Previously: Cincinnati Music Hall.
(CW: Torture, murder, war crimes, human rights violations.)
On the northeastern edge of Singapore lie the remains of an old hospital. Well — it was a hospital for most of its existence. It wasn’t originally built as one, though, and it didn’t become one until a little later on, after it had seen…. rather a lot. In fact, that’s why the place is sometimes believed to be haunted: Old Changi Hospital in Singapore has a history dating back to the Second World War — and although it would eventually become a place of healing, it spent several years in its early days as a place of pain.
That the hospital has stood empty for decades now, shuttered when the newer Changi General Hospital opened up in Simei in 1998 — well, that probably doesn’t help its reputation much. These days, Old Changi Hospital is often regarded as one of the most haunted places in Singapore.
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There is, of course, more to the idea that the old hospital is allegedly haunted than at first appears, however. (There always is, isn’t there?)
But then again, the story the history of the place tells is frightening enough all on its own.
Here, then, is what we know:
A Brief History Of Old Changi Hospital
Singapore’s history is, of course, long and varied; by the 14th century, it was known as Temasek, although mention of the region can be found in writings dating back to the second century. (Specifically, it occurs in the Greco-Roman geographer Ptolemy’s early atlas, the Geographia.) However, beginning the 16th century, Singapore — along with the rest of the Malay archipelago, then frequently termed “the East Indies” — was subject to centuries of European colonialism: First by the Portuguese; then the Dutch; and then, by the early 19th century, the British.
Old Changi Hospital was constructed during Singapore’s lengthy era under British colonial rule — although not until somewhat later than this era’s initial establishment, and originally for a different purpose. The beginning of the period is usually dated to 1819, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company set up a colony at the mouth of the Singapore River. (Raffles had been installed as the Lieutenant Governor of what was then British Bencoolen — now Benkgulu City — the previous year.) The buildings that make up what would later become the hospital, meanwhile, opened in 1935 mainly as barracks for the British Royal Air Force. Known as Blocks 24 and 37, these buildings were part of the Kitchener Barracks and housed the Royal Engineers stationed at the RAF’s Changi base.
That all changed during the Japanese occupation of Singapore in the Second World War, however. After defeating the combined powers of British, Indian, Australian, and Malayan troops in the Battle Of Singapore in February of 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army took control of the region, with the Kempeitai — the Japanese military police — functioning as the primary occupation unit. Between 1942 and 1945, life in Singapore was a time of mass terror, full of systematic purges (that is, murder) and characterized by constant fear and scarcity. At this time, the Kitchener Barracks were appropriated by the occupying Japanese forces for use as both a military hospital and a prison camp.
The occupation ended in 1945 with the surrender of Japan to Allied forces, and in 1946, Singapore once again came under British rule as a Crown colony. The Crown colony would be dissolved in 1963, at which point Singapore briefly became a state of Malaysia; in 1965, however, the country gained independence, becoming the Republic of Singapore. It remains as such today.
Shortly after Singapore’s (re-)establishment as a British Crown colony, Old Changi Hospital finally became… well, Old Changi Hospital, although it wouldn’t gain that particular name until after it was decommissioned. Blocks 24 and 37 of the Kitchener Barracks were converted into RAF Hospital Changi in 1947, with a third building, Block 161, opening up following its completion in 1962. The hospital was highly regarded, noted for its modernity and for the quality of its equipment; its maternity ward had a particularly good reputation, aiding in the births of more than 1,000 children through 1971.
Why 1971? Because that’s when the RAF left Singapore. Over the next several years, the hospital would change names a number of times, depending on who was administering it: After the departure of the RAF, the hospital became the ANZUK Military Hospital; in 1975, it briefly became the UK Military Hospital; at the end of 1975, the Singapore Armed Forces took over, making it the SAF Hospital; and then, in 1976, it merged with the Changi Chalet Hospital just down the road, finally becoming Changi Hospital.
