Air-Raid Shelters in War Time Singapore

I admit that my knowledge of the events that led up to and took place during World War II is incomplete at best.

My school books described, at length, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Normandy landings, the unconditional surrender of Germany, and the two atomic bombings that leveled the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, peppered with sidebars about the Blitz and Stalin. We learned little of what happened in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Our history books were incredibly America-centric. What I do know now of the Great War comes from years of reading great books.

Given that 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II in Southeast Asia and the fall of Singapore to the Japanese, each month I will explore one of the many World War II sites and monuments that dot this tiny island (i.e. New Year’s Resolution #428).

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Just a hop-skip-jump away from my home is a 1,500 square meter air-raid shelter that protected hundreds from the bombs that rained overhead. According to The Straits Times, “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 from the outside, the whitewashed brick walls would have betrayed little of what the space was built for.”

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

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I’d read about this shelter long ago and am thrilled that it’s temporarily open to the public. The National Heritage Board is conducting free guided tours of the shelter on Saturdays this month (February 4, 11, 18, 25) at 10am and 11am. Limited spaces for the tours are available on a first come, first serve basis. To register, email Lee Bee Cheng (lee_bee_cheng@nhb.gov.sg). Go. It’s untouched and eerie and tranquil.

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I will revisit World War II history as I uncover more sites. I hope you enjoy my quest to fill in gaps in my knowledge as much as I enjoy sharing this information with you.

(Additional credits: Photographs via StraitsTimes.com.)

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