Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Lost Soul of the Bourne School

A few months ago in the trail of Gillman Barracks that I joined in Jun 2015 and learned about the history of the barracks and the former site of the British School that I heard of - Bourne School aka Bourne Secondary School in 1964 that was once built on top of the hill that not many people knew of. 
It's because of the Gillman Barracks where the Army Servicemen quarters was located at the blocks close by.
I remember one of my friends, Lam Chun See who has a UK friend, John Harper whom I know and met him last year in March 2015 at old airport road. He was a former pupil, posted at Bourne School at Gillman Barracks when his family arrived in Sg a long time ago. You can read up John Harper of his remembrance of his former Bourne School in Singapore (My friend - Chun See -GoodMorningYesterday's blog).
In early years, the British Forces Schools were once operated within the Army, Royal Air Force and Naval Bases in Singapore from 1945 onwards. They included schools at the Royal Air Force Stations at Tengah, Changi and Seletar, Army Bases at Tanglin, Nee Soon and Gillman barracks and the Naval Base , H.M.S. Terror, based in the northern part of Singapore, facing Johore Bahru in Malaya, just across the Causeway.
A few months ago, I came across one of the old water hydrants that leading to the abandoned old Malan steps would be the site of former British Schools. 
Alexandra Grammer School at Gillman Barracks, later was renamed Bourne Secondary School in 1964 and now occupied by Preston International School under ISS International School.
Map of Gillman Village
The Bourne School was the largest British Army Children's school in the world was opened on 16 Sept 1964 till July 1971, the withdrawal the British forces. Why it was popular back then... Here how it goes like this...
The Bourne School was allocated the buildings of Alexandra Grammer school including workshops and a few classrooms at the former Alexandra Secondary Modern Sch. a mile away in the same Gillman Barracks area. During the period of Indonesian Confrontation, the rest of Modern school was given to 70 Army Education Centre that caused a British military build-up with a consequent rise in the School's enrolment. The scope of Bourne School's role was enlarged. As a result, they took over the whole of the Modern school and reached a peak enrolment of 1718 pupils. Thus made Bourne School by far the largest Services Children's School. Since the average stay of a pupil in a Service school is less than 2 years, it was easy to see how in 7 years over 7000 boys and girls were enrolled. That's how the popular Bourne School has always been.
The School was managed by Army Education Corps for the children of British and other servicemen there, where Malay, Chinese and Gurkha children learned and played in happy comradeship with European children (stated by our former Minister for Social Affairs, Inche Othman bin Wok).
The map (above) of Gillman Village which you can see these 3 blks 37, 38 &  39, behind it... was the former site of Bourne School once located. 
When it was decided that the Bourne School was closed in July 1971 because of withdrawal of the British forces. Before it closed there were 1200 pupils left and nearly 1000 pupils still in attendance in class. The whole span of life of Bourne School would have been full of vigour.
Bourne School taken in 1967
Sch Mag by Mike Johns
Do you know....A down-at-heel elephant foot six feet under today's Gillman Barracks - the site of an ancient Hannibalic Camp! The staffs from Bourne School as well as servicemen used to frequent the bar at 197 Holland road (Holland Village) name Balmoral Streak House and Bar nearby my place in early years including a discotheque and a restaurant  at Tanglin Road - GINO's A GO-GO and GINO's Italian restaurant.
The Bourne School buildings had 2 sections called Älexandra Section and Gillman Section.
Alexandra Section - Alexandra Grammer School
Sch Mag Courtesy by Peter Garvey
The campus at Preston Road was a military outpost used by the British Army when Singapore was under British colonial rule, until the withdrawal of British forces in 1971.
Photo courtesy by Alexandragrammar website
The signage indicated where the hill to the Alexandra Grammar School building (pic below) was once located.  
Photo courtesy by Alexandragrammar website
There were W D Quarters along the footpath as seen below (floor plan of the Alexandra section)
 The Plan of former Alexandra Section
Sch Mag courtesy by Peter Garvey
The Alexandra Section of the Bourne School had 27 classrooms, a library, a music room, a specially-equipped languages room, a Domestic Science room and 7 Science Laboratories. Most science and music lessons took place in this part of of the School, and 29 classes were based there.
