25 November 2010

The Forgotten Pier

In the dead of the night of 8th February, 1942, The Japanese forces made their first invasion attempt on Singapore, Imperial Japanese Army 5th Division led by Lieutenant General Takuro Matsui (no profile, but clues can be found here) and 18th Division led by Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi, landing on the northwestern coast, resulted in the Battle of Sarimbun Beach which included Kranji and Lim Chu Kang.

These areas were defended by Major-General Gordon Bennett's 8th Division which included Brigadier Harold Taylor's 22nd brigade (companies from 2/18th, 2/19th, 2/20th & 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion) of the Australian Imperial Forces and the notorious Dalforce (Singapore Chinese Anti-Japanese Volunteer Battalion).

Heavy fighting soon ensued between the invading Japanese forces and Australian/Dalforce defenders. Lightweight defence was too thinly spread along the northwestern coast, among the unforgiving mangrove swamps and Namazie-Cashin rubber estates. Although the invasion force did suffer heavy casualties from meeting initial fierce resistance, they soon overwhelmed the defenders with large numbers. Aided by many shell shocked defenders caused by constant shelling from Japanese artillery from Johore, communication means cut between the defenders and confusion caused by retreat orders from the top ranks. Once the defenders pulled back to defend Tengah Airfield and subsequently down to the Jurong Line, it allowed the marauding Japanese forces to make subsequent landings with minimal fuss.

And the exact location of this very landing point, was where we visited; probably the very first location for a bloodshedding encounter between both opposing forces as well.

Propaganda leaflets airdropped by the Imperial Japanese Army
(Image source: http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/011303/33)

Fast forward, more than 50 years now, nature has now reclaimed the coastal area. With only selective few areas developed for agriculture purposes, the rest being cemeteries and military use. Lim Chu Kang is now a delightful place for any war historian, nature lovers, cyclists and those who reminisce the post-war 'kampong days'.

There in the distance, sitting quaintly, was what seems to be another jetty. Seen in many photographer's shots shown online, but hardly ever identified. Off we went to Lim Chu Kang Road's end, with the intention of seeking out the mysterious jetty-like structure with a house built at the end of it.


Driving past cemeteries, on to the long, straight and infamous segment of Lim Chu Kang Road, where likely drag racing wannabes play late night hide-and-seek games with the police. We continued on our way, going past more cemeteries, agriculture/fish farms and the former Lim Chu Kang Rural Center (where one of our members had visited back in mid-2003, a year after the small public housing estate was vacated. Lim Chu Kang is also the location for one of the contenders for Singapore's oldest surviving playgrounds), recycling centres, and Singapore's only goat farm.

We arrived near the road's end, past the last bus stop which bus service number 975 plys it's route. And just next to the bus stop was the regional coast guard base, watching over the rickety wooden jetty.

As this was a private jetty, we took care not to get into any of the many workers' way as they went about their work of loading/unloading cargo with a sense of urgency. Fish produce, that's brought from the kelongs a short distance away, mid of the Straits of Johore. A few avid anglers were there as well, waiting to charter small boats to the kelongs for a day of fishing for a price of a 'breakfast' to the kelong owners.

Kelongs nearby

Small motor boats at the jetty

The stories surrounding this particular rustic wooden jetty, told by word of mouth and numerous stories online. It's privately owned and it's been around for more than 30 years, with the local fishermen depending on the old jetty for their livelihood. And with common Asian traditions and customs, it comes with a nearby dedicated deity shrine to look after it!

The kind folks whom jointly owned this particular wooden jetty were pretty lenient (even though there was a 'no trespassing' sign at the entry point of the jetty) towards visitors who come for photography, fishing or to see how work was done like it was in the past. In a way, it's probably their way of saying they are 'we are totally legit folks!' by adopting an 'open concept' to everyone.

Important looking sign

Catching shrimps

Carcass of an unfortunate starfish

The wooden jetty was held together by simple means

According to old maps, there were at least five other jetties along the northwestern coast from Sarimbun, Bahtera and Kranji, most has been closed down or demolished due to illegal activities. The shortest distance between Johore and Singapore was only 1 kilometre along areas of Jalan Bahtera, and possibly one of the speculated places where the famous terrorist, Mas Selamat, made his getaway to Johore. Perhaps for the same reasons for national security of why this surviving jetty is 'closely watched' by it's 'heavily fortified' neighbour.

Back in 1986 (Image source: Picas National Heritage Board)

Back in 1986 (Image source: Picas National Heritage Board)

Back in 1986 (Image source: Picas National Heritage Board)

Back in 1986 (Image source: Picas National Heritage Board)

As it is, today

Another rumour seen online, says one should never point your camera directly towards/at the coast guard base, lest someone would approach you to check/delete contents or worse confiscate your camera. We didn't want to test out that 'myth', so we took in the fresh air, enjoyed the scenery the jetty offered before we set off to reach the mysterious pier in the distance.

