The History Behind Old Changi Hospital

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The History Behind Old Changi Hospital

From a rumoured torture chamber to sightings of the spirit of a nurse haunting the hallways, Old Changi Hospital gives the creeps like no other place in Singapore.

Back in the early 20th century, the area surrounding Changi Village was set up as a military compound for the British army.

To staff soldiers stationed in Changi, several barracks were built, including Selarang Barracks (now Selarang Camp), Roberts Barracks (now Changi Air Base West) and Kitchener Barracks (now Old Changi Hospital). Two gun forts, namely the Johore Battery and Tekong Besar Battery, were also built in the east of Singapore to defend the eastern entrance of the Straits of Johor where the Sembawang Naval Base is based.

Pre-WWII – Kitchener Barracks

Built in 1935, Kitchener Barracks then has two blocks – Block 24 and 37 – to house the British Army’s Royal Engineers.

The two buildings are separated by a hill called the Barrack Hill (also known as FEAF, or Far East Air Force Hill).

Back then, block 37 operates a small medical centre to serve soldiers in the vicinity, including the Royal Engineers, the Royal Artillery and the Gordon Highlanders. 

WWII – POW Camps

During the Battle of Singapore (from 8 Feb 1942 to 15 Feb 1942), the area of Changi was mostly abandoned as the Allied forces moved to defend the island from Japanese troops invading from the North.

Hallways of Old Changi Hospital | Image credits:

In spite of having multiple large guns and a sizeable allied force, the British have failed to defend the ‘impregnable fortress’ from the rapidly advancing Japanese forces.

On 15 Feb 1942, citing low ammo and water supply, Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival surrendered to General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Japanese Imperial Army. 

Many Allied POWs housed in Changi have described their experience as ‘paradise’ and ‘holiday camps’, citing the stark contrast to those living in infamous camps on the Thai-Burma Railway, or Death Railway. who were forced into hard labour. building the Siam-Burma Railway. An estimated 1 in 4 POW sent to build the Death Railway did not survive.

After the fall of Singapore, the area of Changi became a major holding ground for military prisoners of war (POWs). It is known that the POWs in Changi had helped built an airfield (where the Changi Air Base West is) for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force in 1943.

Block 37 of the Old Changi Hospital | Image credits: Vulcan Post

It is rumoured that a small room in the hospital served as a torture chamber for the Kempeitai (Japanese Secret Police). Thick chains were allegedly found hanging on the walls along with remanants of a torture-device and bloodstains on the floor.

After the surrender of the Japanese and the return of Singapore to the British, Changi continued to serve as a military compound. The airfield previously occupied by the Japanese became RAF Changi in 1946. Ironically, Japanese POWs now under British captivity were made to improve the runaways.

Post WWII – Changi Hospital

In 1947, block 24 and 37 at the Kitchener Barracks were converted to the Royal Air Force Hospital, or RAF Hospital.

A third building, block 161, was added at the top of Barrack hill in 1947, linking up block 24 and 37 that were previously divided by the hilltop.

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After the proclamation of Singapore’s independence in 1965, the British forces began the withdrawal of its troops from the island. In 1971, the hospital was renamed as ANZUK Hospital to signify its service to ANZUK (Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom) soldiers still stationed in Singapore.

Corridor in Old Changi Hospital | Image credits: James Smith

The ANZUK unit was soon disbanded in 1975 and the hospital renamed to UK Military Hospital. In December of the same year, operations of the hospital was handed over to the Singapore government; it was renamed to Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Hospital.

A year later, SAF Hospital merged with the neighbouring Changi Chalet Hospital to form Changi Hospital. With the expansion, the hospital extended its medical services to the public at the same rates as other government hospitals. 

Today – Old Changi Hospital

The final change came in 1997 when Changi Hospital merged with Toa Payoh Hospital to form Changi General Hospital. With the establishment of a newer, larger hospital at Simei, Changi Hospital was no longer needed. 

On 15 Dec, 1997, Changi Hospital ceased operations and was left abandoned, forming the now infamous Old Changi Hospital

A now defunct elevator in Old Changi Hospital | Image credits: urbex.boss Instagram

Since then, the buildings of Old Changi Hospital has become a popular filming site for films such as Growing Up, Incredible Tales and more notably, the 2010 horror movie titled Haunted Changi. 

An attempt was made in 2006 to develop the site into a luxurious spa resort. However, purportedly due to the 2008 Financial Crisis, the proposal was shelved and old Changi Hospital was returned to the authorities in 2010. 

The infamous Devil's Room in Old Changi Hospital | Image credits: urbex.boss Instagram

Today, the site is said to be haunted by POWs of the Japanese Occupation as well as patients who have died in the hospital. Ghost hunters and explorers have reportedly seen shadow forms and heard screams when exploring the compound.

Old Changi Hospital is fenced up and rigged with motion sensors. Do not enter without permission from the relevant authorities.

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