March 10 is the 45th anniversary of the MacDonald House Bombing. In our Singapore annals of terrorism this attack is the worst, claiming three innocent civilian lives and injuring even more people. Windows were shattered, cars were damaged; MacDonald House itself suffered $250,000 in bomb damage. For most post-65er, the bombing remains our only impression of Konfrontasi. My other impression is that some of our fathers were drafted into the vigilante corps to "beat the rats" (or something like that). The more I read about the incident in textbooks and articles, the more I am intrigued about one aspect of the account - where exactly did the bomb explode?
45 years ago, the main tenant of MacDonald House was the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). The two female casualties - Mrs. Suzie Choo and Miss Juliet Goh - were staff of the bank. Guess what, Citibank has taken over the premise today. You can still find HSBC - coincidentally - in the adjacent Atrium@Orchard building.
*This series of MacDonald House second shots was taken during the 2010 Chinese New Year holiday.
Today Citibank, Expressions International and McCann Worldgroup are tenants of the refurbished MacDonald House. 45 years ago, HSBC, Malaya Borneo Building Society, the Australian High Commission and a dentist were some of the tenants. The teller services are still on the ground floor banking hall, accessible by the same main entrance.
From the Straits Times coverage of the attack - "Every window within a hundred yards was shattered, and almost every car immediately outside the building and across the road was damaged." Broken windows on MacDonald House were certainly not the only "glass casualty". The Neo-Georgian red brick building, built in 1949, was reputedly the first building to be fully air-conditioned in Malaya.
Accounts of the bombing all point to the mezzanine floor as the source of the bomb - and explosion. I was ignorant of this architectural term until recently, when I checked it:
In architecture, a mezzanine or entresol is an intermediate floor between main floors of a building, and therefore typically not counted among the overall floors of a building. The term is also used for the lowest balcony in a theatre, or for the first few rows of seats in that balcony. (source)I remember now. I may have came across the term in concert halls like the Esplanade but it did not occur to me to link its usage in a performing arts location to MacDonald House.
A mezzanine floor explains why, from the outside, the building ha s a "high ground floor" and lower subsequent floors. The ground floor must have included the mezzanine floor.
While I saw a "mezzanine floor" inside the banking hall, the explosion occurred not inside but near the lift:
The extent of the damage on the mezzanine floor of the 10-storey building made it a simple matter to determine where the bomb was placed -- near the lift. (source)The lift must be inside the MacDonald House entrance. In the archive photo earlier, you can barely make out the building name above the doorway which saw casualties carried out and near which most of the damage was evident.
Scene of mayhem at lift lobby. I can see a damaged lift shaft, I think. (Photo credit: Singapore Press Holding)
The lifts today are inside the same entrance. However the lobby does not betray any evidence of the mezzanine floor. The manouverable area is small: a door beside the lifts leads to a narrow corridor behind, to the security room and the Oldham Lane side entrance. Another door on the right leads to Citibank's ATM lobby.
Also missing is the stairway, where the bomb was placed. There must be a stairway inside, which I believe is a mandatory requirement for lift buildings. Does anyone know where is it?
Another confusion is the exact location of the bomb - was it on ground floor or mezzanine floor? I remember reading the two saboteurs entered the building, placed the "package" and left. Did they walk up half-storey for such a quick job? I was confused by the following picture from the media:
My initial guess was that Mount Sophia is the wooded background outside the broken window. In light of new evidence uncovered, I realize there is a better explanation. I now change my view: the wooded background is Fort Canning. There was a car park opposite MacDonald House so the broken window must be facing Orchard Road.
The photo evidence certainly agrees with the news report:
In the car park across the road, the screens of almost all the vehicles were shattered. (emphasis mine)Image analysis reveals that the broken window could be the first mezzanine-floor window after the lobby. If this is true, the ATM lobby today will be very near the "bomb site". There should be a stairway where the bomb was placed, according to reports. Any "heritage structure" left in MacDonald House, after the extensive refurbishment?
It is a pity I did not pay much attention to the building, much less explored it, before the interior renovation in 2003. I remember when I first knew about MacDonald House many years ago, HSBC was still the tenant. If I was this