ARMY DAYS

Strong bonds bind the first guardsmen

Bravo Company, 1st Guards Battalion, at their 40th-anniversary dinner at The Grassroots' Club in Ang Mo Kio yesterday. The group wore Guardsmen T-shirts specially made for the occasion. Some members of the first batch of Bravo Company, 1st Guards Bat
Bravo Company, 1st Guards Battalion, at their 40th-anniversary dinner at The Grassroots' Club in Ang Mo Kio yesterday. The group wore Guardsmen T-shirts specially made for the occasion.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

As Singapore celebrates 50 years of national service, the first batches of full-time national servicemen from 40 years ago are also marking the anniversaries of their enlistment. Lim Min Zhang talks to some of the pioneer servicemen to find out what keeps them together and what national service meant to them.

A bare-bodied, 5km morning run in training shorts, combat boots and field packs was part of the daily routine for 130 former full-time national servicemen (NSFs) from the first batch of Bravo Company, 1st Guards Battalion, which was formed in 1977.

"The training was tough, but we had great commanders that cared for us even while pushing us," said Mr Lim Tay Beng, 60, one of the pioneers who enlisted that year.

The servicemen stayed in touch even after they completed their reservist training in 1995 and still hold a gathering at least once a year.

At their 40th-anniversary dinner at The Grassroots' Club in Ang Mo Kio yesterday, the group of more than 90 pioneers, mostly in their 60s, even yelled out the old Guards cheer: "Deadly! Swiftly! 1 Guards! Full of guts!"

The group wore Guardsmen T-shirts specially made for the occasion. "We've all gained weight - none of us could fit into our original green uniforms any more, even if we wanted to," said Mr Lim.

As for running without their tops when they were servicemen, Mr Lim, a former supermarket manager, said the company's commanding officer, LTC (Ret) Lee Chong Kiat, wanted to save them the trouble of having to wash their uniforms often.

Bravo Company, 1st Guards Battalion, at their 40th-anniversary dinner at The Grassroots' Club in Ang Mo Kio yesterday. The group wore Guardsmen T-shirts specially made for the occasion. Some members of the first batch of Bravo Company, 1st Guards Bat
Some members of the first batch of Bravo Company, 1st Guards Battalion, in Sembawang Base Camp on the occasion of the SAF Day parade mock exercise in 1978. Mr Lim Tay Beng is second from the right. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIM TAY BENG

Back then, the guardsmen were selected based on their physique and endured rigorous training.

Mr Lee, 69, a former commando regular of 33 years, said: "We pushed the first batch really hard, because we had to start on the right footing.

"If we went soft, then the later generations of guardsmen would not have had a high standard to build on," added Mr Lee, who is the managing director of an industrial ceramics manufacturing company.

Mr Lim's wife, Madam Grace Ng, 56, said: "Family support is very important. When I helped my husband with his reservist preparation, I did it without complaining. It would be difficult for them to focus if someone were to nag at them all the time." The couple, who were married in 1985, have two sons.

The former servicemen said a shared bond through national service has kept them together.

"We've attended some of our children's weddings and, very sadly, the wakes of some comrades, so our bond continued to grow even after NS," said Mr Muthu Muthaiah, 59, who was a section commander.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 16, 2017, with the headline 'Strong bonds bind the first guardsmen '. Print Edition | Subscribe