A Walk Down Memory Lane – The Old Victoria School Building at Tyrwhitt Road
National Heritage Board Jalan Besar Heritage Trail Launch Event
This article was contributed by Mr Lim Eng Chong.
On the bright and sunny Saturday morning of 4 August 2012, history literally came to life at the old Victoria School site at Tyrwhitt Road. The iconic grand old Victoria School building (now HQ of People’s Association) was one of the few conservation landmarks that was prominently featured by the National Heritage Board at the Heritage Trail launch to commemorate historical landmarks in the Jalan Besar area.
It was not just a historical event but also a historic one for Victoria, as Victorians representing many generations spanning 80 years – from the oldest Victorian at 91 years old to the youngest present Victorian students – showed up in force and in pride to take the heritage trail back to our old Home. 91 year-old Dr A.Vijiaratnam attended Victoria School from the late 1930s to early 1940s, at about the same time as two of Singapore’s former Presidents, Mr S.R.Nathan and the late Mr Devan Nair, whom he still remembers them as “students in their VS uniform”. And there were also a string of other legendary Old Victorians who joined in the nostalgic Victorian Home Coming trail to “The Old Place”, among whom were Wong Hung Khim, Major Abbas Amin (Ret MP), Ong Teong Pin, Kesavan Soon, Lim How Teck, Liak Teng Lit, Dr K.Abraham, Richard Teo, Dr Raymond Han, Chan Chow Tin, Subramaniam, Karmjit Singh, Aaron Tan, Lim Chap Huat, Tay Swee Sze and OVA President Tan Jee Ming.
The event started with the Minister of Information, Culture & Arts, Dr Yacob Ibrahim opening the Hertiage Trail Launch at the City Square Mall (former New World Amusement Park) with an exhibition of old photos and paintings of the Jalan Besar area. After the launch ceremony, Victorians were split into 3 groups to take the trail to the old VS ground in 3 different directions:
– The senior and elderly Victorians were ferried by bus to the old VS school site to visit the old building and standby to welcome the Minister to their Old Home;
– The OVA led the younger Old Victorians to march from City Square Mall along Kitchener Road to enter the old VS from the new PA HQ main entrance at King George’s Avenue.
– The present VS boys accompanied the Minister and newly appointed Acting Minister Lawrence Wong (also an old Victorian) in a bus to visit the Jalan Besar Stadium trail marker, and then walked to the Victoria School trail marker located outside the PA HQ entrance at King George’s Avenue (a marble slab carved with a brief history of VS written by Old Victorian Lim Eng Chong). They then accompanied the Ministers, PA & National Heritage Board officials, to walk to the old VS building to be welcomed by the senior Old Victorians at the original main Central Staircase.
The Minister was very pleased that the event was attended by many senior and prominent Old Victorians, which he said was most appropriate for the Heritage event. He was particularly glad to see former fellow Member of Parliament Major Abbas (now in his 70s) among the Old Vics, and said he knew many Old Victorians who have contributed much to the history and development of Singapore. He also highlighted Cultural Medallion winner Iskandar Jalil (who has just been awarded the Public Service Medal on National Day by the President) whose famous ceramic art works and credentials were also displayed at the heritage exhibition. The Minister was also fascinated when he noticed all the senior Old Vics (including Acting Minister Lawrence Wong) had the Victoria school badge put on at the event (provided by VS Principal Mr Andrew Lim), and he proudly declared he was “part-Victorian” as his children were also Victorians. The Minister asked for a Victoria badge, which he immediately put on to share our pride of being a Victorian.
The Minister then posed for photos with the entire multi-generational Victorian Family, during which the Victorian Anthem burst spontaneously into chorus, with the usual gusto of Victorian voices and waving of the Victoria flag in the background. The young Victoria School students then exploded into a commotion of Victorian Cheers, which is such a distinct trademark of our Victorian heritage and passion. If it seemed like some war-dance or fanatical rite and ritual to the non-Victorians at the event, to the senior Tyrwhitt Victorians it would seem like a dance of triumph in “recapturing” their beloved old VS building back to their fold, even if it was just for that few hours to be back at the Old Home to re-live the memories of their younger days more than half a century ago.
The Press and TV media had a field day with their cameras and interviewed Tyrwhitt Victorians about their days as students at the old VS site. Old Boys Wong Hung Khim and Lim Eng Chong were interviewed in the PA studio by MediaCorp and the interviews were telecast on National Day in the Chinese documentary FOCUS, which featured Victoria School as a historical institution and the old VS Tyrwhitt building as a heritage site.
Yes, it was a day of reminiscence and nostalgia for our Tyrwhitt Victorian brothers, as memories of their old glorious days rushed back, and the place turned into a reality as if they had journeyed into a time machine. To the Tyrwhitt Victorians, it was a meaningful journey which will remain etched in their memory – of the school they love so much and the place they never really left.
Note: The original main block of the old VS building at Tyrwhitt Road was built in the early 1930s by the British Colonial government. It was designed by Frank Ward, who was also the architect for the old Supreme Court building and other famous colonial buildings and landmarks of the time. The original VS building was completed in 1933 and the school moved in from the previous Victoria Bridge School building at the junction of Victoria Street / Syed Alwi Road (the building featured in the $2 currency note). The Tyrwhitt Road campus was home to Victoria School from 1933 to 1984, after which it was relocated to new premises at Geylang Bahru. The school was at Geylang Bahru until 2003 when it moved to the present Siglap Link location to be in closer proximity to Victoria Junior College (VJC) in the East Coast.