The Last Ship out of Singapore - History

The Last Ship out of Singapore - History

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Marshall Ralph Doak Chief Pharmacist's Mate United States Navy

The Last Ship out of Singapore

We started to bring women and children aboard and the other ships in our group left. Everyone left. We could hear gunfire across the Jahore Straits. The Japanese were right there. We were abandoned at Singapore, still burning and not knowing whether or not we could make it out of there. We were waiting on the tide to come in so we could get out of there. You had to depend on the tide to come in at Keppel Harbor. We had 1,500 women and children and we found out later that we had taken aboard Indian troops that were stationed there at Singapore, some dressed as women. We couldn't leave and we were all by ourselves. The Japanese planes were still coming in. We could always tell when the Japanese planes were coming because of the British. The British Air Force consisted of Brewster Buffaloes. They were an American made fighter plane that was absolutely a useless damn thing. It was stubby like a milk bottle and we didn't use it in the USAF, but the British had bought a few of them. They had three PBY Catalinas and when we saw them take off we knew the Japanese planes were coming. I think they were coming from French Indochina at Saigon at that time. There was a lot of chaos and people killed on the docks during these bombardments. Everywhere you looked there was death. Even in the water there were dead sharks and people floating all around. How these people put up with it I'll never know. We were able to get out when the tide came in. We were abandoned and all by ourselves. I'll never understand whey they left us and I know that they took some key personnel off our ship and put them on the other ships. I found this out later. We eventually got our fires pretty well put out and the tide came in.

The Japanese were entering Singapore as we were departing. We were under heavy bombardment when we left and supposedly, from what I hear, we were the last ship that made it out of Singapore before it fell. The fall of Singapore was one of the greatest embarrassments the British ever had because they had 125,000 troops there and they never did really battle. The Japanese landed on the Malay Peninsula and came down on bicycles. There was very little fortification at Singapore. Everything that was there was pointed at the ocean as they figured they'd get a frontal assault. The Japanese never came that way, they came from behind. They walked and rode their bicycles. The Singapore prisoners were taken to the encampment at the river Quay. Another sad part of this is that when a group of British prisoners left Singapore on a transport ship to go to the prison camp, one of our subs torpedoed it. There were about 2,000 of them that were killed. That was a sad day, but it did happen. In no way could the sub know that it was carrying British prisoners. Just before we arrived in Singapore off the Malayan coast the British lost their two prize battleships to aircraft - the Prince of Wales and the Repulse.

Running From the Japanese We left the Singapore Harbor and were in the South China Sea with Japanese ships in every which direction. Here we were by ourselves and we would hide in rain squall. The War Department had published in our local papers about this time that the Japanese had claimed to have sunk the Wakefield. The War Department, in all their wisdom, had come out and said the Wakefield was not sunk. They said the Wakefield was at Singapore and it was hit with a bomb in the sick bay and all medical personnel were killed. I didn't realize that my mother had this information until I got her scrapbook after she died in the 1950's. She never notified my brothers or sisters or anyone that I know of that I'd been killed. She never believed it. She was a very strong individual and she just wouldn't accept it. According to my stepfather, she called the War Department but she got nothing other than that official release. Fortunately I'd gone flat and just got banged up good. We were hiding in the rain sqmllls and were finally getting down to Batavia and Java. The Dutch were still holding it. There were also Japanese ships that had spotted us by late evening. We could make about 20-22 knots on our own as our engine room was still working good. Dutch destroyers and a light cruiser came out and they did battle with the Japanese. We could see it all as we made our way into Batavia at night. The Dutch ships had intercepted the Japanese ships. There was no way we could get repairs to the bulkhead. They didn't have the materials at the time and they were too vulnerable as they were getting bombed too. 23

Soerabaya! We had just lost the heavy cruiser Houston at Soerabaya just north of Batavia. We took one survivor off the Houston. He was a Marine Sergeant that was incorrigible. He was so far gone, but he didn't show any physical signs. All he would do is just keep yelling "Soerabaya, Soerabaya!" He never stopped. It was just incessant. They were sunk by Japanese subs off of "Soerabaya." I'll never forget this Marine. We had him in a private room and he never stopped repeating Soerabaya. The thing that I remember is the smell of cordite. It's absolutely repugnant. Once you experience it and smell it, you'll never forget it. The explosive part of the bomb is so pungent. There were crews working on cleaning up the mess. There was a feeding frenzy off the side of the ship. The body parts and debris that were shoved off the side made the water look like it was boiling.

We didn't stay there too long. The day after we left the Japanese task force hit Batavia, and hit it hard. From there we left by ourselves to Colombo Ceylon. We were one of the first ships in for months, but we couldn't get repairs because they didn't have the materials or manpower. We were welcome and got water and fuel-oil and spent a day or two. You could pick up sapphires for one or two dollars and the biggest and best ones for four or five dollars a piece. I had probably 20, mainly just to get rid of the people pulling on your sleeve. They had no money. I didn't realize these bloomin' things were priceless until later on, when five or six months later I was with my friend McClean. He had 40-50 of them and we went into the jewelry store. He had a hand full and he showed the star sapphires and the guy couldn't believe what he saw. He said each one of those was worth between $700 and $800 a piece. At that point I'd lost mine when we'd had a fire on board ship and had to abandon the ship. I was invited to go to the British Consulate and have tea. I thought it would be good for me to get off the ship and I went there. I didn't realize that when you have tea like that you take a walk, a brisk walk. We went through Indian villages with tigers and cobras and all these things. I was a little apprehensive. Of course we never saw anything like that. When we got back from the walk we had the tea and the cakes. We left Ceylon and the day after we left the Japanese hit the dock area. They were after us again.

Troopship Journeys

It was about February 1941 and I was approaching 19 years of age when I decided to volunteer for the RAF (VR). After training and about mid-December 1941 a small group of us received two bits of news, (a) we could have Xmas at home on two weeks leave and (B) it was embarkation leave.

