Friday, January 27, 2012

MyPaper : Wartime survivors recall the day bombs fell

27 January 2012
By Josephie Price
JAN 21, 1942, is a bittersweet date for lawyer Mary Pereira.

"That was the day her father, a World War II civil-defence volunteer, was killed in Japanese air raids. It was also the day that her shell-shocked moth­er gave birth to her in an air-raid shelter, as bombs fell like rain outside.

"We were homeless after that night of bombing. I didn't know it at the time, but my mum told me thatwhole buildings were destroyed and our flat was taken over," said Ms Pereira.

Opportunists moved into their home after the bombing and changed the lock. Without a home, the Pereira family moved to Malaysia for some years to live with relatives.

Yesterday, some 70 years after that fateful day, Ms Pereira visited the same shelter in Tiong Bahru for the first time. She was accompanied by her two older brothers, who recounted the grim events.

One of them, retiree Andrew Pereira, was just five years old that year.

Now 75, Mr Pereira said that as a boy then, the experience of seeing planes in the sky and hearing sirens everywhere "was like something out of movie ".

"My uncle grabbed me from my bed and carried me and my brother down to the shelter, where we waited until it was safe to come out again,"he added.

Built in 1940, the Tiong Bahru air-raid shelter, located beneath Block 78 in Guan Chuan Street, is the only pre- war civilian air-raid shelter that still exists here.

The apartment block above it was the only public-housing building at the time to be equipped with an air-raid shelter.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Singapore, the National Heritage Board (NHB) is conducting public tours of the air-raid shelter.

Two free guided tours lasting an hour each will be conducted every Saturday next month. Each tour can take up to 25 participants, and registration can be made online.

An exhibition on air-raid shelters will be launched at Tiong Bahru Market next Saturday to serve as a counterpart to the tours. The exhibition will showcase artefacts, such as pictures and newspaper articles, from the Imperial War Museum in London.

The two projects are part of a broader initiative by the NHB to highlight, until the end of June, some of the. lesser-known stories of Singapore's wartime past.

Said Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's director of heritage institutions: "Through this project, we hope that members of the public, especially Singaporeans, will learn more about Singapore's war history."

He added that the agency also wanted to highlight the resilience of Singaporeans "in this particular difficult time in our nation-building".

For more information and to sign up for the tours, go to

A VISIT to a World War It air-raid shelter in Tiong Bahru yesterday brought back bittersweet memories for the Pereira family. The shelter was where Ms Mary Pereira was born in January 1942, amid a Japanese air raid. Her brothers, Andrew, 75, and Erasmus, 71, remember the sirens' blare and bombs falling like "something out of a movie".

The Straits Times : She was born in this air-raid shelter

The Straits Times
27 January 2012
By Lim Yan Liang

Siblings and World War II survivors (from left) Erasmus Pereira, 73, Andrew Pereira, 75, and Mary Magdeline Pereira, 70, visiting the 1940 civilian air-raid shelter at Block 78 Guan Chuan Street in Tiong Bahru. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Siblings and World War II survivors Erasmus Pereira, 73, Andrew Pereira, 75, and Mary Magdeline Pereira, 70, visiting the 1940 civilian air-raid shelter at Block 78 Guan Chuan Street in Tiong Bahru.

It was here 70 years ago, as bombs fell on the housing estate outside, that Ms Pereira was born.

Built by the now defunct Singapore Improvement Trust, the shelter was the only one of its kind to be incorporated within public housing.

It will be opened to the public for the first time next month.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Straits Times : World War II bomb shelter opens for tours

Tiong Bahru site could be the last wartime civilian shelter here

The Straits Times
27th January 2012
Photograph of the interior of the 1940s civilian air raid shelter at Block 78 Guan Chuan Street in the Tiong Bahru housing estate constructed by the then-Singapore Improvement Trust. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
WHAT is possibly the last wartime civilian air-raid shelter here will welcome groups of visitors on guided tours next month.

The shelter, occupying the ground floor of Block 78, Guan Chuan Street in a quiet corner of Tiong Bahru, has had an anonymous existence all this time.
No signs have pointed casual passers-by to it, and the whitewashed brick walls of its exterior betray little of the purpose for which the 1,500 sq m space was built.

The shelter occupies the ground floor of Block 78, Guan Chuan Street, and has been used by the Housing Board as a storage space. -- ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN

But it was this space that gave about 100 people from the neighbourhood shelter during the Japanese air raids between December 1941 and January 1942, shortly before Singapore fell during World War II.

