LEFT: The Mark VII 8-Inch Gun mounted between two 9.2-Inch Guns outside the Casemates.
Only four Mark VII 8-Inch Guns entered service with the Royal Artillery. They were made in England in 1885 by the armaments manufacturer Sir William Armstrong, at Elswick in Newcastle upon Tyne. All four of these guns were sent to Singapore.
Two of the guns were mounted in a new coast artillery emplacement on top of Mount Serapong. The other two were mounted at Fort Tanjong Katong, replacing three 7-Inch RML Guns. One of the guns at Tanjong Katong blew off its muzzle during a firing practice, resulting in all four guns being returned to England for strengthening.
LEFT: The Trunnion of the Gun showing the manufacturers name, Sir W.G. Armstrong & Co., the Mark of the Gun and its Serial Number. Also visible is the ubiquitous arrow between the letters W & D (War Department). Not very clear is the date of manufacture, which was 1885.
RIGHT: A commemorative plate is fixed to the top of the barrel.
The wording on the plate is:- “In Memory of all Royal Artillerymen Who Served on Blakang Mati 1885 - 1958”. Also inscribed on the plate is:- “H Norbury, Captain, District Office” and “A.T. White, Master Gunner”.
The 8-Inch BL gun had a range of 8,00 yards (7315 metres) and fired a shell of 210lbs (95Kg). The barrel weighs 14 tons 210 lbs (14,320Kg).
The gun on display at Fort Siloso is almost certainly one of the two guns which were once emplaced at Fort Serapong. The Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich has a similar gun taken back to England from Blakang Mati. The ‘Gunner’, the magazine of the Royal Artillery Association, has had in the past made mention of these guns. In October 1967, the Editorial reported that, “Arrangements have been made for two 8·8-in (sic) guns from Blakang Mati, Singapore to be sent home to the Rotunda Museum”. It went on to say that the guns had been made by Armstrong in 1885-1890 and one had a memorial plaque on it. An photo accompanying the Editorial is clearly of an 8-Inch BL Gun. The Editorial also stated that guns had been behind the main square on Blakang Mati. It would seem that only one was sent back to the Museum.
In January 1968, the ‘Gunner’ carried a letter from J.E. Treble, who was a Master Gunner on Blakang Mati from 1953-1956. Whilst on the square one day talking with the Coast Battery Commander, he was, “idly kicking a piece of circular metal embedded in the tarmac”. The Battery Commander commented that it looked like the base of a shell. A fatigue party was organised and they uncovered the trunnion of a gun. Further digging brought to light two gun barrels. These were then, “moved to a more suitable resting place”.
In June 1968, the ‘Gunner’ reported that a single gun from Singapore was in place at the Rotunda Museum, Woolwich. The accompanying photo shows an 8-Inch BL Gun. The photo on the left shows the barrel at Woolwich in 1997.
July 1968 brought an interesting letter from Major H. Norbury, about J.E. Treble's correspondence. Major Norbury was the District Officer of 1st Singapore Regiment, Royal Artillery (SRRA) from May 1956 until the Regiment disbanded in November 1958. He said that the barrels which were set up at the parade ground were two of three 8-Inch Mark VIII BL Guns which were removed from Fort Serapong in 1913 and buried on an adjacent hillside as part of a, “Repository Exercise”. This must be the hill on which Fort Connaught stood as it is the only other hill in the area. The Commanding Officer of 1st SRRA, Lt. Col. Fraser, decided that two of these barrels should be recovered and displayed on Blakang Mati as a memorial to Gunners who had served on the island. Master Gunner White and Major Norbury, with a working party of Malay Gunners carried out the task. Major Norbury went on to say that the guns which Master Gunner Treble found were taken away as scrap by, “a small party of scavengers”, when the Gunners left Blakang Mati.
Major Norbury made a mistake on the Mark of the guns as there were no Mark VIII 8-Inch BL Guns on Singapore. I don't think that any Mark VIIIs were ever made. If there were three 8-Inch Barrels, was the other a spare, and what happened to it? Was it left buried near Fort Connaught? What were the two guns dug up from the square, and later taken for scrap? It is known that two Mark IV 9·2-Inch BL Gun barrels were recovered from the hillside near Fort Connaught. These are on display at Fort Siloso - see the page about 9·2-Inch BL Guns. These must have been buried close to the three 8-Inch Guns buried on an “adjacent hillside” to Mount Serapong. Were they two Mark IV 9·2-Inch BL Guns? There were three of these on Blakang Mati during the early 1900s. Two at Fort Connaught and one at Fort Siloso. There may have been a spare on Blakang Mati as well. Maybe we will never know. It does leave a question though. How many more gun barrels are in Blakang Mati & Singapore Island waiting to be found? What happened to the four early 20th Century Mark X 9.2-Inch Gun Barrels on Blakang Mati - two from Mount Serapong (these replaced the 8-Inch BL), one from Serapong Spur and one from Fort Connaught?