Heritage marker honours pioneer NSmen

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam unveiling the marker yesterday during the Taman Jurong National Day Observance Ceremony. He said the marker would be a way to remember the stories of duty, sacrifice and friendship that the pioneer NSmen h
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam unveiling the marker yesterday during the Taman Jurong National Day Observance Ceremony. He said the marker would be a way to remember the stories of duty, sacrifice and friendship that the pioneer NSmen had experienced there.PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Former home toTaman Jurong Camp was where first batch was conscripted in the 1960s

On the surface, Taman Jurong Greens might seem like just any other neighbourhood park.

But for Singapore's pioneer batch of national servicemen, the area, formerly home to the Taman Jurong Camp, is rife with memories.

It was here, on Aug 17, 1967, that the pioneer batch of 900 national servicemen in the 3rd and 4th Singapore Infantry Regiment were conscripted into the army, and a year earlier, the People's Defence Force was formed. And in February 1968, this was where the first intake of artillery national servicemen - "men of steel" - were conscripted.

Pioneer NSman, retired major Ivan Wong, 67, recalled with pride the years he spent in the artillery battalion. "We went through torturous training, bordering on ill treatment. But it was good, because the enemy is not going to mollycoddle you."

He was among the 500 Taman Jurong residents, students, SAF men and pioneer NSmen who yesterday flocked to Taman Jurong Greens to witness the unveiling of a heritage marker.

Speaking during the Taman Jurong National Day Observance Ceremony 2017, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that the heritage marker, which is part of the Jurong Heritage Trail and contains information about the army camp's history, would be "a way to honour our pioneer NSmen, and to remember their stories of duty and sacrifice, of hardship and friendship, on this field".

The Taman Jurong Greens area originally had several five-storey, one-room flats by JTC Corporation, which were converted into military barracks.

Despite the gruelling training, Mr Wong went on to carve a career in the Singapore Armed Forces' artillery unit.

During his speech, Mr Tharman said: "Today, we have peace, prosperity and a well-respected defence force because of the dedication of generations of NSmen. And we have melded together as a people, in no small part too, because of NS. We owe it most to the brave, pioneer batch of NSmen and their officers, and their families who supported them as they began a new journey for Singapore."

He added that the stories of pioneer NSmen will be recorded for the benefit of posterity.

Retired lieutenant-colonel Albel Singh, 68, who was the first in the queue to register for NS in 1967, said: "We built friendships, and some of us even meet today. NS didn't distinguish between colour of skin, religion or race."

Describing his accommodation at the camp as "makeshift", he added: "NS has progressed from very spartan beginnings, with limited resources, very little equipment, to one with a very sophisticated armed forces."

The nature of warfare has also changed, said Mr Singh.

"Those days, when you got into a confrontation, there was a front line, you faced the enemy across that. Today you can't even recognise the enemy, the enemy could well be within. Terrorists will not be wearing uniforms. I feel the NSmen today are facing greater challenges."

The ceremony at Taman Jurong took place during NS50 Week, which lasts till Thursday and features a slew of events to commemorate 50 years of NS.

Yesterday, NSmen and their families took part in the finals of the annual Safra Sprint Kids Xtreme race at West Mall, Bukit Batok. Stations - such as the apex ladder, dodging panels and tunnel - were inspired by the SAF standard obstacle course.

It drew over 1,200 participants, 65 per cent more than last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2017, with the headline 'Heritage marker honours pioneer NSmen'. Print Edition | Subscribe