Did you know that the northern tip of Singapore is dotted with World War II relics, such as a bomb-proof office and an underground bunker with an en suite squat toilet?

WWII history and heritage buffs are in for a treat from February 8 to 29 this year. To commemorate the 78th year that Singapore fell to the Japanese, the National Heritage Board (NHB) is opening a total of 74 guided tours across at least nine locations.

And two of them are the Former View Road Hospital and Former Admiralty House (now Canberra House), where you can tour the aforementioned bomb-proof office and the underground bunker respectively. These two lesser-known WWII-related sites will be part of the Battle of Singapore programme this year.

Stories of the fall of Singapore and the Japanese Occupation usually surround prominent war sites or national monuments such as Fort Siloso, Former Ford Factory, Fort Canning or Adam Park. However, there are other less popular (i.e. inaccessible and ulu) sites and structures around Singapore which are related to the war. After all, due to Singapore’s strategic location, our tiny island was at the centre of action in Southeast Asia during WWII.

The annual Battle of Singapore organised by NHB is in its 6th iteration now. Started in 2014, its purpose is to interest more Singaporeans in WWII history so that they can understand the impact of the Japanese Occupation on Singapore and Singaporeans, and “reflect on the importance of remembrance, resilience and reconciliation.”

This year, the programmes for Battle of Singapore are organised in partnership with the Singapore Land Authority, Museum Roundtable members and heritage groups such as All Things Bukit Brown, NUS History Society and Museum Volunteers.

Last week, we had the honour of being invited by NHB to go on a reconnoiter trip to Former Admiralty House and Bunker and the Former View Road Hospital, which are two of the highlights in the Battle of Singapore programme this year. Here’s what we learned.

Former View Road Hospital

What used to be a lookout point for the Japanese, British Royal Naval Police barracks, an asylum, and a dormitory for transient workers? It’s a nondescript-looking State property at 10 View Road. Built on a slope in a forest off Admiralty Road West, it could very well be the Singaporean version of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

The facade of Former View Road Hospital at 10 View Road

Research painstakingly done by NHB shows that construction of the building started in 1941 by the British, who intended for the main building to be offices and accommodation, while the annex was meant to be a bomb-proof office. However, they did not manage to complete the construction of the building before the Japanese invasion. Subsequently, the Japanese took over the compound, completed construction and used it as a naval base during the Japanese Occupation.

The bomb-proof office is the white building on the right. During the tour, participants will be allowed to enter it.
The main building of the Former View Road Hospital was last used as a dormitory for foreign workers

The watchtower on the fourth floor of the main building afforded a clear view (hence the name “View Road”) of the northern parts of Singapore, including the Singapore Naval Base and the Causeway. The Japanese most likely used this vantage point to spot enemy movement coming from across the Causeway, and to guard their naval assets located in the northern part of Singapore.

It is believed that the Japanese surveyed their naval assets from the watchtower at 10 View Road.
If not for the trees, one would have a clear view of the Woodlands Causeway from the watchtower.

When WWII ended, the property served as accommodation for the British Royal Naval Police from the 1950s to the 1970s. Thereafter, it became a branch of Woodbridge Hospital (now the Institute of Mental Health) until the early 2000s. From 2008 to 2011, it was used as a foreign worker dormitory.

Dates for guided tours to this site: Feb 8*, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23
Timings: 10am to 11.30am, 2pm to 3.30pm (*10am only)
Who is the guide: Dr John Kwok, a Research Fellow with the Military Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Important note: Due to safety reasons, this tour is only open to participants who are at least 18 years of age.

Former Admiralty House and Bunker

This whimsical colonial house built in the Arts and Crafts style, circa 1940, is good at hiding secrets. In fact, it managed to hide an underground bunker with an en suite toilet until as recently as 1990!

The Former Admiralty House and Bunker in Sembawang.

Located in Sembawang, what is now known as Canberra House will soon be redeveloped into an integrated lifestyle hub called Bukit Canberra in the near future. In its previous lives, it was an international boarding school, a country club, and accommodation for key military naval commanders.

The house was last home to Furen International School.

However, a discovery made by the country club manager Mr Tan Seng Heng during landscaping works has revealed that the Japanese probably took possession of the house during the war. During excavation works on the lawn, the excavator tipped into a cavity which turned out to be the entrance to a small underground bunker. Intriguingly, the 30 square metre space includes a squat toilet – a discovery which has led historians to believe that the bunker was probably built by the Japanese, and not the British.

The secret underground bunker which went undiscovered for decades until 1990.
Be very careful not to bump your head against the wooden slats above the entrance
A squat toilet was found in this underground bunker.

Dates for guided tours to this site: Feb 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23
Timings: 10am to 11.30am, 2pm to 3.30pm
Who is the guide: Dr John Kwok, a Research Fellow with the Military Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Important note: Due to safety reasons, this tour is only open to participants who are at least 18 years of age.

Other exciting highlights of Battle of Singapore

Not all of the sites featured in the Battle of Singapore programme this year involve travelling to out-of-reach locations. Some of them are in our Civic District and even Orchard Road. Of course, tours of the more inaccessible sites are expected to be more popular among history buffs.

Look out for these tours:

  • Former Communicable Disease Centre by Jerome Lim, author of The Long and Winding Road blog
  • Battle of Bukit Brown/Mount Pleasant by Beng Tang, a volunteer nature and heritage guide who leads tours on the history of WWII and the biodiversity of Bukit Brown
  • Botanic Gardens to Bukit Brown by Bianca Polak and Claire Leow, who are with All Things Bukit Brown
  • Bukit Brown Hills 1, 2, 3 and 5 by Fabian Tee of All Things Bukit Brown
  • Adam Park by Simone Lee of All Things Bukit Brown

Are you excited to sign up for these guided tours? There are only 25 places for each tour. The more ulu the site, the more popular it is expected to be. So hurry and register now at www.museums.com.sg before they’re fully subscribed!

P.S. If you do manage to successfully sign up for these tours, please remember to slather on sunscreen, wear a hat, bring an umbrella and a bottle of water.