Sunday, 1 November 2015

Former Combined Operations Room Exhibition

Inside 195 Pearl's Hill Terrace
This hill was once covered spice plantation belonging to early Chinese settlers before 1819. It was first named as Mount Stamford, after Sir Stamford Raffles who is now be remembered as the founder of modern of Singapore. When Lt. James Pearl of the Royal Navy bought the hill from Chinese gambier and pepper planters in May 1822, Mount Stamford was then renamed to Pearl's Hill. Lt. James Pearl's house was built on top of the hill but he did not live it for long when he left for Europe upon his retirement in 1828, his agents sold the hill back to the government for RS10,000 (Indian Rupees).
Wall-banner of posters
For the first time in its history in Singapore, located at 195 Pearl’s Hill Terrace, the one-storey building was once upon a time the nerve centre for the Singapore Police in which the 1956 Chinese Middle School riots were managed, and later on all of Singapore’s 999 calls answered. Operations ceased in 1988, with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) taking over the space as a storage facility in 2001.
Secret Wall of Bunker
After WWII, the Former Combined Operations Room (fCOR) was a bombproof structure was then the state-of-the-art radio communications. Co-existing with the Police Radio Division, it became the nerve centre for central oversight of policing activities across the island, and command and control of incident response during crisis in post-war in Singapore. The fCOR played important a critical role in managing events that rocked Singapore, such as the 1956 Chinese Middle School Riots, and the violent racial clashes in 1969, Konfrontasi, the 1950s Chinese School riots, 1964 racial riots and 1965 bombing. After Singapore gained political in stability, the fCOR was then used as the Radio Operations Room where ‘999’ calls were attended to.
Over the decades, the bunker played a critical role in managing events that rocked Singapore, 
I heard from the source that on July 1960, a Coastguard Operation H.Q. was inaugurated in the Combined Operations Peal's Hill. The aim of this new operations H.Q. is to provide the best possible defence of the Singapore coastline against piracy, the smuggling dutiable goods and dangerous drugs, and illegal immigration, by pooling all available craft of the Police Customs Immigration.
Annex Block
Completed in 1956, this annex block (was then Combined Operations Headquarters) was built of reinforced concrete and was built in the fashion of a war of bombproof bunker. The latest communications technology then was installed and rooms with specilised functions such as Map Room, Telephone Exchange Room were established. For many years, the headquarters provided facilities during emergencies for the Military civil defence and police force. The former Combined Operations headquarters where security responses were coordinated during emergencies and Plans for the block was drawn in the aftermath of the Maria Hertogh Riots in 1950, during the time the police saw the need to reconstruct their communications systems for operational very efficiently in handling the Riots.
Typical wall of 100mm (0.1m)
The building wall in fact, could withstand a direct hit from over 500-pound aerial bomb, the walls in single storey above the ground were 2ft thick and those below the ground were 5ft thick, and also to prevent an invasion by a group of mobsters. 
Narrow Staircase (going up and going down)
I wonder "How do you filter the air in a bunker without the window installed so the radiation from the fallout will not kill you?". If you are claustrophobic, there is almost nothing scarier than the prospect of being trapped in an elevator for a long time and this isn't the place for you. Even though the narrow staircase going up to the top can fit people both going up and going down the staircase, it is also pretty narrow. And it twists and turns and if you rush it you might get a little dizzy on your head.
 Narrow corridor leading to the various rooms
Along the narrow walkway that leads from the door to door of each rooms, reveals the small, dark spaces inside, which are normally hidden from view. There are no windows but only air-cons, and if there are exhaust fans installed would be much better. At the basement of one of the rooms were installed Air-con plant and Electric generator to allow flow cool air and electric light to the entire rooms. It was a gargantuan electricity generator which would automatically switch on should supply from the outside source fail.
General Officer Commanding Room
One of the rooms was the office of the General Officer Commanding - Major-General Derek Donald Cuthberston Tulloh was in Singapore Base District from 1954 to 1957 who directed operations from control Room in his building during the first major combined operations involving the Police and the Ministry to quell the riots in Oct 1956.
Briefing Room
The Briefing Room is where Police Officer were briefed before deployment and it is like an Emergency briefing room in time of crisis. Graphic panel exhibits with lighting and sound effects recreate the feeling of disorder and chaos during the events that shook Singapore in the 1950s.
Respirator and Riot Gear Baton
Rattan Shield
