The folks at My Community have launched a new tour which takes you to 23 places covering interesting aspects of the natural habitat, maritime and military history, industrial heritage and housing estates in and around the Labrador and Alexandra area.
The 10km trail kicks off from Labrador MRT Station with a walk among the mangroves along Berlayer Creek boardwalk and ends near Queenstown MRT. Here are the highlights of my favourite places covered on this tour.
1. Belayer Creek & Labrador Nature Reserve
The short walk along the shady boardwalk was lovely. Our guide pointed out interesting flora like certain palm trees with jagged-edged leaves, which tricks insects into thinking that it’s leaves have already been chewed on by another insect.
We also spotted a young Gelam Tree (from which Kampong Glam got it’s name), the thorny Atap Palm (think yummy atap seeds), and the interesting Fish-killer Tree whose fruits are used by fishermen back in the day to stun fish.
4. Berlayer Beacon
Built in 1930, Berlayer Beacon is a prominent light beacon at Tanjung Berlayer, an outcrop at the southernmost end of Labrador Park. Berlayer Beacon and the neighbouring Tanjung Rimau Beacon on Sentosa Island serve as a navigational guide for ships and boats approaching Keppel Harbour.
I’ve never noticed the colour codes of the beacons until our knowledgeable guide highlighted them – Flashing red light on the port side of the vessel, a flashing green on the starboard side of the vessel.
6. Fort Pasir Panjang
There’s lots to see at Fort Pasir Panjang – from existing WWII pillboxes, wall of brick cutting, tunnel and casemate, to replica guns and canons. Fort Pasir Panjang is a former defence battery located within the Labrador Park Nature Reserve, constructed to defend the western entrance to Keppel Harbour. It was one of the eleven coastal artillery forts built by the British in the 19th century to defend Singapore’s waters.
It is a common belief that the guns were pointing in the wrong direction during the war and saw little action. Apparently this was not true as all the guns at Fort Pasir Panjang can be traversed. During the war the 6” QF Gun could be traversed 270⁰ and were used on many occasions. On February 12th 1942, these guns fired on and sank a Japanese ammunition ship near St Johns Island. These guns also destroyed the oil tanks at P. Bukom to prevent them falling into enemy hands. And last but not least, they were used to assist the 1st Malay Brigade fighting the Japanese 18th Div at the Battle of Pasir Panjang.
A casemate is typically a protective concrete structure inside which a gun is mounted and it shelters the gun from enemy fire. Interestingly, this particular casemate was not constructed to protect any gun. Instead it served as an ammunition store. It also acted as a shelter for the gunners and infantry stationed at the Fort. The Casemate has four rooms and one of the rooms led to a tunnel to the underground store room.
For more information and photos about Fort Pasir Panjang and historical relics left behind by the British from World War II and earlier, check out this post.
9. Gillman Barracks
Completed in 1936, Gillman Barracks was one of the three military barracks in Singapore which housed an infantry battalion prior to World War II. Named after General Sir Webb Gillman, a well-known officer of the British army, the barracks were built on a 118-acre swampy jungle to house 692 soldiers from the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment and later, the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment.
Gillman Barracks was situated within the Australian parameter, established in the late 1930s as a ‘defence line’ against possible attacks on important civil and military installations in the city centre from enemy troops. It included barrack buildings, married quarters, messes, regimental institutes and sports facilities.
↑ Original fire hydrant vs present day hydrant along a pedestrian walkway @ Gillman Barracks
13. Alexandra Barracks
The military estate at Alexandra Park evolved over half a century. The earliest houses dated about 1905/6 while the majority were constructed in the 1930s for senior medical staff in the Royal Army Medical Corps working in Alexandra Military Hospital.
↑Number 3 Canterbury Road
The former Institute of Dental Health at 10 Hyderabad Road located at the former Officers’ Mess for Gillman Barracks is designed in a Classical architectural style, with two buildings featuring large windows and doors which facilitates air circulation. As you walk along the perimeter of the compound, you will notice the old gates with the initials IDH still intact.
One of the highlights of the tour is that we got to explore the compound of three lovely houses in this estate. The one which caught my eye was The Plantation House at 6 Russels Road. It’s believed to be the oldest building within Alexandra Park.
It was commonly known as the Plantation House because it once stood at the centre of a plantation. The interior is notable for the extensive use of open latticework incorporated into the doors and walls leading from the verandah into the reception room and other areas of the house.
14. Alexandra Hospital
Established in 1938, Alexandra Hospital (former British Military Hospital) served as the principal hospital for Britain’s Far East Command during World War II. The visit here was brief but we did stop by the entrance of the tunnels that run under the hospital. See more photos an information about Alexandra Hospital and the secret tunnels here.
19b. Former Archipelago Brewery Company
Archipelago Brewery Company was opened on 3rd November 1933 by then President of the Municipal Commissioners, W Bartley, to produce the well-known Anchor Beer. The site at Alexandra Road was chosen for its close proximity to the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway tracks, which provided convenient transportation for the export of its beer.
↑ABC Brewmaster House (1957)
↑ABC Brewmaster House (2017)
We were lucky to meet with Ng Moey Moey on site to share his experiences as the in-charge working in the boiler room back in the 1980s. He also brought along many service awards and tokens he received from the Archipelago Brewery Company where he worked for 38 years.
21. Tiong Ghee Temple
Tiong Ghee Temple is Queenstown’s oldest Taoist temple. The current temple at Stirling Road was built in 1973 to replace the old village temple at Boh Beh Kang village which was demolished in 1968 for the development of Mei Ling estate.
The history of Tiong Ghee Temple can be traced to 1931, when an altar was installed in an attap but of a villager living in Boh Beh Kang village. A few years later, a storage house in the village was converted into a temple and was named Ghee Tiong Temple. After World War II, the villagers constructed a bigger temple at Hong Yin Hill. The Temple was later renamed Tiong Ghee Temple in 1966.
Today, the Temple remains a gathering point for former Boh Beh Kang villagers and serves as a lasting reminder of Queenstown’s past.
All-in all an interesting tour that brought us to some key military installations constructed by the British to defend the naval outpost in Singapore and recounts the series of battles in Labrador and Alexandra prior to the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942.
Full list of places covered in this tour: Belayer Creek & Labrador Nature Reserve, Keppel Harbour, Tanjong Belayer, Belayer Beacon, Long Ya Men, Fort Pasir Panjang, Pasir Panjang Power Station, Former Alexandra Brickworks, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra Arch, Former Malayan Railway Staff Accommodation, Hort Park, Alexandra Barracks, Alexandra Hospital, Former Normanton Oil Depot, Queensway Shopping Centre, Queenstown Police Centre, Alexandra Fire Station, Alexandra Industrial Estate, Former Buller Camp, Tiong Ghee Temple, The First Point Blocks, The Butterfly Block.
Interested participants can register for the free guided tour which takes place on the second and fourth Saturday of each month here. Alternatively, institutions and schools can sign up for the tour through firstname.lastname@example.org.
A big thank you to all the volunteer guides for the day! My Community is recruiting volunteers who loves curating exhibitions, guiding heritage trails, researching, urban exploring or events organising. For application forms or enquiries, email email@example.com