3 February 2011

Marsiling Tunnels Unveiled

"Marsiling Dungeons"....."Marsiling Storm Drains"....."Tunnel to Johore"....."Tunnel to View Road Hospital"....."Tunnel to Sembawang"....."Marsiling Fortress"....."Marsiling Tunnels"....."Devil's Lair"....."Pirates Lair"....."Gangster Den"..... and many more other colorful names...

By word of mouth, the topic of the mysterious underground structure has got local tongues wagging ever since it was mentioned online on our former website as well as being announced on SgForums. Stories and rumours of hauntings and the possibility of it being a "war time torture chamber" soon spread like wildfire among the paranormal-starved netizens, speculation by others were indeed rife.

This was one of our more important landmark explorations, helping us land a humble spot in the local papers. This write up will be more extensive and accurate than the 2005 article; filled with more photos and proper historical research. Enjoy!



The first foray for a myth

In early September 2005, One° North Explorers(then known as the Singapore Urban Explorers - see Timeline), made our maiden trip to uncover the mystery surrounding the "Marsiling Tunnels". This trip was made possible by a tip off by an informant, Rudy (now with one of our affiliates SGHC), who had lived all his life in a nearby housing estate. He recalls visiting an underground structure with his school mates, in the woods near the coast. An outing was planned and coined "The Marsiling Dungeons", after the nickname given to it by Rudy and his friends when they first stumbled upon it.


The entry way Rudy remembers, is blocked

Roving around the area via Aaron's car, Rudy tries to recall the exact location now surrounded by very unfamiliar surroundings. We stopped by a construction site with an intriguing shrine with more than 20 Chinese deities under one shelter.


Aaron interviewing some devotees at the interesting shrine

On the other side of the forest facing Johore, we discovered a structure that has been converted into a makeshift shelter and shrine. Part of it was a dump of sorts for discarded furniture and other items.


Concrete structure, but it wasn't the main deal


Years undisturbed and cared for


Aaron takes a look in the adjourning room that was used as a dump


Lizards lay their eggs in cracks and crevices

There were large green pipes leading from the small concrete shelter to the depths of the forest, suggestions were varied on the direction the group should take to find the "dungeons". An ex-member of our group insisted the whole group should take his lead, and hence we crashed into the thick forest without any map or inkling of where we are heading.


Pipes seemingly go on forever


Eric and Rudy looking lost


Traces of former civilization


More traces of former civilization

We found remnants of possible former housing, but no 'dungeon'. After an hour or so of wandering in the wilderness, feeling thirsty and drained. Eric, a former co-founder of our group suggested that we take a break, while he forged ahead to determine our location. Using his refined topographical expertise gleaned during his time as a former Guardsman in the Army, we realized we had been heading in the wrong direction towards Admiralty West Prison.


If video above is not working, visit the direct link on Vimeo

Eric took over and led us on the right way, and as soon as we parted the foliage of the humid forest hiding the coveted venue. The yawning entrance of the 'dungeon' stared right back at us, beckoning us to it's cool, mysterious interior.


Aaron taking a photo with his camera, (Nikon model E775)


Inviting

As we gingerly entered the partially hidden structure with a powerful torch, numerous plopping sounds were heard - probably thousands of jungle geckos dropping off their cozy walls in shock, sent scurrying into the depths of the dark underground.


Eric takes a short breather after successfully locating the "Marsiling Tunnels"


Threading down the stairs carefully


Aaron taking a photo of the passageway with his camera,
as Rudy looks back to Andrew's camera


Probably thousands of them line the walls


Never seen a human before?


Eric and Rudy looks on as Aaron takes a photo

This "dungeon" or "Tunnel" as seen by our very own eyes, were a series of pipes housed, with two flight of stairs servicing it, ending with a barred window for ventilation. Ground was extremely slippery from the sludge emitting from the leaking pipes and probably decades of ground water seepage from above.


A video recording within the tunnels (Pardon the flowery verbal expressions)
[Mirror video site]


Oh, who's holding the only source of light?