Built in 1940 by the Singapore Improvement Trust, the colonial predecessor to the Housing Board, it was the only air-raid shelter to have been incorporated into public housing at the time.

The National Heritage Board (NHB), seeking to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle for and eventual fall of Singapore, will organise the tours. It will also launch a community exhibition at the nearby Tiong Bahru market.

The white-washed brick walls of the shelter's exterior betray little of the purpose for which the space was built in 1940.

Photos, oral accounts and material gleaned from Britain's Imperial War Museum will tell the history of pre-war and wartime air-raid shelters here.

The tours and exhibition are part of a larger schedule of events to mark the anniversary. These include an exhibition of artwork by former prisoner of war William Haxworth and Singaporean artist Liu Kang at the National Library, the launch of heritage trails at Reflections At Bukit Chandu, and a remembrance ceremony at the Kranji War Memorial on Feb 15, 70 years to the day Singapore fell.

Mr Alvin Tan, the NHB's director of heritage institutions and industry development, said: 'The guided tours and exhibition are part of the overall experience that NHB is providing to commemorate the Battle for Singapore.'
He said the NHB hopes to raise public awareness of Singapore's war history and highlight the people's resilience in that early phase of nation-building.
Although in good condition, the shelter is not entirely in its original state. The HDB, which has been using the shelter as a storage space, retrofitted it with fluorescent lights.

Other changes, which Mr Tan described as 'minor renovations', included the knocking-down of some walls, and the cementing-over of some original entrances and skylights. Little will be done to the space ahead of visits by history buffs and students of Singapore history.

The exposed red bricks of the 1,500 sq m shelter's interior walls are unadorned. Overhead, planks and pipes run, unhidden, and the concrete ceiling and pillars are unpainted.
'If we do it too nicely, it will lose its authenticity,' said Mr Tan.
The exposed red bricks of the interior walls are unadorned. Overhead, planks and pipes run, unhidden, and the concrete ceiling and pillars are unpainted.

Some graffiti, including Chinese characters in black paint, are on the walls in the shelter, but the NHB is unsure when these marks were made.

Visitors may be able to spot Chinese characters on the walls, such as the word gui (meaning ghost), as well as pictures of Chinese actors and actresses in period garb near one of the ceilings. -- ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN
The shelter has memories for Singaporeans like Mr Andrew Bosco Callistus Pereira, 75. (See report below.)

Just five years old when the bombs began falling on Singapore, he said: 'It was spacious down there, but dark, and if I recall correctly, we had just a few kerosene lamps.'

The sound of the air-raid siren is etched in his memory, he said, as are the bright beams of searchlights that criss-crossed the sky outside the shelter.
One reason the shelter is intact could be because it was little used.

Mr Peter Chan, a 58-year-old businessman whose grandfather Chan Chun Wing was a volunteer air-raid marshal in Tiong Bahru, said only one dry run of evacuation to the shelter was held - in the daytime - after the shelter was built ahead of the war.

But the Japanese launched their bombing campaign on Singapore at 4am on Dec 8, 1941. At that hour, most residents were asleep in their own homes and under-prepared to evacuate to the shelter, although it was used the following month.

Mr Chan said: 'My grandfather said people nearby did use the shelter when the sirens went off, but those were mostly false alarms. It was actually hardly used.'


Father died, sister was born - all within 24 hours

IN THE early hours of Jan 21, 1942, amid intermittent bombing raids on Singapore by the Japanese, Mr Callistus Raymond Pereira, a 29-year-old teacher and father of two, was called to duty as a civil defence volunteer.

He had breakfast with his wife Gerarda, who was expecting their third child soon. Before leaving the family's home in Chay Yan Street, he went to kiss his sleeping sons, Andrew, five, and Eddy, four, goodbye.

As there had been heavy bombing the day before, he had a bad feeling about that day. He took a picture of the Virgin Mary that he kept in a drawer, passed it to his wife and said: 'Don't worry, if anything happens, Our Lady will look after you.'

When he did not return that evening, his wife knew he was gone. She headed for the hospital mortuary in Outram Road, determined to claim his body and give him a proper burial.

But she could not find his body amid the chaos at the mortuary, on a day when 600 people lost their lives.

Later that evening, after she got home, the air-raid sirens went off.
As they howled, she took her sons to the air-raid shelter in Block 78, Guan Chuan Street. The elder of the boys, Andrew, a former lab technician now aged 75, said he remembers being carried into the shelter with Eddy.

'The sirens were blaring. There were bombed-out houses with only the staircases left standing.'

