The British have military installations all over the place in Woodlands. But the most compelling theory was that there were some disused British Military underground facilities, abandoned after World war 2. The API pored over old maps and solved the mystery easily. The location coincided with the location of the underground oil facility known as Woodlands North Depot, operated by a subsidiary of Shell, the Asiatic Petroleum Company or APC.
The walk in from the south was relatively easy with minimal bashing. Got a little nervous when I saw the entrance to the tunnel but once we were inside it was much wider and easy to walk. Distance to the cache was not too far, just try not to step on any scurrying geckos.
Stairway to heaven? Stairway to hell?
APC, through its underground Oil storage facility (Woodlands North Depot) supplied fuel oil to the British Navy, refueling the Ship Oiler known as RFA RUTHENIA, berthed at Ruthenia Oiling Jetty as a stationary oil deport as part of the Ruthenia jetty, and maybe as a ship oiler, as the purpose of the Ship Oiler was to go to the sea with tankful of oil fuel to fuel the war ships out at the sea, so that those ships need not go back to shore to refuel. After the war, Shell continued supplying to the Navy. The Woodlands Shell Depot was disused some years later when the British Naval Base was handed back to Singapore after Singapore Independence in 1965.
The first thing we noticed inside the tunnel were hundreds and hundreds of geckos guarding their nests. When we shined our torches at them, they fell off the celing and ran like crazy animals accross the floor. Here’s a close up of one of them and it’s eggs.
There were also some scary looking spiders in the tunnel. Amblypygids are also known as whip spiders and tailless whip scorpions (not to be confused with whip scorpions that belong to the Arachnid order Thelyphonida). The name “amblypygid” means “blunt rump”, a reference to a lack of the telson (“tail”) carried by related species. They are totally harmless to humans.
We had to step on the pipes inside the tunnel as to avoid the think orange, greasy sludge. Not long later, we found a geocache hidden in one of the bays. Then it was a quick retreat above ground. Getting out however was tough for me personally even with the rope. Thanks to Hueyyei, Sweng, and Ling for the photos and moral support :)
The map below is dated 1945, and you can faintly see the words WOODLANDS NORTH DEPOT, and it leads to a jetty called the APC Jetty. You can also faintly make out the Ruthenia Oiling Jetty.
This shows that the Jetty was still in use before and maybe after WW2.
The map below is dated 1968, and in the same location, the Woodlands North Deport was now renamed WOODLANDS SHELL DEPOT, and the jetty, WOODLANDS JETTY, which is still operated by SHELL. APC is the predecessor of Shell.
APC, through its underground Oil storage facility (Woodlands North Depot) supplied fuel oil to the British Navy, refueling the stationary Ship Oiler known as RFA RUTHENIA, berthed at Ruthenia Oiling Jetty. The purpose of the ship Oiler was to refuel the naval vessels berthed next to it.
The Woodlands Shell Depot was disused some years later after the War and it remained in its current state till 2008. A few months after Mas Selamat escaped from its Detention Barracks, API found that all the entrances to the Tunnels were then sealed up with bricks and plastered up to prevent anyone from hiding inside the tunnels.
The Naval Base
Upon a non exhaustive research of the surrounding area of “Marsiling Tunnels”, we were surprised to discover that the entire stretch of land from the Causeway area, Seletar and all the way to Sembawang, was formerly called ‘Naval Base’. And the fuel depot mentioned was also known as Woodlands Depot (Woodlands Naval Tank Storage in pre-war time, then renamed Woodlands North Depot & Woodlands South Depot, on each side of Bukit Timah Road(now known as the BKE or Bukit Timah Expressway).
The road servicing the naval base was called Naval Base Road (now called Admiralty Road West, still sees many joggers who love the sea view and fishing enthusiasts). The naval base was renamed to Woodlands Garrison when ANZUK forces took over, before the handover to Singapore.
ANZUK Support Group: “This formation comprised 24 integrated units providing all Army logistic support requirements, and common support for all other services in Singapore. Two ANZUK Bases were located at Woodlands and Sembawang to cater for the support requirements of these areas.
However the decision to disband the ANZUK came fast and unexpected in 1974, 3 years after its formation in 1971″. – Raymond, API
There are two main gates which served the naval base, one called Rotherham Gate (remnants of this gate can still be seen today, partly enveloped by a tree, this fact was pointed by Charles of API) and the other, Canberra Gate, in Sembawang.
Two jetties serviced the immediate area near the fuel depot (Now a Shell facility, as mentioned above), the Old Ruthenia Oiling Jetty and the Woodlands Jetty (formerly called APC Jetty, then Shell Jetty and now known as Woodlands North Jetty). The area around the jetties were likely to be “stores basin” or “wet dock”, serving as an oil/bitumen depot terminal (it too serves as an area where the Malayan Naval Forces berthed their ships).
The fuel transfer is done via pipelines connected to the large tank farm which is the depot itself and the Ruthenia Jetty. The RFA Ruthenia was connected and utilized as a pumping station, part of a oil fuel jetty (see above for more info provided by API, on the Ruthenia).
Photos courtesy of National Archives Singapore
Before the British withdrew their forces from Singapore (Far East Fleet), the naval base area was a mini town of it’s own, with a thriving population of around 10,000 civilians from Woodlands to Sembawang. Apart from it’s dock facilities and barracks for it’s staff(HMS Terror, renamed Terror Barracks later on by ANZUK forces). The naval base has it’s own hospital, swimming pool (see image on the right), police force, a fire brigade, religious and recreational facilities – a cinema!
With the pullout, the regular bus services which brought people to town area was stopped, replaced by a local company which is hardly sufficient for the residents within the Naval Base boundaries.
In addition to their woes, the public phones which were installed by the British Naval Base Telephone Exchange were all removed, leaving the only public phone available – Sembawang Post Office.
Futher troubles came in the form of rising crime rate, burglaries and robberies. Secret society gangs moved into the former naval base area, clash of rivals were ever so often. Which probably explains the possibility of gangsters hiding out in the underground structures by the 1970s to 1990s. Hygiene too, became a problem when swill collecting lorries left numerous trenches which bred mosquitoes, followed by large numbers of pests, like large rats.