The sludge or mud were much deeper on the right side on the entry way, leading to the ventilation window. On the left end, we found another entry way, but it was blocked, by a landfill.


"The gauge mounted on a wall looks like a thermohygrograph, which functions as a monitor for temperature and relative humidity, to ensure optimal storage conditions." - Charles, API

Discarded metal wires


A look down the corridor on the left


If that mound of sludge on the pipe moves, we will be out in a jiffy!


Very leaky


More scary looking sludge


End of the corridor was an interesting doorway but it was filled and blocked


Blocked

On the walls were scrawling from the past, evidence that this hideout was frequented by members of Secret Societies way back or the infamous gangsters who resided in Woodlands in the past. Earliest notable date on the wall was 15th June 1990, that's more than fifteen years ago! To add, a rusty machete was found on the ground near the wall.


Wild scribbles on the wall


A machete or in local colloquial speak, a parang

Indeed, it was a seedy past that this location has witnessed, without a doubt that it's still a part of Singapore's heritage that we cannot deny the existence of secret societies (books on this historical topic is available in bookstores and libraries. Books: Example 1, Example 2. Read about history of William Pickering on NLB's Infopedia).


Sun was setting quick so we got to leave the area


Eric cleaning caked mud/sludge off his shoes


Joggers are oblivious to the structures in the forest

Our decision to make an effort in locating this mysterious 'dungeon' was based on our curiousity of the urban legend - a tunnel leading to Johore or Sembawang (This interest was piqued by 1996 investigations done by the Hey Singapore! local documentary team, on the myth of a tunnel linking Labrador Park to Sentosa).


The legendary venue goes on television for the first time

One° North Explorers did attempt to locate the venue one more time in November 2006 with other members who have yet to visit, but it wasn't a successful attempt. Forest vegetation has grown much thicker. We documented more photos of the "shrine shelter", which turns out to be the RAF Store, a pre-war fixture. Coincidentally there were other shrines in the area, previously undiscovered.


Faye, Roy and Haikal


Previously undiscovered shrine


Another in the vicinity lay partially hidden in the undergrowth


Tired...


but happy

Fast forward to March 2007, Channel U's "On the Beat" crew (都是大发现) decided to drop by the now famous "Marsiling Tunnels". One of our affiliates, Charles from Asia Paranormal Investigators (API), who has made numerous exploration trips into the jungle; has found an easier route. The media crew with Charle's assistance, now made media coverage a much easier task.



Charles with the variety programme hosts


In front of the RAF Storage room


Gaping entrance


Charles prepping the hosts up for a muddy welcome


The gung-ho videographer


Natural tentative first steps into the dark


Checking their dialogue scripts


They are perspiring! Cold sweat??


The mud here is really thick


A local version of "I was here" by a Mr.Ye in 1982


Back for seconds in 2006!

With this, "Marsiling Tunnels" has gone on national tv for the first time with API's help.



The truth of the "Marsiling Tunnels" unveiled

The following historical info is provided, courtesy of API
"... the British have military installations all over the place in Woodlands. But the most compelling theory was that there were some disused British Military underground facilities, abandoned after World war 2.

API pored over old maps and solved the mystery easily. The location coincided with the location of the underground oil facility known as Woodlands North Depot, operated by a subsidiary of Shell, the Asiatic Petroleum Company or APC.

The map below is dated 1945, and you can faintly see the words WOODLANDS NORTH DEPOT, and it leads to a jetty called the APC Jetty



The map below is dated 1968, and in the same location, it is now renamed WOODLANDS SHELL DEPOT, and the jetty, WOODLANDS JETTY, which is still operated by SHELL. APC is the predecessor of Shell.



