Former trainees relive crazy days at Old Police Academy reunion

SINGAPORE - It all started last August, when a police officer posted on Facebook a picture of a row of rusty spectator stands at the Old Police Academy (OPA) at Thomson Road.

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 and rugby matches.

The post inspired a gathering on Saturday (July 22) of more than 4,000 former police trainees and their families less than a year later.

The reunion, organised by Police National Servicemen, was the last before the 20ha OPA compound is shuttered for redevelopment.

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

Items related to Police National Service were placed into 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 once feasted at the former Whitley hawker centre which sat opposite the front gate.

Former recruits trained here included Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon. In 2006, training moved to the new Home Team Academy at Choa Chu Kang Road.

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

Squadmates would often play pranks on each other.

One involved hanging cooked fish from the double-decker bed frame just above a squadmate'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."

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.

SSI (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 squadmates coming to her assistance. But she also her 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 partake in 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 last Friday (July 21) on the Home Team News YouTube and Facebook pages.

Meanwhile, the some of the rusty spectator stands will be refurbished and taken to the Home Team Academy.