WWII cannon site in sad state

The site along Cosford Road in Changi has become nothing more than a storeroom for a nearby restaurant.

SINGAPORE - It was once a majestic fortress that housed the naval cannons used to defend Singapore during World War II.

Eleven years ago, the Johore Battery, with a refurbished cannon, was officially opened by a Cabinet Minister to mark its historical significance.

But now, the site along Cosford Road in Changi has become nothing more than a storeroom for a nearby restaurant.

The grass around the bunker was overgrown and the trenches around the site were filled with stagnant water when The New Paper visited the site last week.

We were alerted by a reader, who wanted to be known only as Mr Wong. He had stopped by the Battery last month and had been shocked by the dilapidated state of the site.

Mr Wong, 40, a civil servant, visits the historical site with his wife and children several times a year.

"The grass was overgrown and there was waterlogging in the trenches," he told The New Paper.

"The small shed that exhibited the pictures and information of the Johore Battery was also packed with equipment and items belonging to the restaurant nearby."

He saw pails, cables and a bicycle left in the rooms of the exhibition areas.

"It was messy like a rubbish dump and it didn't look like any maintenance was going on," he said.

Mr Wong said the site was a "far cry" from when it was opened to the public in 2002 by then-Minister of Trade and Industry George Yeo.

Added Mr Wong: "It's very sad that a historical ground has now become a dumping ground and forgotten."

Leased

The Battery sits on state land that has been leased since 2009 to businessman Francis Ng, who owns the Chillout@Cosford bistro next door.

He is also the boss of popular restaurant chain House of Seafood, which has a branch down the road.

Restaurant staff at Chillout@Cosford admitted to TNP they have been using the Battery to store their equipment.

But the kitchen staff also said that maintenance of the historical site was usually done by workers of the bistro.

"We are the ones who cut and weed the grass, and we've drained as much of the stagnant water as we can to prevent mosquitoes from breeding," he said.

"We've managed to reduce the mosquito count in the area by 90 per cent."

When The New Paper visited the Johore Battery last Tuesday, we found both the bunker housing the cannon and the shed locked.

When contacted, Mr Ng said the shed and bunker's closure was only temporary as "maintenance works are ongoing".

But he said they would be open to the public as soon as the maintenance works were over.

The kitchen worker also said that the state of the Johore Battery was "much worse" when he joined the restaurant in July, when the bistro was renamed Chillout@Cosford from Bunker.

"Then, the grass was as tall as a person and there were many mosquitoes every night."

Tenants of state properties are responsible for the general upkeep and maintenance of the premises, a Singapore Land Authority spokesman said in response to queries from The New Paper.

A history professor, Dr Chua Ai Lin of the National University of Singapore, said the Johore Battery should be properly maintained because of its historical value.

"Perhaps the SLA could revise its requirements for tenants to include (not just) commercial elements but also proper management of historical aspects of the site.

"It's meant for the public after all," she said.

Johore battery

The Johore Battery, named to acknowledge a donation from the sultan of Johor for the defence of singapore, was opened in 2002 by then-Minister of Trade and Industry George Yeo.

The original 15-inch guns were built in 1939 to defend singapore during World War II. With 16.5m-long barrels, the three guns were the largest outside Britain then, but were destroyed by the British forces before singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942.

The ammunition storage tunnels, sealed after the war ended, were uncovered by the singapore Prisons Department in 1991 by accident.

The site now features a replica of the guns.

Admission is free.

 

Other S'pore cannons

- Labrador Park: Owned by the National Parks Board

World War II relics such as machine gun posts, bunkers and secret tunnels - rumoured to lead all the way to Sentosa - can still be seen in the park. The former fort was a key bastion of the British defence against Japanese sea invasions.

- Fort Canning: Owned by the National Parks Board

The nine-pound cannon, which was fired at 5am every morning during the colonial era to wake the colonials living in the area, still stands as a relic.

- Fort Siloso: Owned by Sentosa Development Corporation

This former military post, which still has several underground tunnels, bunkers and cannons, is now a tourist attraction.

rloh@sph.com.sg

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