Monday, September 22, 2014

Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre - Redux

More than 2 years ago, I wrote a summary of how the community centres started at our old housing estate. From the 1st in 1952, to the 2nd at the shophouse, the 3rd and most familiar one built by People's Association in 1963, and finally, the one at the new Hillview Estate in the 1980s. (article here)

At that time of writing, photographs of the old community centres were extremely difficult to come by. Fortunately, in the past year, the National Archive of Singapore had begun to periodically release old records, maps and documents for public access. This has resulted in more pictures of our old estate being available for viewing.

I have collated some pictures in relation to the old (3rd) community centre for easy viewing here.
If you were in PEE sometime between 1963 to the 1980s, you would have known this building which was the focus of all social events at our estate then.

The first set of pictures is of the laying of the foundation stone by the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew on 5th May 1963. This was done during his constituency visit around Singapore in relation to the referendum of merger with the Federation of Malaya.

This is followed by some pictures of the official opening of the community centre by Haji Ya'acob Mohd, the Parliamentary Secretary to the PM's Office, on 11 September 1963.

Finally, a few photos of the 8th Anniversary Celebration of the Community Centre on 24th June 1972. This last set of pictures has special significance for myself as my father and sister are featured in some of them!

1. Laying the foundation Stone - 5th May 1963

On the right of this photo, you can see the mangosteen trees, remnants of what used to be the small  orchard that surrounded 2 badminton courts upon which the new CC was built.
The block in the rear is Blk 17 Prince Charles Rise.

2. Official Opening by Parliamentary Secretary, Mr Ya'acob bin Mohd on 11th Sep 1963.

(Some that I can identify as follows:- Right to Left)
Mr Chua Tong Nee, Quah Baba, Mr Koh Keng Kwee, Mrs Michael Wong, ?, ?, ?, Mr Ya'acob Mohd, ?, Dr Rajah, Mr Lee Teck Hup, ? ? ? ? ? ?.

It is interesting to note that during the early years of the community centre, the management and running of the place were all done by unpaid resident volunteers. Only the Organising Secretary, Mr Ronald Lim, who was also a resident of PEE, was employed by the newly established People's Association.

3. The CC 8th Anniversary Celebration Dinner on 24th June 1972.

Mr Lee greeting members of the CC management committee.
Beside Mr Lee is Mr Chor Yeok Eng, MP for Bukit Timah, on his right is Mr Chai Chong Yii, later MP for Bukit Batok and beside Mr Chai is my dad, who was the Management Committee chairman at the time.

The old Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre.

If you are able to identify anyone else in the above photos, perhaps your parents, uncles, aunts or even yourself!, please drop me a comment below.

Photo source: National Archive of Singapore.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Photos from ex-residents (19) - More from Tay Kay Swee

Two photographs from way back in 1956/1957 from Tay Kay Swee.
Can you identify any of them?

      Teachers vs. Students Football Match played at our estate big field.
      Kay Swee is the centre of the middle row. Those on his right were teachers and those on his left         were students. Wonder what was the outcome of the match?

Front L-R:- ?, James, ?, Foo x x, Lim Mou Sing, ?, ?, ?, Tai Sun, ?
Middle L-R:- Robert De Souza, Bakar, ?, Tay Kay Swee, ?, ?, Ah Song.
Back L-R: Krisnan, Edmond Doss, ?, ?.

    Deep Sea fishing trip with residents of P.E.E and Scout Master Bernard Fernandez around 1957.
    Photo taken in front of the Principal's office at the school.

Standing L- R : 
1 & 4)  Nair brothers  ( Block 23 )
2) Chan Kum Fatt (107 Prince Charles Rise )
3) Bernard Fernandez ( Scout Master / teacher )

Front row L- R :
1) Seetoh Chow Hoi ( PEE "Lok Hoy Tailor" shop )
2) Tay Kay Swee (116 Princess Anne Hill )

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Girl Guides - 1958

These are the Girl Guides from 1958 in a group photo with their Guide Mistress, Ms Jane Charles, taken outside the ground floor classrooms.
Probably long before most of our time (at least mine!), some of these young ladies may even be your aunts or mothers! Do drop me a comment  if you still recall any of them, or tell us of your days in the school scout or guide movement at Princess Elizabeth Estate School.

