Command House is located at 17 Kheam Hock Road.1 Built circa 1937 to 1938, it was originally known as Flagstaff House. Prior to the British withdrawal from Singapore in 1971, the building was the official residence of the British General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Malaya and other military officials, including Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten.2 The house later served as the residence of the Singapore Speaker of Parliament and one of Singapore’s presidents.3 In 2007, it became a campus for business education and was gazetted as a national monument in 2009.4
British colonial period
After World War I, the British War Office leased a colonial house at Mount Rosie (a large country estate located at what is now Mount Rosie Road and Chancery Lane), which became the residence of the GOC of Malaya.5 In 1925, the GOC’s residence came to be known as Flagstaff House, Mount Rosie, so as to differentiate it from other residences that had been established in the neighbourhood.6
In March 1937, it was announced that a new Flagstaff House costing 100,000 Straits dollars would be built to house the GOC.7 A site of 11.5 acres on the west side of Kheam Hock Road was selected for the new building, which was built circa 1937 to 1938.8
The first major event at the new Flagstaff House took place on 7 September 1938. It was the wedding reception of then GOC Major-General W. G. S. Dobbie’s son, who was then a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. Regarded as the biggest military wedding in Singapore at the time, the reception was attended by 400 guests, including then Governor Shenton Thomas (Sir).9 Subsequently, Dobbie moved into the new Flagstaff House in October 1938.10
World War II
Dobbie’s successor as GOC was Major-General Lionel Bond, who was in turn replaced by Lieutenant-General A. E. Percival in May 1941.11 Percival arrived in Singapore without his wife and children, who had remained in Britain. He thus shared the Flagstaff House with Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice-Marshal C. W. H. Pulford, who had arrived in Singapore shortly before him and was also unaccompanied by family.12
By this time, the area surrounding Flagstaff House was known as Sime Road Camp, a military base that included the headquarters of the Royal Air Force. By December 1941, Percival and Pulford had established the Combined Operations Headquarters of the British Army and Air Force at the Camp. It was from this location that Percival commanded the Malayan Campaign against the Japanese and the battle for Singapore.13 On 11 February 1942, as Japanese troops were drawing near, Sime Road Camp was abandoned and command operations were moved to the bunker at Fort Canning (now known as the Battle Box).14
During the Japanese invasion, the Sime Road area near Flagstaff House was the site of heavy fighting. Sime Road Camp became an internment camp after Singapore fell to the Japanese.15
Singapore became an independent nation in 1965, and the British military completed its withdrawal from the country by 1971.16 Flagstaff House became the official residence of Yeoh Ghim Seng (Dr), when he became Singapore’s Speaker of Parliament in 1970.17 After Yeoh retired as Speaker in 1989, his successor, Tan Soo Khoon, declined to take up residence in the house due to its state of disrepair.18 Subsequently, the company managing the building, the Urban Development and Management Company, made it available for rent at S$30,000 per month.19
The Command House functioned as the interim residence of Ong Teng Cheong, the first elected president of Singapore, from 1996 to 1998, when The Istana was undergoing extensive renovations.20 During this period, President Ong played a role in restoring Command House, drawing on his experience and qualification as a trained architect. Among his contributions was the addition of a formal reception hall where state functions were held during his presidency.21
In October 1999, both the Command House and a nearby pillbox (used by the British as part of a network of guardposts) were marked as historic sites by the National Heritage Board.22
In 2007, the building became the UBS Wealth Management Campus – Asia Pacific, a training and conference facility for training UBS employees and clients in the region. In 2010, it was relaunched as the UBS Business University.23
The Command House was gazetted as a national monument in November 2009.24
Flagstaff House was probably designed by architect Frank W. Brewer, who had worked at Swan & Maclaren.25 Brewer also designed the former Cathay Building, the first skyscraper in Singapore.26 Brewer’s style was influenced by the popular Arts and Crafts architectural movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that espoused traditional workmanship, as a revolt against the poor quality of industrialised mass production.27
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, there are other blocks that originally served as servants’ quarters. The site also has an extensive garden with a gazebo and decorative arches, a tennis court, and a three-car garage.28
The house is notable for its distinctive butterfly plan, a popular configuration of the Arts and Crafts movement.29 Other influences of the movement include the building’s combination of roughcast plaster rendering and facing brickwork with arches for external building facades.30 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.31
Joanna HS Tan & Neo Tiong Seng
1. “Former Command House,” National Heritage Board, accessed 8 November 2016.
2. Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 210. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
3. National Heritage Board, “Former Command House”; Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 210.
4. Felda Chay, “Leafy Trees and Classes Mellow Private Bankers,” Business Times, 6 November 2010, 1; “Six More Added,” Today, 12 November 2009, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “G.O.C. in New Home This Week,” Straits Times, 4 September 1938, 17; “Notes of the Day: Mount Rosie,” Straits Times, 23 April 1937, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 3 December 1925, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “$100,000 House for Malaya’s G.O.C,” Straits Times, 14 March 1937, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “$20,000,000 This Year for Malayan Defence Undertakings,” 14 March 1937, 15 (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Former Command House.”
9. “General’s A.D.C. Son Married at Tanglin Garrison Church,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 September 1938, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Flagstaff House,” Straits Times, 18 September 1938, 7; “G.O.C.’s Residence,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 19 September 1938, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Brian P. Farrell, The Defence and Fall of Singapore 1940–1942 (Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2005), 83. (Call no. RSING 940.5425 FAR–[WAR])
12. Clifford Kinvig, Scapegoat: General Percival of Singapore (London: Brassey’s UK, 1996), 122, 128. (Call no. RSING 940.5425 KIN-[WAR])
13. National Heritage Board, “Former Command House”; Tommy Koh et al., eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Heritage Board, 2006), 478. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
14. National Heritage Board, “Former Command House”; “Fort Canning: Battlebox,” Singapore History Consultants, accessed 7 November 2016.
15. National Heritage Board, “Former Command House.”
16. Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 210.
17. National Heritage Board, “Former Command House.”
18. Tisa Ng, Ong Teng Cheong: Planner, Politician, President (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with Singapore Heritage Society, 2005), 119. (Call no. RSING q959.5705092 NG-[HIS])
19. National Heritage Board, “Former Command House”; Ng, Planner, Politician, President, 119; Constance See, “Historic Command House Up for Rent at $30,000 a Month,” Straits Times, 4 April 1993 20. (From NewspaperSG)
20. National Heritage Board, “Former Command House”; Ng, Planner, Politician, President, 119–20.
21. Ng, Planner, Politician, President, 119–20.
22. “Pillbox Marked as Historic Site,” Straits Times, 19 October 1999, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Chay, “Leafy Trees and Classes”; “Celebrating 50 Years in Singapore,” UBS, accessed 24 May 2017.24. “Six More Added.”
25. G. Beal, “Dr Julian Davison’s Favourite 5 Singapore Buildings,” accessed 8 November 2016.
26. “Former Cathay Building (Now The Cathay),” National Heritage Board, accessed 8 November 2016.
27. National Heritage Board, “Former Command House”; Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 211.
28. See, “Historic Command House Up for Rent.”
29. National Heritage Board, “Former Command House.”
30. “Monument Open House 2012: 17 & 18 November,” National Heritage Board, accessed 8 November 2016.
31. Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 211; National Heritage Board, “Former Command House”; Julian Davison, Black and White: The Singapore House, 1898–1941 (Singapore: Talisman, 2006), 108–9. (Call no. RSING q728.37095957 DAV)
The information in this article is valid as of 2016 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.