No home yet for treasure trove of WWII artefacts

SINGAPORE - Adam Park - where British civil servant Philip Cooper Sands lived - was the scene of the last battle before Singapore fell to the Japanese in World War II on Feb 15, 1942.

Ignoring the mayhem around him, Mr Sands, the man in charge of Singapore's electrical grid, calmly dug into his breakfast. The Briton had chosen to stay behind to repair the country's bomb-damaged power lines, and gave his account of the battle in a letter to his wife.

His story was uncovered by military historian and archaeologist Jon Cooper, 50, as part of a six-year archaeological and historical survey called The Adam Park Project.

But such tales, and more than 1,200 artefacts that have been unearthed since 2009 and are stored at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas), have yet to find a permanent home.

Mr Cooper will be returning to England with his family next year. And so far, no institution or group here has committed to showcasing the site's unique heritage, he said.

"We don't want to shut up shop and leave the boxes of artefacts forgotten in a store somewhere," said Mr Cooper, an assistant curator at Changi Museum.

"It will help me sleep better if someone can give the project a permanent home... It's a wonderful trove of Singapore's heritage."

Together with an army of 150 volunteers, Mr Cooper spent days digging in the backyards of the 19 black-and-white colonial bungalows in the 8ha residential estate near Adam Road Food Centre.

They found items such as military badges, spent ammunition cartridges and the love tokens of fallen soldiers. The locations of the cartridges helped him map out where some of the crossfire took place, adding detail to an otherwise broad narrative of events.

Mr Cooper hopes his project can be showcased at bungalow No. 7. The one-storey building is now empty after a restaurant operator vacated it last year.

Some heritage experts said the struggle to find a party to take over the artefacts points to a lack of legal framework to protect archaeological finds.

Iseas archaeologist Lim Chen Sian said Mr Cooper did a "stupendous job" and believes the project deserves a permanent home.

"Adam Park is part of Singapore's social history and heritage. We should acknowledge it and find ways to preserve it in our memories one way or another," he said.

The National Heritage Board told The Straits Times yesterday that it hopes to work closely with Mr Cooper to increase public access to these artefacts. Its group director of policy Alvin Tan added that it is also "keen to encourage interest and research into the uncovered artefacts".

This article was first published on January 19, 2015.
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