(Click on the photo for a large detailed view)
Seated L- R :
 1) ?  (Lived in Fuyong Estate)
 2) Tay Sock Joo
 3) Loo Kim Suan 
 4) Susie Ponnusamy ( Principal M.Ponnusamy's daughter )
 5) ?
 6) ?
 7) ?  
 8) Ms Jane Charles ( teacher )
 9) Victoria Cunico 
10) Leela Nair 
11) ?
12) Catherine Seetoh 
13) Wong Hock Soon 
14) Tay Sock Suan.

Standing L- R :
1) ?  (Lived at 7th mile) 
2) Tan Phuah Choo
3) ? 

4) Aw Choy Peng.

Photo credit: Catherine Seetoh.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Photos from ex-residents (18) - Tay Kay Swee

Tay Kay Swee was in Princess Elizabeth Estate School from 1954-1957.
(See previous blog article here.)
He shares with us the following photos from his school days and of his scout days at PEES.

The Inter-school Table Tennis Champions for 1956.
(Tay Kay Swee is 2nd from left. Beng Seng far right
& Leong Li Lian front left )

Scout Badges 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Looking for old friends - Tay Kay Swee

Tay Kay Swee was a pupil at Princess Elizabeth Estate School from 1954 to 1957.
That would make him one of the pioneers at PEE School that moved to Hillview in 1955.

Kay Swee lived with his family at Blk 19 Princess Anne Hill.
He moved away in 1976 but his family remained there till the estate was closed in 1994.

Tay Kay Swee was in the school scout movement as well as being an active sportsman in school.
He sent me an old photo that was taken after the scout troop ended a camping trip to Sembawang Beach. He was a Troop Leader then in 1956.
He is very keen to meet up with his school mates or anyone from the scout troop.

Princess Elizabeth Estate School Scouts - 9 August 1956.

Though information is sketchy, here's a bit that might help:

Tay Kay Swee - Seated 2nd from left
Idris - Seated 1st far left.
Edmond A Doss - Scout Master - seated 3rd from left
Robert De Souza - Scout Master - seated 4th from left
Lau Cheng Hock (Dr) - seated 2nd from right.
Mohinder Singh - Back row 3rd from right - lived near the circus beside Castrol
Beng Seng - Middle row 2nd from right - sportsman & table tennis player - lived next to the Ang                              family (Ang Meng Huat/Ang Meng Kong) facing the football field.
Kam Fatt- Middle row 6th from right - lived at house facing football field.
Also searching for Seetoh Hon Hoy, the estate tailor's son who was a scout but not in the above photo.

If you can recognise or identify anyone from the photo, do put in a comment below and hopefully, I can get some sort of reunion going for them, as this blog has done for many others.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Photos from ex-residents (17) - Talentime at PEE CC.

Chew Wah Meng shared this photo and comments about the annual talentime contest held at PEECC in those days.

An old picture of Princess Elizabeth Estate.
The talentime photo shows the estate band boys (Hogan’s and Moss boys ?)
We used to have annual talentime in those days.
You can see Ronald Lim (the CC organiser) on the left of the picture.
The dancers were not from PEE but relatives of mine from other part of Singapore.
They were not part of the talentime, but supporting act during the break.
Hope the photo will start some memories jogging amongst your readers.
I’m pretty sure they’ll remember the talentime shows over the years....

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Guest Blogger - Soh Fong Phui

Hi James, 

Thank you for keeping Princess Elizabeth Estate alive.

I spent my childhood at Block 6 Hill View. We were the pioneer batch of residents and spent a good 8 years there before moving out. My elder brother studied at the Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre, while I being younger by 2 years, had the chance to study at the then brand-new Hill View CC in 1983 (before it was renamed as Bukit Gombak CC).

I was a student of PEES in 1985 and had always passed by the PE Estate en-route to school every day. I loved climbing up the slopes and passing by all the houses. 
I fondly remember the Magnolia Ice Cream Uncle in the old tuckshop and the Malay Auntie who used to sell donuts. I bought donuts daily from her for my entire P1 year :) 

I was showing my mother the photographs and she was very excited and pointed out the details of her primary school which she spotted on one of the photographs. She lived and studied near the old St Joseph Church.

