Of forgotten reservoirs and underground military chambers: New heritage tour explores Mount Faber and Sentosa
SINGAPORE: It isn't on any official map - but make your way through a soggy bed of leaves and tall grass off Telok Blangah Road, and a gleaming body of water emerges, filled with creeper plants and littered with dry leaves and twigs.
Built in the shadow of Mount Faber, Keppel Hill Reservoir, as it was then known, is in fact less than 20 metres long and two metres deep - no more than one-third the size of an Olympic swimming pool.
Maps from 1924 show it was one of three small reservoirs in the area that supported the small village there, but its small size made it impractical and it fell out of use – officially, anyway.
Residents continued to use the reservoir as a swimming pool.
“We used to swim and fish there. It was like our childhood playground,” said Wong Keng Yue, a former resident of the nearby Morse Road.
The remnants of the diving board and concrete steps can still be found amid the undergrowth today.
But by 1958, the pool existed merely as an unlabeled outline on the authorities’ master plan and by the early 2000s, it had disappeared altogether from most maps.
It wasn’t until 2014 that National Heritage Board researchers accidentally rediscovered the location of the reservoir.
But the land it sits on remains zoned as a greenfield space and will not be further developed – and for this reason, Keppel Hill Reservoir is likely to remain relatively unknown to most of the general public, community heritage research organisation My Community pointed out.
The reservoir is part of a new heritage tour developed and organised by the non-profit group, which will take members of the public through seldom-seen parts of Mount Faber and Sentosa, including the abandoned British military facilities that dot the area.
One of these is an underground complex on Mount Faber, built in 1936 to coordinate artillery batteries in places like Buona Vista, Pasir Panjang, Labrador and Serapong in the event of an invasion by sea.
The Faber Fire Command Fortress Plotting Room housed complex mechanical computing devices that allowed officers to calculate precise firing angles, loads and other information for firing from each of the batteries. It also had telephone exchanges to relay commands to the gunners at each battery.
The sea invasion never came and in 1942, the guns had to be turned landwards to shell invading Japanese troops at Pasir Panjang and Jurong River.
The Faber command saw action till the end, controlling the batteries at Labrador and Blakang Mati that continued providing fire support after the other positions had to be abandoned.
The guns finally fell silent on Feb 14, 1942, the day before the British surrendered.
For years after, the Faber command stood abandoned, drawing only illegal explorers. Only now is it being opened to the public for the first time, as part of the new heritage tour.
Another lesser-known site, Fort Serapong, is also being opened to the public for the tour.
During WWII, it was one of the four major batteries on Pulau Blakang Mati, now better known as Sentosa.
Winston Wong Kum Kay, a former commanding officer of the Singapore Armed Forces’ bomb disposal unit, trained at Fort Siloso on the island.
But while Fort Siloso was redeveloped into a military museum, and Fort Connaught was demolished to make way for the Tanjong Golf Course, the ruins of Serapong have been left untouched to this day.
“It’s the first time I’ve visited it again in exactly 50 years,” Mr Wong said.
“I remember how it shows how we (military personnel) co-existed with the kampung and fishermen. We really loved the island.
“I believe a lot people don’t know that this type of heritage sites still exist.”
The Mount Faber and Sentosa tour takes place on the second weekend of every month and is one of nine free guided tours organised by My Community. You can sign up for the tour here.