Sandes Soldiers Home

Singapore Infopedia


The Sandes Soldiers Home in Singapore was established in November 1949 by the Christian churches, in the tradition of Elise Sandes’s homes for British soldiers. Its premises on Portsdown Road, Wessex Estate, were used by the Singapore Civil Service until 1982 when the Ministry of Defence established the Temasek Club there.1

The first Sandes Soldiers’ Home was founded by Elise Sandes, the daughter of Anglo-Irish gentry who was born in Tralee in 1849. She began her particular ministry to soldiers through her desire to do general missionary work. Following her father’s death in 1866, Elise Sandes spent many school holidays at the Dublin residence of her friend, Marie Fry, an evangelist whose home was open to drummer boys from the Royal Irish Constabulary and from military units for tea and hymn-singing sessions. Sandes’ personal evangelical ministry with young soldiers had its roots in Fry’s informal efforts to keep impressionable soldiers away from drinking, gambling and other vices amidst the grim realities of fighting at war.2

After six years of informal ministry work, Sandes founded the Sandes Soldiers Homes for British soldiers in 1877 after she relocated with her converted Christian soldiers from Tralee to Cork, a major military depot in 19th century Ireland, to help them battle against “backsliding” into sinful ways.3 When Sandes opened her mission at Cork, she had no means of funding except for a strong desire to provide a home away from home on a Christian basis. She travelled to London to appeal for funds and collected 3,000 British pounds as well as a promise from a rich patron that funding would come forth. This promise was kept and provided for 22 Sandes Homes in Ireland and some in India.4

Upon Elise Sandes’ death in 1934, many joined her in setting up homes for British soldiers across the world, including Singapore where many British troops were stationed.5 These homes were meant to provide a wholesome Christian retreat for British soldiers, so as to keep them away from the vices at opium dens and brothels.6

Sandes Soldiers Home in Singapore
In 1925, K. Leslie Symes, honorary superintendent of the Sandes Soldiers Homes in India, visited Singapore to explore the possibility of starting a similar home on the island. However, the proposed site was a big rubber estate, which was deemed unsuitable. Symes visited Singapore again in 1947, when British troops were leaving India. This time, the English lady found a suitable site for the home in Pasir Panjang.7

The Sandes Soldiers Home in Singapore was the 38th such home to be built, and the first in the Far East. P. O. G. Wakeham of architectural firm Palmer and Turner undertook the design.8 Due to a shortage of funds, construction was delayed until March 1948, when the War Office made an unconditional contribution of £50,000.9 Together with another £50,000 raised from the sale of the Sandes assets in India, a sum of £100,000 was gathered for the building and furnishing of the home.10

The home was officially opened in November 1949 by John Harding, commander-in-chief of the Far Eastern Land Forces, and dedicated by J. W. J. Steele, assistant chaplain-general of Singapore.11

The Sandes Soldiers Home in Singapore consisted of several curved, terraced, tiled and brightly painted blocks situated at the top of a hill. Two of the blocks were sleeping quarters that could accommodate 50 men each. The bedrooms came with built-in wardrobes, drawers, a wash-basin with hot and cold water, and a writing-cum-dressing table with long mirror. Outdoor amenities included a swimming pool, tennis courts and a putting green. The home also had a canteen, a lounge, a dining room, a billiard room, a gift shop, as well as a large reading and games room stocked with periodicals, jigsaws, chess, draughts, dominoes and ping pong tables.12

Four meals were served daily, starting with breakfast from 8 am to 12 pm, lunch from 12 to 2 pm, tea at 4 pm and dinner from 4.45 to 9.30 pm. At a cost of $4 a day, inclusive of meals, the home was a convenient, cheap and clean place for soldiers’ accommodation during their leave days in the 1950s.13

Marsita Omar & Chan Fook Weng

1. Noni Wright, “Stout Hearts and Good Housekeeping,” Straits Times, 19 September 1952, 14 (From NewspaperSG); “Mementos from the Past,” Connections (November–December 2014), 7 (From PublicationSG); E. B. Koh, E “Clubhouse for SAF Officers Re-Opens,” Cyberpioneer (10 October 2015)
2. Kenneth Hendrickson, K. (1997). “Winning the Troops for Vital Religion: Female Evangelical Missionaries to the British Army, 1857–1880,” Armed Forces and Society 23, no. 4 (Summer 1997): 615–634. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
3. Hendrickson, “Winning the Troops for Vital Religion,” 615–634.
4. Wright, “Stout Hearts and Good Housekeeping.”
5. Wright, “Stout Hearts and Good Housekeeping.”
6. Bryan MacMahon, “‘Endynamited By Christ’ Sandes Soldiers’ Homes,” History Ireland 13, no. 4 (July–August 2005)
7. “Money Lack Stays Home,” Straits Times, 15 February 1948, 7; “Dream Come True for Miss Symes,” Straits Times, 2 November 1949, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Wright, “Stout Hearts and Good Housekeeping”; Dream Come True for Miss Symes.”
9. “Money Lack Stays Home,” Straits Times, 15 February 1948, 7; “Dream Come True for Miss Symes.”
10. Wright, “Stout Hearts and Good Housekeeping.”
11. “Dream Come True for Miss Symes.”
12. “Home for Soldiers,” Straits Times, 5 October 1949, 8; “Soldiers’ Home for Singapore,” Straits Times, 26 December 1948, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Wright, “Stout Hearts and Good Housekeeping.”

The information in this article is valid as of 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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