SINGAPORE - A total of 500 Taman Jurong residents, students, SAF men and pioneer national servicemen gathered at Taman Jurong Greens on Sunday (Aug 6) to witness a heritage marker being unveiled at the site where Singapore's first batch of NSmen enlisted 50 years ago.
The site of the former Taman Jurong Camp is steeped in history. It was here, on Aug 17, 1967, that Singapore’s pioneer batch of 900 NSmen in the 3rd and 4th Singapore Infantry Regiments were conscripted into the army.
And in Februrary 1968, this was where the first intake of artillery NSmen - “men of steel” - were conscripted.
Speaking at the Taman Jurong National Day Observance Ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that the heritage marker, which is part of the Jurong Heritage Trail, 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 Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), which were rapidly converted into military barracks.
Pioneer NSman Ivan Wong, 67, recalled with pride the years he spent in the artillery battalion. “It was a far cry from what NS is today. We went through torturous training, bordering on ill treatment. But it was good because the enemy is not going to mollycoddle you.”
Nonetheless, the retiree said that camp was to him “a bachelor’s haven” where he enjoyed life as an independent adult. After NS, he began a career in the Singapore Armed Forces’ artillery unit that would last almost 40 years.
The neighbourhood used to be “very green, quaint and rustic”, with kampungs and farms nearby. “We were well taken care of by the neighbourhood,” said Mr Wong, adding that the farmers would offer them juicy pineapples for free.
In 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 - the boys toughing it out together, and their families too going through the sacrifice of NS together as citizens.
"We owe it most to the brave, pioneering batch of NSmen and their officers, and their families who supported them as they began a new journey for Singapore... Thank you for the journey you began for the rest of us. A journey that progresses, from each generation to the next, building strength upon strength, moving ahead as Singaporeans."
He noted that the stories of pioneering NSmen will be recorded for the benefit of posterity.
Lieutenant-Colonel (Ret) Albel Singh, 68, the first Singaporean to register for NS, said: “NS has really progressed from very spartan beginnings, with limited resources, very little equipment, to one with a very sophisticated armed forces.
"Educational levels have also changed. In the past, most of us had O levels, some didn’t even go to school... now, communication (between NSmen) is not a problem. But the threats and challenges have changed.”
"Those days, when you get into a confrontation there is a frontline, you face the enemy across. Today, you can't even recognise the enemy. Personally, I feel that the NSmen today are facing greater challenges."
The ceremony at Taman Jurong took place during NS50 Week, which lasts from Aug 1 to 10 and features a slew of events to commemorate 50 years of national service.
On Sunday, 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 swinging bridge and tunnel - were inspired by the SAF's Standard Obstacle Course.
It drew more than 1,200 participants, about 65 per cent more than in 2016.