Reliving memories of Old Police Academy

Above: Deputy Assistant Commissioner (NS) Chua Song Heng (left) and Mr Sri Kanthan Chelliah, who trained Mr Chua, sharing a moment on the historic spectator stands at the Old Police Academy (OPA) yesterday. Below: Children enjoying a game in the dril
Deputy Assistant Commissioner (NS) Chua Song Heng (left) and Mr Sri Kanthan Chelliah, who trained Mr Chua, sharing a moment on the historic spectator stands at the Old Police Academy (OPA) yesterday. ST PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO
Above: Deputy Assistant Commissioner (NS) Chua Song Heng (left) and Mr Sri Kanthan Chelliah, who trained Mr Chua, sharing a moment on the historic spectator stands at the Old Police Academy (OPA) yesterday. Below: Children enjoying a game in the dril
Children enjoying a game in the drill shed at OPA during a reunion of former police trainees. The event is the last before the 20ha compound is shut down for redevelopment.ST PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO

Facebook post of rusty two-tiered stands inspires reunion of ex-police trainees

It all started in August last year, when a police officer posted a picture of a row of rusty spectator stands at the Old Police Academy (OPA) in Thomson Road on Facebook. The post received about 200 likes and 70 comments.

The image of the two-tiered stands, with light blue metal frames supporting wooden planks as seats, aroused a strong sense of nostalgia among former trainees. Many had painted the stands or sat on them while watching football or rugby matches.

The post inspired a gathering of more than 4,000 former police trainees and their families less than a year later. Yesterday's reunion at the OPA, organised by Police National Servicemen, was the last before the 20ha compound is shuttered for redevelopment.

The events included a live-firing competition at the shooting range where many of the officers had fired their first rounds.

Items related to Police National Service were placed in a time capsule, to be sealed for the next 50 years. The time capsule will be displayed at the Police Heritage Centre at the Police Headquarters near Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Police trainees went through the OPA gates from 1929 to 2005, and feasted at the former Whitley hawker centre, which was located opposite the front gate.

The public can now experience some of the real stories of Home Team National Servicemen undergoing training and serving their tours of duty in an eight-episode web documentary series Frontliners, which will be screened weekly.

Recruits included Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

In 2006, training moved to the new Home Team Academy in Choa Chu Kang Road.

Those who were at OPA said while training was tough, they knew how to have fun.

Squad-mates would often play pranks on one another. One involved hanging cooked fish from the double-decker bed frame just above a squad-mate's nose while he was sleeping, and another involved the smearing of toothpaste or shoe polish on a barrack mate's face.

Mr Heng, who was an officer cadet there in 1980, recalled the pre-dawn runs. "When we started, most of us were still half asleep, but by the end of the run, we were invigorated."

  • Redevelopment plans for site

  • The Urban Redevelopment Authority said it had approved the demolition of six buildings of low heritage significance and ancillary structures at the Old Police Academy (OPA) to make way for the construction of the Mount Pleasant MRT station on the future Thomson-East Coast Line.

    It added that a more detailed masterplan is now being formulated for future housing development.

    The study will look into different land use and urban design options, and assess how economic, environmental, social and historical considerations can be optimised.

    The study will also explore the possibility of selectively retaining heritage elements in the area.

    Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee said at the OPA yesterday that the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development are exploring how to retain OPA landmarks amid the redevelopment and will seek feedback from the public.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner (NS) Chua Song Heng, 53, who spent nine months there in 1982 as a cadet, said his favourite breakfast dish then was the sambal chilli with generous portions of mashed sardines mixed in. "We dipped pieces of bread into it and it was really good. I always looked forward to the days when it was on the menu," he said.

Senior Station Inspector Adeline Fong, 35, trained there in 2002 as one of five female trainees in a squad of about 30.

She recalled having difficulty clearing the wall in the obstacle course and her male squad-mates coming to her assistance. But she also found the place eerie during night sentry duty as the area around the academy was quiet.

Her proudest moment was passing out as one of the few female officers in the cohort. The parade was quite "retro", she said, with the old buildings, crackling, old loudspeakers and her parents sitting on the now-historic spectator stands.

The public can now experience some of the real stories of Home Team National Servicemen undergoing training and serving their tours of duty in an eight-episode web documentary series Frontliners, which will be screened weekly.

The first episode was launched online by the Ministry of Home Affairs on Friday on the Home Team News YouTube and Facebook pages.

Some of the rusty spectator stands will be refurbished and taken to the Home Team Academy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Reliving memories of Old Police Academy'. Print Edition | Subscribe