Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Boys’ Brigade Connection

I've just finished dinner at the Tiong Bahru Market when I bumped into a familiar face while walking toward the escalator.

This person was wearing a Boys’ Brigade officer’s uniform.

“Wah, you are an officer now?” I asked Timothy. “Not too long ago, you were just a Private.”

“Yes Sir, I just finished my Basic Officer Training Course.” Timothy replied.

“Please lah, don’t call me Sir, just call me Alvin”, I said.

“Cannot lah, must call you Sir.” Tim replied............
(The rest of the conversations are too mundane to be blogged)

In case you are thinking that I’m going off tangent, hold your horses 1st.

There is actually a connection between the Boys’ Brigade in Singapore and the Tiong Bahru Estate!

The connection lies in the founder of the 1st Singapore BB Company, Mr James Milner Fraser.

And since I spent my A LOT (And I mean a LOT!) of my time in the BB from 11 years old till I took my ‘O’ levels, I am especially elated to stumbled onto this piece of information.

From official records, Mr James Milner Fraser was already working for the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1927 as a Town Planning Assistant.

So the Pre-War Section of the Tiong Bahru Estate may have traces of his work already!

And I’m pretty sure he played a huge role in the post war series of Tiong Bahru as he was promoted to Manager of the Trust in 1946 and supervised many major developments, including more than 10,000 houses, shops and flats, as well as writing a number of papers and reports on town planning and housing issues.

Prior to coming to Singapore as a young architect in 1927, Mr James Milner Fraser was already very much into the BB movement; having grew up in the 23rd Aberdeen Company and later became a BB officer in the 23rd London Company.

The Singapore BB Story was in fact made possible by 2 men who have a deep love and respect for the movement and a chance sighting of a BB buttonhole along the streets of Singapore.

BB Ex-Sergeant Quek Eng Moh, a Swatow Old Boy was just walking along some streets in Singapore when he saw the BB buttonhole on Mr James M Fraser.

Fortunately it was not just a “Hi-Bye” kinda encounter between these 2 people.

They went on to start Singapore’s 1st BB Company on 12th January 1930 at Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.

The block of flats next to this church is exactly the same as the Post War Tiong Bahru flats. So now you know who was responsible for that design

I’m proud to have been a part of this life changing movement.

Here’s more information about Mr James Milner Fraser, Singapore’s BB Founder:

James Milner Fraser was born on 5 January 1905 and was articled to James Cobban of Aberdeen in June 1920.

When Cobban ceased practice in September 1923, Fraser transferred to the office of George Watt, where he completed his apprenticeship in June 1925.

Throughout this period he studied at Aberdeen School of Architecture, Alexander Gordon being among his tutors.

He then moved to London where he joined the LCC Housing Department as an architectural assistant and studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic and at the Northern Polytechnic, Holloway Road.

In 1926 he made a study tour of Rome, Florence and Paris, and in the same year took a position as assistant architect in West Ham Borough Council.

The following year he emigrated to Singapore where he joined the Singapore Improvement Trust, working in the Municipal Offices under his former tutor and fellow émigré Alexander Gordon.

He passed the final exam in Singapore in August 1928 and was admitted ARIBA in late 1929, proposed by Gordon, Percy Hubert Keys and another.

By the mid-1940s he had been promoted to the position of Manager to the Trust, and in the ensuing years supervised major developments including more than 10,000 houses, shops and flats, as well as writing a number of papers and reports on town planning and housing issues.

He was admitted FRIBA in 1955, by which time he had been awarded a CBE.

He subsequently returned to Scotland, probably to retire, and he died at Cults, Aberdeenshire in November 1978, survived by his wife Alice.

Me in the Junior Section of the 25th Singapore BB Company a very long time ago

Me in the era where it was NORMAL for the spectacles frame to cover half your face

We had a lot of fun performing even though we played worse than the neighbourhood funeral band

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