His most vivid memory of life in the shelter, though, was the charcoal fire the adults built inside. Over it, they roasted a long pisang tanduk, or horn banana.
He said: 'I was only five, so I don't recall much, but we ate the bananas with butter, and it was wonderful.'

Later that night, Mrs Pereira went into labour, and by a stroke of luck, Professor J.S. English, Singapore's first professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, was in charge of the medical unit in the shelter.

With help from him and his wife, Mrs Pereira delivered Mary Magdeline Pereira just after midnight on Jan 22, 1942.

Ms Pereira, a retired teacher now aged 70, said: 'If there had not been an air-raid shelter, I don't know if I would have been born safely - or if I'd even be alive now.

'Singapore was razed to the ground that day, and I am like the phoenix that rose out of the ashes. That spirit is in me. I've been a fighter all the time - that's me.'

The family learnt from a historian after the war that a 'C R Pereira', recorded to have died on Jan 21, 1942, lies buried in a mass grave in Batu Pahat, Johor.


Two guided tours, each lasting an hour, will take place every Saturday morning at 10am and 11am in February. Members of the public may register for them by emailing

TODAYonline : Catch a glimpse of history at this pre-war air raid shelter

Jan 26, 2012
SINGAPORE - The only known existing pre-war civilian air raid shelter will be open for free public tours through the entire month of February.

Located at Block 78 Guan Chuan Street at Tiong Bahru estate, this tour of the underground premise is part of the National Heritage Board's (NHB) efforts to mark the 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore to the Japanese.

Singapore's only known existing pre-war civilian air raid shelter. Photo by Ng Jing Yng

The shelter, opened to the media today, showed glimpses of Singapore's history where fearful civilians would climb down a ladder to seek safety between the uncovered brick walls of the 1,500-square metres shelter.

The shelter's three entrances have since been sealed, and what remains is mainly spacious unfurnished rooms with interesting graffiti - dating back to the 1960s - on the walls.

Singapore's only known existing pre-war civilian air raid shelter. Photo by Ng Jing Yng

Ms Mary Peraira, 70, who was born in this shelter shared her experiences with reporters this morning.

"It was a closure for me to know what my mother went through and to be back here knowing what happened then," she said.

Ms Peraira was born just one day after her father died from an air raid. On the night of her birth, the sirens had once again sounded to alert people of another air raid and Ms Peraira's mother and siblings hurried into this shelter to seek refuge.

Public tours of this shelter could be extended after February depending on demand. NHB will also be organising exhibitions and a series of commemorative activities to mark the 70th anniversary.

Singapore's only known existing pre-war civilian air raid shelter. Photo by Ng Jing Yng

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Time To (re) Live your Dreams!

I don't normally walked along the shops at the Tiong Bahru Market along the Lim Liak Street side but for reasons unknown, I walked there today and was glad I did!

I walked away happier and richer, having gained some nuggets of information and knowledge on mechanical watches.

Located in amidst a row of the shops overflowing with their merchandise, there was this spartan looking shop manned by 2 unlikely partners.

In the cabinets are lots of watches of bygone era that still looked so good!

I even found a vintage Mickey Mouse Diver's watch. (I'm embarrassed to say that was the only I recognized besides the Vintage Minnie Mouse one)

The rest of the stuff which Nick Tng, the younger partner, was rattling on and on sounded so foreign to me. He is one super enthusiastic and passionate watch connoisseur.

Amongst his collections were some mechanical digital watch. (If this sounded oxymoron to you, too bad, I'm not gonna spoil your fun by telling you. You have to visit their shop to find that out)

According to Nick, those mechanical digital watches was the Swiss feeble attempt to dent the Japanese dominance in the quartz digital watch segment.

No prize for guess who won and who lost in that battle. 

Sitting beside Nick is the master of watch repair, Mr Tan Ban Hoe, a retired driver who is now living his DREAM! (Clap Clap Clap)

Nick opine that Mr Tan probably has the largest collection of Ladies mechanical watches in Singapore since most collectors usually go for the Men's.

So many of Mr Tan's collections are so dainty and small.

I suspect Mr Tan is the reincarnation of the Six Million Dollar Man with embedded built-in zoom lenses in his eyes and a robotic precision pair of hands to be able to repair all those minuscule watches. 

If Mr Tan is not too busy, you can ask him to show you his drawers of forgotten glory and memories. (I called it the GRAVEYARD!)

There are so many broken watches in those drawers and he intends to harvest those for spare parts.

If you are in the hood, do check out this interesting shop.

Opening Hours and Shop information available by clicking on Nick's namecard.