The Floor Plan of the Alexandra Section
Sch Mag Courtesy by Peter Garvey
The school is on the site of the former Alexandra Grammar School which was attended mainly by the children of serving British military personnel serving in Singapore.
Bourne School is a Secondary comprehensive school for boys and girls aged between 11 plus and 14 plus. The School provided Grammer, Secondary Modern or Technical education to the needs of service children in their 1st three post-primary years.
Malan Road to where former Gillman Section (2015)
To the farther side of the road in the middle is "Malan Road" the route to the Gillman Section of the School building. 
Regal Cinema of yesterday (then)
Photo credit by Philip Song
Former Regal Cinema (now)
Along the side of Lock road at the T-junction of Malan road, there was once a theatre - Regal theatre at blk 7 and the building is still exist and retained its original site, repainted in whitewashed builidng. The Regal Cinema managed by the Army Kinema Corporation popularly called the AKC which screened shows twice nightly except Tuesdays. The Army Kinema Corporation was a large organisation based in Croydon, responsible for providing the British army everywhere with film entertainment.
Sch Bus next to building (now gallery building) (then)
Photo courtesy by Maurice Hann (former teacher at Bourne Sch)
Noticing 2 of the 3 RAF white buses that served Bourne as school buses in the '60s where RAF children boarded, and the designated routes were for Tengah based families. Spotted a "Yellow top" cab in those times as I remember I sat at my oldest brother-in-law's taxi (yellow top) many times in early 1990s till 2000s then he switched to NTUC Comfort. But the 'Yellow Top' cab is still in around near my place early this year and last year. 

Malan Road next to the present Art Gallery Building (now)
The once Gillman barrack building has transformed into Art Gallery called "Tomio Koyama Gallery" along Malan Road behind it was once the former site of Gillman Section building of the School.
Abandoned side steps along Malan Road (2015)
Noticing the abandoned side steps (in this photo above) along Malan road where the old hydrant located not far from the whitewashed building. The side steps could be leading to the site of the lost forgotten of demolished of the Bourne school of other section - Gillman Section, I presume. Hopefully, I could find it among the steps.  The old fire hydrant is seen far right on the steps.
The long range of 121 steps to Bourne Sch (2006)
Former pupils of Bourne School walked up and down these long steps to their school on top of the hill would definite a killer. 
Bourne School to Gillman Pool - Malan Steps 
Photo courtesy by Bourne Sch Mag
Do you know...the famous long 121 steps up the hill, a stone's throw away from the swimming pool at Gillman Barracks. Now the Gillman Youth Swimming pool is no longer there but these two buildings between the pool, is believed to be exist as if I passed by earlier. 
Malan Steps to Swimming Pool
Photo courtesy by Bourne Sch Mag
The demolished of Gillman Section of Bourne School which is little left just some of the steps are overgrown where the fire hydrant on the steps leading up the Malan road, and the step to the side of Basha Hut once stood.
A view from Basha Hut
Photo courtesy by Bourne Sch Mag
In Sept 1964, Bourne School, a secondary modern at Gillman Barracks was similar to the junior school at Changi, that the main building was whitewashed concrete, while the classrooms were wooden huts with coconut-leaf roofs.
Hydrant marked in circle
Photo courtesy by Robert Todd
The same hydrant that marked in circle (black) seen on the left hand side of the steps.
Side Steps are clearly seen
Photo courtesy by Robert Todd
Gillman Section of Bourne School
Sch Mag courtesy by Peter Garvey
The 'tarmac' (broken stone mixed with tar) remaining can be seen along the curve shape of the photo (above) if I happen to pass by one of these days. There was a squatter's camp at the open assembly area of the Gillman section.
In early years the Gillman Section was surrounded by Basha Huts where the pupils of the school walked up and down the steps (Malan steps).
School Bus for Bourne Sch
Photo courtesy by Maurice Hann (former teacher at Bourne Sch)
The School Buses for the Bourne School waiting on the parade square at Gillman barracks.
