

The front area is currently used as a temporary carpark.

Keith said...

I hardly go to Gillman camp but can't help noticing from the pictures that at least the building facades remain similar through times. This is good conservation.

During my army days, I was posted to SBMT Nee Soon camp for a short while and visited Selarang camp. I must say that the building architecture and the layout among these 3 camps are very similar.

CG - Centre of Gravity said...

I served part of my NS in this camp. A beautiful place with comfortable ambience...the trees, the historic colonial times buildings and serenity.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chia,

It was kind of you to ask me to contribute to the memoirs of Gilman Camp.

Your memory and description on some of the places are spot on and there is little I can add. I was posted to Gilman Barracks in Aug 1959 after completeing my Sapper course in Kluang and my stay there was limited as I got married in 1961 and had to move out to a rented place Alexandra village. If I can remember correctly looking at Tom O'brien's picture No 1 is the Medical centre on the left and the civilian canteen on the right. Picture No 2 with 2 buses is the Medical centre. No 3 I believe is the path way leading to one of the barracks and Picture 4 and 5 as you have indicated is the swimming pool located on the left side of the road going up the hill to the barracks.

I have not been back to Gilman Camp since I left in early sixties and have no clue to the developements that have taken place. It was a place that I have bad memories as as I spent 2 weeks in the guard house which delayed my selection to be a commision officer. The only thing I remembered well is spending my evening at the sarabat place (corner junction of Pasir Panjang Rd) drinking coffee and enjoying seeing all the girls walking by. It used to be a bus station.

I hope the above information is of some help to expand the memoirs of Gilman Camp.


Gee Teng Wah

Anonymous said...

Hi Gee and All,

I am unable to view the pictures for some reason with my Note Book, so can't give any comments. However, reading your very clear discriptions, I was able to see it in my mind of all the places you mentioned, like the Medical Centre, where the Medical Orderly was Cpl. Md Zain who left for UK after his ROD. Also remember the Civilian Canteen where we used to have our Breakfast of Roti Chinai with free dall for 15 cents. Also cannot forget the Path we walk up to our Barracks next to the Medical Centre. And also the Swimming Pool in the bottom of the Valley with the steps leading from the AKC to the other side where our Barracks were.

Please note that I am describing from my memory only so, I may not be entirely right, but it is very fond memories indeed. Thanks.

Robin Shum Yew Keong

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Lam Chun See said...

In my earlier article of 2006, a reader David Drinkell commented ...

"I served with 59 Field Squadron Royal Engineers at Gillman Barracks from 1969 until 1971. We lived in F Block, Gillman Barracks but the unit offices were at Cloutman Lines which was along Ayer Rajah Road.

My unit returned to England in April 1971 to become 59 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers based in Plymouth. All squadron members undertook the Commando course after returning to England.

My Troop was fortunate to remain in Singapore until November 1971 based at HMS Simbang, Dieppe Barracks, Sembawang.

I have many happy memories of Gillman Barracks and Singapore. I spent many hours in the swimming pool drinking ice cold Magnolia drinks.

I can honestly say that living in Singapore at that time was a wonderful experience which I shall fondly remember."

I guess he was in Gillman around the same time as you guys (Chia, Gee and Shum)

Lam Chun See said...

Hi David Drinkell. Hope you are reading this.

Glad that like my friends, Tom Brown, Brian Mitchell and John Harper, you have fond memories of our little island. If you ever visit, do let me know and I will be happy to drive you to Gillman for a visit.

Although you will be disappointed in the vast changes that had taken place, you would at least be gratified that some of the old buildings built by the British army are still there.

Anonymous said...

Robin and I both know 59 Field Sqn very well. Both our Squadrons were neihbours in the same yard at Cloitman Lines and both units left at the same time. They went back to the UK as a CDO unit armed with Ferret scout cars and we disbanded.

Cloutman Lines was where we had our Plant Yard. It is where the Kent Ridge Wing of our National Unversity Hospital (NUH) now stands. Apparently I am again involved in the very same area. My company is the main contractor building the new NUH Medical Centre on the slope between the KRW and South Bouna Vista Road. Yes that brings back plenty of memories of the 60s.

Chun See, it will be interesting if you can contact David, I am sure he too has some stories to tell or post some photos if possible.

Chia Keng Wah

Unknown said...

My memory of Gillman Barracks (or Gillman Camp during my time) back in 1990 was that of a training ground for drivers. We took our jeep driving lessons there, storming up its hilly grass covered slopes and applying the Four-wheel drive and differential lock to ensure that we're not thrown askew. I suppose they must have changed its use a few times over the years.

Gordon Brady said...

Hi, any of you former Royal Engineers might want to look at - you may well find other sappers there who served in Singapore too. REgards, Gordon

Pat said...

@ Andrew (22 Jun 11): "purpose of that lone house sitting just outside Hort Park?"

That 2-storey bungalow (394 Alexandra Road – Google St View ) sits on what was Malayan Railway land until 30 Jun 2011, when most of such properties were handed over to S'pore.

The triangular land lot (Mukim 01-098595N) can be seen on these maps:
* S'pore 1956 Mukim Boundaries
* OneMap 2013

@ Andrew: "usual answers i get is some park superintendent's house or caretaker's home.

