Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Last Battle 1942 :: Adam Park

Jon Cooper,
Battlefield Archeologist.
Very British.

Wars of the future aren't going to be like those in the 19th century. Oh yes, I've no doubt that World War III is in sight, at this rate conflicts are exploding all over the world and tempers are getting shorter and shorter. Or another Cold War since it did last for 35 years and still shows some signs or revival. It's going to be tough figuring out where the last stand for Singapore would be. If and when that should happen, I hope to be dead already.

Another tour we signed up for with the National Heritage Board (NHB) in commemoration of the '73rd Anniversary of the Battle for Singapore and the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore', was 'Adam Park Project'. Besides the battles at Pasir Panjang ridge defended by the British 2nd Loyal Regiment and the 44th Indian Brigade, and the brave tiny platoon of 42 men of the Malay Regiment led by Second Lieutenant Adnan bin Saidi at Bukit Chandu, Adam Park also saw fierce fighting (between the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment and Japanese 41st Fukuyama Regiment) where the last lines held for three days until the British surrendered on 15 February 1942, and it was also used as a POW camp.

NHB did a great job again with an ambulance on standby, and bottled water for the participants. And an official photographer. Dohhhh. Our guide was the awesome Jon Cooper who's the current Project Manager, Researcher and Battlefield Archaeologist at the Changi Museum. He leads the Adam Park Project (TAPP), which has been eatablished since 2009, and of which I barely paid attention to. Intense study of history kinda belonged to those academic years in school. *hungs head in shame* There's no space for thinking about historical events now, save for linking it to certain research papers I pore over at work. Even so, that's compartmentalized. (More information about Adam Park as a WWII site here, here, here and here.)

There're 19 colonial black and white bungalows in Adam Park built in the late 1920s, two of which were rebuilt in peacetime after sustaining mortar damage. Today, they look pristine and serene, shrouded in beautiful greenery. The houses are now home to private residents, except for No. 7, the 1942 Battalion Headquarters. It has been licensed for commercial purposes. There're many stories about its past residents which are not difficult to find. Jon Cooper took us through No.16's previous occupants, who didn't seem to have survived WWII, from the Consul-General of the Netherlands H. M. J Fein, to the German-Jewish family of Gerhard Seefeld whose wife Doris Kathleen bore him three children and in December 1934, passed away at the young age of 23 and was buried in Bidadari Cemetery.

200-250 Allied POWs had lived in each of the houses. They numbered about 1000 British and 2000 Australians. Predictably, many also succumbed to their injuries in Adam Park. They said these were the kinder deaths. The other 13,000 Allied POWs died painfully on the torturous Death Railway in Kanchanaburi and Thanbyuzayat. Australian artist Robert Mitchell's (1919 - 2002) sketches of Adam Park during his time as a POW have helped the archeologists and researchers to establish a layout of the estate as a then-POW camp.

Guess the house number.

No. 7 used to house the NUSS Guildhouse. The friends and I used to go hang out till we decided this alumni stuff isn't our thing. Then it became two unmemorable restaurants. Now the building stands empty, and it would honestly, be perfect as a museum for the area. But this is Singapore with all its scarcity of land, crazy property prices and unfeeling stance towards heritage and conservation. The best way No. 7 could accommodate its heritage would be to remain a commercial space of sorts, and dedicate plaques or a room and wall space, erect little memorials to pay homage.

Jon Cooper is an excellent historian and guide. The years spent on this project brought him a deeper knowledge that gave life to the stories behind the names etched on the war memorials. We were certainly fascinated. Adam Park has maintained most of its old world charms. The archeological finds are precious and in time to come, ought to be viewed with equal importance alongside urban development. There's a mystery still awaiting to be discovered. A chapel built by the POWs and mural, are rumored to be in a room upstairs in one of these 19 houses. But which one, is anyone's guess. TAPP has almost determined it to be the now-No. 11, except for the one final proof of colored paint on the walls underneath all the new coats. I wonder if the ghosts would care.

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