During my time in the RAF the journey out to India proved to be quite an experience. Initially we were sent to West Kirby, which is on the Wirral peninsula, for a few days. Here we were kitted out, had a pay parade, plus a range of inoculations. Confined to camp during this period, until the lorries arrived, then it was through the Mersey Tunnel to Liverpool. Our troopship was the ‘Duchess of Bedford’. This may seem strange but until the photograph was obtained I never had an overall view of the ship. Lorries drew up to what was a ‘steel wall’. In that wall was a large hole into which we disappeared. We were not there to waste time or to sightsee. We left Liverpool early in January 1942, and sailed north for a while. Unlike what you see on films and TV we had cast off with a few waves from dockworkers. There was a slight delay of a day or two to form up. The convoy sailed into the North Atlantic at the maximum speed of the slowest ship. Subject to weather, some Merchant ships had their small barrage balloons up and for some days a German ‘spotter’ aircraft kept watch on us. The‘Duchess’ was a 20,000 — ton ship, designed to carry about 1,570 passengers. It was rumoured that there was some 4,000 RAF personnel on board.

The decks below had been gutted and tables with benches alongside had been installed. Obviously these were fixed to the floor. The tables could seat 16 men and just as each deck had a letter, the tables each had a number. In the adjoining central area, hammocks were stored on racks above, together with kitbag, side packs and personal items. The hammocks, slung close together, proved to be quite comfortable, although you had to sleep on your back. Some men preferred to sleep in any spare space around the tables and benches. For meals, two men on a rota system would go to the galley and served in turn by table number, would bring back containers of food which they distributed as fairly as possible. Each man had his own mug, mess tin and ‘irons’ (Knife, fork, spoon). Rough weather at meal times was rather unhelpful. Across the deck were toilets, showers and washbasins. Due to the numbers on board fresh water had to be conserved so seawater was used and even with the special soap a residue of salt was always left. There was a small shop selling various items such as cigarettes etc. I bought a small packet of biscuits for 3d (1p) only to discover the words ‘Free Sample’ on the base of the packet. Near the shop, on an open area of deck space there were three or four metal buckets of fresh water with limes floating in them for our consumption and probably to offset the lack of fruit and vegetables.

Obviously, the ship could never stop, even for a ‘Man Overboard’ situation, and after dark no lights whatsoever could be shown outside, not even a cigarette. Below deck it was important to avoid noise, in particular metallic noise, as noise travels well through water. Lifebelts of the cork block type were issued, but some of us managed to ‘exchange’ these for the kapok type which were useful as cushions or pillows. We did have two lifeboat drills but given the ratio or personnel to boats it was thought that should the need arise appropriate action could be taken. To help keep us occupied we did attend a few lectures on health etc. but this was impossible to organise on a routine basis. When possible we went on deck but otherwise time was spent below deck where a lot of card games were played.

The convoy did lose some ships to German U boats but partial retribution took place when later in 1942 the ‘Duchess of Bedford’ sank a U boat. Days went past until one morning we found ourselves alone and heading for Freetown, on the West coast of Africa, in order to obtain supplies. Shore leave was not granted. It was so hot and humid that some of us slept whenever possible on the main deck rather than below. In the warmer weather, we left Freetown going south to Cape Town, where moored to a pier, we stopped for some days. Once again, shore leave was not granted. I recall two memories. The first being the grey and sinister appearance of the sea around the Cape of Good Hope, and the second being the magnificent entrance to Cape Town harbour with a view of Table Mountain. Before leaving England tropical kit had been issued which brought rumours of Singapore being a likely destination. However we learnt later that the Japanese, unexpectedly, had taken Singapore about mid — February 1942.

From Cape Town we sailed around to Durban on the East Coast of Africa. Tens of thousands of troops who passed through Durban know of the ‘Lady in White’. An impressive lady of stature, dressed completely in white and with a strong soprano voice, visited the ships and from the pier sang the songs the troops wanted to hear. We now left the ‘Duchess of Bedford’ for a transit camp equipped with bell tents. Each tent held about eight men who slept in a circle with their feet towards the central pole. No mattress’s, just a rubber ground sheet. We awoke one morning to find a snake in the tent, which caused a minor panic and a mad rush for the exit. The snake also tried to get out but did not survive. Was it dangerous, who knows, it ended up dead. I have some happy memories of Durban where we spent about three to four weeks awaiting orders. Apartheid was strictly enforced. We had freedom of movement to explore and were made welcome by everyone. This might have been partly due to the fact that the Japanese has sunk an Australian troopship, which resulted in many bodies being washed ashore on the Durban beaches, only a few weeks earlier. I do know that one, (and also a few more) made decisions that South Africa was an excellent country and having obtained local support brought their service in the RAF to an end by going AWOL on a permanent basis. Soon it was time to move and embark on our next ship. Unfortunately I cannot recall the name of this ship. Sailing north from Durban by ourselves, we heard a Tannoy announcement that a Japanese submarine was following us but with it having to remain submerged during the day it could not match our speed. After another day or two we were told a British warship, in the Madagascar area, was coming to give us some cover. We continued to sail north and for whatever reason stopped at Mambasa, East Africa. Once again we spent two or three days here, where in groups shore leave was granted. I think that the surrounding walking distance area was such that it left little or no impression. Leaving Mombasa it was only a matter of a ‘comfortable’ journey across the Indian Ocean to Bombay, India. I think it was this period that we saw a lot of sea life and in particular, the flying fish.

There is much to be said for the clear skies of a warm tropical night and the opportunity to see the shooting stars. We dis-embarked at Bombay and once again moved into another tented Transit Camp. It was here that a bed, a ‘charpoy’ was provided. It had four wooden legs, plus four wood sidepieces laced with rope to sleep on and was quite comfortable. We were soon on our way again and embarked on our third and nameless ship. About two dozen of us joined this small, ancient Indian coastal vessel, fortunately only for a few days. Specific memories: cockroaches by the thousand. In a hammock it is necessary to lie flat and look above. We watched the cockroaches march along the beams above. If asleep we did not open our mouths! My own experience was a ‘crunch’ when eating porridge, or whatever, for breakfast. ‘Food’ left a lot to be desired. When it came to changing course the Captain told us that the vessel would be broadside on to the waves and likely to take on some water. It did! I am reasonably sure that the latrine, more or less similar to a small hut, was situated towards the bow, portside, but instead of being on deck was actually over the side of the vessel. There was some virtue in it being in this position from a disposal point of view. This vessel, you will notice the omission of the word ship, was the final of our journey to India.

