Saturday, 9 March 2013

Ad Hoc Sketchwalk at Dhoby Ghaut Green: The MacDonald House

The MacDonald House
The Historical Significance of The MacDonald House (extracted from the Straits Times, 11 March 1965)

The bombing of MacDonald House took place on 10 March 1965, when Indonesian saboteurs Harun Said and Osman Hj Mohd Ali planted a bomb near the building’s lift (The Straits Times, 11 Mar 1965, p. 1). The resulting detonation killed three people and injured 33 others.

The MacDonald House bombing took place during the period called Konfrontasi, meaning “Confrontation” in Indonesia. During that period, Indonesia under President Sukarno, used military force to engage in acts of sabotage and terrorism as part of a policy of intimidation. Sukarno opposed the formation of Malaysia, comprising a federation of Malaya, Singapore and the British colonies in Northern Borneo. He saw the Federation as a cover for the continuation of colonial power in the region (Sodhy, 1988, p. 112-114). On 23 September 1963, he announced that Indonesia would ganyang meaning “crush” Malaysia.

Singapore was especially exposed to the threat of terrorism due to its proximity to the Indonesian Riau Islands. The campaign to demoralise the Singapore population resulted in some 40 terrorist bombings by mid-1965. The Riau Islands was the headquarters for the military training of men recruited from Singapore and Indonesia. These men were under the direction of the former assistant Indonesian naval attaché to Singapore, Lieutenant Bambang Partono. From Pulau Sekupang, Indonesia planned to land battalions in Singapore, Johor and Kelantan to engage in acts of sabotage (The Straits Times, 19 Dec 1963, p. 1).

What happened
The two Indonesian bombers had come to Singapore earlier the same day at about 11:00 am (The Straits Times, 12 Mar 1965, p. 7). After lunch, they proceeded to MacDonald House where they planted bundles of explosives along the steps leading up to the first floor. After lighting the bomb fuse, they left the building by 3:00 pm and boarded a bus. A witness saw a Malayan Airways canvas bag on the mezzanine floor of the building emitting smoke and a hissing noise.

At 3:07 pm, the detonation set off an explosion that ripped off a lift door. Fortunately, the inner walls of the mezzanine floor were able to withstand the full force of the blast. However, three innocent bystanders on the other side of this wall were badly affected. Elizabeth (Suzie) Choo Kay Hoi and Juliet Goh Hwee Kuang were both killed instantly and buried by the rubble (The Straits Times, 12 Mar 1965, p. 9). A third victim, Mohamed Yasin bin Kesit, a driver for the Malaya Borneo Building Society, fell into a coma and died a few days later. The explosion also injured 33 others (The Straits Times, 13 Mar 1965, p. 1).

Impact of the bombing
Furthermore, the blast shattered windows within 91.4m of the MacDonald House building and also damaged almost every car outside the building. The bank closed for business only seven minutes before the explosion and 150 employees were closing their accounts at the time. Witnesses recounted a sudden flash followed by a bang. The explosion was powerful enough to destroy pillars and expose the steel reinforcements within. Later investigations showed that 20lb to 25lb (9kg to 11kg) of nitroglycerine were used (Sinnadurai, 1990, p. 518).

The explosion also affected the offices of the Australian High Commission located in the same building. Heavy wooden doors were wrenched from their hinges, landing 30ft (9.1m) away along the passageway. The impact also created widespread damage to the Cycle and Carriage showroom across the road from MacDonald House. The flying glass splinters injured two mechanics and damaged cars in the showroom (The Straits Times, 7 Jul 1990, p. 29).

At 3:30 pm, the reserve unit arrived and traffic police diverted traffic along Penang Road and Tank Road. Soon after, the British Army's bomb disposal squad arrived at the scene. Of the 33 people injured, several were warded at the General Hospital, including Samin bin Almari, Jamil bin Kassim, Tan Bee Geck, Kupusamy, Peter Ng, Ramasamy Marimuthu, and Zainal bin Kassim. The rest of the injured people received outpatient treatment (The Straits Times, 11 Mar 1965, p. 1).

At 6:15 pm, Minister for Health Yong Nyuk Lin visited the hospital to meet the bomb victims personally. He condemned the attack as a "senseless act of cruelty that will not solve any political problem" and asserted the need to weed out terrorists. He also noted that the explosion was not the first in Singapore as there were other incidents (The Straits Times, 11 Mar 1965, p. 1).

Saboteurs caught
Three days after the explosion, the two Indonesian saboteurs responsible for the MacDonald House bombing were caught while they were trying to escape from Singapore. They were rescued at sea by a boatman who saw them clinging to a piece of wood. At the time, they were not wearing military uniforms and had no identification papers. They were later taken on board by a marine police boat. At 1:25 pm on the same day, the police interviewed the saboteurs and  obtained details of their role in the MacDonald House bombing (The Straits Times, 7 Oct 1965, p. 5).

On 20 October 1965, Harun Said and Osman Hj Mohd Ali were convicted by the High Court of Singapore under the Penal Code for the murder of three civilians and sentenced to death. Their appeals to the Federal Court of Malaysia were dismissed on 5 October 1966. Both were hanged at dawn on 17 October 1968 and their corpses sent home to Jakarta that same day (The Straits Times, 18 Oct 1968, p. 14). About 10,000 Indonesians gathered at the airport to give them a hero’s welcome. Chief Admiral Muljadi received the bodies at the airport with a contingent of soldiers, marines and students. Indonesian flags were flown at half-mast for two days. The commandos were later buried with full military honours and decorations.

In Jakarta, the execution of the two Indonesian commandos incited public anger. As a result, a well-organised band of 400 students sacked the Singapore embassy in Indonesia as well as the residences of Singapore diplomats. These students were upset as they felt that the Indonesian soldiers had only carried out the orders of the government of former President Sukarno who stepped down in 1966. The students were reported to have used bamboo staves and smashed furniture and windows. The attacks took less than an hour, after which the mob went to the security headquarters building where the bodies of the two executed commandos were lying in state (The Straits Times, 18 Oct 1968, p. 1).

No comments:

Post a Comment