Parade Ground at Gillman Barrack looking to the east
Photo courtesy by Robert Todd
The Gillman section had the most of their specialist rooms of which were 3 laboratories, 3 workshops for Technical Studies (Metalwork and Woodwork), 3 Domestic Science rooms for cookery and needlework and 4 Art and Craft rooms. There were ordinary classrooms and they had the use of a swimming pool, a gymnasium and sports fields. These were 28 classes based in this section.
To make it simple about the classes of both sections: All Alexandra-based classes were given a number followed by the letter "A" while the Gillman-based classes were denoted by a number followed by the letter "G" exceptions were the Remedial classes followed by the letter R, all of which were based at Gillman. For e.g - 1st year class 1A-10A; 1G-9G; 1R, 2R and so on....
The feature of Gillman Section was its "bashas" or thatched rooms in which many clubs and afternoon activities took place.
There was a 'drinking' van - Magnolia during their break time at Gillman Section. At that time in 1964, Magnolia was granted pioneer status by Singapore’s government to produce sterilised milk. I remember in my primary school time, I had this iconic pyramid shaped like triangular 'Tetra Pak'.
Here is the floor plan of Gillman Section below:
Floor Plan of Gillman Section
Sch Mag Courtesy by Peter Garvey
It was arranged by the head of the school that most pupils in the school shall do most of their work in one section but will go to the other section for the rest. It was a tough for pupils to walk up and down to the side of the road using the staircase which is opposite of their classrooms. Also this was to ensure that they all felt like members of a united school and not of a main school and an annexe. Oh well, there was a drinking fountain located near the toilets at Gillman Section. Also there's a old plaque with a date of 1932 on the wall structure of the ruins of the Bourne School, presumably the year the building was put up.   
Neither section could function properly without the order. The movement of classes from one section to the other took place during school time, normally at break time and this was done by bus to take them so as not to waste time. Students of Bourne school were accompanied by a bus warden and must move in an orderly fashion. It was forbidden for the students to go to NAAF1- run Brit seriously during this movement. What was NAAFI?
A little history about NAAFI during the colonial days as below;
Before NAAFI, the EFC (Expeditionary Force Canteens) were set up to feed and support troops overseas. So the Navy and Army Canteen Board (NACB) was formed 1918 to manage their process at home. In 1921, EFC and NACB combined, the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes was formed and creaged by then Government to run recreational establishments needed by the Armed Forces, and to sell goods to servicemen and their families. In the late 1930s, it extended its services into HK, Shanghai, Jamaica, Egypt and other countries including Singapore. In 1946, NAAFI was first built town club in Portsmouth by 19-year old heir to the throne, Princess Elizabeth (present Queen Elizabeth). 
Remember the NAAFI Britannia Club (opened on 17 Dec 1952) for Navy personal, British servicemen and their families used to frequent there at Beach road? It was run by NAAFI, it included a snack bar and restaurant, lounge bar and tavern, games and reading rooms, a swimming pool and a sports shop. In 1970s, it was named NCO Club then in 1990s, it converted into Warrant Officers and Specialists Club.
Gurkha boy and girl stood at Basha hut
Photo courtesy by Bourne Sch Mag
There was a Gurkha Wing was being developed in the Gillman Section, the aim was to educate Gurkha boys and girls as far as 'O' level G.C.E. Standard in Singapore.
Well, at least, I am able to provide details of the history of Bourne School at Gillman barrack that was hidden away from the barracks on top of the hill after I went for the heritage trail recently.


  1. Thank you for posting the article on Bourne School... enjoyed it immensely! I was a student both in Alexandra and Gillman Sections from 1966 to 1970. Brought back fond memories. I remember walking down to Malan Rd to have Indian fish curry and rice for lunch.

  2. Thank you so much for producing this article. I was a student at Bourne School in '68 - '69 and was using Google Earth to refresh my memory of the school's layout; without much luck!! Your maps and photos have brought back so many memories and I am now much clearer on where the buildings actually were. Regards, Barry Port