APC, through its underground Oil storage facility (Woodlands North Depot) supplied fuel oil to the British Navy, refueling the Ship Oiler known as RFA RUTHENIA, berthed at Ruthenia Oiling Jetty as a stationary oil deport as part of the Ruthenia jetty, and maybe as a ship oiler, as the purpose of the Ship Oiler was to go to the sea with tankful of oil fuel to fuel the war ships out at the sea, so that those ships need not go back to shore to refuel. A Warship that ran out of fuel is as good as debris floating out in the sea.

After the war, Shell continued supplying to the Navy. The Woodlands Shell Depot was disused some years later when the British Naval Base was handed back to Singapore after Singapore Independence in 1965, and it remained in its current state till 2008.

A few months after Mas Selamat escaped from its Detention Barracks, API found that all the entrances to the Tunnels were then sealed up with bricks and plastered up to prevent anyone from hiding inside the tunnels."

The Naval Base

Upon a non exhaustive research of the surrounding area of "Marsiling Tunnels", we were surprised to discover that the entire stretch of land from the Causeway area, Seletar and all the way to Sembawang, was formerly called 'Naval Base'. And the fuel depot mentioned was also known as Woodlands Depot (Woodlands Naval Tank Storage in pre-war time, then renamed Woodlands North Depot & Woodlands South Depot, on each side of Bukit Timah Road(now known as the BKE or Bukit Timah Expressway).


Naval Base Road (Now known as Admiralty Road West)
[Courtesy of National Archives Singapore]

The road servicing the naval base was called Naval Base Road (now called Admiralty Road West, still sees many joggers who love the sea view and fishing enthusiasts). The naval base was renamed to Woodlands Garrison when ANZUK forces took over, before the handover to Singapore.
ANZUK Support Group: "This formation comprised 24 integrated units providing all Army logistic support requirements, and common support for all other services in Singapore. Two ANZUK Bases were located at Woodlands and Sembawang to cater for the support requirements of these areas.

However the decision to disband the ANZUK came fast and unexpected in 1974, 3 years after its formation in 1971". - Raymond, API
There are two main gates which served the naval base, one called Rotherham Gate (remnants of this gate can still be seen today, partly enveloped by a tree, this fact was pointed by Charles of API) and the other, Canberra Gate, in Sembawang.


Rotherham Gate could be seen in the background, during the 1952 workers strike.
Photo was likely shot from the present day Marsiling Link.
[Courtesy of National Archives Singapore]


Rotherham Gate in background, during the 1952 workers strike.
Photo was likely shot from the present day Marsiling Link.
[Courtesy of National Archives Singapore]


Canberra Gate, during the 1952 workers strike.
[Courtesy of National Archives Singapore]

Two jetties serviced the immediate area near the fuel depot (Now a Shell facility, as mentioned above), the Old Ruthenia Oiling Jetty and the Woodlands Jetty (formerly called APC Jetty, then Shell Jetty and now known as Woodlands North Jetty). The area around the jetties were likely to be "stores basin" or "wet dock", serving as an oil/bitumen depot terminal (it too serves as an area where the Malayan Naval Forces berthed their ships).

The fuel transfer is done via pipelines connected to the large tank farm which is the depot itself and the Ruthenia Jetty. The RFA Ruthenia was connected and utilized as a pumping station, part of a oil fuel jetty (see above for more info provided by API, on the Ruthenia).

Before the British withdrew their forces from Singapore (Far East Fleet), the naval base area was a mini town of it's own, with a thriving population of around 10,000 civilians from Woodlands to Sembawang. Apart from it's dock facilities and barracks for it's staff(HMS Terror, renamed Terror Barracks later on by ANZUK forces). The naval base has it's own hospital, swimming pool (see image on the right), police force, a fire brigade, religious and recreational facilities - a cinema!

With the pullout, the regular bus services which brought people to town area was stopped, replaced by a local company which is hardly sufficient for the residents within the Naval Base boundaries.

In addition to their woes, the public phones which were installed by the British Naval Base Telephone Exchange were all removed, leaving the only public phone available - Sembawang Post Office.

