Pre-war British bunker to open its doors to public

Pre-war British bunker to open its doors to public
The bunker's two rusty steel doors are about twice the height of an average person. Built before 1942, it is the last surviving bunker of the British Naval Base’s Armament Depot.

SINGAPORE - A lush expanse of forest that hugs the northern coast of Singapore holds a secret pre-war bunker built before 1942.

Back then, carts hurtling along a railway track now hidden by mud would deliver weapons and explosives deep into the British military facility.

After more than 70 years under lock and key, the little-known bunker in Woodlands will finally open its doors to the public for two days next month.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) will conduct tours of the site on Feb 7 and 14 as part of its efforts to commemorate Singapore's fall to the Japanese 73 years ago, and its subsequent liberation three years later.

Last April, several government agencies approached the board to do a heritage assessment of the place, which is managed by the Singapore Land Authority.

Researchers found the Attap Valley Road Bunker - decommissioned in 2002 by the Defence Ministry and returned to the state - to be of "historical interest".

This prompted the NHB to request for public access, said its group director of policy Alvin Tan.

"We decided to open up the bunker because it is a well-preserved structure which played an important part in the British Far East defence policy," he said.

After consulting a 1945 British Naval Base map from Australia's National Library, NHB learnt that it is the last surviving bunker of the British Naval Base's Armament Depot.

In its heyday, the depot comprised 18 bombproof underground storage bunkers, as well as other workshops and storehouses. Seven bunkers, including the Attap Valley Road one, were sited at the foot of Talbots Hill overlooking the Johor Strait.

Explosives and detonators from the depot were assembled at the naval base before they were loaded onto battleships such as the HMS Repulse and the Prince of Wales, said NHB's assistant director of research, Dr John Kwok.

Getting to the historic bunker requires a 10-minute trek over sodden ground and careful navigation across creeping vines.

Muddy, ankle-deep water awaits beyond the bunker's two rusty steel doors, which are about twice the height of an average person. Inside, two British-built steel cranes, which have stood the test of time, remain affixed to the dimly lit facility's steel ceiling.

About the size of two five-room HDB flats, the bunker was also used by the Japanese to store anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank weapons during World War II.

The Ministry of Defence took over the site in 1971 after the British left, and named it the Sembawang Ammunition Depot.

The Straits Times understands that there are no immediate development plans for the parcel of land. Asked about the possibility of conserving the bunker and the site's future, NHB's Mr Tan said it will be expanding its research to the surrounding area.

Heritage blogger and naval architect Jerome Lim, 50, believes the entire area deserves a deeper study.

"There really should be more such opportunities for the public to gain access to and learn about such places," he said.

The public can sign up for free tours on NHB's website today.

melodyz@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on January 29, 2015.
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