Very little information could be found online about the area surrounding Lim Chu Kang Road's ending point (also then known as 18th Mile Lim Chu Kang Road). We dug into war information of the Japanese first landing along the northwestern coast of Singapore, and found out most of the area was once rubber tree plantations, called Namazie-Cashin estate (or more commonly Namazie Estate), belukar (secondary forest) and mangrove swamps.

Mangrove swamps at high tide

Discarded crab traps in the mangrove swamps

The Namazie family (of Persian descent) and Cashin family (of Irish descent, family whom said, arrived in Singapore together with Sir Stamford Raffles). Both families sharing close ties and having deep roots in Singapore, both families owning substantial amount of properties in pre-war Singapore. For example, Capitol Theatre was once owned by the Namazie Family before being sold to Shaw Organization. And the Cashin Family once owned a large amount of land in Punggol, where they operated a boat house as well when the coastline was just next to the Matilda House.

The Pier peeking from among the vegetation

Friends amazed at the sea view

Just like the tables we have at HDB void decks

For the house built on the pier, it once belonged to the illustrious Cashin family, possibly built around the same time as it's more well known counterpart, the Matilda House (built by Mr. Joseph W.Cashin) in Punggol (The Pier, could have been built around 1920-30s or even earlier as suggested by Raz of Exploration Malaysia, who's into Black & White colonial houses as well). Other notable properties include 'Butterfly House' at 23 Amber Road (see links below).

Affectionately called 'The Pier' by the Cashins, this was where Mr. Howard Cashin and his family stayed. Mr. Howard Cashin was a top notch legal eagle in Singapore, a war veteran, animal lover and as well as a much revered figure in local rugby circle, being a long time president of the Singapore Rugby Union.

"The Cashin family, originally from Ireland and one of the oldest to have settled in Singapore, owned several other houses here. Mr Cashin was born in their mansion in Haig Road, now no longer in existence. There was also a house on Grange Road and another in Sarimbun. In addition, the family owned other properties, including about 400 shop-houses all over the island."
Quoted from Memoirs of Howard Cashin

We noted that the house mentioned in quote, 'another in Sarimbun', would most likely refer to 'The Pier'.

Evidence of The Pier being a 'Black & White house'?

Stone/jade lions were place along side both pillars of the pier's entry way

The house has been long forgotten to most, but strangely kept tidy all these years. Perhaps its frequent anglers who stake out the place to fish, a kind caretaker or even a former tenant. There are some others who dirty/damage the place with litter, shame on them.

The Pier was locked, so we could only gaze through the main doors

A look at the inside, from the outside

Coast of Johore can be seen in the background

No ill-intent on our part, out of respect, we do not wish to disclose the exact location nor instructions on how to get to the location (Folks are advised not to attempt wading through the mangrove swamps along the coast, we are not responsible for any misadventure of visitors who do attempt the silly feat).

Focus of this article is on the location's historical importance. Now that The Pier has been taken over by the authorities, it would be good to document it for posterity and heritage (it would have been great if we manage to find old photos of The Pier, unfortunately there is none available online).

The Pier will definitely be strongly remembered, not only by the Cashins, but by families of veterans and the fallen who once fought on the exact same ground as well. It will be an outcry if The Pier were to be levelled 'quietly', afterall, it's an important part of Singapore's history.

[Slideshow of the photos taken during our exploration trip]
[Photo album]

**Readers are welcome to email and inform us of any mistakes made in our historical research for this article. We would amend them a.s.a.p after further verification. Or if they have additional information/stories/photos to share about the mentioned location.

Photos by others, of The Pier
Mark's shot in July 2005
Kuang's shot in June 2008
SS Happy's shot in April 2009
Zix's shot in April 2010
William's shot in November 2010

World War 2 information
Sarimbun Battle Site on Pagenation
Book preview of Britain's Greatest Defeat: Singapore 1942
The Patriot Files
Australian war memoir
My Far East
Invasion of Malaya & Singapore
Australian War Memorial description of 2/20th Battalion

Brief history on Lim Chu Kang area
Farmlands in Lim Chu Kang
Lim Chu Kang's reference
Brief description of the Namazie Estate

Cashin Family related links
Howard Cashin and the local rugby scene
T.F.Hwang's article in Straits Times February 1975
(Image source: SPH)

Matilda House
Matilda House in Wikipedia
Matilda House put up for sale
Conservation status by the URA

23 Amber Rd (Butterfly house)
Article on Wild Singapore
Save the Butterfly House
Building plan of 23 Amber
Conservation status by the URA

Forgotten places, secret spots, lost historical sites or having some interesting info to share? Is there a location/venue you want the One-North Explorers to feature?

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