River Valley Road/Havelock Road Camp

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945, two prisoner-of-war camps were located in the area bounded by River Valley Road1 and Havelock Road.2 Due to their proximity, these camps were often referred to collectively as the River Valley Road Camp, but were sometimes also referred to as Havelock Road Camp.3 European, Australian, Indian and local prisoners-of-war (POWs) were interned at this camp.4 After the war, the site was first redeveloped into a Fraser & Neave (F&N) factory, and then replaced by the Fraser Suites condominium and the Valley Point shopping mall adjacent to it.5 The location was marked as a historic site in 2002.6

In the 1840s, “River Valley Road” referred to both the current River Valley Road and the current Havelock Road because the area along the Singapore River was seen as a valley between Fort Canning Hill and Pearl’s Hill, with the two roads running on the north and south banks respectively.7 

The land in the area was once swampy and sparsely inhabited.8 The British colonial authorities constructed makeshift huts in this area just prior to the Japanese invasion. These huts were designed for short-term use as the British foresaw a need to be able to quickly evacuate if the Japanese bombed Singapore.9
Japanese Occupation
When Japanese troops invaded Singapore and took over the camps in the River Valley and Havelock Road areas, they used it to house POWs. More than 5,000 prisoners were held at these camps.10 About 3,000 of the POWs were internees from Changi Camp who volunteered for work parties at River Valley Road.11 These work parties were sent out to clean up and repair war-torn parts of the city, especially infrastructural facilities such as Seletar Airfield, and city areas such as Chinatown. Together with prisoners held elsewhere in Singapore, some groups were also sent to build a Japanese shrine, Syonan Jinja, which commemorated Japanese soldiers who died during the war. The shrine was located in MacRitchie Reservoir.12

The River Valley/Havelock Road camps comprised groups of makeshift huts that were about 100 ft long in a compound surrounded by barbed wire.13 Each group of huts was connected to others by roughly cleared pathways. Some sources suggest that the River Valley Road and Havelock Road sides of the camp were separated by a bridge over a small river or canal.14

Unlike most POW camps during the Japanese Occupation, the prisoners in River Valley Road had some special privileges. While other camps conducted mainly Christian religious services, the River Valley Road camp had both a Masonic Lodge and a small Catholic chapel. Prisoners were allowed to have a small library containing books obtained from the collections of interned residents in the surrounding area.15 Some prisoners recalled that the camp wall was low enough for family members outside to throw items over to them but if they were caught, they were severely beaten.16

Prison conditions at the River Valley Road Camp were said to be much better than those at the Changi and Sime Road camps, especially in the early stages of the occupation. The prisoners were also in relatively decent health and usually fit to work. Working conditions were not very harsh and prisoners were allowed a lunch break, which some used to visit shops or family members.17 However, the treatment of prisoners worsened when the tides of war turned against the Japanese.18

The camps were mainly run by the prisoners themselves.19 This included doing chores such as cooking, distribution of food, repair and maintenance. Some former POWs recalled some light-hearted moments during their internment, including times when they played jokes on the Japanese guards.20 A number of prisoners from the camp were sent to build the Death Railway in Burma and never returned.21

Postwar years
At the end of World War II, the River Valley Road Camp was converted into a place to house Japanese soldiers who had surrendered. These soldiers were also held in other places such as Changi and Outram Prison. There were approximately 24,000 surrendered Japanese soldiers in Singapore,22 6,000 of whom were held at the River Valley Road camp.23

There were a few Japanese deaths in the camp, such as when an iron bar from a passing military truck accidentally struck and killed a Japanese soldier.24 In another incident, two Japanese soldiers were killed by a European sentry for attempting to steal from the Engineering Stores Base Depot.25 The repatriation of Japanese prisoners began in March 1947.26

In 1950, F&N announced plans to build a factory on River Valley Road, occupying part of the former camp site. In 1992, the company demolished the factory and built the S$435 million Fraser Suites condominium on the site. Adjacent to this now stands another F&N commercial development known as Valley Point.27 Other parts of the former camp site were also built over with business offices. One of the more well-known buildings in the area was the former Times House. Public housing estates and shophouses now occupy what was formerly the Havelock Road side of the camp. Although the camp no longer exists, the National Heritage Board marked the location as a historic site in 2003.28

Faizah bte Zakaria

1. “Iron Bar Caused Japanese Death,” Straits Times, 9 April 1947, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “WWII Shinto Shrine Marked As a Historic Site,” Straits Times, 17 September 2002, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Lee Geok Boi, The Syonan Years: Singapore under Japanese Rule 1942–1945 (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore; Epigram Ltd, 2005), 132 (Call no. RSING q940.53957 LEE-[WAR]); “Havelock Road Camp/River Valley Road Camp,” National Heritage Board, accessed 20 March 2017; Imperial War Museum (Great Britain), Papers of Alfred Robert Evans, Royal Ordnance Corps, 1942–1945, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. IWM 82/24/1)
4. Douglas Chan, “Ex-PoWs on Nostalgic Trip,” New Nation, 23 October 1972, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Fraser and Neave Profit $1,800,000,” Straits Times, 5 October 1950, 7; “F&N to Build $435 Million of Condos at Its River Valley Site,” Straits Times, 30 June 1992, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “WWII Shinto Shrine Marked As a Historic Site.”
7. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 324–25. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
8. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 324–25.
9. Jack Jennings, Prisoner Without a Crime (s.n.: Lulu.com, 2016), 151.
10. “24,000 Japs Are Helping S’pore Rehabilitation,” Straits Times, 17 January 1947, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Retired Teacher Remembers Day When Japanese Guards Say ‘Ichi’ and PoWs Start Scratching,” Straits Times, 28 February 1992, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Lee, Syonan Years, 132; Kevin Blackburn and Edmund Lim, “The Japanese War Memorials of Singapore: Monuments of Commemoration and Symbols of Japanese Imperial Ideology,” South East Asia Research 7, no. 3 (November 1999), 325–26. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
13. Lee, Syonan Years, 132; Retired Teacher Remembers Day.”
14. Jennings, Prisoner Without a Crime, 151.
15. Jennings, Prisoner Without a Crime, 151.
16. Wong Kim Hoh, “Water under the Bridge,” Straits Times, 11 September 2005, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Retired Teacher Remembers Day.”
18. Lee, Syonan Years, 128.
19. Lee, Syonan Years, 132; “Retired Teacher Remembers Day.”
20. “Retired Teacher Remembers Day.”
21. Wong, “Water under the Bridge.”
22. “24,000 Japs Are Helping S’pore Rehabilitation,” Straits Times, 17 January 1947, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Japs Start Home in March,” Straits Times, 6 February 1947, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “Iron Bar Caused Japanese Death.”
25. “Two Japanese Killed By Store Sentry,” Straits Times, 14 August 1947, 7; “River Valley Road Japs,” Straits Times, 9 December 1946, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Japs Start Home in March,” Straits Times, 6 February 1947, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Fraser and Neave Profit $1,800,000,” Straits Times, 5 October 1950, 7; “F&N to Build $435 Million of Condos at Its River Valley Site,” Straits Times, 30 June 1992, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “WWII Shinto Shrine Marked As a Historic Site”; “Growing List of Historic Sites,” Straits Times, 11 January 2003, H16. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 2017 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 m

World War, 1939-1945--Concentration camps--Singapore
Prisoner-of-war camps--Singapore
1942-1945 Japanese occupation
Singapore--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945