New trail to explore Queenstown's past

Participants will learn about estate's military history, hear from residents

The empty field next to Alexandra Fire Station in Queensway has a dark history.

In February 1942, it was the site of the British army's Normanton oil depot and, in a vain attempt to stop Japanese soldiers from advancing, troops set fire to its oil silos. Thick plumes of smoke engulfed the nearby Boh Beh Kang and Alexandra villages.

Many residents were massacred as enemy troops marched onwards. The death toll is unknown.

The field is now part of a new history trail of Dawson and Alexandra launched today. It is being organised by civic group My Community, Queenstown Citizens' Consultative Committee and urban explorer group The Other Sites of Singapore.

The trail focuses on the estate's military history and the stories of residents.

It is the second trail to be launched in Queenstown - the other covers community landmarks in Tanglin Halt and Duchess estates - and explains the different layers of history in Singapore's first satellite estate, showing how it has evolved since the colonial period.

My Community founder Kwek Li Yong said the story of the damaged oil silos and the killing of the Boh Beh Kang and Alexandra villagers has often been overshadowed by the 1942 massacre at the British Military Hospital - known as Alexandra Hospital today - where 200 patients and staff members were killed in 30 minutes.

There are 18 stops along the Alexandra and Dawson trail, one of which is hidden in a wooded area in Kay Siang Road, where the remnants of two storage bunkers lie. The bunkers were likely to have been constructed in the 1940s and have features such as double doors to reinforce them against bombings.

The trail also takes participants through community sites such as the Taoist Tiong Ghee Temple, which started as an altar in a villager's hut in 1931; the Housing Board's first point blocks, 160 and 161 in Mei Ling Street; and the site of the 1950s Hock Lee bus riots at the junction of Dawson Road and Alexandra Road.

Ms Badariah Hussein, 65, who lives in one of the point blocks in Queenstown, noted that participants will get to learn a little about Singapore's housing evolution through the trail. Constructed in 1970, the point blocks were designed to give residents more privacy by restricting the number of units to just four per level. "I'm very proud to live in one of Singapore's special blocks and will never sell it off," the former clerk said.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, said participants will get to hear first-hand accounts from long-time residents, shopowners and librarians. "Our stories are big in heart and soul, and certainly speak volumes of life in the 1960s and 1970s," he said.

Members of the public can sign up for tours at www.myqueens town.eventbrite.sg. The tours will be held on the last Saturday of each month, starting next month.

Organisers are seeking about 100 volunteers to run the new tour and an existing one in Tiong Bahru over the next few months. Those who are interested can sign up by sending an e-mail to myqueenstown@gmail.com

melodyz@sph.com.sg