Changi Airbase and Neighbourhood, 70 Years Before

I had a close and personal relationship with Changi Airbase (CAB), and last year I went to dig up some stuff unfolding the history of RAF Changi and the neighborhood surrounding it. Here is a quick history lesson RAF Changi.

Johore Battery

Prior to Changi Airbase, the British were looking for a suitable site for artillery emplacements in 1923, to protect the planned Naval Base. Reports from Commander Royal Engineers suggest Changi is suitable due to various concealable sites and high and firm grounds for the guns. Together with various buildings, Changi was developed into a military base and the guns facility was completed in 1939, called the Johor Battery. It was the largest gun emplacement outside Britain, housing 3 massive 15-inch guns, together with other 6 inch and 6 pounders around Ubin and Tekong, and the Changi Fire Command was situated opposite Temple Hill. Rail tracks ferried ammunition from Fairy Point pier to these guns via the current CAB today. An impressive building, the Royal Artillery Officer Mess was build on 1927, and completed on 1935.




It situated at a hill formally known as Pecheh Batu in 1924, at 140 feet. As mentioned, the Royal Artillery, seen here with the emblem, owned the Neo-Classical Style building built in 1935. The Changi Mess today, at the foot of the hill, used to be officer’s married quarters.

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It has a sister building of very similar design, situated not far on Fairy Point Hill; it is the infamous Old Commandos HQ, which housed the Royal Engineers.

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No coincidence for the proximity of these buildings, since these two military formations formed the bulk of the development and operation of the Johor Battery and were known as the Changi Cantonment. The Enigneers built Changi and provided ancillary assistance for the Artillery. And both buildings still serve as Officers’ Mess during the operation of RAF Changi.

The Singapore Air Traffic Control Centre site, Biggin Hill was formally named as Battery Hill, after two 6 inch guns placed there, guarding the entrance of Johor Straits.

Probably an untold fact was that the first ‘radar’ site was placed at Tanah Merah Besar and Mersing, Malaysia. These two sites report impending air attacks to an air defence and operation room at Katong, giving Singapore 30minutes worth of early warning.

RAF Changi

RAF Changi served as one of the biggest airfield in the Far East, and played a major role during the Confrontation, and served as HQ Far East Air Force. Royal Air Force Changi houses a multiplicity of units probably unparalleled in any other RAF Station.  Multiple sorties of fighters and transport aircraft took off from Changi at the height of the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation.





The Artillery Mess is seen below as the white pristine building on the hill. RAF Changi, according to a booklet for new RAF arrivals, had two officers’ mess, none other then Fairy Point and Temple Hill Mess. Used by Air Command South East Asia, the mess had cement floored squash court and screened free movies every Sunday evening. It also hosted the Duke of Edinburgh (husband of Queen Elizabeth) in a reception when he visited Singapore in April 1971.

Temple Hill





Upon the withdrawal of the British in 1971, RAF Changi was handed over to the then SADC on 2 December 1971 and renamed Changi Air Base (CAB). It operated the Alouette III helicopters from 1972 and the Skyvan, forming the 121 Sqn in 1973. The old east-west runway from the old Changi airbase is now the taxiway from CAB west to the runway at Singapore Changi Airport. It is named Changi Airbase West on 29 November 2004 when CAB East was opened on the same day.

For more info and a detail write up on Singapore’s colonial defence, visit


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