IN FOCUS: From military base to recreational island – chronicling 50 years of Sentosa and beyond

In 1947 the island became the base of a Royal Artillery regiment – ​​including local enlisted people – and also hosted basic military training for other enlisted men. The regiment was disbanded a decade later before Gurkha infantry units moved to the island.

In 1963, the British War Department handed over Pulau Blakang Mati to Singapore as part of the formation of the Federation of Malaya. From 1967, with the almost complete withdrawal of Gurkha units, the island came under the jurisdiction of independent Singapore.

During this later period, a number of government departments and agencies sought out the island for various proposed uses, including as a port and industrial complex, tourist resort with casino, as well as military installations.

That’s when it emerged that the government had made this deal with Esso. The rest, as they say, is history.

“Not many people know it today, but if history had taken a different turn, Sentosa might just be celebrating our anniversary as an oil refinery,” Thien Kwee Eng, managing director of Sentosa Development Corporation, told CNA ( CDS).


In September 1970, an American company that was approached to do a feasibility study on the transformation of Sentosa released findings that confirmed the project was viable and would increase tourist arrivals.

Dillingham’s master plan, named after the company, has been drawn up to transform the island into an international standard holiday resort, with proposed attractions including a golf course, open-air theatre, arms museum to fire, a coralarium, an aquarium and a “pirate cove”.

The S$124 million budget, comprising state investment and private sector contribution, would be used to develop the island with these attractions in mind.

In September 1972, the SDC was established as a statutory council and Mr. Choe joined its board of directors.

He immediately recognized the enormous task ahead, pointing out that while several landmarks on the continent handed over by the British could easily be turned into attractions, Sentosa was a “different animal”.

“It has always been a military island. When we took over there was no money, no causeway, so we started by adapting many old buildings used by the British for military garrisons,” did he declare.

Mr. Choe suggested turning some of these empty structures into attractions, noting that they were always clean with proper drains and greenery. Some were eventually used for the coralarium and a wax museum near the ferry terminal. Others have been preserved for their historical value.

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