The years passed and the war with Japan ended by the American use of two atom bombs, in mid August 1945. It was not until November that we sailed from Bombay after embarking on the ‘Queen of Bermuda’ for our journey home. The tannoy announced that (a) the ship had quadruple engines but only three were in working order, (b) the Suez Canal had been sufficiently cleared of wrecks and sunken ships for us to go through and (c) every effort would be made to get us home for Christmas. The journey was then across the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, on to the Canal and through to Port Said where we stopped for a while. The canal was very interesting with its channels and lakes. The ship moved very slowly, which was normal, and in places, on the starboard side, we could see the wreckage of partially sunken ships still waiting clearance. On the port side (left) there were places where the ship was only a few feet from the side of the canal. Very close to it was a roadway, and then equally close was the railway line.

Moving into the Mediterranean we met poor weather so our khaki clothing went overboard as we changed back into blue uniforms. It was passing the Rock of Gibralter that we began to realise that we were nearly home. It was winter the Atlantic was at its worst with a strong westerly gale, as we sailed across the Bay of Biscay. Some main deck space was roped off and available to us. The waves, to us, broadside on were awesome and seemed to tower above the ship. This was a sight to remember, but too cold to stay very long on deck. Another day or two and we were back in |Liverpool, where apart from two or three weeks, we had left four years earlier. I think it was the 20th December 1945 when we moored at the dockside for a welcome from quite a few people. Custom officers did not come on board. The next two days were busy. We left the ship for a quayside warehouse to have kit replaced, or missing items replaced so as to bring everything up to standard. A pay parade was held on board ship. I think our leave was for four weeks and apart from money we needed a pass and a travel warrant. The final day, 23rd December, saw lorries brought onto the quayside to take us to Liverpool Station. About six platforms were occupied with troop trains, each with a main city destination. Mine was for Edinburgh via Leeds, York and Newcastle. I left the train with goodbyes and good wishes from those still left, walked along to the bus station (with kit bag) and very shortly arrived home. My parents knew by a letter earlier that I was hoping to be home for Christmas, but there was no way I could communicate the time or even the day. Whilst overseas service was completed, I still had several more months of service to do.

My final year commenced on the 21st January 1946. This was spent in Scotland until demobilisation in August of that year.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Fall of Singapore

This is Mr Hendrie's story it has been added by Herts Libraries, with permission from the author, who understands the terms and conditions of adding his story to the website.

Missing presumed dead:
In April 1940 I was a signalman aboard a trawler out of Great Yarmouth when I was sent, at the double, to Barrow in Furness to pick up a destroyer named HMS Ivanhoe. After a couple of days we left Barrow and turned north up to Pentland Firth and down to Leith, near Edinburgh.

It was very late when I reported sick and was sent ashore. All I can remember is the officer who took me ashore and the Doctor arguing over me. The Doctor won and I went into the Edinburgh Hospital where I stayed for about a fortnight before I was told that I was under the direct orders of the First Lord of the Admiralty and to report to Chatham Barracks forthwith.

To do that I had to travel via Kings Cross railway station which happened to be within two miles of where I lived. So I went home to see my mother, who on seeing me, fainted. When she came round it she told me that she had received a telegram from the Admiralty saying that I was missing, presumed dead. Evidently, the Ivanhoe left the same night and took off to Narvik, Norway and was sunk. How many survived I never found out.

Fall of Singapore
When I got into Chatham barracks and found out my assignment, I volunteered for the naval Battalion that was going over to Dunkirk. I was promptly told that I was too valuable (a sentence that would trouble all my career), I was still under the First Lord.

I was posted to a secret ship called HMS Springdale, a degaussing ship that turned ships into a different polarity, to stop the magnetic mines that abounded our coasts. After a lot of trials in the Thames, we were off to Singapore where we landed in November 1941, shortly after the Prince of Wales (where my brother was stationed) and the Renown. The destroyers Electra, Encounter, Scout and Tenedos were in attendance on the two battle cruisers.

On 7 December 1941 I took my brother to a film show at the naval barracks, HMS Sultan, the film appropriately called Escape. During the film a voice announced that all personnel were to report back to their ships. Later that night the battle cruisers, in company with the destroyers, left Singapore en route to Kota Bahru where the Japanese had landed. In the ensuing fight, the Prince of Wales was sunk together with the Renown. The Japanese radioed to the destroyers to 'stop firing or we will sink you too. Pick up your survivors'. Which is what they did.

After two days I went to the Naval Base and found my brother alive and well. Afterwards he told me that the survivors of the Royal Marines had amalgamated with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and were now called the Plymouth Argylls.

On or around 10 February, I was taken to Tanglin Naval Hospital with malaria, whilst I was in there we had to dig foxholes in the lawn. It was a bit hairy when the Japanese came over and bombed us, the planes came in their hundreds (or so it seemed). The first one fired a machine gun and the planes dropped all their bombs in a haphazard fashion. This was a daily occurrence so we spent a lot of time down these holes.

On the day before my 23rd birthday, the doctors came round to tell us to leave the hospital as the Japanese had breached the Johore River and were on the island. So off I went down the Buka Timoh Road en route for Raffles hotel. The area on the way was devastating due to the bombing being indiscriminating — bodies were all over the place with dead horses and cows amongst the debris. Eventually I came to Raffles Square where there were literally hundreds of Australian soldiers. Running through it was a stream or sewage water and littered along were hundreds of rifles. The Australians had given up the ghost whereas us and the Indian Infantry were still fighting.

