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Home / Features / Heritage / Watching over Singapore from the Pearl of Chinatown  
Published: 04 Dec 2012 11:44AM (Singapore)
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Watching over Singapore from the Pearl of Chinatown
Emblems of the Singapore Police Force’s authority, the former Upper and Lower Barracks on Pearl’s hill are marked for their historical significance to Singapore’s internal security.
By Joanne Yan
In the past, Radio Cars were situated outside the Lower Barracks to ensure the Police could respond to ‘999’ calls immediately. These cars would respond to situations island-wide. PHOTO: Singapore Police Force.

Opened in 1934 by Governor of Singapore Sir Shenton Thomas, the Upper and Lower Barracks housed the Sikh Contingent of the Straits Settlements Police.

Decades later, the headquarters of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Criminal Investigation Unit called the compound home till 2001.

The neo-classical styled Upper Barracks also housed the Ministry of Interior and Defence during its formative years after Singapore’s Independence. The ministry was later split to form the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Defence.

One of the more well known occupants at Pearl’s Hill was the Radio Division.

Because of Pearl’s Hill’s prime location, it was easy for policemen to be mobilised to radio cars which would be used to attend to emergencies.

Considered as state-of-the-art communications technology then, the radios played a crucial role in coordinating police work in the early years.

The Upper and Lower Barracks are important reminders of the beginnings of the Singapore Police Force.            

The Singapore Police Force and the National Heritage Board jointly marked the Upper and Lower Barracks as historic sites on 3 December 2012, in conjunction with the Police Heritage Centre’s 10th Anniversary celebrations.

Mr Sukhdev Singh, 70, a retiree, recalls a shocking day in 1986, when he was working with the Radio Division as an Operations Officer.

“It was a Saturday, at about 11.30am. The call room started receiving many calls about the collapse of a building. We thought it was a hoax, but the influx of calls was overwhelming,” says Mr Singh.

“When we confirmed that Hotel New World had collapsed, the command and control room was set up, and many calls were made to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to send out help. There were thousands of calls made that day,” he continues.

“It was a hectic week for everyone at the Radio Division; two days without sleep; we went home to shower and went back to work, and all staff members were activated to communicate messages for missing peoples, trapped people, SCDF, volunteers, helpers and the Government.” 

At the far left end of the Upper Barracks sits a windowless annex block with two-feet-thick walls.

It was the nerve centre for Police communications, where telephone operators sat around a circular panel table with its duty officer sitting in the middle.

This control station was endearingly called the “UFO”.      

Senior Station Inspector (SSI) Doris Sng, 52, who worked with the Radio Division in the 1970s, recalls the days of using switchboards, cable teleprinter machines and pagers.

“When our commanders needed to make overseas calls to their counterparts, they had to go through us (telephone operators at the Radio Division) to call the telcom operators and request to make an overseas call using the switchboard method,” says SSI Sng.

“All calls and requests were recorded on hardcopy forms; we had no Microsoft then.”

SSI Doris Sng, Mr Sukhdev Singh and SSI Juminah Panacha paid a visit to the Upper Barracks, where they used to work in when serving at the Radio Division in the 1970s and ‘80s. PHOTO: Tan Chiez How

SSI Juminah Panancha, 54, Head of Administration with the Radio Division,also remembers the times when everything was written on paper.

“Now, all information is recorded in the system; technology is there. It’s unlike in the ‘80s when we had to write everything in the front and back of forms,” she says.

At the Radio Control room, members of the Radio Division had to perform different roles.

“Some would respond to ‘999’ calls; some would be receptionists; some would be in-charge of overseas calls, while others were in charge of deploying radio cars to handle situations,” adds SSI Sng.

She recalls having a giant map of Singapore pasted on the wall which was used to mark the areas where robberies, thefts or other crimes occurred.

Radio cars stationed outside the Upper Barracks would then be deployed to any reported scene of the crime.

Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee said that the predecessors of the SPF were inspirational for overcoming insurmountable crisis and difficulties to build Singapore and that “The Lower and Upper Barracks, together with the old Hill Street Police Station and the old Traffic Police building at Maxwell Road, are important reminders of our beginnings as a modern police force.”

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More Heritage :
Revisiting Singapore’s Past at the Former Combined Operations Room
Old Police Academy swimming pool: “It was where memories were made and shared”
Police Heritage Centre: Celebrating the history of the Singapore Police Force
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Related Multimedia

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