How much do you know about Singapore’s history and the Battle of Singapore in 1942? Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper gives us the lowdown on the rich history of Alexandra Park.
“There is a clue in the title – it’s not called the Battle for Singapore for nothing. So, as you stroll around the leafy suburbs of Singapore, look out for the older pre-war architecture and you can almost guarantee that the place will have a story of conflict heritage to recall.
The Alexandra estate, also known as Alexandra Park, has a unique claim to fame when we look at its World War II pedigree. The 2nd Battalion of the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) was one of the residential units posted to Singapore before the war, and their officers and men were housed in the Alexandra Quarters and Gillman Barracks. When the Japanese invaded the Malaya, the Loyals were sent up country to halt the tide. They, like the rest of the allied army, suffered heavy casualties before being forced back onto the island in January 1942. As the Japanese invaded across the Straits of Johor, the Loyals were redeployed to positions along Pasir Panjang Ridge alongside the Malay Regiment and, in a remarkable twist of fate, during the final days of fighting, they fought amongst their own homes and quarters in the estate.
The Alexandra estate has a further story of conflict to share. Many of the buildings date back to before the First World War, to the time when the military camp at Gillman was constructed. In 1915, during the Sepoy uprising in the city, the mutineers of the 5th Light Infantry tried to storm the bungalow of their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel EV Martin, who lived on the estate. The British despatched a relief column to relieve the besieged soldiers and there followed a sharp firefight across the gardens and tennis courts around the estate before the surviving mutineers were rounded up.
So, if you do find the odd bullet or cartridge lying in the undergrowth, don’t be surprised. The Alexandra Estate is a unique heritage site littered with remnants of Singapore’s more violent past.
Author of Tigers in the Park, focusing on the February 1942 Battle for Singapore, Jon also founded The Adam Park Project, researching and documenting the area’s role in said battle.
He and his wife Alison moved from Singapore to Scotland in 2017, where he is now a researcher, lecturer and PhD student at Glasgow University. He still makes trips back here, most recently in April this year for a series of lectures and talks with NUS, as well as being the guest of honour at a black-and-white event organised by Jane’s Singapore Tours. He’s currently researching his next book.
Find out more in our Living in Singapore section!