This "circular" Rattan shield is very much like British Colonial Riot Shield under the British rule. In the past, Sikh constables or riot policemen armed with batons and circular rattan shield for crowd control.I recall seeing on the news by the name of R. S. Danker was then a standby as a riot police man in Singapore back in the 1960s, slept in his boots waiting for the emergency bell to ring, almost 70 years old now, his recollections of those halcyon days of Singapore history more than 40 years on from his time serving as a senior police officer, then-named Riot Squad's Red Scorpions (Alpha Troops), his spending full days running from place to place, armed with a wicket shield, a revolver, a riot gear baton and either a rifle or a gas grenade launcher, as he cordoned and rounded up rioters with nylon string. When not dealing with an actual riot, he said the riot squad officers also did coastal patrolling and traffic policing too. I heard that the schoolchildren, used fresh chilli and threw it at riot officers' faces that caused them blinded, and then the boys took over, whacking them with sticks and poles and luckily they had their helmets on.
My hubby mentioned that when he was about 6 year old in 1960s, his old home where he lived in Neil Road, there were riots and curfew at that time. All his neighbours closed the wooden windows and could not come out during curfew but he peered through a small gap of wooden window and saw some marching soldiers and the police officers carried long rifles, batons and rattan shields, patrolling the area downstairs. He was told by his father that "Should you open the window and look out, you will be killed if they mistook you as a communist or anti-squad". During curfew at that time, the drivers and the passengers were unlucky and got arrested for travelling without pass. In the year 1980s, I did dial "999" when I nearly had an accident with a taxi I sat on, knocked down a man dashing across against the traffic light shown in "Red" favour.
One of my god-sisters' uncle who worked in the force over 2 decades, mentioned about the riot in Little India riot, it was the action of foreign workers of being cowardliness and lame, for mobbing a bus that killed a Indian national and thus many police and emergency vehicles were damaged and burnt. They think this is India and they do what they like to do.
Narrow Staircase at Radio Control Room
The Radio Control Room was recreated on how the events unfolded in those days of the memories of former Radio Staff and oral history accounts that travelled back in 60 years time. The most worst riot in 1954 and 1955 mainly students from Chinese Schools where my oldest brother-in-law used to study there in 1950s. Luckily he was not there at that time of riot.
Radio Mast Tip
90 feet high Radio Mast Tip
The tip of 90 feet high of Radio mast that was used to stand outside of the bunker at Pearl's Hill. In front of the old radio headquarters at the foot of Peal's Hill, was an open ground that it was big enough for two helicopters to land at one time. A helicopter! I had a ride on the helicopter with my family and relatives before that was way back in 1970s in Malaysia. I still keep the old photo since. My mum's long time friend who worked as a minister back then in Malaysia who told her about helicopter ride.
The Flying Saucer of podium
At the Control table were the control sets of different radio networks - Land 1, Land 2, Land 3 and Marine Contact with radio equipped patrol cars were made through these Land Networks. It has a space in the middle where an officer-in-charge sits. Then it slopes down and officers in charge of different radio divisions sit round him.
Side view of flying saucer of podium
A retro flying saucer-shaped of podium at Radio Control Room where the "999" call used to answered from. The "999" became the telephone number for all emergency calls to the police from 1 February 1947.
Top seating: Mrs Christine Choa in 1970s
Closeup: Mrs Christine Choa as Duty Officer
Lady operators were called by nicknamed the "Triple-Nine Girls", they were trained to handle all kind of incoming calls from genuine requests for help to the nuisance ones. One of the SPF Pioneers, Mdm Christine Choa age 75, is seen with Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Home Affairs Mr Amrin Amin to launch opening the exhibition of the former Combined Operations Room (fCOR), as part of the Home Team's SG50 celebrations.
The use of radio technology in the year 1950s and 1960s, that the police cars could be dispatched quickly to the scene of unfolding crimes upon hearing the radio signal. To me, whatever I saw the patrol cars came out from nowhere in the middle of the night and it's like a ghost car came out speedily in emergency.
The Radio Control Room was a very noisy place and not for the faint-heart. The sound of Radio communication from the Land-net, radio operators shouting, giving instructions to send patrol cars when the ‘999’ calls keep ringing. The whole atmosphere was particularly tense during incidents and when combined operations were continuously happening without sleep.
Radio Operator Microphone in those days
The Radio operator pressed the push-to-talk switch and speak on microphone in those days. Similar to my working company in 1980s where my colleague used to make announce to all departments of the impending fire drills and others. Display artefact is Double Button radio microphone - transmit and monitor. The tilting-head was something that allowed the microphone to directly face the operator without actually holding the microphone.
Table of Control Room
The table where the record being written down on the log board of the time of crisis.
The Teleprinter Room where the operator received messages from Radio Control Room could be broadcast to all Divisional headquarters stations through the Teleprinter operators.
 Teleprinter Room
Teleprinters were electromechanical typewriters capable of transmitting and receiving messages through the telephone network and similar to the telex network, is a switched network of teleprinters, for the purposes of sending text-based messages in those days. Operators were nervous when they typed the messages on the typewriter, they couldn't see their message and as if they were typed wrongly. I remember I used to sending telex message after I typed message from my typewriter. Nowadays, the messages is being send by fax machines. No Emails, No mobile phones, No internet but things got their ways make it possible. Not to mention the pagers that I owned in 1980s with no mobile phone.
Chief Police Staff Officer's Room
This room is manned by Chief Police Staff Officer, an officer of the rank of the Assistant Commissioner or above rank. It was normally unoccupied unless there was a "Standby No. 2" order for the Force to be brought to the state of "Immediate Readiness". That would have be occasions of widespread civil disorder or disasters such as severe floods. The C.P.S.O is assisted by a Superintendent.
Closeup: Table Switchboard
At the middle of the room, was once a telephone switchboard mounted on a small table that had direct lines to the Operations Rooms of all Police formation on the island.
 Dr Goh Keng Swee's table (right)
There was a loudspeaker system (similar to PA system I used it in those days) for Chief Police Staff Officer (S.P.S.O) to give instructions to the Map Room staff. Recreated of the C.P.S.O's office is one of the most important room for Combined Operations Headquarters. 
Overlooked to the Map Room from C.P.S.O.
In this position, Chief Police Staff Officer overlooked the Map Room and also had remote control extension to the 3 main Land Networks that made it possible for the staff to speak any radio patrol car and pilot of observer in the helicopter flying around the island.
After Singapore gaining independence in the 1965, it was to set up a defence force from scratch. Dr Goh Keng Swee was then appointed the Defence Minister in August 1965. In November 1965, the newly set-up Ministry of Interior and Defence occupied the Pearl’s Hill Terrace site as its home until 1972. The ministry was in charge of both external and internal security matters and handled both the police and the armed forces.
Map Room
The two large table maps plotted all information received of incidents and the deployment of Police and Army Units assets. The tote board displayed information of current incidents, the action taken and the Police reserves available.
Tote board where incidents and resource deployments
This wooden strips on the wall where the officer would take it down and write on it. When new cases came, they moved them on top and the old ones, until the case has been attended to. For example, the rioting, 30 people fighting and all that. After the managing the case, the divisions or reserve units would report that they have cleared the case. Then this board would be taken down. Once it has been attended to, it remains there. The new ones would be put on the top. so they gave priority to the top ones.
 Police car model deployed in real time
The Map Room is where the police car models and other resource deployments are manually updated in real time on the tote board and the map. This car looks familiar to that Highway code test that conducted in a similar way using a toy car for the test in the 1950s.
Liaison Officers' seat
The row of seats were for Liaison Officers from RAF, Army, Navy, CID and GOV. occupied positions facing the table maps and the Tote Board. They were supplied with direct telephone lines to their respective units about the incidents on the Tote Board in real time that updated and written in chalk for deployments. In those days, there were no white boards and markers at that time.
A pair of red phones mounted on a table
A pair of red phones linked directly to ministers and the Prime Minister on the intercom (extension lines). If it rang, it meant an emergency and everybody had to work overtime.
Screen shown of recreated at Map Room
After the year in 1988 the Police bunker ceased operation and it was then taken over by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) who used it as a storage facility. As part of the SG50 celebrations, the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Singapore Police Force has spruced up the bunker, and thus recreated the various rooms within to what it would have been back in the 1950s when it was still in use. The Screen shown on how the recreated the various room within the bunker when it was derelict and stuffy room with dam air.
Police Officers' Rest Room
In the Police officers' restroom, in time of crisis and riots that has used up police officer's time, they had no time to rest and even untouched the bed during the incidents and riots when being called to respond in emergency. Years ago, I was told by my good friend who works in the force, he mentioned that whenever you work in the force, you don't have much time to rest or even go for a drink in the past, even if you are being called up for reinforcement or deployment from the Headquarters.
Former Combined Operations Floor Plan
As you can see, only one entrance (left) and one exit (right) shown below on floor plan and thus it looks like a maze that trapped inside. There were no windows and only installed Air-con plant and electric generator and others might be kitchen, canteen and toilets in other rooms but not indicated.
Similar to this Floor Plan
I realised there is a something looks familiar to this Floor Plan of that British war room was built by the British before WWII.

Pearl's Hill Upper Barracks - 1945 (Then)

Built at a high level on the hill facing Singapore river, the 3-storey building was one of the longest pre civic buildings still stands today. The Lower and Upper barracks together with 2-storey bungalow were gazetted for conservation by URA in 2008.

Former Upper Barracks (Now)

The former Upper Barracks was constructed to house the Sikh Contingent of the Straits Settlement Police completed in 1934. Under the British rule, it was the policy to provide quarters for policemen for a few reasons. For example, if the policeman needed to be mobilized to respond to a crisis, it could be that much faster if they stayed together and NOT at their own home. It also housed the married members of the Contingent and their families. Living in quarters for the married policemen were spacious including kitchens, the legacy which can be seen in the chimney stacks along the top of the building. The Sikh Contingent occupied the building till 1946 when they were disbanded. Thereafter, the former Upper Barracks was used by several agencies including the then Ministry of Interior and Defence (now Ministry of Home Affairs 1965-1977), Ministry of Defence (1965-1972), Ministry of Social Affairs (1973-1987) and the Police Headquarters (1989-2001).  The second level of the building was formerly to house the office of key personnel such as Ministers and Commissioner of Police. Later, the building was put up for lease in 2007 for ease demands for office space in Singapore.

Straits Settlements Police
The first Sikhs numbering 165 from Punjab, India, came to Singapore to he employed as policemen in the Straits Settlements Police Force in 1881. Eventually they became members of the 500 strong Sikh Contingent of the Straits Settlements Police Force. These policemen worshipped in the Police Barracks on Pearl's Hill. After WW2 in 1945 the Sikh contingent was disbanded and the equipment of their Gurdwara was transferred to the Central Sikh Temple in Queen Street. The legacy of the Sikh Contingent today includes the Gurdwara Sahib at Silat Road, which began as a temple established by the policemen at Pearl's Hill.
Former Upper Barracks behind Friendship foodcourt
As we walked along the former barracks as we knew there is an exit of the staircase which is long, where the office workers go for their lunch breaks daily and there is also Mama Shop locates at former barracks if I am not wrong.
Volkswagen Beetle (1970s)
Last but not least, there is a Volkswagen Beetle on display, a patrol "radio" police car in the 1970s. The Police Radio Division used the Volkswagen Beetle as patrol cars to project police presence in our neighbourhoods and commercial districts. The patrol police cars also despatched to respond to incidents too. And furthermore, it was fast enough to those wrongdoers or thieves trying to get away from the Police. That car looks similar to that I was on passenger front seat of my boss's private Volkswagen Beetle car in 1982 when I worked at her "Architects" company for one year! I recalled that it was like a zoom fast speed as if she was in a hurry for meetings and the noisy engine as if it ejects a thick cloud of sooty black exhaust.
This immerse exhibition hopes to create an awareness of the tension-filled operating environment that our officers experienced on the job during those years, the technologically advanced equipment that the Police were using at that time, the commitment and dedication of the pioneer officers who served in this nerve centre.
I hereby thanks to the guide for showing us the various rooms and her sharing of stories in her heydays and all the SPF pioneers for showing their passions during their stays in the force, helped to build up safety, peace and security of Singapore for decades.
The exhibition will run from 20 October 2015 to 31 January 2016. The exhibition is open from Tuesday till Sunday, and closed on Mondays.
The Former Combined Operations Room (fCOR) Exhibition
Courtyard, 195 Pearl's Hill Terrace
Singapore 168976

Please provide with the below details to complete the registration process if you intend to book.

Contact number:
​No of visitor(s):
Preferred day and time slot 1:
Preferred day and time slot 2:
Preferred day and time slot 3:

Daily tour operation hours
1st Tour - 10.00am
2nd Tour - 10.45am
3rd Tour - 11.30am
4th Tour - 2.00pm
5th Tour - 2.45pm
6th Tour - 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.
Maximum capacity per session is 10 participants per tour.
Registration is on a first come, first served basis.
All tours are by bookings only. Walk-ins will not be entertained.

Phone bookings
Alternatively, you may call us at 9893-5140 during office hours - 0900hrs to 1700hrs - to book a time slot.

Safety Precaution
The exhibition is held in the original bunker that housed the fCOR, please inform the guide if you have any respiratory illnesses or prior history of asthma for precautionary reasons. The guide would be able to pay more attention to you and stop the tour if you are feeling unwell.

Due to the narrow corridors in the bunker, visitors are encouraged not to use/bring prams, wheelchairs, and bulky items to the exhibition.​

In the event of rain, umbrellas will be provided but the ground may be slippery. Therefore, please refrain from wearing slippers or shoes that are worn out when coming for the exhibition to prevent unnecessary injuries.


  1. An interesting and educational heritage blog with memories of old Singapore. Very well researched with various reliable resources posted with relevant photos. Well done, Sista. Keep up blogging to share with everyone.

    1. Bro, thanks for your compliment. :)