The island of Berhala Reping
Joe Cusselle

Joe Cusselle by the No.2 Director Tower at Berhala Reping.

6-Pounder QF GunBerhala Reping was a small island on the north-eastern tip of Blakang Mati. It was a military site from the late 1800s to 1956.

In 1894, There were two 6-Pounder Hotchkiss QF Guns (left) mounted at Berhala Point, as it was then called. The date of arming the site is not known, but may have been 1892. These guns guarded the entrance to the Sinki Strait. In 1904, one had been dismounted temporarily for an unknown reason. It was replaced by the following year, and two medium machine guns had been added to the armament. By 1910, the 6-Pounders had been removed and only the machine guns were left at Berhala Point. I do not know how long the machine guns remained there, but at some time, they were replaced by two 12-Pounder QF Guns.

In 1936, t he Committee of Imperial Defence estimated that, “four 6-pdr equipments and six lights (searchlights”" would be required with a Boom, to defend the Eastern entrance to Keppel Harbour. Plans were made to carry this out

On 5th March 1941, the G.O.C. Malaya, Lieutenant-General Sir Lionel Vivian Bond, sent a secret signal to the War Office proposing four AMTB emplacements to be armed with Twin 6-Pounders. One at Changi Outer, one at Calder Harbour, and two at Berhala Reping, where the 12-Pounders would to be removed. The Berhala Reping guns were operational by October 1941, although I believe that the emplacements themselves had been constructed by 1940. The Committee for Imperial Defence estimates had been changed, and in February 1942, there were two 6-Pounders at Berhala Reping with four searchlights, and one empty single gun emplacement at Tanjong Tereh on Pulau Brani.

1911 PlanThe Berhala Reping guns stood ready when the war with Japan broke out, However, apart from some strafing by Japanese aircraft, they saw no action during the defence of Singapore. At 1600hrs on 14th February, demolitions were carried out at Berhala Reping on the orders of a senior officer (unnamed) as a result of a false report of Japanese forces landing close by. Both guns were rendered unusable and the No.2 Magazine was completely destroyed by the demolitions.

Joe Cusselle was a Gunner at Berhala Reping in February 1942. The day following the British surrender, Joe and some colleagues attempted an escape in two boats, but the one he was to escape in unfortunately got stuck in the mud. Many desperate attempts to re-float it failed, and Joe and his remaining comrades had to wait to become a P.O.W. of the Japanese. It was to be many days before this happened, as during the confusion following the surrender, their defensive position had forgotten.

On the 20th February 1942, whilst still waiting for the Japanese to arrive, Joe and his comrades were witnesses of the Japanese massacre of Chinese civilians in Singapore. A massacre known as ‘Sook Ching’, during which an unknown amount of Chinese were murdered in cold blood by the occupying Japanese forces. Figures of over 25,000 people murdered have been given.

I was told by Joe, how he and his comrades saw Japanese troops in small boats a few hundred metres from them, throwing large bundles into the water and then machine gunning them. This continued for eight days. At first, they did not know what the Japanese were throwing in the water and machine gunning, but the answer came on the early morning of the 22nd, when several groups of bodies tied together in twos, threes and fours were found washed ashore close to the bridge leading to Blakang Mati. Each group showed the wounds made by the machine gun fire they had heard. From then, every tide washed sad little groups of tied together bodies ashore on both sides of the gun emplacement. Many more would have been washed out to sea. Joe and his comrades were organised into burial parties by a Sergeant and they buried the bodies on the beaches where they found them. Joe thinks that he personally buried up to 60 bodies. This indicates how many civilians were murdered in the harbour between Blakang Mati and Tanjong Pagar, let alone at other sites such as Changi Beach, Pongoll Point and Tanah Merah Beach.

The damaged emplacement in 1946A damaged buildingLEFT: The No.2 Gun Emplacement in 1946. Damage from the demolition in 1942 is evident.

Berhala Reping was repaired. One Twin 6-Pounder was emplaced here. This, along with others brought to Singapore were modified so that they could take on an anti-aircraft role if required.

RIGHT: A ruined building in 1991. This has been demolished.

1950Aerial photo of Berhala RepingAt a meeting on 3rd January 1955 held at ‘D’ C.A. Battery (exact location not known), a Board assembled to, “consider the action required to bring the 6 pr twin equipments at Batu Berlayar and Berhala Reping up to a fully operational state”. The Board decided to make Berhala Reping operational first.

Following W.O. Letter 57/Coast Artillery/332(Ord.9) dated 25th May 1956, British coast artillery was declared redundant. At Berhala Reping, “All major equipments were disposed of under this authority”. Berhala Reping was abandoned fell in to disrepair. Land reclamation later integrated it into the Serapong Golf Course. Some of the site has seen demolition of a few buildings, but most of the emplacement survives, although accessibility is difficult.

A small memorial to those who lost their lives in the ‘Sook Ching’ massacre was installed on the Sentosa side of the bridge leading to Berhala Reping. I believe that this has been neglected and is now rather the worse for wear.

Berhala Reping on Google Earth.

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