Sentosa Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack

Located at Gunner Lane, off Artillery Road, of present-day Sentosa, Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack was built in 1904.

The former British stronghold was named after the island where it was established. Pulau Blakang Mati, which means “behind death” in Malay, would be renamed as Sentosa in 1970 as a redevelopment project to turn the island into a place of leisure and recreation.

Before the construction of Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack, the British already reinforced the island as early as 1860 with gunneries and forts. In 1878, new gun batteries were added to each end of Blakang Mati (Blakang Mati East and Siloso). The reinforcement was due to the threats by Tsarist Russia, who was thought to harbour territorial ambitions in the central and other parts of Asia.

At the start of the 20th century, two more batteries were deployed on Blakang Mati’s Mount Serapong and Mount Imbiah, but by the 1920s, the Great Depression in the United States of America had hit the global economy badly. British Empire was not spared as it struggled to rebuild its economy.

When the Second World War hit Singapore in 1942, military personnel and volunteer units were given duties to defend the forts of Blakang Mati. In three days of intensive battle, the defense of Blakang Mati was lost to the Japanese invading forces. The British deliberately destroyed some of the gunneries to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Japanese.

After the Japanese occupied Pulau Blakang Mati, they used the barrack to house the prisoners-of-war (POWs). There were horrific stories of the inhumane treatment of the POWs, who were tortured and starved throughout the Occupation. After the surrender of Japan at the end of the war, the same barrack was used to imprison the Japanese POWs.

The famous part of the barrack is the main parade square which was previously used extensively by the British military for their official events. It was also the venue where Singapore’s first artillery division First Singapore Regiment Royal Artillery (1FSRRA) was established. Formed in 1948, 1FSRRA was given the task of training the local military enlistees and to protect Singapore during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960).

Other than the main parade square, Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack consisted of four blocks designed in typical British military style for the Far East. High ceilings and wide corridors suited the hot tropical weather of Singapore, and rows of wooden rectangular doors and windows lined up the walls providing easy accessibility.

The barrack was well-equipped with many housing quarters for the junior staffs, senior officers and married military personnel. There were also lecture rooms, store rooms, cookhouse, officer mess, rifle range, church, laundry bay, grocery shop and a small cinema for entertainment purposes. It even had its own medical facilities, reservoir and football field. By 1940, three more buildings were added to the camp.

The Singapore government took over Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack after achieving independence in 1965. Two years later, the newly formed Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) relocated some of its subsidiaries, the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force, School of Maritime Training and Naval Medical School, to the camp.

The local military presence, however, existed only for a short period on the island. In 1972, the government decided to develop the island into a tourist spot, leading to the abandonment of the barrack.

As it fell into disrepair during the nineties, the former camp became a favourite place for exploration by the chalet-goers.

It was not until 2005 when the barrack was renovated to become the offices for the Sentosa’s Tourism Agency. In August 2012, it was announced that the site of the century-old barrack would be used for the development of a new hotel.

As many as sixteen landmarks on Sentosa were given conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Board (URA) in 2004. They were significant buildings built by the British between 1880s and 1930s, but unfortunately Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack was not one of them. With its new development plans, it was unclear whether and which parts of the barrack would be conserved.

Published: 26 September 2012

8 Responses to Sentosa Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack

  1. 1948 – British and Indian contingents’ passing out parade at Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack

    1960 – Gurkha units marching at Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack

    1967 – Singapore Naval Forces stationed at Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack
    (notice the rows of new 3-tonners)

    All three photos are from the National Archives of Singapore

  2. Egalson Fong says:

    How Old Is This?

  3. Alan Hunter says:

    I was attached to the 1st Singapore Regiment RA on Blakang Mati from 1953 to 1955,and stayed in one of the Barracks mentioned,it was for British Other Ranks (BOR’s)and consisted mainly of REME personnel from the Light Aid Detachment,with a few RAOC,ACC & Royal Signals thrown in.As a Corporal I was in charge of the small 443 BAD Ammunition Sub Depot next to Serapong Jetty where we kept most of the ammunition for the guns at Fort Siloso.Also at that time Fort Connaught up the hill was still being used to store a small amount of shells,it was a deep dismal place,which stiil had electricity powered from a small petrol generator.

  4. Former Sentosa military parade square to be turned into hotel

    Mar 12, 2014
    The Straits Times

    A former military parade square in Sentosa will be turned into a hotel by Far East Organization, adding to the island’s cluster of repurposed conservation buildings. The developer said on Wednesday that it trumped three other submissions to win the tender for the 60-year leasehold hotel site at Artillery Avenue from the Sentosa Development Corporation.

    The site is on elevated ground and overlooks the Palawan Beach and the sea off the southern end of Sentosa. It includes six blocks of barracks and a coach park. The military parade square and the barracks have been gazetted for conservation.

  5. Mabool says:

    Google something called SONNET TALK FORUM, a poetry forum.

    Go down about five entries to LAST POST, of March 5, 2014 date.

    You will find a Singapore artifact of 1942 date. In my commentary, I have reason to note that the location is probably NOT Changi Jail. I now believe the location was the POW camp at Blakang Mati.

    There are other instances of this thing on the web, differing slightly from one another, which makes them hard to Google.

  6. A copy of a WWII poem written by an unknown, possibly inscribed in a prison cell at Blakang Mati Barracks during the Japanese Occupation:

    The document is a handmade record of material inscribed on cell walls. There is a record of inscribed material in addition to the poem, namely “off to Changi.”

    The person who made the document leaves no record of his location*. The copyist mere says “on cell walls.” Nor does the copied inscription say where the cell walls are. The document does NOT say “on cell walls, Changi Jail.” I believe the location was Blakang Mati, not Changi Jail.

    [ *The unreadable word in the upper right is I think MOLCAB, a British military acronym for that has no bearing on Singapore. ]

    There were many luminaries in Singapore in 1945 who would have had easy access to Blakang Mati. I am guessing that several people made copies on site in 1945. There is one web page which suggests this, suggesting also Blakang Mati.” – Mabool

  7. Chew Kang Wei says:

    Hi, I am looking for any army personal that was stationed at the old Singapore Naval Forces from 1965 onwards. I am doing a project in school for SG50. We are working on a e-book that will feature Sentosa after 1965. Please email me at chewkangwei@nv.edu.sg if you are one of them.

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