Friday, March 04, 2016

Sime Road : The Hellfire Tours

Continued with the National Heritage Board's (NHB) The World War II Heritage tours with 'Hellfire'. Saw that the walk was led by Jon Cooper (Project Manager, Researcher and Battlefield Archaeologist at The Changi Museum); stalked the registration site the moment it opened and got ourselves confirmed spots immediately.

Totally enjoyed Jon Cooper's stories at last year's talk at the houses at Adam Park. Great to hear more. What a pity that he's going home this year. He came to Singapore in 2009 and has done so much to initiate and move along The Adam Park Project. Certainly hope the project can be kept alive by fellow enthusiasts, which should go beyond keeping the website alive.

Stretching from Sime Road to Bukit Brown Cemetery, this area used to house the former combined Operational Headquarters of the British Army and Royal Air Force during World War II, and the final line of defence stretching across Singapore. The site also marks General Yamashita's later internment camp for Allied Forces POWs after fall of Singapore. We walked the short distance along Sime Road (road leading to Singapore Island Country Club), and later went aside into the bushes to check out a tunnel entrance near the tombs. The tunnel has caved in and is still unexplored, but with the air vent intact, possibly filled with mud, snakes, spiders and all.

Checking out the entrance to an unexplored tunnel that's been caved.

Jon Cooper always makes a tour so much fun. (Okay, considering the sombre topic, it's fun in the sense that it's not boring.) He's literally brimming with enthusiasm. Oh yes, could he talk! Dunno how he keeps it up. It's precisely this enthusiasm that is admirable. Going up against Singapore bureaucracy and the general public's apathy towards 'heritage'? Ahhh... It takes a bit of imagination to picture the troops and war back then. Well, I don't really want to think about it. The area's seen so much blood and intense emotions. Now it's all tranquil and interrupted by cranes and bulldozers that are cutting swathes of maybe-not-necessary urban development across the green and the last bits of primary forest Singapore has. (Refer to the proposed highway through Bukit Brown, and now-debated proposed tunnel through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.)

Much of the landscape has changed along the Sime Road stretch and the adjacent forest which leads to the expansive MacRitchie Reservoir. The now-serene golf course, reservoir and private houses built atop old foundations of internment camps hide the cruelty and horrors of war 74 years ago. If you walk further in to MacRitchie Reservoir, you'll come across the ruins of Syonan Jinja, a Shinto shrine built during the time Singapore was Syonan-to.

There was wine at lunch. Downing two glasses before a stroll in the hot sun was a terrible idea. Perspiration evaporated; alcohol remained. Listening to the stories for the first 30 minutes standing in the sun, I felt so light-headed that I mostly plonked myself unceremoniously to the ground. Hahaha. Had to down a bottle of water before I felt better. The friends were tickled.

My favorite friends always take damn unglam photos of me squatting on something.
In this case, it was by the roadside.  ALWAYS. Tsk.

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