Historian appeals for stories of Adam Park in WWII

Military historian (from left) Jon Cooper with volunteers Kim Frost, 49, and Simon Pulford, 48, outside 11 Adam Park, where a planned excavation will take place early next year.
Military historian (from left) Jon Cooper with volunteers Kim Frost, 49, and Simon Pulford, 48, outside 11 Adam Park, where a planned excavation will take place early next year.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The Adam Park Project wants to hear from Singaporeans who worked as cook boys and house servants or knew those who did when the site served as a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in 1942 during the Japanese Occupation.

Organisers hope these stories can help pinpoint which colonial bungalow out of the 19 there housed a chapel for prisoners, and give a better picture of what life was like there.

"We are appealing to anyone who has heard stories of their fathers or grandfathers who worked in the area to also help provide a snapshot of how life was like then for civilians working with the POWs," said project initiator Jon Cooper, 48, a military historian and archaeologist.

The site was the last battle line before Singapore fell to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942. That battle was fought by a 1,000-strong Cambridgeshire Battalion for control of the southern shores of MacRitchie Reservoir.

It later became a camp for 2,000 Australian and 1,000 British POWs, who helped to build a Shinto shrine at the same reservoir to commemorate Japanese soldiers who died in the conquest of Malaya and Sumatra.

Today, the park which is near the Adam Road Food Centre, is a residential estate of 19 conserved black-and-white bungalows.

Each house has a story to tell while the land around the estate is a time capsule of the intense fighting that went on then, said Mr Cooper, a Briton.

The project, which was started in 2009 to unearth little-known facts about the battle, is supported by about 60 volunteers, half of whom are expatriates. They help out with bi-monthly surface digs with the aid of metal detectors.

So far about 60 per cent of the estate, or an area of about 6,300 sq m, has been surveyed by Mr Cooper and his team.

They continue to uncover badges identifying the units which fought there, spent ammunition cartridges and remains of military equipment.

About a thousand WWII artefacts have been dug up so far.

Another excavation effort has been slated to take place early next year as well. This will supplement the first one in 2011.

There are also plans to establish a permanent museum display and launch a virtual one online in the lead-up to Singapore's 50th birthday in 2015.

The online effort will help make the site accessible to war veterans the world over, said Mr Cooper.

Volunteer Kim Frost, a 49-year-old regional managing director, believes it is important to set up a permanent exhibit, since it will be a "pity" if the wealth of information and artefacts unearthed continue to be buried, "this time in the recesses of an archive somewhere".

When Mr Cooper, who accompanied his wife to Singapore when she was posted here in 2009, discovered that the condominium in Arcadia Road he had moved into, and which overlooks Adam Park, was on the site of the fierce battle, it was an opportunity too good to miss.

This led him to organise his neighbours to gather volunteers and embark on the archaeological project.

One of them was Mrs Helen Mummery, 43, who has been on almost every dig since.

She said: "Finding an artefact and piecing together a war narrative can be very addictive. It helps to verify historical accounts and shared memories of the battlesite."

melodyz@sph.com.sg


Treasures unearthed

THESE were the some of the artefacts found by the Adam Park Project. The first three items listed here were located within a few centimetres of each other.

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A 1940 South African shilling

The shilling is most likely a memento carried by a soldier of the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshires. It probably fell to the ground when he was searched by the Japanese. It points to the route the Cambridgeshires took as they passed through Cape Town on a 2 1/2 month journey to Singapore in December 1941.


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A military-issue syringe

This syringe, part of a military medical kit issued to Allied troops between World War I and World War II, may have belonged to a “Captain Smith”, a military doctor of the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshires. The discovery of the syringe helps verify records that the British Regimental Aid Post was housed at 17 Adam Park as it was found nearby.


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Junior officer’s pip

It most likely belonged to a junior officer such as a lieutenant or a captain. It remains a mystery as to how this came off the officer’s shoulder.


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A Cambridgeshire hat badge

Perhaps the most poignant artefact discovered so far, Mr Cooper believes that the men may have been told to get rid of the insignia of their battalion prior to being captured. The name on the badge had also been spelt incorrectly. This was apparently a pre-war manufacturing error.

MELODY ZACCHEUS