I had to get to the Oranje Hotel where the Naval HQ was but my path was blocked by Aussies asking me for food — they must have been joking, I was as hungry as them. Eventually I got to the HQ and reported in. Much later, after midnight, I was taken with others to the docks where the civilians had left their possessions and cars. One of our jobs was to clear the quayside of all the rubbish and cars, which we pushed into the water as we did not want the Japanese to have them.

After another hour or so a destroyer, HMS Jupiter, came alongside with all her guns trained on the shore. Evidently some Aussies had forced their way onto a ship, commandeered it and set sail for Tanjong Priok in Batavia (Indonesia). Everyone coming aboard was strictly checked etc as the Admiral in Charge had openly said that no-one was to be able to get away, as only the Navy had done the work and he was making sure that it happened, and so he did, and we were the last ship to sail from Singapore en route to Batavia (Tanjong Priok).

The Admiral got away after us in a small speedboat together with naval personnel which included my brother. They got as far as Sumatra when their boat was hit and everyone was captured and put in a Prisoner of War camp. My mother received two telegrams that time, both sons missing, believed killed.

Retreat from Sumatra (Indonesia)
On arrival at Tanjong Priok I went in a lorry to the capital, Batavia (Djakarta), where I was immediately attached to the Commander in Chief's staff whose offices were in the British Embassy. After about a week or so burning fires, the fire was at least ten feet high. A Dutch Admiral was put in charge of all warships. he was on a cruiser called the Heemskirk and it was in dry dock. The other ships, mostly British destroyers and the Australian cruiser, the Canberra, set sail for the South China Sea and engaged the enemy and every one was sunk or destroyed. The Heemskirk was still in dry dock.

Next thing we heard that Batavia was declared an open city and so we had to leave. I was assigned to a lorry with a Bren gun at the rear and given a lot of ciphers to destroy. I found it hard to break the metal into small pieces and throw them into every fifth paddyfield. We had no food so had to scrounge it from the natives, and had a hard time of it. After two days we eventually came to the port of Tjillijap where we found an Australian frigate waiting for us. We went aboard HMAS Woolagong, ready for sailing, which we did after every sailor was on board. The last thing I remember whilst leaving port was that three nurses were left behind on the jetty and no ship to take them.

After a while we entered the port of Freemantle and, to our disgust, found that all the ships there were American and we pondered as to why they were not in the South China Sea with our ships. Bad feeling was ashore. The Australians from the 8th Army were coming home in droves aboard the Queen Mary, the authorities were worried that the Japanese would land in the north east at Darwin. Ashore, the Yanks called us Kippers, ie two-faced and no guts, wherein we fought them with fisticuffs and sometimes we lost — not many times I might add. Again, I tried to stay in Australia and, once again, was told 'you are too valuable'.

Final Stop Ceylon
After a fortnight my R&R was up and I had to join a county class cruiser called HMS Cornwall. This time I was able to take it easy for a change. On 24 April, Easter Sunday, we entered Colombo during I might add, an air raid. When I went ashore and reported, I was sent to HMS St Lucia, a mother ship for the 4th Submarine Flotilla. The ship had been hit during the raid and two sailors were killed. After a series of ducking and diving I found myself on a ship bound for home. I was on the bridge for a two to four watch, when I intercepted a signal addressed to myself which read that I was to report to the Naval HQ immediately and so I lost my trip home. Incidentally, when HMS Cornwall left the next day, she was torpedoed whilst patrolling and sunk, another lucky day for me.

They sent me to a small ship called HMS Wuchan and we set sail for Trincomalee. The officers on board were a nuisance. For most of the trip I was sending messages back and forth, ie Matthew chapter 6 verse 17 and so on. I got very little sleep that night. We arrived in Trincomalee two days later and found it a perfect deep harbour and quite big. I got off and was taken by lorry up to a 1000ft signal station overlooking the harbour. There I stayed for just over two years before I was allowed home.

D-Day and Plus
After six weeks holiday for my three years in the Far East, I was sent to HMS Mercury, a signal school situated near Petersfield, Hampshire. I was there a week and then transferred to HMS Collingwood at Fareham in Hampshire wherein I started my training.

First of all I was issued with army gear to wear, a lanyard and badges. Across my shoulders I wore Royal Navy, my communication badges, together with a three year badge and a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver. Now dressed, I was a member of the 21st Army Corps and Royal Corps of Signals. Evidently, Montgomery found out that the RN communication branch was four times faster at Morse code etc than the Army who could only do 5 words a minute, spoke to Mountbatten about the situation and, hey presto, there I was a soldier.

My training consisted of the assault course day after day — in the end we got to be a dab hand at it and very successful armed combat — how to kill people with your bare hands and/or a bowie knife secret ciphers and how to use VHF which, at that time, was very hush-hush and secret. Another funny thing was we were to use was a heliograph, a gadget that caught the rays of the sun and transmitted light for miles. It was mostly used in Afghanistan up in the Himalayas down to the plains. We had a lorry filled full of signal equipment, even a generator, and my favourite, a ten inch signal lamp. Day after day we would go out practising, roaming around Hampshire talking to other units until we were red hot at it. The day came when we got in our lorries and set off for pastures new, ie Cardiff.

Upon arrival we joined HMS Black Prince, a mine layer, and we waited. Then the day arrived when we set sail. Overhead flew planes with gliders attached. It seemed like hundreds, it reminded me somewhat similar to Singapore. Eventually we arrived at the beachhead where two naval ships were battering the shore. After the Strawberry was built by sinking ships to create a barrier just like the Mulberry at Arromanches. We landed at Coursailles Sur Mer on Juno Beach. We rushed to a big chateau nearby and went to the back where there was a mined orchard. A 20ft path was cleared so we could set up camp and start work. In this orchard was a 50ft water tower with a hole through the middle and a ladder from the floor to the top. I know that in my head I was Navy and not Army. We used to work shifts as if we were still on board, so from the top of this tower we were sending messages to the ships and also receiving, a rather hectic time, it did not even stop for darkness. We used to lay at night on our hammocks watching the fireworks display, ie tracer bullets. very pretty and ornamental, even watching the one ton shells from the big ships whooshing overhead was exciting. I was glad that i did not live in Bayeaux or Caen.

