Happy Total Defence Day! Fort Siloso Is Now Singapore's 74th National Monument
STORY: Sim Ding En
15 February 2022
To many, Sentosa is the epitome of sun, sea and sand, and has been that way for decades. The 500-hectare island resort proudly calls itself "The State of Fun", and rightly so. After all, it is home not only to Universal Studios Singapore, the S.E.A. Aquarium, and Singapore's first integrated resort, Resorts World Sentosa, it is also one of the choice destinations for beachgoers, adventure seekers and those in desperate need of an "overseas" getaway.
Amid the fun, fun, fun, it's easy to forget (or conveniently ignore) one of the historic marvels on this island: the 19th-century Fort Siloso, which has just been gazetted - on Total Defence Day (15 Feb), no less! - as a National Monument.
This means the site - along with 73 other National Monuments including Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, Sri Mariamman Temple, CHIJMES and Victoria Theatre - will be accorded the highest level of protection.
The gazetting of Fort Siloso as a National Monument is interesting because it is the first time that a site with structures has been given this title. The fort, constructed in 1878, has 11 fort structures and gun emplacements, some of which are intact and date back to that era.
Located strategically on the western tip of Sentosa (then known as "Pulau Blakang Mati"), it was used to defend the western entrance to Singapore's New Harbour (known as "Keppel Harbour" today).
During the monumental Battle for Singapore that occured from 8 to 15 Feb 1942, Fort Siloso provided critical defence by pivoting from its role in seaward fortification to providing firepower towards the mainland and turning its guns on the Japanese troops who decided to invade Singapore from North Malaya.
The Fort Siloso guns also took out oil refineries on Pulau Bukom and Pulau Sebarok (to the southwest of Sentosa), preventing the Japanese from making use of them.
During Konfrontasi, the period of hostilities between Singapore and Indonesia in the 1960s, the 10th Gurkha Rifles Unit manned Fort Siloso to prevent Indonesian saboteurs from landing on Pulau Blakang Mati and Keppel Harbour.
After the British military withdrew from Singapore in 1967, Pulau Blakang Mati was handed back to the Singapore government. Fun fact: the island was renamed "Sentosa" (meaning "Isle of Tranquility" in Malay) in 1970 - and has lived up to its name ever since.
A statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry was established on 1 Sep 1972 and called the Sentosa Development Corporation. Its role: to oversee the development, management and promotion of Sentosa island as a tourist destination.
Fort Siloso itself was launched as an on-site military museum on 8 Feb 1975 and is chock full of World War II memorabilia.
This year, Sentosa celebrates its Golden Jubilee, marking 50 years of Sentosa's history as a unique leisure destination. With that come activities, experiences and adventures galore, under the umbrella of sustainability- and heritage-themed "Sentosights Tours".
Naturally, Fort Siloso will be part of the many ways to discover, rediscover and uncover fascinating aspects of the island. Monster Day Tours will be organising "Letters From Blakang Mati", a family-friendly gamified puzzle hunt game-based puzzle hunt that will test your mental and physical stamina as you decipher clues hidden within the Fort's installations to unravel secrets and stories about one of Singapore's key landmarks.
This tour hasn't been launched yet, but you can click here for updates.
Meanwhile, on your next trip to the Sentosa, consider taking a side-trip to Fort Siloso to marvel at and be grateful for this latest National Monument - it's one of the reasons we're able to sip cocktails and take selfies on the beach today, and be blissfully in the state of fun.