Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Great 1961 Fire at Bukit Ho Swee - Squatters into Citizens

For the past decades, there were once attap wooden houses which my grandma normally lived in Kampong villages with her children. A moment of their times where many kampong kids and local villagers would spend their life living in squatter settlements where there were no electricity and gas during their olden times. They were very independent in life, quiet and peaceful just like how my late grandma had lived through hardship before they moved out by the government which I might not say this of what had happened. They survived on foods using charcoal and wok, caught fish near the ponds or rivers, household chores (everyday work around a house or farm) and their daily lives.They were barely uneducated, spoke Mandarin and local dialects through their lives before their kids were sent for schooling even though they were very poor unlike younger generations born in modern city of Singapore. Younger generations should respect and appreciate their great grandparents, grandparents and parents' hardship in life and they should learn of their perspective about stories of the great Bukit Ho Swee fire in 25 May 1961 which happened to be Hari Raya Haji, a public holiday at that time. Bukit Ho Swee village was occupied by squatters on state land illegally during the colonial government days.
I was invited by Kelvin Ang (URA) to attend the talks of "Squatters into Citizens" on 21 July 2013 at 3.00 pm, hosted and organised by Kelvin Ang. But before that, on Saturday 20 July 2013 afternoon, I met my two close friends aka 'sisters'and one of them who told me that her mother is, now at the age of 84 year old who is connected to the great Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961. Actually, I didn't know of her mother who was a former resident of Bukit Ho Swee whom I had met for years. By chances,  I will interview with her when the time comes and would love to hear of her story when she was younger and had two kids at that time of the fire before my close friend (sister) was born.
Tiong Bahru Community Centre
My hubby and I reached at Tiong Bahru Community Centre at 3.00pm and took a lift to 2nd level floor where the hall is. There were crowd almost more than 60 people who came to hear the talks by Mr Loh Kah Seng (Author of the book - "Squatters into Citizens").
Hosted by Kelvin Ang and Talks by Kah Seng
Many people including former residents of Bukit Ho Swee attended the talks and tell of their encounter of Bt Ho Swee fire and also aftermath of fire refers to how they were survived during the intense fire and how they coped after the fire. A devastated area of Bukit Ho Swee which was razed to the ground by a big fire on 25 May 1961, which happened to be Hari Raya Haji, a public holiday in Singapore.
A survivor victim of Bt Ho Swee, James Seah
A survivor victim of Bt Ho Swee, James Seah, a blogger citizen who relates his encounter of the great fire in his talk at Tiong Bahru Community Centre.
Many former residents shared their stories of the Bt Ho Swee fire during and aftermath of fire during each session which some of them including foreigners wouldn't know of the intense fire that had happened 52 years ago.
An 80 year old woman relates of her story
One of the former residents who shared his side story whereas an 80 year old woman relates her encounter when she was younger back then who raised her 4 kids in squatter settlement in early years. Also one of the audiences was told by her grandmother,who said she had a premonition 2 nights ago and had a dream that the sun fell into her granddaughter at Bt Ho Swee.
Former Bt Ho Swee resident
The former Bukit Ho Swee resident (above pic) brought the jewellery and important documents for the family, and then brought the important items to his grandmother's house in Geylang for safekeeping. Truth or myth, nobody knows!
An 80 year old woman who sat quietly at the corner in front who only spoke Mandarin and hardly understand during our talks. Both Kelvin Ang and James Seah ushered her to her seat and being interviewed of her kampong life during squatter settlement and the great fire in 1961.
Here a short video on what inspired me to start doing this and the memories of the great fire that not forgotten by many especially former residents and survivor victims who survived the intense fire.

1 comment:

  1. Hi. I"m helping my dad to find for his birth mother which I believed live through the bukit ho swee fire. She is currently about 80 plus years old now. Do you happen to know anyone from that era? The 80 years old plus lady you interviewed in the blog you mentioned ... Do you happen to have her contact or her background info? I think she might know or might have seen my dad's mum. Pls contact me. Many Thanks

    kimberlygino@gmail.com 96171014