After a few days I was shifted to Oustreham to the Principal Beachmaster House. It was also very similar to where I came from in Juno, another Strawberry, another harbour. Funnily enough, it was more dangerous for us as German snipers were in the spires firing at us. We had to call the tanks in to blow the spires away. Then it was quiet and peaceful.

For the first 12 miles from the beaches an Admiral was in charge, Flag Officer British Army Ashore or FOBAR, together with Mountbatten on HMS Hilary. After the troops had liberated Caen our 12 miles were up so we handed it over to Montgomery. So, life in Oustreham was a doddle. Stores, soldiers and vehicles coming ashore every day, a nice easy life. Then came an order to quit Oustreham and report to some field which we did, together with all the other naval parties.

Away we went again, following the Army into Rouen, Rheims, Lille and Antwerp, where some of us dropped off to liberate the port. Onwards again, following the army into Brussels, we slipped off to a narrow road and followed it through Ghent, Bruges and Ostend. This is where I finished my time on the end of Ostend Pier. I was in Ostend for a long time, almost became a native, until I was sent home in December 1945 to get demobbed.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Port of Singapore

The Port of Singapore, which provides services and facilities for ships to dock, load and unload goods, has always been a key contributor to Singapore&rsquos economy and growth. From the early days of modern Singapore as a small town with a harbor on the river banks, the port has expanded and grown into what it is today &ndash a transshipment hub with connections to a vast number of ports around the world. The Port of Singapore is now the world&rsquos second busiest port in terms of container volume.

Ancient times
Trading activities on the northern banks of the Singapore River had existed from as early as the late 13th century, when a port settlement was established there by a prince from Palembang known as Seri Teri Buana. Singapore was then known as Temasek and was one of many port cities that had sprung up along the Strait of Melaka. A change in China&rsquos maritime trade policy saw a large number of Chinese ships calling at Southeast Asian countries to source for goods for their home markets. Besides acquiring and exporting products from nearby regions such as South Johor and the Riau Archipelago, Singapore also distributed goods brought in by ships from China, Southeast Asia and India to neighbouring lands. However, the port settlement did not last very long as the 14th century saw Melaka being made the key port of call, while Temasek eventually declined as an international port. Singapore was left without a port settlement until the British colonial era in the 19th century. 1

Colonial era
When Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore in 1819 to establish a trading post for the British East India Company, one of the first tasks he undertook was to dispatch a survey vessel to carry out a hydrographic survey of the port. This survey resulted in the first chart of the Singapore Harbour being issued by the East India Company in 1820. Following the growth in importance of the Singapore strait as the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, more surveys were conducted which led to more admiralty charts being produced in subsequent years. In 1851, the first lighthouse in Singapore, Horsburgh Lighthouse &ndash named after hydrographer James Horsburgh &ndash began operations on the offshore island, Pedra Branca. 2

A harbour master (or master attendant) was appointed in 1819 to administer and operate the port. His role was to keep records of imports and exports, take charge of overseas mail as well as to maintain a registry of ships, their cargo and passengers arriving at and departing from the port. 3

Raffles made Singapore a free port where fees such as those paid to the town, harbour, port and dock were not collected. Ships from all over the world could trade freely in Singapore with custom duties imposed only on selected products such as tobacco, opium, alcohol and petroleum. This policy, coupled with Singapore&rsquos strategic geographical location &ndash lying on the sea route between India and China and thus easily accessible to ships and junks from around the region and afar &ndash and natural deep-water harbour, attracted numerous vessels to call at its port. Thus, within five years of its establishment, Singapore&rsquos port had become a regional entrepot. 4

Towards the mid-1800s, steamships requiring the use of coal were calling at the port for refuelling. Coal was brought in for storage in the warehouses on the Singapore River and then transported to the steamships by lighters when they arrived, which created further congestion at the already-overcrowded river. A deep-water berth was thus needed and New Harbour (today&rsquos Keppel Harbour) was the natural choice, following a survey conducted by government surveyor John Turnbull Thomson in 1849. 5

In 1852, a wharf was opened by the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company at New Harbour. This wharf was the preferred choice of ocean shipping while the Singapore River continued to be used for coastal shipping. Cargo to be transferred to another ship waiting at Boat Quay or New Harbour would be transported overland. 6 Soon, wharves, warehouses and coal stores were opening up around New Harbour. The first dry dock was built by Patent Slip & Dock Company, and the second, Victoria Dock, was opened by the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company. Shipping traffic increased quickly with the greater availability of wharves and more shipping companies inaugurating regular steamship services through the port of Singapore. 7

When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, a ship&rsquos journey from Southeast Asia to Europe and vice-versa was reduced by about one-third as it no longer had to go around the African continent via the Cape of Good Hope. The second half of the 1800s, therefore, saw a steep climb in the number of steamships calling at Singapore for repairs, refuelling and the loading and unloading of cargo. 8 To increase the rate of cargo handling, mechanical installations such as cranes and steam winches were employed in 1874 to replace the manual loading and unloading of cargo, while land reclamation started at Telok Ayer in 1879 to provide additional land for the construction of new roads running between Keppel Harbour and the Singapore River. The new roads helped to address the congestion problem along existing roads, a result of the increased volume of cargo to be transported overland. Meanwhile, both Patent Slip & Dock and Tanjong Pagar Dock companies expanded their respective number of docks and wharves until 1899 when they merged. Control over the dock and wharf businesses then came under Tanjong Pagar Dock Company until 1905 when the Straits Settlements government took over its undertakings. 9

