The Tanglin Barracks, at Singapore, are situated on two high plateau, on one of which stands nine bungalows, the same size as those in the picture, and on the other, two more, forming the hospital. These large buildings, built to allow a free circulation of air between them, covered most of the available space. To clear the jungle all round them to a sufficient distance was no easy matter and the constant heavy tropical showers make growth of vegetation so rapid, that unless every shrub is not only cut down but rooted up, the jungle will grow again as strong as ever in a few months. There was another difficulty: the barracks were thatched, and there was great danger in burning the jungle within a few feet of those large roofs.
I rode round the barracks day by day after my arrival, thinking. I had prayed to God; and I felt it to be my duty, for my men’s sake, to work, leaving the results in His hands. The jungle must be cleared.
I wanted to make a short cut for those on duty between the main road and the guard and orderly rooms. This was begun by the defaulters – men under punishment; but finding that they were unskilled in this work I determined to employ local labour and sent my own gardener and his friend to work with them and show them the way to go about it.
The wonderful change which this clearing made in the appearance of the barracks – removing gloom, and letting in light – and the interest, which the men took in this first beginning, encouraged me to go on. Happily for my men, the officer commanding the troops at Singapore took a deep interest in the British soldier, and when I told him my plans, at once offered to help me, out of a public fund at his disposal for the improvement of Government property. With this help, with some assistance from the canteen fund, and giving the men the services of my Malay gardener and his friend, I determined to work in earnest. I issued an order that men who were willing to work for the public benefit and for the improvement of Government property should be excused all parades, except commanding officer’s parade once a week; names to be sent to the orderly room.
I had the willing consent of the whole detachment – 400 men. I obtained pickaxes, spades, wheelbarrows, and grass knives from the Commissariat. Then I put another eight Malay labourers under my gardener – a very intelligent man – and gave him my directions as to the initial cutting back of the jungle. As fast as it was cut down by the Malays, the British soldiers gathered it, and then with pickaxes, they dug up the roots and carted it away.