Away from the bustle of Chinatown, Pearl's Hill Terrace hides a secret.
A hidden location tucked away from the public eyes for the past 59 years.
A top secret police bunker that served as the nerve centre where major crises such as the 1969 racial riots that shaped Singapore were managed and resolved.
And for the first time ever, the secret bunker - or better known as the former Combined Operations Room (fCOR) - will open its doors to everyone where the public can walk through eight refurbished rooms recreated according to what the bunker had been like when it was operational.
Quite frankly, the one-storey windowless bunker is so inconspicuous that one may just walk past it and miss it entirely. Are you able to spot the entrance to the fCOR?
But even though the exterior was unassuming, the interior of the bunker was anything but that. In fact, I got a first-hand look at how previous officers worked in a tension-filled environment during those tumultuous years... and learnt quite a number of fascinating facts in the process.
1. Historical Significance
About the size of four five-room flats, the setting and furnishings of the fCOR are anchored by one of the most serious riots that took place in Singapore - on 25 October 1956 when combined operations between the army and police were activated after 4,000 students protested against the de-registering of the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students' Union (SCMSSU) by staging a stay-in demonstration that progressively turned violent.
2. Bomb-proof Bunker
Opened in 1956, the operations room was built like a bunker with thick walls and narrow corridors. How thick? Close to 1-metre in thickness!
In fact, the fCOR could withstand a direct hit from a 500-pound bomb and prevent an incursion by a mob!
3. Fully Air-conditioned
The fCOR was state-of-the art for its time, including full air-conditioning even when aircons were almost unheard of then.
And just in case you are wondering, yes there is a new air-conditioning system installed now.
4. The Radio Control Room is Not for the Faint-hearted
If you had previously dialled '999' before the year of 1988, this was where your call was picked up by the Operators.
This saucer-shaped multi-sided podium represents the centre of all Police communications. The Duty Officer Radio or DO Radio sat at the raised centre of the control table. A number of Operators were seated around the individual 'pods' around the table, where they received '999' calls and then dispatched police assistance.
Given the state of technology back then, everything had to be manually recorded down while the Operators had to memorize the different numbers on the switchboard in order to connect to the correct police divisions. Coupled with the fact that almost everybody would be talking into their individual telephones at the same time, the entire place was a pressure cooker.
5. Teleprinter Operators Could Not See What They Typed
Messages from the Radio Control Room were broadcast to the Divisional headquarter stations from the Teleprinter Room.
The Teleprinters electromechanical typewriters were capable of transmitting and receiving messages through a telephone network. Only problem was the Teleprinter was a huge black box with only its typing console exposed so the Operators can absolutely no idea if there were any errors in their typing!
6. Top Brains Gathered at the C.P.S.O Room
During occasions of widespread civil disorder or disasters, the calls will be relayed to the Chief Police Staff Officer (C.P.S.O) in the C.P.S.O room, which has a large window overlooking the map room.
The map room was where officers put up updates about incidents and resource deployment across Singapore on two giant maps and a wooden tote board.
And speaking of the wooden tote board, there was no LED screen back then so everything had to manually updated by chalk and put up on the board by climbing a ladder.
7. If The Red Phone Rang, You Probably Can't Knock Off
In the Chief Police Staff Officer's room was a telephone switchboard that had direct lines to issue commands to police and army units islandwide, including this red phone.
The red phone gives access to the Prime Minister and other ministers so if it rang during the cusp of a crisis, it probably meant everyone had to work overtime.
8. No Internet, No E-mails, No Mobile Phones But Things Got Done Anyway
Perhaps it was inconceivable how the Police and other personnel managed to still resolve crises during those turbulent times in the absence of the internet and mobile technology. So it was utterly refreshing to hear from the guides of stories detailing how the struggles and challenges that the Police faced back then.
Like how during the days when Singapore had many kampungs in remote places, it was difficult for officers to locate incident sites when they receive a '999' call. No, there was definitely NO global positioning systems so operators had to ask the caller to wait for the Police at a familiar landmark before taking them to the scene!
Which probably explains why there is a need for a guide in order to tour the fCOR so that the visitors will better appreciate the work that goes behind the scenes in the yesteryears.
And if you are planning to head down, here are some pointers to note:
- The exhibition ends its run on 31 January 2016. Whether the date will be extended is still unknown.
- All visits are by bookings only. Walk-ins will not be entertained.
- The exhibition tours runs from Tuesday till Sunday, and closed on Mondays and public holidays.
- The timings for the guided tours are: 10.00am, 10.45am, 11.30am, 2.00pm, 2.45pm and 3.30pm.
- Each tour lasts approximately 20 minutes (excluding time taken for photographs).
- All tours are guided and will be conducted in English.
- The exhibition tour and admission is free.
- The maximum capacity per session is 10 participants per tour.
- Registration is on a first come, first served basis.
- The tour is suitable for kids. But please note that each child, no matter how young, is considered as one person.
- Due to the narrow corridors in the bunker, visitors are encouraged not to use/bring prams, wheelchairs, and bulky items to the exhibition.
- TOUR BOOKING:
Please call 9893 5140 during office hours from 0900hrs to 1700hrs, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your tour. Please provide the following information in your e-mail or phone call:
No of visitor(s):
Preferred day and time slot 1:
Preferred day and time slot 2:
Preferred day and time slot 3:
- Important: Due to overwhelming response, expect a delay in the response time of your emails or if the phone lines are busy.
And with the once secret and heavily guarded building now open to public, the premise itself coupled with the re-creation of history in an authentic site make for an interesting and fascinating excursion to share a slice of Singapore's history with the little ones. Oh, and the parents too I reckon.
The Former Combined Operations Room (fCOR) Exhibition
Courtyard, 195 Pearl's Hill Terrace, Singapore 168976
Now until 31 Jan 2016
*No walk-ins; Pre-booking is compulsory.