Two pillboxes given new life as tourist attractions


Pillbox BD01, which is a coastal type, is located next to the flood mitigation centre in Teluk Kumbar. – Photos by LIM BENG TATT/The Star

A PILOT case to restore two historical military pillboxes on Penang island has been successfully completed.

Pillboxes are like defensive line bunkers but smaller.

In the past, they were commonly used to camouflage remote guard posts and each pillbox could hold a few soldiers with machine guns.

Penang’s pillboxes were built before World War II as part of anti-invasion measures.

George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee said the restoration expenses for two pillboxes, namely Pillbox BD01 and Pillbox BD03, cost about RM75,000.“Pillbox BD01, which is the coastal type, is located next to the flood mitigation centre in Teluk Kumbar and Pillbox BD03, which is the inland type, is located opposite SK Teluk Kumbar.

“To ensure that our conservation methods were suitable and that repair work costs would be within the budget, we decided to carry out work on these two pillboxes as the pilot case for our renovation project,” she said during an ceremony to mark the completion.

Work to restore the pillboxes which were damaged by corrosion and vandalism started on July 15 and was completed a month later.

A visitor exploring the inside of Pillbox BD01.A visitor exploring the inside of Pillbox BD01.

“We have also produced the drawings of the pillboxes and conducted the rebound hammer test and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to check the materials used.

“We hope this facelift will enhance the pillboxes as a tourism product, and more importantly, remind our generation and the generations to come, to appreciate the peace we are enjoying today,” she said.

Penang tourism and creative economy committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin said the state government announced that it would conserve the military pillboxes last February.

“A total of 14 pillboxes (13 on the island and one on the mainland) have been identified in Penang so far.

“Restoring all the pillboxes may take a long time as the process requires specialised skills to improve historical features and aesthetics as well as to ensure easier maintenance.

“The structures are made of concrete with a mixture of sand, aggregate and cement, and with rebar for tensile strength.

“Pillbox BD01 at Kampung Nelayan and Pillbox BD03 at Kampung Hutan Nibung represent the two main types of pillboxes identified in Penang.”

He added that the restoration has given these pillboxes a new lease of life.

“Wire mesh netting and grating are being introduced to ensure structural safety and material performance.

“The exterior door which opens outward will increase visitors’ safety.

“It has been designed to make it harder for vandals to break into the pillbox yet enable a swift exit for visitors in an emergency.”

He said wild vegetation had been cleared and plants like pandan, lemongrass, aloe vera and Moses-in-the-cradle had been introduced for better maintenance.

“Restoring these pillboxes not only protects the state’s heritage but it will also benefit the local community in the long term.

“I am confident that GTWHI will be able to complete work on the remaining pillboxes in the near future.

“The Penang government will ensure heritage conservation efforts are on track and will strive towards sustainable and responsible tourism,” he said.

The state has allocated RM800,000 for the conservation of all the pillboxes.

“We are hopeful that the work will be completed within two years.

“After that, we hope to come up with a travel trail highlighting the historical elements, buildings and monuments in the state,” he said.

Also present at the ceremony were Pengkalan Kota assemblyman Daniel Gooi and Chief Minister Incorporated deputy general manager Bharathi Suppiah.

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