The No. 394 bungalow was never occupied by any S'pore parks staff. However, I was told by an NParks staff that a "mirror-image" used to stand on S’pore’s side of the "border" fence, before being demolished by NParks (then Parks & Recreation Dept) during the 1980s/ early 1990s.

The spot is now occupied by a historic white Frangipani tree & a modern pavilion at HortPark’s Floral Walk. Bungalow No. 394 & its demolished counterpart are depicted on this 1958 town map, which also shows the various buildings of Gillman Barracks.

Apparently, a Sable Alsatian called Wendy used to live at the No. 394 compound during the 1940s, before "stray[ing] away" in 1949 (ST - 27 Oct 1949). In 1962, someone used the address to advertise the sale of second-hand 1950s sports cars (ST - 25 Aug 1962).

And from the 1980s till at least 1995, the same address was used by numerous commercial entities for relatively short periods of time. Either the property was leased out short-term to various commercial tenants; OR the resident-caretaker dappled in various side businesses in a haphazard manner; OR the property operated as a "virtual office" for companies/ individuals lacking physical addresses of their own.

Some businesses that operated from or used the 394 Alexandra Rd address:-

* 1982 Nov - 1983 Oct: "Sincere Kennel" (some of its 2-3x/weekly adverts in ST: 22 Jan 1983, 30 Oct 1983).

* 1985 Mar: Authorized dealer for Caltex-Calgas (ST - 17 Mar 1985)

* 1984 - 1985 Apr: “Sim's Recuperation Service” – secretive private nursing home (with 10 dogs, including several Alsatians) presumably managed by a certain Mdm Ho Ah Moey. Raided 3 times over 2 years before being shut down in 1985 for confining foreign maids in doorless cubicles & forcing them to work as nurses on 15-hour shifts with no off-days. Also no approval was ever granted to convert the site into a nursing home.

-- Filipino Maids found "hidden" in Nursing Home (S'pore Monitor - 17 Mar 1985)
-- Employers may face charges (SM - 11 Apr 1985)
-- SPCA steps in to check on dogs at Elders' Home (SM - 11 Apr 1985)
-- Filipino maids used as nurses: Bosses charged (SM - 06 Jun 1985)
-- What Refuge for Our Aged? (ST - 27 Oct 1985)

* 1989 Apr: "Established company" seeking accounts & general clerks (ST - 18 Apr 1989)

* 1989 Oct 13-14 weekend: Once-off dealer of used cars & commercial vehicles (eg. of advert in ST: 13 Oct 1989)

* 1989 Oct 30: “Long Yang Enterprise”, exclusive distributor of "Retex Glass & Multipurpose Cleaner" (ST - 30 Oct 1989)

etc. etc. till Apr 1995.

brewster.allen said...

Hello all, perhaps you can help solve a puzzle that has bothered me for many years.
In 1964 Iwas stationed at gillman barracks with 59 fld.sqn R.E.One day I and some friends went for a walk down the valley between the swimming pool and the barrack block and through the kampong. We came to a deserted,large 2 storey bungalow/house. The door and window
openings and drainpipes were swathed in barbed wire thus preventing entry. We looked through the doorway grill and could see into a room furnished with 1930/40 style furniture and on the walls were Christmas decorations dated 1940, we surmised that the house had been deserted since the time of the japanese invasion of Singapore in feb.1941. The mystery deepened when in the overgrown garden, atop a small rise we found a large grave( holding several persons?)
Over the years I have often thought of that house and it,s possibly dark, wartime secret.
On a lighter note, Singapore was my happiest posting with the British Army and Gillman Barracks was the most beautiful of barracks

Pat said...

The empty 2-storey bungalow (394 Alexandra Road, on former Malayan KTM land) beside HortPark's Floral Walk has just been gazetted for conservation.

I'm guessing that after some refurbishment, SLA (the current custodian) would probably lease it out to a commercial user. Well, better than leaving it in an abandoned, dilapidated & out-of-bounds condition; or replacing it with another skyscrapper.

* 75 Buildings Gazetted for Conservation under URA's Master Plan 2014 (CNA - 06 Jun 2014)
* 75 Buildings Conserved as part of Master Plan 2014 (URA News - Jun 2014)

Unknown said...

Hello Everyone,

I am John, I used to live in the kampong next to Gillman Barrack in a attap house directly behind and below the football field.

My mother and I used to walk home through Gillman Barrack walking through the married quarters (4 - 5 blocks?) to return home instead of going back via Telok Blangah Road.

I remember the swimming pool well and the pistol range.

Many fond memories.

Please post more picture if you have any.


Unknown said...

I am trying to piece together my father's military career and came across this great site.

My Dad was Capt. Kenneth Morris and served at Gillman Barracks from about 1967-69 but I don't know what regiment/squadron he was with. Looking through the blog I recognise the name Cheah- If I recall correctly it was Bob Cheah and I think he worked with my dad. As I recall they both went on a rally in Malaya in an army land rover- I think we have a picture
I'd welcome anything anyone can offer.

The photo of the pool there brought back many happy memories of afternoons after school, swimming and listening to the juke box.


Keith Morris

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Unknown said...

Hi, my grandpa, Gan Bah Lim is a former royal engineer in Gillman Barrack from 1965 to 1971. He would like to contact Mr Chia Keng Wah and Mr Shum Yew Keong. If anyone sees this, please inform them and this is my contact number, 0178850138. Hope you will see this message and contact me. Thank you.