Mystery of the Underground Chamber & Memories of Outram

MYSTERY OF THE UNDERGROUND CHAMBER

In my walks around Singapore, I have come across many “manholes”, but this one proved to be intriguing and special.  When I first came across the opening, I suspected it might be just a drainage manhole.  However upon closer inspection by shining a torchlight down and taking a video with a selfie stick, I noticed the interior was large and the floor was flat and there seemed to be a pipe (For water drainage or ventilation?) sticking out from the wall.  Could it be a bomb shelter?

Opening in the ground.  The opening is 21.5 inches wide and it’s 8 ft deep.  The bottom is flat and there is a ladder at the corner.   What is it?
Entrance to underground chamber

After going down to take a look, I discovered another entrance/exit with ladder at the other end with its own pipe, as well as a vent on the wall near the middle of the room.  But if this was a bomb shelter why isn’t there an entrance with stairs?  (Thankfully there was no graffiti or discarded mineral water bottles inside.)

Pipe next to entrance
Entrance from further in
Vent at the side
Pipe at the other end
Close up of pipe and ladder at the other end
Exit hatch at the other end

Video of the inside of the underground room here:

https://youtu.be/lRyoI1dYpmk

Thanks to Peter Stubbs who suggested it might be an “Emergency water tank”.   After some investigation, I realized Peter was right and that it may be more than 100 years old.

Peter Stubbs also commented about emergency water tanks :

“The tank would hold water for emergencies such as fires etc. Unlikely to be drinking water give the looks of the storage. There was such an emergency tank in the grounds of the General Hospital in 1942. Towards the end, it was used as a mass grave for servicemen and civilians alike. over 400 people still lie in that grave. There is a small memorial cross over it. I don’t know if it was an open or closed tank.

The concrete beams forming the ceiling of the underground room … mean that is was constructed before the 1930s. Ceilings after that would have had steel troughing….

If you happen to stumble upon it or other such places, please remember not to leave graffiti or litter.  (No, I better not publicize the location or it will likely soon be sealed up.  Hope you understand.  So if you happen to come across it please be discreet about the location.  Anyway the video/photos here would give a good picture of what its like inside  🙂  )

GENERAL HOSPITAL

The Outram Road area is rich in history, and I have many memories of the hospital.  As a young child in the early 1960s, I was warded at “GH” (General Hospital) and had to make monthly (later once every few months) visits to the hospital for check ups and to get my supply of medicine which I had to take daily right up to my early 20’s.  The hospital  was later renamed Outram Road General Hospital and is now known as Singapore General Hospital.

History of SGH :

SGH had its beginnings in 1821, when the first General Hospital was located in the cantonment for troops near the Singapore River. After relocating several times, it finally settled at Sepoy Lines in Outram Road in 1882. 

The modern history of SGH began on 29 March 1926, with the opening of 800 beds in the Bowyer, Stanley and Norris Blocks. Today, only the Bowyer Block with its distinctive clock tower remains. It has been designated a national monument. 

In 1981, the hospital was rebuilt, with its current 8-block complex housing inpatient wards, ambulatory and support services, as well as research laboratories and a postgraduate medical institute. 

On 1 April 1989, SGH became a restructured hospital – run as a private company while remaining a not-for-profit institution wholly owned by the government. This was part of the government’s initiative to enable all public hospitals to be more responsive to the rapid pace of change in healthcare services and patient expectations for better service. To ensure access to affordable healthcare, two thirds of the beds in SGH are allocated to patients who receive subsidies from the government for medical services.   On 31 March 2000, following a major reorganisation of the public sector healthcare services, SGH came under the management of Singapore Health Services or SingHealth. The Group includes 1 other hospital, 5 National Specialty Centres and 9 Polyclinics.

Source: https://www.sgh.com.sg/about-us/more-about-sgh/pages/ourheritage.aspx

Unlike nowadays where hospital doctors sit in rooms with flashing screens outside showing the queue numbers –  back then, the outpatient department was a large room with doctors sitting on simple desks about the size of the teacher’s table in classrooms (or smaller), open concept style, and nurses or orderlies would call out the queue numbers in Hokkien and Malay.  Also, back then there were no computers and patients’ case sheets were filled in manually and the whole paper docket was retrieved by nurses/orderlies from a room (like a library) on the ground floor.  Later they “modernized” by adding a document transport system like a monorail with a bucket hung from the ceiling.  (It was more sophisticated than it sounds and I might be able to describe it more accurately if I struggled till I became a lunatic, but it wouldn’t be half as funny 🙂 )

The most painful memory for me was the drawing of blood from the finger.  Nowadays with the use of lancets, it’s a painless procedure.  Back then the technician would use a cork with a needle stuck in it and poke your fingertip kung fu style.  Yes it hurt (try it). If I remember correctly, apart from squeezing my fingertip, he would use a glass straw to suck the blood out to fill a small bottle.

Instead of “7-11”, there was a “mama” store selling “555” notebooks (the original computer notebook/electronic organizer), comics, sweets and “kana” like dried plums, ginger and orange peels. (My favourite was the dried olives.)

I also remember once buying a comic about world war 2 from the store.  (At that time comics about world war 2 and soccer were plentiful.)

Also, when I was warded in the early 1960s,  I could see Outram Road Prison from my ward.  But more on the prison later.

Building on the left is Bowyer Block C today. The prison was along Outram Road at the foot of Pearl’s Hill (view of the area now blocked by the white hoarding).

WORLD WAR 2 MEMORIALS

There are 2 memorials at the hospital.

a)  The following one is located in the open air car park (Car Park C) between Bowyer Block (the one with the old clock tower) and Block 8 and is the one mentioned by Peter Stubbs :

According to Romen Bose in his book “KRANJI.  The Commonwealth War Cemetery and the Politics of the Dead”,

(pg 34)”Before the war, an emergency water tank was dug in the grounds of the Civilian General Hospital (Singapore General Hospital).  In the last hours before Singapore fell to the invading Japanese, the tank was used as a common grave for the dead…The tank and its contents went unnoticed during the Occupation…It was not until a year after liberation that the government medical department took over and it was almost another year before the fate of the bodies was discovered…

The wooden cross at SGH located at “Car Park C” in front of Bowyer Block along Third Hospital Avenue and opposite block 8 and National Cancer Centre.  The memorial marks the spot where more than 400 bodies are buried.  (Bowyer Block houses a museum containing old medical equipment, books, journals and photos.  Mon-Fri 9am – 6pm. Sat 9am – 1pm. )
The cross from the front
Plaque below the cross.

b)  The other world war 2 memorial at SGH (the student memorial) is located at the junction of College Road and Macalister Road, diagonally opposite the former College of Medicine Building (now Ministry of Health).

According to Wikipedia:

“On the morning of 14 February 1942, Yoong Tat Sin, a fourth-year medical student, was fatally injured by Japanese shelling while on duty at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital along Balestier Road. He was rushed to the Outram Road General Hospital (former name of Singapore General Hospital) for an emergency operation, but he died soon after.[5]

That same evening, his fellow friends, about 25 students from the medical and dental faculties of the College of Medicine decided to give Yoong a proper burial within the grounds of the hospital. One of the five trenches dug out earlier for air raid purposes was converted into a grave for Yoong. As the grave was being prepared, they were spotted by Japanese gunners which began pouring a heavy barrage of shells at the defenceless students. Some quick-footed students managed to flee to safety towards the College building. However, those left behind only had time to leap into the trenches and Yoong’s grave. As a result, 11 of the students were killed, three were wounded and only two managed to escape injury in the aftermath.[5] Those who were killed instantaneously were given a burial on the morning of 16 February, a day after the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese, in the trenches where they fell.”

SGH student memorial plaque
SGH student memorial plaque close-up.  The original plaque is in the former “College of Medicine Building”

Here is an interesting blog post on the memorials:

https://remembersingapore.org/2015/04/12/singapore-general-hospital-war-memorial/

Map of SGH heritage trail

THE NEW LUNATIC ASYLUM (Built in 1887), AND OTHER RUINS 

Along Macalister Road there is a hill with interesting old structures.  Among these structures are remains of the “New Lunatic Asylum“.

Old stairs
Ancient wall

Here is an interesting documentary on the New Lunatic Asylum:

OUTRAM ROAD PRISON

Opposite SGH along Outram Road and at the foot of Pearl’s Hill is where Outram Road Prison used to stand.  As I mentioned earlier, when I was hospitalized at the General Hospital in the early 1960s, I could see the prison from my ward.

Outram Road Prison plaque
1958 Street directory showing GH and Outram Prison (H.M. Prison).   (Go to this link to view old street directories: http://www.nusgis.com/thenandnow/  )
Aerial view of Outram Road General Hospital, now known as Singapore General Hospital. (Bowyer Block C is at bottom left hand corner). Aerial photographs by the British Royal Air Force between 1940 to 1970s, from a collection held by the National Archives of Singapore. Crown copyright.
Link: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/photographs/record-details/c6bae77f-1162-11e3-83d5-0050568939ad
SIDE VIEW OF OUTRAM ROAD PRISON. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore. (Link here: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/photographs/record-details/bb5c374a-1161-11e3-83d5-0050568939ad )
Inside Outram Road Prison. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore (Link here: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/photographs/record-details/bbbe540e-1161-11e3-83d5-0050568939ad)

More info on the prison here : http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1742_2010-12-17.html

PEARL’S HILL SERVICE RESERVOIR (Built from 1898 – 1904)

Pearl’s Hill Service Reservoir
Pearl’s Hill Service Reservoir entrance

Here is an interesting blog post on Pearl’s Hill:

https://lostnfiledsg.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/pearls-hill/

Heartfelt thanks

Thanks to Peter Stubbs for his input about the underground chamber.  He has a website called “www.fortsiloso.com” that’s a mine of information and Peter has re-written/improved it.  Do read it.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

In this age of “fake news”, some people with an overactive imagination may suspect that my video of the underground chamber is fake.  (That perhaps I switched off the lights and did it in my bathroom.)  Well, I assure you that’s not true.  My bathroom’s not that clean.

PS.

Regarding notebooks, the 555 notebooks were indispensable for keeping organized.  Much handier than electronic organizers/notebooks of later years.  Where now you can fire off an email or instant message, back then you could do the same with tiga lima – but with a personal touch.  Just write down your message, tear out the page, fold into an aeroplane and throw through your friend’s window.

Author: amazingwalks

I like to go for walks and take photos with my mobile phone. Hopefully these blog posts will inspire you to see that you don't need to go abroad and spend a bomb for an interesting time. There is beauty, interesting scenery, amazing history and lessons to be learnt... sometimes hidden in plain sight. Please feel free to share your own walks and discoveries by commenting.

6 thoughts on “Mystery of the Underground Chamber & Memories of Outram”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: