To get to Singapore in the late 1800s involved a long, tedious sea journey of many weeks. Troopships were never designed to be comfortable, but merely to transport as many troops as possible to the far flung places of the British Empire. There was also the prospect of bad weather and storms on the way.
Life on board was quite hard as there would be duties, inspections, drills, physical training etc. It was anything but a holiday cruise. Even so, there would be a sense of excitement among the young soldiers on board, many of whom would never have been very far from their homes before. Troopships continued to be used by the BritishArmed Forces until the 1960s.
Today, we take international travel for granted, as we can get to anywhere we want in a day or so, but it was a much greater adventure over a hundred years ago. Soldiers on their way to the far east would spend several weeks on board as the ship made its way to Singapore calling at places such as Gibraltar, Malta, Aden and India, dropping of troops destined to serve in these places.
Home for the soldier is the Barrack Room. An 1880s barrack room has been faithfully created at Fort Siloso and this gives a clear insight into barrack life for the first soldiers to serve at Siloso. Not the home comforts we take for granted these days.
The Guardroom was built during the early 1900s. It is fitted out to represent a typical Guardroom of the 1880s.
Once at any army camp, wherever in the Empire, a soldier would quickly become acquainted with the Guardroom. Some of his time would be spent on guard duty. This could be a boring duty, with only visits by the Orderly Sergeant and Orderly Officer punctuating the dull routine.
The Cookhouse was where the soldier’s food was prepared and eaten on camp. A health inspector of today would be reduced to tears by what he sees here in an 1880s Cookhouse. The Orderly Serjeant is checking the quality of the men's food – rather him than me.
Clearly the dhobi (laundry) is not up to scratch here. The soldier is not a happy man about something and is pointing out the error of his ways to the dhobi wallah (laundry man).
A soldier has to be smart on parade. Most
army camps had tailors to make ill-fitting uniforms as presentable as possible.
The Barrack Square on Blakang Mati. This is representative of the early British military buildings on the island.
There are still many old British military buildings on Sentosa which are still in use today.
ABOVE: This building, near the Cable Car Station, was originally a British Military Hospital built in the 1880s. It remained a hospital during the Japanese occupation and afterwards until the 1950s. It then became a training centre for the Royal Artillery. On the British withdrawal from Singapore, the Singapore Combat Engineers moved in. As Sentosa became developed for leisure and tourism, it became a museum.
ABOVE: Former British Military Buildings on Blakang Mati.
Life in any army was not very comfortable in the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, living conditions and food changed for the better as the 1900s drew on. The 21st century soldier has far superior accommodation and facilities than the soldiers depicted above.