Bringing Order and Security to Singapore
The Upper Barracks located on Pearl’s Hill is rich in history and bears reminders of Singapore’s turbulent post-war times and the operations carried out to maintain public order. Built at the same time as the Lower Barracks, the strategic location of the buildings allowed the Police to form a system of surveillance and control over the Chinatown area that was plagued with crime and vice. Located on Pearl’s Hill, the three-storey building overlooked Chinatown in an era when skyscrapers have yet to be constructed in the area.
The unique feature in the Upper Barracks lies in the bomb-proof bunker which served as the nerve centre for police communications during crisis and peacetime. This purpose-built Combined Operations Headquarters had managed major crises that have shaped Singapore through the years. It plugged the gap for effective communications and crisis management. It allowed the Police and armed forces to better coordinate joint responses to incidents. The capabilities of the Combined Operations Headquarters were put to the test shortly after its completion due to the outbreak of the Chinese Middle Schools riots in October 1956. Officers were known to have fielded over 5,000 urgent phone calls during the crisis.
Communications in a Difficult Period
The period of political turmoil and civil unrest from the 1950s to 1960s gave rise to the need for joint operations between the Police and military, leading to the construction of the Combined Operations Room at the Upper Barracks. It leveraged the Radio Division’s (located in the Lower Barracks) capabilities to coordinate police-military communications. Officers who were stationed in the Combined Operations Room operated in the Radio Room, Map Room and some used the teleprinter to despatch messages. Senior officers worked from the Chief Police Staff Officer’s Room where they had an overview of maps, deployment of resources and a large tote board for the recording of incidents around the island.
In the post-independence era, the Combined Operations Room also played a critical role to combat crime as well as coordinate various operations, as the police were embattled with cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and gang fights.Today, the bunker is known as the former Combined Operations Room (fCOR). An exhibition site, recreated with 1950s settings is open for tours at the bunker. Tour bookings can be done via: https://www.mha.gov.sg/hta/the-former-combined-operations-room-exhibition. Standing Sentinel Over National Security
Both the Upper and Lower Barracks were repurposed after the Second World War to serve various government agencies dealing with national security. It was within the walls of the Upper Barracks that crucial security decisions and policies were crafted during the early years of Singapore’s independence. In 1965, the Ministry of Interior and Defence (MID) was formed to oversee Singapore’s security and defence. It was based at Upper Barracks until the ministry split into the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) in 1970. During those five years, the office of the Minister for MID, Dr Goh Keng Swee, was housed on the second level of the building. MINDEF moved out to Tanglin complex in 1972 while MHA continued to operate at Pearl’s Hill until 1977. The police headquarters also shifted from Phoenix Park to the Upper Barracks in 1989.
Various units of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) including the Radio Division, Anti-vice Unit and the ‘A’ Division headquarters were also located at the Upper Barracks.
In 2001, the building was vacated when the SPF shifted to the new headquarters at the New Phoenix Park. Following the leasing of the buildings in 2007 to public commercial entities, the barracks were gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2008. In 2012, they were added to the National Heritage Board’s list of national Historic Sites as a recognition of SPF’s rich heritage and dedication to safeguarding Singapore’s security. Today, both buildings are leased for commercial use.
Note: Visits to the fCOR are by appointment only. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +65 8781 3097 (office hours) to book a tour.