It was a Chinese primary school, and you can refer to the comments in the attached photos.
Please continue to keep the old memories of our childhood places alive.

Addendum by James Tann

This is the area behind the cemetery (bottom right) which Fong Phui wrote above.
This area is now the Chestnut Drive housing development.
Her mom's old house should be in the kampong area on the top left of picture.
Jalan Geok Siang Nng led all the way to Jalan Cheng Hwa at Bukit Panjang Village.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Mysterious House at Dairy Farm.

If you have been to the Dairy Farm Nature Park, you might have seen this rather quaint abandoned building near the Wallace Education Centre.
In the past, I have been often asked by many people, including some TV production companies, with regards to the background of this mysterious bungalow.

Until recently, my only bit of knowledge of this house was that it was used as the field headquarters of Brigadier Duncan Maxwell during the Battle of Singapore in Feb 1942. Brigadier Maxwell was in command of the 27th Brigade of the 2nd Australian Imperial Forces. His men were assigned to defend the area between Kranji River and the Causeway.

Who occupied the house before and after the war was totally beyond me until recently, when a close friend, Jerome, sent me some old photos of Dairy Farm.
Jerome's great great grandfather came to Singapore from China in the 1890s and lived in the area that would eventually become Dairy Farm and Chestnut Drive. His family homestead was there till the late 1980s when the government acquired the land for housing.

It seems that this particular house was formerly owned by the Cold Storage company that ran the dairy farm. The house was staff quarters and was used by the chief veterinarian as well as the General Manager of Dairy Farm in its time.

So, mystery solved !
Until now, you'd probably only find urban legends and talks of haunted houses if you tried to google this place.

The main milking shed at Dairy Farm has now been turned into the Wallace Education Centre and is used for teaching schools about art and ecology.

Here are some pictures of the Wallace Education Centre today as well as an old photo from Jerome showing the original milk shed in the background

Wallace Education Centre, Dairy Farm Nature Park.
The original milk shed at Dairy Farm.

Related links:
The Dairy Farm
Dairy Farm Nature Park
Alfred Rusell Wallace

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tenancy Agreement for living at Princess Elizabeth Est

Princess Elizabeth Estate was built in 1953 by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), after taking over the project from the Princess Wedding Fund Celebration Committee.

In 1960, all housing related functions in Singapore were assumed by a newly created government body, the Housing and Development Board, which was established by an Act of Parliament on 1 Feb 1960.

Reader Amir Ahmad recently sent me a copy of the original tenancy agreement which his father signed with the HDB in June 1960. That allowed them to move into No. 141 Elizabeth Drive. This unit was on the ground floor of the 7-storey block. This bock would in time be known as Block 24.

Here is a scanned photo of that tenancy agreement, a rare and priceless heritage document today.
This was one of the early documents issued by the new Housing and Development Board.

Amir Ahmad also made me a sketch of his old home at unit #01-141.
Some of you, who might have lived at Blk 23 or Blk 24 will recall the layout of these 3 room flats.

If I am not wrong, I believe Amir used to live beside the unit that was used by our estate band boys, the Pests Infested, for their loud band practice? Can't imaging fitting a band into those tiny living rooms that we had!

Thanks for your contribution, Amir Ahmad.

Related links:

Photos from ex-residents (14) - Amir Ahmad

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Trekking Bukit Gombak in search of WW2 relics.

Last November, I wrote about the suspected World War 2 Japanese pillbox that may still exist on the slopes of Bukit Gombak. With the recent dry spell, it was perfect weather to organise a search and to identify the concrete structure, or what's left of it,

This morning a team of enthusiasts brought together over Facebook made the exploratory trip.
Among those who came along were Andrew and Christopher, who had previously been to the structure itself, Kim Frost, a WW2 vehicle expert and Jingyi, one of the few trained archeologist in Singapore, heritage blogger Jerome, and with experts from the Bukit Brown team, Andrew and Fabian.

