Command House is located at 17 Kheam Hock Road. Built in 1938 and originally known as Flagstaff House, it was the official residence of the British General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Malaya and other military officials, including Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, until the British withdrawal from Singapore in 1971. During World War II, the building was the Combined Operations Headquarters of the British Army and Air Force. It was later the residence of the Singapore Speaker of Parliament and the President of Singapore. The building became a campus for business education in 2007, and was gazetted as a national monument in 2009.
British colonial period
After World War I, the British War Office leased a colonial house at Mount Rosie, then a large country estate located in the area of what is now Mount Rosie Road and Chancery Lane. The house became the residence of the British General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Malaya. The first GOC to reside at Mount Rosie was General Sir Neill Malcolm. In 1925, the GOC’s residence came to be known as Flagstaff House, Mount Rosie, to differentiate it from other residences that had been established in the neighbourhood.
In March 1937, it was announced that a new Flagstaff House costing $100,000 would be built to house the GOC. A site of 11.5 acres on the west side of Kheam Hock Road leading to Sime Road and the Singapore Golf Club (now the Singapore Island Country Club) was selected for the new building, which was completed in August 1938.
The first major event to take place at the new Flagstaff House was the wedding reception of GOC Major-General W. G. S. Dobbie’s son, Lieutenant O. C. S. Dobbie, on 7 September 1938. Regarded as the biggest military wedding in Singapore at the time, the reception was attended by 400 guests, including Governor Thomas Shenton. Subsequently, Dobbie moved into his new residence in October 1938.
World War II
Dobbie’s successor as GOC was Major General Lionel Bond, who was in turn replaced by Major-General A. E. Percival in April 1941. Percival arrived in Singapore without his wife and children, who had remained in Britain. As Air Vice Marshall C. W. H. Pulford, Air Officer Commanding, who had arrived shortly before Percival, was also unaccompanied by his family, the two men shared Flagstaff House.
By this time, the area surrounding Flagstaff House was known as Sime Road Camp, a military base that included the Royal Air Force Headquarters. By December 1941, Percival and Pulford had established the Combined Operations Headquarters of the British Army and Air Force. It was from this location that Percival commanded the Malayan Campaign against the Japanese and the battle for Singapore. On 11 February, as Japanese troops were drawing near, command operations were moved to the bunker at Fort Canning (now known as the Battle Box), and Sime Road Camp was abandoned.
During the Japanese invasion, the Sime Road area near Flagstaff House was the site of heavy fighting. After Singapore fell to the Japanese, Sime Road Camp became an internment camp when more than 3,000 prisoners of war were transferred there in May 1944.
Singapore became independent in 1965, and the British military completed its withdrawal by 1971. When Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng became Singapore’s Speaker of Parliament in 1970, Flagstaff House became his official residence. After Dr Yeoh retired as Speaker in 1989, his successor, Tan Soo Khoon, declined to take up residence in the house due to the state of disrepair. Subsequently, the company managing the building, the Urban Development and Management Company, made it available for rent at $30,000 per month.
From 1993 to 1998, the building, by now known as Command House, underwent restoration under Ong Teng Cheong, the first elected President of Singapore. A trained architect with a keen interest in the conservation and restoration of old buildings, Ong was responsible for restoring Command House and adding the formal reception hall where state functions were held during his presidency. He also commissioned artworks by Singaporean artists to be installed at Command House. When the Istana, the official residence of the president, underwent extensive renovations from 1996 to 1998, Command House functioned as the residence of the president.
In October 1999, both the building as well as a nearby pillbox, which had been used by the British as part of a network of guardposts, were marked as historic sites by the National Heritage Board.
In 2007, the building was rented out and became the UBS Wealth Management Campus – Asia Pacific, a training and conference facility designed to train, develop and certify UBS employees and clients in the region. In 2010, it was relaunched as the UBS Business University.
Command House was gazetted as a national monument in November 2009.
Flagstaff House was designed by architect Frank W. Brewer, who worked at the well-known firm of Swan & Maclaren from 1922 to 1932. Brewer also designed the former Cathay Building, the first multi-storey development in Singapore, and the residence of the French ambassador at Cluny Park Road. Brewer’s style was influenced by the popular Arts and Crafts architectural movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that emphasised traditional workmanship, simple forms, exposed materials, and folk or medieval styles of decoration.
Sited on a large plot of land, the imposing main building is a two-storey brick structure that includes six bedrooms. Apart from the main building stand three blocks that were originally servants’ quarters. The site includes an extensive garden with a gazebo and decorative arches, a tennis court, and a three-car garage.
The building is notable for its distinctive butterfly plan, a popular configuration of the Arts and Crafts movement. Other influences of the movement include the building’s combination of roughcast plaster rendering and facing brickwork with arches for external building facades. The building is designed for tropical living, and features a large overhanging roof as well as large doors, windows and vents that allow good cross-ventilation.
Joanna HS Tan
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Six more added. (2009, November 12). Today, p. 8. Retrieved on January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.
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