Bukit Ho Swee fire, half a century on

SINGAPORE - When a ferocious fire razed the rented wooden house of 13-year-old James Seah, all he could grab was his school bag, which contained his textbooks and stationery.

He was among 16,000 people who lost their homes to the Bukit Ho Swee fire on May 25, 1961. Now 64, Mr Seah will speak about his ordeal as part of the second exhibition in the Resilience Through Heritage series.

Launched on Tuesday, the travelling exhibition - currently on display at Woodlands Regional Library - focuses on what is considered Singapore's biggest and most devastating fire.

On the day of the disaster, the young Mr Seah and his mother were on their way home when they were greeted by raging flames. His mother dashed into their house to retrieve a sarong that contained documents, including birth certificates, and some jewellery.

"At that age, I wasn't afraid but excited about the fire," the retired finance supervisor told My Paper at the exhibition on Tuesday.

The exhibition features a re-creation of a burnt housing structure, incorporating information panels, photographs, as well as equipment that the firefighters used to fight the inferno. There are also two multimedia stations showing video clips about the fire.

The exhibition also highlights firefighting and relief efforts, aid rendered by the community, as well as resettlement and redevelopment efforts undertaken by the Government.

Curated by the National Heritage Board (NHB) with support from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Heritage Development Unit of the Home Affairs Ministry, the exhibition will be moved to three other libraries in the heartland subsequently.

Said Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's director of Heritage Institutions: "The whole purpose of this series is to look at milestone events in Singapore's history that showcase how Singaporeans rallied together in times of crisis.

"We hope that members of the public, especially the younger generation, would learn a lot and better appreciate how Singaporeans worked together in such times."

The series' first exhibition was on the Hotel New World collapse in 1986. Upcoming exhibitions in the series include one on the Sars crisis in 2003 and on water-rationing exercises during the 1950s and 1960s.

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