I had brought together this team on my own premise that the structure there could possibly be Japanese or at least WW2 related. But, in order that I would not disappoint anyone if it turned out to be a wild goose chase, I decided to embellish the trip with some side itinerary.

1. A good mornings' hike up the hill.
2. An understanding of the geology of Bukit Gombak and the region.
3. A visit to the mysterious hidden lake at Bukit Gombak.
4. A history of the war in relation to Bukit Gombak.
5. The primary purpose - to view and identify the damaged concrete structure.

The trekkers reaching the base of the spur where the concrete structure is located.

Climbing the steep cliff face. Part of the concrete can be seen above/

Andrew cutting the vines to create a passageway.

The hidden lake near the top of Bukit Gombak.

Part of the concrete structure. Anyone recognise what these are?

Kim Frost digging and trying to identify the structure.

A large metal protrusion.

Were we able to positively identify the structure? Unfortunately, no.
There was simply not enough visual evidence to indicate what it was or what it was used for.  The structure was in total ruins as though it was purposely destroyed but this is not likely to be as Andrew and Christopher had seen the structure semi-intact before the roof caved in.

Even then, the group found other distractions at the site.
Apparently, some unknown people, probably the residents living in the nearby HDB flats, have created a sort of vegetable garden and it was thriving in this isolated hillside. Pandan, tapioca, pineapple, bananas, sugar cane and chillies were found in neat plots.
And, best of all, we discovered a new and easier route to the structure that didn't involve climbing the cliff!

A real Pandan garden

Alas, we also saw signs of a recent field survey, which could possibly mean that some sort of development might be on the cards for this place.

As for the concrete structure, I guess it has to be left to more professional people in future (if there is a future for it).

Here's a little trivia about Bukit Gombak which I shared with this group.
Bukit Gombak contains the oldest known rocks in Singapore.
Contrary to the misconception, Bukit Gombak is actually not made of granite but of another type of hard rock called Norite. Though one is easily forgiven for not knowing the difference.
Samples of norite can be seen strewn all over the Gombak hill.
Bukit Gombak Norite is estimated to be 500 million years old, in comparison to the granite of neighbouring Bukit Timah which is a young 250 million years old.

A geological map of Singapore,

Bukit Gombak as seen from the East (Upper Bukit Timah side)

Watch a clip of the Gombak Trek

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dispelling the Darkness

Last week, I visited an old friend, Jerome Pang. He has one of the most interesting, if not rare, jobs in Singapore. He is an archivist in a private archive; classifying, restoring and preserving old documents and records.
He surprised me by saying "I read this book on Charles Darwin and were you the James Tann mentioned in it?"
"What? Me? In a book about Darwin? Who wrote it?"
"A professor or something named Van Wyhe"

Then I recalled!
Dr John Van Wyhe is a Senior Lecturer  at the Depts of Biological Sciences & History at NUS.
He is the foremost authority today on the life of Charles Darwin as well as Darwin's contemporary, Alfred Russel Wallace.

It was about Alfred Wallace that we corresponded with each other about a year ago.
At that time he told me that he was completing his book and was interested in what I wrote about Wallace during his stay at Bukit Timah in 1854.
Also there was a bit of confusion over the actual St Joseph Church building that Alfred Wallace lived at during his exploration in Singapore. I knew it to be the 2nd reconstruction whereas Dr Van Wyhe could only find references to it being the original. He was also interested in the 1852 map of Singapore which I sourced from the UK archive which he had not seen before.

Dr John van Wyhe has since published his book titled: "Dispelling the Darkness : Voyage in the malay archipelago and the discovery of evolution by Wallace and Darwin"

Intrigued by why my name would be in his book, I made a quick trip down to the National Library and found that the book was only available as reference material at the LKC Reference Library.

The book is an easy read for a scientific tome and has quite a good anecdotal account of the events relating to Wallace's jaunts around Bukit Timah. Then I found my name...

Aahh, it was an acknowledgement by Dr van Wyhe to all those who provided 'help' in contributing to his book. It's nice to have your little name amongst the so many famous contributors, although I really didn't think I contributed much. Thanks Dr John van Wyhe.

For those of you who may be still, up to now, wondering who Alfred Wallace is (unforgiveable!),
here is a primer from an earlier blog I wrote.
Alfred Russel Wallace in Bukit Timah

Saturday, November 9, 2013

WW2 relics on Bukit Gombak

As a young schoolboy, I spent many hours exploring the hillside of Bukit Gombak.
Occasionally with my schoolmates but most of the time it was with a boy named Cheng Ah Bah.
Ah Bah was the son of my family washerwoman (that's right! no washing machine in my time!)
Although he was just a few years older than me, the strange thing to me then, was that Ah Bah didn't go to school as we did.  Ah Bah worked on his family farm up on the slope of Bukit Gombak.

Ah Bah would take me all around the Gombak hillside, to the different chicken and pig farms and showed me which fruit trees belonged to which farming family in that area. There were lots of durian, langsat, starfruit, sugarcane and rambutan tree plantations on the hill.

Bukit Gombak in the 1960s. Homestead farms were located all around the ridge.
This is the frontage as seen along Upper Bukit Timah Road
The Cheng family farm was located somewhere near the middle of the left ridgeline.

There was a structure near the summit that had a special significance, although at that time, it was nothing more than just a playground for me. This was a small concrete bunker-like building, which my estate friend Johar Anuar and his buddies used to called the "Fortress".  Most of the old kampong boys knew about it but it was not very accessible as the 'jungle' had grown around it.

In hindsight, I now know that this was the old World War 2 Japanese pillbox built during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. It was still there in the 1960s when the British forces built RAF Gombak Radar Station on the hilltop. This pillbox was near the source of the spring water that till today flows down Gombak towards Hillview.

This is the view of Bukit Gombak from the Jurong side towards Bukit Timah Hill.

This is a view of the summit where RAF Gombak Radar Station was sited. You can see the double security fence surrounding it. I can distinctly remember till this day trekking along the fence.

The bunker would be somewhere near the spot marked 'X" which was beside the source of the natural spring. Princess Elizabeth Estate was built right below this hill slope (right).
This old bunker and the spring source are today within the secured boundary of Mindef and there is absolutely no access anymore for ordinary folks like us.

This reminiscing of Bukit Gombak came about as I recalled how my grandfather had told me, long long ago, that during the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), the Japanese Army had built a camp on Bukit Gombak.
This triggered my memory of Cheng Ah Bah, who once told me that there were more bunkers around Gombak Hill similar to the one we had played at.

Then it struck me like a light bulb going off ! My Eureka moment!

A while back, I had blogged about the hidden lake of Bukit Gombak.
When I was writing that, I recalled my blogger friend, Andrew Him, with his friends who formed a group called One North Explorers, had visited the lake previously a few years ago and found a destroyed concrete structure near the lake.

Was that concrete structure they stumbled upon one of the old Japanese pillbox?
This was highly possible.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Him from One North Explorers. (
At that time, Andrew and his friends were not able to positively identify the abandoned structure.
In the RAF Gombak photo above, the structure would be located just outside the bottom right corner, near where the hidden lake is today.

This will be my next quest. To find and try to see if that structure could be one of those WW2 Japanese pillboxes that were built around Bukit Gombak during the war years.
I will wait till the dry season around next February or March to make this expedition.
I hope to gather some like-minded friends willing to explore with me. Anyone? Drop me a comment with your email contact.

Related links:
Exploring Bukit Gombak
Bukit Gombak Hill
Topographic Map of Bukit Gombak
War Relic at Hillview Avenue
The hidden lake at Bukit Gombak

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Featured in Bukit Gombak Newsletter

I guess I had gained some notoriety from writing this blog about my old beloved housing estate.
About three months ago, I got a call from the Bukit Gombak CCC asking if I could meet them to talk about my blog articles. They were interested in using some articles and pictures from this blog for a new newsletter which they intended to publish for their constituents.

I had no objections as I felt it would be beneficial to this blog to let more people know of our old estate. Free publicity, why not! So after a few sessions with them, here is the article extracted from their inaugural newsletter which they publish last week.

I have added a link below if you are interested in reading the newsletter in its entirety.

p.s. I must clarify that I am not a resident of Bukit Gombak constituency.

Related link: iGombak newsletter