It retained that name for more than 20 years, until its eventual closure in 1997. In the late ‘80s, a project was put in motion to build a newer hospital in a more easily accessible area — and when that new facility, then called New Changi Hospital and known today as Changi General Hospital, opened in 1998, the original Changi Hospital shut its doors for good.
The Ghosts Of Old Changi
But although Old Changi Hospital was no longer admitting patients after the late ’90s, the buildings remained standing — and in the early 2000s, some… curious stories started to emerge regarding the abandoned medical campus. Stories that imply that some of the people who had been involved with the hospital over the decades never quite left. Stories that claim the facility to be, in a word, haunted.
Most of the stories stem from the three years during which Blocks 24 and 37 were under the control of the Kempeitai. The souls still roaming the hallways are said to belong to the untold thousands of people who died on the premises, the victims of cruelty after cruelty inflicted upon them by their captors. Loud, unexplained noises and screams are commonly heard; human-shaped shadows with no source have reportedly been spotted; sometimes visitors report seeing a small boy sitting and gazing off into nothingness; others say they’ve seen an old man walking down the hall; and still others say it’s not a man they’ve seen, but a woman. Naturally, whenever those who have seen these various specters attempt to investigate them further, they’re found to have vanished.
One particularly persistent story claims that one of these spirits belongs not to a prisoner, but to a nurse (the facility was used both as a hospital and a prison camp, remember?) — perhaps pregnant, but perhaps not. During those three fateful years in the 1940s, it’s said, a wounded soldier died on this nurse’s watch. Whether he died by her negligence or simply due to the severity of his wounds remains unknown; but she was blamed for his death all the same — and the soldier’s relatives came and enacted their revenge, killing her brutally in retaliation.
Perhaps it’s that nurse who can be seen in a video posted to Facebook in 2017, purporting to show a ghostly woman carrying a baby through the remains of the abandoned hospital. Perhaps its that nurse who can be seen in the window in a photograph that went viral on Instagram in 2014.
Or perhaps not.
Perhaps these photographs, and others like them, are deliberate hoaxes, or even just misinterpreted visual data.
No one really knows.
Areas especially prone to activity are, reportedly, the locations at which the mortuary and the accident and emergency department were once located, as well as the operating theater. It’s also said that there’s a secret tunnel running underneath the hospital — or perhaps hidden bunkers — which are no longer accessible, but which a) must have been used for nefarious purposes once upon a time, and b) may continue to hold energy which affects the rest of the hospital even now.
And, of course, there’s the alleged torture chamber.
A room, it’s said, has been found in the hospital — found, but then lost (or, perhaps, “lost”) again, maybe. No one has seen it these days, but everyone has heard about it. This room was small, with high, narrow windows… and chains on the walls. Thick chains — chains meant to hold people in place, to prevent them from moving even a single muscle. Pieces of a device lay in the center of the room, some say — the remains, perhaps, of a machine used to inflict pain upon any unlucky to find themselves within its grasp. How effective was it? Very. The bloodstains that reportedly remain on the floor prove it.
With something like that somewhere deep within the hospital… well, how could it not be haunted?
The Truth Behind The Stories
Of course, the stories are just that: Stories. There’s no evidence to support virtually any of them — no records of the nurse, nothing to indicate the presence of a secret tunnel or bunker, and certainly no evidence of a torture chamber like the one described by that particular legend. The key elements to the all of the stories remain unconfirmed, and, as such, should be taken with a grain of salt.
The tunnel is actually particularly interesting here; the idea of it may actually have originated with a found footage horror film centered around the hospital’s history and reputation originally produced and released in 2010. Called Haunted Changi, the alleged tunnel plays a key part in the film’s narrative; indeed, the in-universe blog associated with the film features a post published in August of 2010 claiming that the filmmakers’ footage seems to indicate the discovery of the long-lost tunnel. However, I was unable to find any other mention on the internet prior to that date of a tunnel believed to be hidden beneath the hospital. I may have missed something, of course — I may not have been researching in the correct language, for instance — but I still think it’s… telling.
(I’ve seen Haunted Changi, by the way; it’s available to stream on Amazon Prime, although this cut of it is dated 2017. It’s… not great, but I’ve seen worse. What it does have going for it is that was actually shot in Old Changi Hospital, and the resulting footage is quite good. If you want to get a feel for the geography and architecture of the place — how it all fits together — this is a good way to do it.)
But here’s the thing: The stories do come from something real — just maybe not any particular horrors that specifically occurred at Old Changi Hospital. Whether or not those atrocities were real, plenty of other atrocities just like them that occurred during the Second World War were. In the 1930s, for example, the Imperial Japanese Army established Unit 731; after taking up residence in a large facility built specifically for the purpose in Pingfang in the northeast of China, Unit 731 went on to carry out unfathomable amounts of unethical human experimentation under the guise of “Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification.”
In Singapore itself, many of the war crimes and the human rights abuses and violations carried out during the period of Japanese occupation were executed specifically by the Kempeitai. Under the command of Oishi Masayuki, the Kempeitai established a headquarters for what was termed the East District Branch at what had previously been a YMCA building on Orchard Road. As they did everywhere they became a presence, the Kempeitai maintained a grip on Singapore through fear and pain. Brutality, horror tactics, and “the indiscriminate arrests of people with little or no evidence,” as the Singapore government’s Singapore Infopedia site puts it — typically followed by torture and, often, execution — were the tools of the trade. (I’ll spare you the details on the actual torture, but it’s… a lot. If you really want to know, the Singapore Infopedia lists out known methods employed by the Kempeitai.)
During the occupation, the Kempeitai also carried out the Sook Ching — a systematic purge of “undesirables” largely targeting, among others, the Chinese community living in Singapore. The precise number of people executed in this purge remains unknown, but estimates place death toll at numbers as great as 50,000 people. And in October of 1943, the Kempeitai perpetrated the Double Tenth massacre, rounding up and torturing 57 civilians suspected of involvement with a raid on Singapore Harbor.
After the end of World War II, seven officers, including Oishi Masayuki, were tried on charges of war crimes for their involvement with Sook Ching, while an additional 21 were tried for their involvement with the Double Tenth massacre. Those tried for Sook Ching were found guilty and sentenced either to death or life imprisonment; meanwhile, 14 of those tried for the Double Tenth massacre were found guilty and also sentenced either to death or prison, while the remaining seven were acquitted.
Knowing all this — and plenty more, all similarly horrific and terrifyingly real — I’d argue that the belief that Old Changi Hospital is haunted isn’t necessarily because of anything specific that occurred directly on the property. It’s because the property itself — especially in its decaying and abandoned state — is a symbol that represents everything that happened in Singapore during the period of the occupation.
But that’s just what it looks like from where I’m sitting, halfway around the world.
Old Changi Hospital still stands today, standing just north of Singapore Changi Airport. Contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t been converted into a luxury hotel or spa; there were plans to do so in the mid-2000s, when the Singapore Land Authority auctioned the former hospital to Bestway Properties, but the project never came to fruition. In 2010, Old Changi Hospital was sold back to the SLA, who maintains control over it to this day.
A few buildings that previously made up a set of barracks nearby, though? That’s a different story. Blocks 33 and 42 became the Raintr33 Hotel in 2014 — but unfortunately, the boutique hotel announced in November of 2020 that it would be shutting down.
I wouldn’t try to visit Old Changi Hospital, if I were you; it’s fenced off—and besides, trespassing is illegal, unless you’re there with an approved group. Jerome Lim of The Long And Winding Road organizes events with the approval of the Singapore Land Authority time to time; there wasn’t one in 2020, for obvious reasons, but hopefully the events will resume when it’s safe to gather again.
In the meantime, though, you can explore the hospital virtually: Google Maps’ 360 Snapshots feature allows you to “walk” through the place, click by click. So, hey, why not give it a shot?
Just… be careful.
You never know what you might find.
You’re not necessarily safe just because you’re hiding behind a computer screen.