Location scouting in archive footage from “Singapore 1942: End of Empire” (2012) – Part 1

Film Title: Singapore 1942: End of Empire 

Year of Release: 2012
Directed by Don Featherstone
Produced by Electric Pictures
Country of Production: Australia


“A 70th anniversary television event, “Singapore 1942: End of Empire” tells the story of those early shocking days of the Pacific War when belief in security and comfort from the empire collapsed. For the first time, this momentous 20th century battle and its equally dramatic aftermath, will be told from a multi-national perspective, revealing new and challenging insights into a battle that turned our world upside down. Whilst the Japanese victory confirmed how useless it was for Australians to rely on Britain for their defence, post-war Australians looked to another great protective power – the United States – to align itself with. And Asian nations would rapidly determine their own destiny and seek a tumultuous independence. “

— Don Featherstone, Director of “Singapore 1942: End of Empire”

The Film Locations:

This recent Australian documentary about the fall of Singapore during World War Two features a broad range of archive footage from multiple sources and offers a look at the Singapore of yesteryear, especially during the Pacific war of 1941-1945. Multiple locations are identified; some are very telling from the clues offered — texts, signs, architectural features, iconic buildings, the rest are based on speculation.

1. ANZAC Club (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Club) along Bras Basah Road

According to the Australian & New Zealand Association’s website, the ANZAC Club was in operation between 1939 to 1945. It functioned as a place for “rest and recreation for Australian servicemen on leave in Singapore.” Most records on the ANZAC Club provided accounts for the opening of the ANZAC Club premises on the 2nd storey of Victoria Memorial Hall in July 1941. However, in the film-stills below, we can surmise that there was another ANZAC clubhouse located along Bras Basah Road, opposite the St. Joseph Institution (now Singapore Art Museum). Perhaps this clubhouse was built as a temporary measure before the club moved to Victoria Memorial Hall eventually.

The ANZAC Club along Bras Basah Road. Across the road from the ANZAC Club were the St. Joseph Institution school building with its hemispherical dome and the Church of Saints Peter and Paul with its spire. c.1941. 

The Reverse Gaze. Australian soldiers on ‘R&R’ in Singapore, taking it easy at the ANZAC Club. c.1941.

2. Keppel Harbour (managed by the Singapore Harbour Board)

The Keppel Harbour is a stretch of water between the Singapore mainland and the southern islands of Pulau Brani and Pulau Blakang Mati (now Sentosa). It was named after Captain Henry Keppel who discovered the deep water anchorage in 1842 and expelled the pirates who were operating in that area. Then, Keppel oversaw the development of the anchorage into a New Harbour (completed in 1849), later renamed the Keppel Harbour in honour of his contributions. From 1912, the Keppel Harbour was managed by the Singapore Harbour Board — the predecessor to PSA, Port of Singapore Authority. During the war years in the 1940s, the Keppel Harbour was an important maritime gateway through which reinforcement troops arrive from all over the British empire and where many evacuating civilians board ocean liners bound for safer lands before the imminent fall of Singapore.

(Un)Loading. Indian coolies. Typical harbour activities.


A natural deep water anchorage. Large ships could anchor very close to the water’s edge.


Reinforcement troops for the Battle of Malaya arrived in 1941. British. Australian. Indian.
Port workers helping to steer the ship towards the harbour. They wore round conical hats. “S.H.B” stood for Singapore Harbour Board.


Disembarkation. Direct to battlegrounds. Who were they really defending?


“Swimming Prohibited (Sharks)”.
Sharks were a menance at the Singapore Harbour, as this Singapore Free Press article can testify.


Evacuation of the civilian residents began in earnest towards the end of January 1942. Women and children were among the first to evacuate. There were screening facilities set up at the harbour to keep the locals, natives and military personnels from boarding the ships.


The Bedridden. Infirmity. That speaks for the British empire in Southeast Asia. 1942.


Last days. And they couldn’t carry their own luggage.


Embarkation. Direct to their deaths (in some cases). Who were they really escaping from?


Life vests to keep them afloat.


Bidding farewell. Farewell to the Empire.


Evacuations in February 1942 were carried out under great risk as by then the Japanese had dominated the skies and seas around Singapore and were targeting ships leaving the harbour.


Approximate locations of some of the ships that were sunk by the Japanese during the evacuation in 1942.
Ruthless measures in desperate days.

[to be continued…]

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