The air raid shelter at Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street occupies an area of 1,500 sqm and it could accommodate up to an estimated 1,600 persons. It is also believed to be the site for the Air Raid Precaution Wardens' depot.
According to a press report dated 28 June 1939, Blk 78 on Guan Chuan Street would comprise a "basement floor … (and that) (i)n normal times this will be used as a covered playing ground for children, but in times of emergency, it could readily be converted into an effective air raid shelter."
The air raid shelter at Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street is significant because it is the only public housing building by the Singapore Improvement Trust to have been built with an air raid shelter as part of its design. It is also significant because it is the last remaining pre-war civilian air raid shelter still in existence today.
According to the late Mr. Nicholas Tang who once lived in the Tiong Bahru estate as a child, the original entrances to the shelter was located at No. 41 and No. 43 Guan Chuan Street, in front of a coffee shop. Once the air raid siren sounded, the entrances to the shelter would open for residents of Tiong Bahru to make their way into the shelter.
According to another resident, Mrs Linda Koh, who also lived in the Tiong Bahru estate as child, the air raid shelter was used when the Japanese forces conducted air raids on 8 December 1941. Mrs Koh recalled that her family, together with other residents, made their way to the shelter when the air raid siren sounded.
Mrs Koh further shared that the interiors of the shelter was spacious but dark and had no ventilation. Based on her recollection, there were less than a hundred people in the shelter due to the small population of residents in the area during that period and they stayed inside the shelter for approximately 20 minutes until the siren ceased.
In his account, the late Mr Nicholas Tang also mentioned that during the Japanese Occupation, he witnessed people using the shelter during the air raids launched by the Allied Forces in 1945. He also said that the windows to the air raid shelter were added later when the shelter was converted into a storage facility.
It is probable that there could be other pre-war air raid shelters in Tiong Bahru. In a newspaper report dated 5 July 1951, there was mention of a pre-war air raid shelter at Eu Chin Street in Tiong Bahru which was converted into a community centre. In another newspaper report on 15 April 1957, it was mentioned that a group of young boxers were training in an outhouse converted from an air raid shelter behind Eng Watt Street.
Based on accounts from the late Mr. Nicholas Tang, there were also air raid shelters in the backyards of the some of the units of Blk 80 in Chay Yan Street. At the house of Mr. Tang’s father-in-law at Blk 74, No. 44, Tiong Poh Road, two halls were converted into an air raid shelter comprising a strong wooden structure built within the hall capable of housing up to 30 people.
The air raid shelter at Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street was recently opened to the public for guided tours conducted by the National Heritage Board as part of its activities to commemorate the 70th Anniversary for the Battle for Singapore in 2012.
A project by National Heritage Board
in partnership with the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Heritage Development Unit.