Pulau Tekong holds a special place in almost every able-bodied male Singaporeans’ hearts.
Even among those who did not serve their National Service stints in the army on the island, such as the naval divers who are holed up in the Naval Diving Unit in Sembawang, would have heard plenty of NS-related stories about it.
However, what many do not know is that Pulau Tekong is more than a training ground for the military.
This fact was talked about by current education minister Ong Ye Kung in a February 2017 Facebook post, where he shared his memories of his army days in Pulau Tekong, alongside snippets of its history.
1. Tekong comprised two islands till the mid-1990s
There was a large Pulau Tekong and a smaller Pulau Tekong in the past.
In the map from 1898 below, the smaller of the two islands is labelled as “P. Tekong Kechil“, where “kechil” means “small” in Malay.
2. The island was known by different names in the past
Pulau Tekong was labelled as Po. Tukang, which means “merchant” in an 1837 map of Singapore.
3. Pulau Tekong used to serve as a trading station for Pulau Ubin and Johor
And the reason it was referred to as a “merchant” island in the past was due to the island’s status as a trading station.
Before Pulau Tekong became the Basic Military Training Centre, it was a busy commercial centre with shophouses around.
The picture below shows Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on a visit to the island in 1965.
The earlier period of mercantilism saw many civilians inhabiting Pulau Tekong’s kampong (“village” in Malay).
While the island is no longer inhabited by civilians, the old kampong names live on in training areas, such as Selabin, Permatang and San Yong Kong.
The 1898 map below shows the many kampongs that dotted the island, such as Kampong Batu Koyok, Kampong Permatang, and Kampong Pangkalan Paku.
Some of the kampong wells still exist on the island.
4. The British maintained a military presence on the island
There were British gun batteries and a British Indian infantry unit stationed on Pulau Tekong.
For example, the Dogra and Sphinx bridges on the island also derived their names from the British gun batteries during World War II.
The 17th Dogra bridge got its name from the Dogra Regiment, an infantry unit from the British Indian Army, while the Sphinx bridge was named after the Sphinx Battery that was stationed on the island.
Here is Ong’s full Facebook post: