Wartime heritage: Hong Kong vs Singapore | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Wartime heritage: Hong Kong vs Singapore

We're just back from a long weekend in Singapore, and they are streets ahead of Hong Kong in terms of preserving and promoting their heritage from World War II.

Preserving first - do you remember last month I asked the AMO (Antiquities & Monuments Office) if they'd make Hong Kong's pillboxes listed buildings, to help preserve them. They replied that it wasn't possible at present, due to 'manpower and resource constraints'.

By contrast, here is a WWII pillbox and its notice board on Sentosa island:

Pillbox notice on Sentosa

Pillbox on Sentosa

Next Promoting. After passing through immigration at Singapore airport, the rack of tourist info included a brochure on WWII sites. You can see the contents on their website too. The closest that the HK Tourist board website comes is a mention of the Museum of Coastal Defence.

Why the difference?

One reason is the different emphasis placed on preserving heritage, and then using it to draw in tourists. The understanding that 'stay an extra day' doesn't just mean another day of shopping and eating. This week's Time Out Singapore had several articles on old Singapore, including this quote from the former prime Minsiter Lee Kuan Yew in 1995:

"In our rush to rebuild Singapore, we knocked down many old and quaint Singapore buildings. Then we realised we were destroying a valuable part of our cultural heritage... we were demolishing what tourists found attractive and unique in Singapore. We halted the demolition... We were a little late, but fortunately we have retained enough of our history to remind ourselves and tourists of our past."

I'm not sure we've grasped that message here, 14 years later.


maybe they could spare some of the people hell bent on destroying the nature trails by concreting and tarring them and insisting on covering every pavement with grating and barriers and deploy them in a more useful way to label our monuments?

Since you've got a dialogue going with the power's that be...

David, you could always put together a document with all the stuff you have listed and then offer to help them out. I'd be happy to volunteer some time.

I wonder how many buildings and places have disappeared thanks to lack of manpower and resources. I suspect this is a euphemism for "we can't be bothered".

Gweipo, not much dialogue happening. As Phil notes, I think I was given the standard cut-and-paste reply.

Phil, excellent idea - enough grumbling, now what can we do about it. I suggest we start with a brainstorm on all the things that could be done - so go for quantity first, analysis later. Everyone welcome to throw in ideas.

Ideas for activities I can think of:

  • document all the pillboxes that existed, and then highlight the ones that remain
  • document the pillboxes we know about in the same format that the recent assessment of historic buildings uses
  • what do we hope to achieve?
  • look for other groups trying to get the AMO to preserve a building, and find what has worked, what hasn't
  • find out the AMO's process, and see how best to work with them
  • who else is interested in pillboxes, and what have they tried in terms of promotion / preservation?
  • ditto for WWII heritage
  • prioritise pillboxes by, eg tourist value, risk of damage, etc
  • prepare article about them for press
  • start with ww2 heritage and work down, or with pillboxes and work up?

What other things could be done?


Hi Everyone,

                     I was in Singapore for Easter. I must say I was impressed with their tourism effort in regards to their War Time heritage. I had only been on the ground 10 mins and I knew what there was to see and where, thanks to a leaflet available while waiting in the immigration line.

My first visit was to Labrador Park where I saw “Secret Tunnel” on the map. It was basically the Ammunition rooms below some of their big anti-naval guns that were destroyed and blocked by the British during the final hours of the battle of Singapore. They only discovered them a couple of years ago when planning redevelopment, which has subsequently been stopped due to the heritage value. The Tunnel itself is about 30m that leads down to a couple of ammo rooms. You can see the racks on the walls where the shells where kept. If I am to be totally honest, Labrador Park is OK, nothing too special, but worth a quick visit. It would be nothing compared to what potentially the Shing Mun Tunnels could be like with some proper conservation and promotion.

Singapore War Heritage

Secret Tunnel, Lab Park
Lab Park, S'pore

Next was to drag my poor girlfriend to the Battle Box, pretty much in the center of Singapore, just off Orchard Rd. This was much bigger and had a lot more to see.

Battle Box, S'pore

It has been reconstructed to roughly what it looked like during the battle. They have lots of creepy looking manikins, but is worth a visit. I loved the little souvenir shop at the Battle Box, with lots of replica posters, cards and other items.

I took this photo of the toilet cistern (Not normally a habit!) but it is very similar to other stuff people have posted around HK. All I can make out is that it is called “The Belvedere“.



I did intent to visit Fort Siloso on Sentosa, but I ran out of time going for massage where little fish nibble at your feet. I highly reccomend it, I was is stiches of laughter for about 30 mins, as the little buggers tickle......oh and don't miss the "ICE Tiger Beer" stand near the 360 viewing tower (similar to Ocean Park) where they sevre beer at -1C with ice floating in it, Top Stuff.



Hi Craig,

Good to see you back again. I spent a few hours at Fort Siloso, and it's well worth a visit. There are several exhibitions, and in the batteries they have mannequins and recordings to show how they worked. It helped me understand the batteries around HK better.

The Battle Box was good too. I picked up a good book about it too - 'Secrets of the Battlebox' - I think it was in the Fort Siloso bookshop. You're right, the bookstores there are well stocked with information about the wartime history.

Regards, David

Nine surviving WWII pillboxes in Singapore can be viewed here The photo journalist, Harrison Forman also visited Singapore in 1941. His collection here also shows the fortifications and pillboxes that were built in preparation for the Japanese invasion.