Following the acquisition, the Singapore Harbour Board was formed to control and expand the facilities of the port. 10 By 1932, the Port of Singapore under the Harbour Board was made up of the wharves at the Singapore River, Telok Ayer Basin and Keppel Harbour. 11 Besides enhancements to the facilities such as replacing the wooden wharf frontage with concrete ones, the 1930s also saw the setting up of oil storage facilities on the islands of Pulau Bukom and Pulau Sebarok as well as ship-repair facilities in Sembawang. 12

Postwar developments
When the Japanese invaded Singapore in early 1942, port facilities were badly damaged by the bombings. In addition, machinery and equipment at the dockyards subsequently fell into a state of disrepair because no maintenance of the port and its facilities was carried out during the Japanese occupation (1942&ndash45). The Harbour Board was thus faced with the difficult task of rebuilding and restoring the damaged port infrastructure before passenger and cargo services could resume after the war ended. With port facilities restored, the shipping tonnage began to climb and hit a total of 82.9 million net register tonnage (NRT) in 1963, a four-fold increase from 1947 when the total tonnage registered was 20.4 million NRT.In 1964, the Singapore Harbour Board was replaced by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA). 13

Port developments in the 1960s and &rsquo70s were linked to the rapid industrialisation programme that was underway then. A cornerstone of the Jurong industrialisation project was Jurong Port, opened in 1965 to handle bulk cargo used by the industries located in the Jurong Industrial Estate. The PSA also took over and converted the former British Naval Base Store Basin into Sembawang Wharves in 1971. By 1974, Pasir Panjang Wharves had begun operations. 14

In the late &rsquo60s, the PSA invested millions of dollars to build Southeast Asia&rsquos first container terminal at a time when demand was not clear, as no shipping companies would commit to building container vessels that sailed between Europe and Southeast Asia. The Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal opened in 1972 with three container berths, and welcomed the first container vessel, M.V. Nihon, on 24 June 1972. 15 Container shipping was initially slow to take off, but during the 1980s, container volume mounted steeply and more container berths had to be built to cope with the demand. With the rise in container shipping, computerisation was adopted to serve the needs of the vessels that called at the ports as well as other related businesses. 16

Expansion of the various port facilities and enhancement of capabilities continued in the &rsquo90s. These included the addition of berths at the new Brani Terminal, redevelopment of facilities at Tanjong Pagar Terminal, and increased capacity at Jurong Port to handle the growing volume of bulk cargo. 17 In 1996, the PSA&rsquos port regulatory functions were taken over by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, while PSA was corporatised in 1997 and became known as PSA Corporation Limited. The company still manages and operates the port today with the exception of Jurong port. 18

Singapore is connected to many ports in numerous countries and draws a large number of ships to its port. To meet the changing needs of the shipping industry, two new Pasir Panjang Container Terminals equipped with the latest technology were opened in 2000. 19 Phases 3 and 4 of the Pasir Panjang Terminal development were launched in 2012, with the PSA investing heavily in the latest port technology such as unmanned cranes and automated container yard. That same year, an official decision was made to consolidate all the existing container terminals into one mega port in Tuas. The Tuas Port project, which is being rolled out in stages, marks a new phase in the development of the Port of Singapore. 20

In August 2017, the Tanjong Pagar terminal, one of Singapore&rsquos oldest terminal, ceased operations and moved to newer facilities at Pasir Panjang, where it is expected to operate till the lease at Pasir Panjang runs out in 2040. 21 With the closure of the Tanjong Pagar terminal, the Port of Singapore now comprises terminals at Keppel, Brani, Pasir Panjang, Sembawang and Jurong.

Joanna Tan

1. Kwa, C. G., Heng, D., & Tan, T. Y. (2009). Singapore, a 700-year history: From early emporium to world city. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, pp. 19, 20&ndash24, 27&ndash29, 32. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 KWA-[HIS])
2. Maritime Museum (Singapore). (1982). Singapore port history. Singapore: Author, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 387.1095957 SIN)
3. Maritime Museum (Singapore). (1982). Singapore port history. Singapore: Author, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 387.1095957 SIN)
4. Maritime Museum (Singapore). (1982). Singapore port history. Singapore: Author, pp. 2, 7. (Call no.: RSING 387.1095957 SIN)
5. Maritime Museum (Singapore). (1982). Singapore port history. Singapore: Author, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 387.1095957 SIN)
6. Maritime Museum (Singapore). (1982). Singapore port history. Singapore: Author, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 387.1095957 SIN)
7. Port of Singapore Authority. (1984). Singapore: Portrait of a port: A pictorial history of the port and harbour of Singapore 1819&ndash1984. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 779.93871095957 SIN)
8. Port of Singapore Authority. (1984). Singapore: Portrait of a port: A pictorial history of the port and harbour of Singapore 1819&ndash1984. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 779.93871095957 SIN)
9. Maritime Museum (Singapore). (1982). Singapore port history. Singapore: Author, pp. 7, 11. (Call no.: RSING 387.1095957 SIN)
10. A short history of the Port of Singapore: With particular reference to the undertakings of the Singapore Harbour Board [Microfilm no.: NL 8173]. (1922). Singapore: Fraser & Neave, [n.p.].
11. Maritime Museum (Singapore). (1982). Singapore port history. Singapore: Author, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 387.1095957 SIN)
12. Port of Singapore Authority. (1984). Singapore: Portrait of a port: A pictorial history of the port and harbour of Singapore 1819&ndash1984. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 779.93871095957 SIN)
13. Port of Singapore Authority. (1984). Singapore: Portrait of a port: A pictorial history of the port and harbour of Singapore 1819&ndash1984. Singapore: MPH Magazines, pp. 14&ndash15. (Call no.: RSING 779.93871095957 SIN)
14. Port of Singapore Authority. (1984). Singapore: Portrait of a port: A pictorial history of the port and harbour of Singapore 1819&ndash1984. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 779.93871095957 SIN)
15. Yap, C., & Lum, R. (1990). A port&rsquos story, a nation&rsquos success. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 387.1095957 YAP) PSA Corporation. (2003). PSA: Full ahead. Singapore: Author, pp. 23, 27. (Call no.: RSING q387.1095957 PSA)
16. Yap, C., & Lum, R. (1990). A port&rsquos story, a nation&rsquos success. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 98. (Call no.: RSING 387.1095957 YAP)
17. Tan, T. Y., Lau, A., & Lau, L. (2005). Maritime heritage of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, p. 234. (Call no.: RSING q387.5095957 MAR)
18. PSA Corporation. (2003). PSA: Full ahead. Singapore: Author, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING q387.1095957 PSA)
19. All prepared for the future. (2000, March 31). The Business Times, p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Foo, A. (2012, October 2012). Tuas to have mega port for all container shipments. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Chern, A. (2018, March 19). Tanjong Pagar Terminal: A giant goes to sleep. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB&rsquos eResources website:

The information in this article is valid as at 19 April 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

History of Cutty Sark

Find out more about the ship's history and the stories of the people who sailed Cutty Sark into the record books.

Tap the arrows to explore the ship's history, from its early years in the China tea trade to its later life at the heart of Greenwich.

Cutty Sark was built in Dumbarton in 1869. Cutty Sark’s first voyage departed London on 15 February 1870, bound for Shanghai. On this outward voyage, the ship carried a general cargo, including wine, spirits and beer and manufactured goods. After successfully reaching China on 31 May, the ship was loaded with 1,305,812 lbs of tea. Following only 25 days in port in Shanghai, the ship sped back to London arriving on 13 October the same year.

With the arrival of steam ships and the opening of the Suez Canal, Cutty Sark had to find other goods to transport. Cutty Sark collected its last Chinese tea cargo in 1877. From this point on, Cutty Sark crew was thrown into turmoil.

A new captain, James Wallace, took over command of the ship. His first mate Sidney Smith was a bully which led to unhappiness amongst the crew. The ship took different cargoes around the world, from coal to Australian mail.

Sidney Smith killed seaman John Francis and was confined but the captain helped him escape. The crew went on strike in anger, and a lack of winds found the crew becalmed in the Java Sea for three days.

Before long, Captain Wallace realised his career was finished. He jumped overboard, and his body was lost. Despite this period of turmoil, it resulted in a new captain and first mate, who would bring the ship into its most successful period of working life.

As Cutty Sark moved into its teenage years, it was the most successful period as a cargo ship. Transporting wool from Australia saw it sail faster than every ship at the time by 25 days to a month.

In 1885 Captain Woodget became the Master. In order to catch the 'Roaring Forties' trade winds and make the ship travel faster, Woodget travelled further south than any previous commander, tackling the most violent gales and seas on earth. Woodget was also a keen photographer and he has left many striking images of the ship passing icebergs as well as shots of the ship in Sydney harbour.

In the 1890s Cutty Sark began to make less money, as more steam ships moved into the wool trade. Eventually the ship was sold to a Portuguese firm.

During this period Cutty Sark was renamed Ferreira. It was used as a cargo ship, transporting goods between Portugal and its empire.

When Portugal declared war on Germany, the ship was in constant danger of being sunk. Despite surviving this unscathed, the ship suffered damage during particularly bad weather. As a result it was converted into a sailing ship. Retired captain Wilfred Dowman became determined to buy the ship.

He was so determined that he offered a price of £3,750 – more than what the ship was worth even in 1895. The old name was restored in 1923, and Cutty Sark returned to British ownership.

Dowman restored the ship to its state as a tea and wool clipper, an expensive and impressive feat. The ship was used as a training ship for cadets during these years.

When Dowman died his wife gifted it to the Thames Nautical Training College. Cutty Sark was used as a training ship in Greenhithe until the 1950s. The Cutty Sark Society was formed in order to save the ship, supported by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.

In 1954 the ship was towed into Greenwich. Extensive restoration work followed, and Cutty Sark was finally opened to the public in 1957.

In 2007 a fire damaged three of Cutty Sark’s decks. Thanks to an outpouring of public support and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the ship was restored and reopened in 2012.

March 22 & 24, 2003: More SARS cases, quarantine measures enacted

By Mar. 22, a government press release indicated that a total of 44 SARS cases had been reported in Singapore — at this point, we're 22 days into the outbreak, with community transmission having happened already.

TTSH was also designated as the centralised location for all SARS cases, so it suspended its A&E services, stopped admitting new patients, and scaled down specialist clinics.

Two days later (Mar. 24), the number of confirmed cases rose to 65. MOH announced that it would invoke the Infectious Diseases Act to isolate all contacts who had been exposed to infected SARS patients.

This saw 740 people quarantined at home for 10 days to minimise contact with others.

"Those who do not heed the quarantine requirement are liable for prosecution under the Act," said MOH.

The Last Ship out of Singapore - History

Blue Funnel Line
Ocean Steam Ship Company Limited / Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij 'Ocean' / East Indian Ocean Steam Ship Company / China Mutual Steam Navigation Company

Alfred Holt commenced shipowning with Thomas Ainsworth in 1852 and built their first new ship in 1854, which they immediately chartered to the French Government for use in the Crimean War. The company started sailings to the West Indies in 1855, but in the face of competition from established companies, later pulled out of this route. In 1864 they began sailing to China and the Far East, and have since become the major British company serving this area. The company was registered as the Ocean Steam Ship Company Limited, in 1865.

In 1891, a Dutch subsidiary company, Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij 'Ocean' (N.S.M.O) was formed to compete with Dutch companies serving the East Indies, and the company also formed the Singapore based East Indian Ocean SS Co. the same year. The China Mutual Steam Navigation Co. was taken over in 1902 together with their fleet of 13 steamers and their route between China and the West Coasts of Canada and the USA. Although ships were nominally owned by China Mutual SN Co. after this date, these are not shown seperately for the purposes of this list.

In 1915 Royden's Indra Line of seven ships was purchased with their New York - Far East service. Greenshields, Cowie & Co.'s Knight Line was bought in 1917 and a joint passenger service to Australia with the White Star Line was formed in 1924 and this was joined by the Aberdeen Line in 1926. The Glen and Shire Lines (not the Scottish Shire Line) were taken over in 1935 following the collapse of the Royal Mail group, and a controlling interest in the Straits SS Co. was acquired the same year. Shaw, Savill had taken over the joint service to Australia from White Star Line, but Blue Funnel Line withdrew from this partnership in 1939.

In 1967 the Blue Funnel and Elder Dempster Line fleets merged and in 1972 the group acquired William Cory & Son Ltd and became Ocean Trading & Transport Co. Ltd. Transfers between different companies within the group became common after this date, but these have been largely ignored for the purposes of this list.

Many thanks to Ted Finch for his assistance in collecting this data. The following list was extracted from various sources. This is not an all inclusive list but should only be used as a guide. If you would like to know more about a vessel, visit the Ship Descriptions (onsite) or Immigrant Ship web site.

  • 1852-1853 Whitehaven - Cardiff.
  • 1853-1855 Liverpool - Bordeaux.
  • 1857-1864 Liverpool - West Indies.
  • 1865-1869 Liverpool - Mauritius - Penang - Singapore - Hong Kong - Shanghai.
  • 1869-1980 Liverpool - Suez - Penang - Singapore - Hong Kong - Shanghai - Japan.
  • 1880-1899 Singapore - Belawan Deli / Singapore - Penang and intermediate ports.
  • 1894-1973 Singapore - Batavia - Darwin - Derby - Cossack - Onslow - Gascoyne - Geraldton - Fremantle.
  • 1901-1956 Glasgow - Liverpool - Cape Town - Australia.
  • 1902-1984 China - Vancouver - Seattle - North Pacific Coast ports - San Diego.
  • 1910-1913 Liverpool - Fishguard (for passengers) - Australia.
  • 1915-1978 New York - Panama - Far East ports.
  • 1973-1978 Fremantle - Sunda Strait - Singapore - Malacca Strait - Klang - Georgetown (Penang) - Singapore - Christmas Island - Fremantle.
  • 1979-1981 Fremantle - Singapore - Manila - Hong Kong - Fremantle.

Seasonal pilgrimage voyages between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to Jeddah.

Blue with black top.

TheShipsList®™ - (Swiggum) All Rights Reserved - Copyright © 1997-present
These pages may be freely linked to but not duplicated in any fashion without written consent of .
Last updated: October 17, 2010 and maintained by and M. Kohli


Annual General Meeting, 1897

By the end of the decade the P&O fleet amounted to just over 300,000 tons. The cost of the new steamers, built in the 1880s and 1890s alone, was £8,500,000 - the equivalent today of £9.2 billion.

Working on the principle that a ship&rsquos useful life was about 20 years, older ships were sold off to make way for new. The majority of the new steamers were passenger liners, designed specifically for the mails and increasing in size with every year. But there were a few exceptions such as P&O&rsquos first real cargo ship and a pair of relatively small (2,000 tons), express steamers, Osiris and Iris. These two vessels ran between Brindisi and Port Said on a weekly express mail service, operated by P&O under contract from the Italian Government in 1898.

Being both fast and capacious, mail steamers were equally well-suited to the job of trooping. In 1894 the Government chartered Britannia and the newly-lengthened Rome to carry troops to India in the six-month &lsquotrooping season&rsquo. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement which continued with the Ashanti Expedition and, of necessity, extended to the use of four steamers when the Boer War began in 1899.

Did You Know?

P&O's first onboard telephone was fitted on Parramatta in 1892. The new telephone connected the bar to the smoking room.


Browse Our Collections of Passenger Lists

Passenger Lists Organized by Steamship Line. Significant collections include the Canadian Pacific, Cunard Line, French Line, Hamburg-America, Holland-America, North German Lloyd, United States Lines, and the White Star Line. Our collection features 28 steamship lines and many small collections with other steamship lines.

The option to browse our Passenger List collection by the name of the ship will assist researchers to focus their search on a specific vessel without requiring other information such as steamship line or year/date of a voyage to locate the list of passengers.

Organized by Port of Call, the listings for Digitized Passenger Lists of the GG Archives typically include the date, vessel, route, and class for voyages that originated from or called upon a port listed.

Organized by Year of Voyage, the listings for Passenger Lists of the GG Archives typically include the date, vessel, route, and class for voyages that originated from or called upon a port listed.

Organized by Region (Australian, Canadian, French, German, Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, and South African), the listings typically include the date, vessel, route, and class for voyages that originated from or called upon a port listed.

More Articles

Trace the history of your family and discover the roots of your family tree as you research ancestry in Singapore. Researching your ancestry offers many benefits as you link to the past through history, culture and lifestyle. Discover hardships your family has overcome and establish links with historical figures. With a few simple tools and resources, you will be well on your way to finding your ancestry in Singapore.

Record a time line and basic family tree, filling in as many lines and spaces as possible. Look through old family diaries and record any names mentioned in family records that might be linked to an ancestor.

Consult close family members to find out what information they know or have regarding your ancestors in Singapore. Ask them to fill in as many missing blanks as possible in the family tree.

Pinpoint the location where your ancestors most likely lived in Singapore based on the research you have done. Take a trip to this location and ask the local residents what they know about the individuals you are trying to trace.

Check websites that specialize in offering family searches. Many websites offer forums and pages where you may post a query regarding your ancestors so others can respond and offer information they know about your ancestry.

Use an online social networking site as a conduit for family connection and research. Invite family members you know to join you in a specific family group that you create on a social networking site.

Create a question and answer section on the family site, and then ask other family members to post stories and pictures about the family history. Ask them specifically about the ancestry in Singapore.

Utilize history forums and family forums that highlight family connections in Singapore, such as the one at Request information from forum members regarding your family ancestry in Singapore.

Spend some time in libraries and government offices in Singapore poring through archived newspapers certificates of birth, marriage and death records on microfiche and microfilm and local history books. This might lead you to branches of your family tree that you never knew existed.

Watch the video: The Last Ship - S01E01 - Russians First Encounter


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  2. Wadi

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  3. Wynono

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