Museums: 50 Years of Growth and Change
Where History and Art Meet Gillman Barracks By Dr Vidya Schalk
battle-hardened soldiers! My first visit to Gillman After the war, the Malayan Barracks brought back Emergency (1948-1960) and bittersweet childhood memories the Indonesian Confrontation of living in military bases. One (1963-1966) brought about a of the binding aspects of soldiers sharp increase in British forces and their children has always and their families in Singapore. been ‘transience’. We live with Gillman Barracks buzzed and accept the fact that nothing with personnel, including the lasts for ever. It was always sad Seaforth Highlanders, the Royal to leave friends behind, but we Engineers of Far East Land knew right from the beginning Forces and 200 Provost Company that one of us would inevitably Corps of the Royal Military move – it was just a matter Police. During the Malayan of time. Today, the barracks’ Emergency, the 570 Map cluster of lovely air-conditioned, Reproduction Troop of Royal high-ceilinged buildings Engineers worked 12-hour shifts houses wonderful collections of to translate stereo photos taken contemporary art. These same from reconnaissance planes high ceilings kept the buildings and create maps. The troops’ cool for the hundreds of soldiers and families’ fondest memories who worked, slept and called Gillman Barracks home for Gillman Barracks in 1956 (anti-clockwise from bottom left): Entrance to seem to be of the schools, of the short periods they were Gillman Barracks, 570 Map Reproduction Troop at work, Block 9 where swimming in the pool at Gillman Barracks and the cinema. There stationed there. they resided, Fantastic view of Singapore coastline taken from top floor is little trace of the pool today as The story of Gillman Barracks of Block 9 jungle vegetation has completely begins 88 years ago in March swallowed it up. The Regal AKC 1927, when a commission (Army Kinema Corporation) cinema where nightly films were headed by Lt Gen Sir Webb Gillman along with Colonel L screened is still standing. N Malan and Lt Col R F Lock arrived to review and make In August 1971, the British withdrew and ‘sold’ Gillman recommendations about the defence readiness of Singapore. Barracks to Singapore for a token sum of $1. The SAF In 1935, the new army headquarters built on a 118-acre jungle (Singapore Armed Forces) moved in and trained there, and swamp site, was named in honour of the late General including intense exercises such as ‘bridge building’. Sir Webb Gillman and two roads were named after Lock Renamed Gillman Village in 1996 after the SAF moved out, and Malan. Up-to-date for its time, it was built to suit the it housed an eclectic mixture of furniture shops, restaurants special demands of the tropics and included messes, married and bars, finally reverting to the name Gillman Barracks in quarters, a swimming pool, gymnasium, cinema and schools. 2012. The enclave now houses galleries of contemporary The 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (aka the Die-Hards) art, restaurants and the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, called it home, followed two years later by the 2nd Battalion, which is engaged in exhibitions, residencies and education. Loyal Regiment. Gillman Barracks captures the spirit of colonial Singapore: One of the bravest and saddest moments in the history of battles fought during World War II, troops, families, children, Gillman Barracks was on Sunday 15 February 1942 when the friendships and memories forged during the intersection of 2nd Loyals laid down their arms after defending Singapore the lives of a transient and mobile population. If you have and the barracks that they had lived in as peacetime troops not visited yet, you owe it to yourself to take an afternoon to for four years. 165 soldiers were all that remained of the see this place, which so many people scattered across time original 878 men. It was such an epic battle that when the 2nd and space still have a deep attachment to. Loyals finally surrendered, a Japanese colonel walked across the battle-scarred grounds to the few remaining soldiers whose resistance had been so stubborn and introduced himself. He is believed to have said, “I wish to congratulate Dr Vidya Schalk worked on cancer research prior to coming to you and your men on your defence. How many men have Singapore. As a co-coordinator of FOM’s Outreach programme she you?” “ A hundred and twenty-nine.” “Is that all?” “Yes.” was instrumental in setting up and launching a very successful “What other troops are there here?” “No more here. Beyond initiative to guide history and art tours at Gillman Barracks. that hill there are a few.” “So! You are to be congratulated! You have opposite you a division!” This was the elite Photos courtesy of Bill Mundy (570 Map Reproduction Troop, 1956-57) Japanese 18th Chrysanthemum Division with thousands of PASSAGE September / October 2015
Where History and Art Meet Vidya Schalk Gillman Barracks Singapore Dr. Vidya Schalk, Ph.D.