Futher troubles came in the form of rising crime rate, burglaries and robberies. Secret society gangs moved into the former naval base area, clash of rivals were ever so often. Which probably explains the possibility of gangsters hiding out in the underground structures by the 1970s to 1990s. Hygiene too, became a problem when swill collecting lorries left numerous trenches which bred mosquitoes, followed by large numbers of pests, like large rats.

Today - Woodlands Waterfront

Today, the left over abandoned and derelict buildings of the Royal Navy are no longer there. A large part of the docks has been levelled, in it's place a spanking new park launched in May 2010. See links below for write ups by others about the Woodlands Waterfront.


Naval Base's RMN Jetty seen in the distance, 2005


Former derelict buildings of the naval docks
- An alluring paradise for the urbex photographer

More were familiar with the present day Sembawang naval base and the well known naval bases in Brani and Changi. Not many knew the existence and importance of the Naval Base in Woodlands which the Japanese bombed and took over after the British surrendered. And in the naval base were the important and large King George VI Graving Dock and Admiralty IX Floating Dry Dock. The Japanese then made use of the naval base, which in turn the Aliied forces tried to bomb it out of commission (read more in link provided below).


King George VI Graving Dock in Aug 1940
[Courtesy of Wikipedia]


Admiralty IX Floating Dry Dock in March 1941
[Courtesy of Wikipedia]


Bombing of a fuel dump during the invasion
[Courtesy of National Archives Singapore]


Bombing during the invasion, likely location Woodlands South Depot
[Courtesy of National Archives Singapore]


Smoke from the aerial bombing as seen from the City center during the invasion
[Courtesy of National Archives Singapore]

Britain's first nuclear powered submarine, H.M.S Dreadnought was docked here at the naval base in 1973.


H.M.S Dreadnought arrived in 1973
[Courtesy of National Archives Singapore]

From days of the war to being a forgotten gangster hideout, The "Marsiling Tunnels" have seen better days and is now resting in peace, sealed up.

Would you have more accurate information? A personal experience? A photo or video to share? We welcome all readers's contribution to improve.


-3rd December 2011 Update-

Back in earlier 2011, Andrew and Charles together with Anthony Morse, the host of Hidden Cities made a forage into the wooded area for the TV series feature. Below is the segment kindly provided by Charles



The finer details were either excluded or appended as it's for television.


Further reading
Marsiling Heritage Trail by students of Marsiling Secondary School
Opening of Woodlands Waterfront in May 2010
Woodlands Waterfront fishing enthusiast's blog
Blog describing the new Woodlands Waterfront
Allied bombing of Singapore (1944-1945)





Article, photos & videos copyright of Andrew Him

© One° North Explorers




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2 comments:

  1. This is most interesting, thank you for sharing your exploits. However I think you have wrongly linked the Ruthenia jetty with the Shell Depot, that had (and still has) its own jetty for commercial use. Shell did not directly supply fuel to the (British) Royal Navy, which had its own Depots in Singapore. Also RFA Ruthenia was a fuelling hulk (did not go to sea) and after being used by the Japanese was scrapped in 1947. Ruthenia was used to fuel RN ships prior to completion of the British Naval Base (1938) and was fed by a pipeline from the RN Oil Fuel Depot at Kranji (completely destroyed during the Japanese invasion). By the time of World War 2 there was a RN pipeline all the way up from Keppel Harbour to Kranji, serving several other Depots en-route, and also a pipeline from Senoko Depot in the Naval Base to the Ruthenia jetty. When these were last used is unclear, but the pipelines etc would have been passed to the Singapore Government when British forces withdrew in 1971. Pre-war and post-war plans do not show a Pump House at the root of the Ruthenia jetty, and so it was probably built underground into the hillside here. I think therefore that you probably were exploring the former British RN fuel installation under Marsiling, unused for at least 44 years and probably longer. I am quite fascinated to learn that they are still there. Once again many thanks for your report. Bernard M, UK. 12 Jul 2016















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  2. Thank you for the precise information! Would you happen to have references?
    Would like to know more, email us at: sgurbex@gmail.com

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete