Battle at junction of Pasir Panjang and Alexandra Roads
(This post was updated on 24 Apr 2022 with additional material in the Notes section. Update of 21 May 2022 in the Notes section – reply from National Heritage Board.)
Mention the Battle of Pasir Panjang and Opium Hill and the Southern Ridges come to mind. However not so well known is the story of the battles at the junction of Pasir Panjang and Alexandra Roads. The book “Singapore The Inexcusable Betrayal” by George Chippington (National Library call number 940.5425 CHI) gives a interesting detailed account of this and this post draws on a diagram and passages from the book and shows how some of the places mentioned in the book look like today.
The position south of the road proved even better than imagined. lt consisted of a steep little hill dominating the main road, with a large house on top, said to belong to the late harbour master. A private drive way wound up from the main road to the house with four or five bungalows on its left, leaving the slope facing west entirely uncluttered by buildings, trees or undergrowth down to a narrow waterway or canal which ran from under a small bridge on the main road to the sea at Keppel Harbour mouth a couple of hundred yards away with Blakang Mati across on the other side.
At the back of the position lay an extensive and very pleasant golf course and beyond that, Keppel Harbour itself and the city of Singapore. To the west the hill provided a splendid open view for some hundreds of yards down the road, along which we had just marched, to trees in the distance with level ground and buildings to the right beyond the road junction with Alexandra road.
Immediately to our front, beyond the canal, between us and the trees in the distance sweeping down to the shore on our left, the ground appeared water-logged…
Just behind our hill, on the seaward side, half a dozen Bofors guns with their crews in tents provided a very pleasant surprise. They had hammered away at the bombers as they passed over but without success. The Japanese knew their effective range and flew just above it.
Eddie took the position from the main road up to the tennis court near the house and Eric the remainder along the lawn between the house and the slope and the area overlooking the Keppel Harbour entrance.
The house became our H.Q. much to the annoyance of the owner’s servants still living in quarters just behind the house, who grumbled constantly at our interference…
By using a side door, it was possible to follow the driveway under cover of a thick hedge and bushes down to Eddie’s position and then up by the tennis court to Eric without at any time being visible to the front…
The men immediately set to digging themselves in, using the thick hedge skirting the driveway and any bushes to mask future movements between our positions, being careful not to advertise our presence to the air by careless disposal of the newly dug soil.
From the top of our little hill, no trees or bushes obstructed our field of fire in any direction from along the Alexandra road right round to the harbour mouth and the golf course behind. It was a joy to behold. All we needed now were the Japanese.
To guard against any possibility of surprise by the Japanese crossing the canal during darkness three men dug themselves in on its bank below us as a listening post. We had no mines but Eddie later scattered stones and soil on the road near the little bridge over the water-way to give the impression that the road had been hurriedly and rather carelessly mined…
A young English officer, a stranger about my age, suddenly appeared out of the darkness from behind us. His civilian job in Singapore, he told me, was connected with drainage, water-works etc. so I guessed he was with the Malay regiment. He knew this area well. He offered, if I agreed, to crawl forward across the bridge to the far side of the canal and the Alexandra road where, on the right hand side, he would be able to make his way down into a large, underground storm drain. This opened out again near where Japanese casualties were lying on the road. He would be able to listen and bring me news of what was happening. He doubted very much whether the Japanese would know of or could find the opening to the drain at their end. I thanked him and he disappeared alone into the darkness…
He had managed to crawl within a few yards of the Japanese…
The Japanese had brought up trucks as far as possible along the road and were rapidly stretchering away the dead and wounded… He could not see the tanks… nor had he heard them moving – just the medical orderlies muttering among themselves as they sorted the dead and the dying…
Today, you can walk and crawl along the storm drain for more than 100m. Exactly how far? Only way to find out is to get dirty…
Notes: It has been reported that Keppel Club will be moving to Lornie by the end of 2022. As such, I have requested the National Heritage Board to consider doing an archaeological survey of the present site. The former Berlayar Hill area not only had bungalows that were used by the British during 1942, but there is also mention of an underground dugout:
“Later I went into their bungalow…On the front lawn over-looking the sea and the entrance to the harbour – an under-ground dug-out housed signallers and a telephone – why or where from I did not enquire. They were there and that in itself was reasurring…” – Singapore The Inexcusable Betrayal – pg 201/202
1942 – Keppel Golf Club falls into the hands of the Japanese during World War II. During the three-and-a-half years of their rule, the Japanese built their headquarters on Fairway 1. Their makeshift premise consists of a sawmill workshop and jetty with a short railway line running to the eighth tee box. The golf course survives World War II unharmed, after it is used for food production.
Perhaps information plaques could be installed at the former Berlayar Hill and other sites in the area after an archaeological survey has been done?
The link to an informative report by Straits Times reporter Michelle Ng can be found here:
The following are plans by Nparks to enhance and build new nature parks in the area:
Labrador Nature Park Network
Labrador Nature Park Network comprises core habitats such as Labrador Nature Reserve and the mature forests along the Southern Ridges (Kent Ridge Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Mount Faber Park), as well as Nature Parks and areas that buffer Labrador Nature Reserve such as Berlayer Creek Nature Park, Labrador Nature Parkand the Pasir Panjang Park.
NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD REPLY REGARDING ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
I wrote twice (17 and 24 Apr 2022) suggesting an archaeological survey and got a reply for the one dated 24 Apr 2022):
Regarding the redevelopment of the Keppel Club site, may I suggest that the National Heritage Board consider doing an archaeological survey of the area and then install some information plaques.
Among other things, the site has significant value regarding world war 2. For example at the former Berlayar Hill, there were bungalows that the British used as a temporary base during the battle at Pasir Panjang, and there was even an underground dugout there during that time. Also, the Keppel Club website mentions that the Japanese had a short railway line built in the golf club.
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.
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