New book honours pioneer NS officer cadets

(From left) Mr Victor Rodrigues, 70, Mr Tan Lian Huat, 76, Mr Brian Miller, 69, and Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Albel Singh, 70, were among the first batch of national servicemen officer cadets deployed to maintain peace after racial riots spilled o
(From left) Mr Victor Rodrigues, 70, Mr Tan Lian Huat, 76, Mr Brian Miller, 69, and Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Albel Singh, 70, were among the first batch of national servicemen officer cadets deployed to maintain peace after racial riots spilled over from Malaysia to Singapore on May 31, 1969.ST PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Mr Miller, The New Paper's former sports journalist, wrote the book, That Motley Bunch, on the pioneer batch of national servicemen officer cadets.
Mr Miller, The New Paper's former sports journalist, wrote the book, That Motley Bunch, on the pioneer batch of national servicemen officer cadets.ST PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR

First batch of 120 SAF national servicemen officers was commissioned 50 years ago

On May 31, 1969, racial riots spilled over from Malaysia to Singapore, and the ensuing week-long clashes left four people dead and 80 injured.

In its aftermath, the first batch of 120 national servicemen officer cadets helped ensure peace. For weeks, they set up roadblocks and patrolled the kampungs in Katong and Geylang, where Chinese and Malay families lived.

At the first Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day on July 1, 1969, the group was asked to take part in a parade at Jalan Besar Stadium that was attended by then defence minister Lim Kim San.

These were experiences that moulded the pioneer batch of national servicemen SAF officers, who were commissioned on July 10, 1969, at the then SAF Training Institute (Safti) in Pasir Laba Camp in Joo Koon. The institute was set up in February 1966.

Before this batch, the officers who graduated from Safti were all regulars.

More than 40 pioneer officers from the batch met at a restaurant in East Coast Road yesterday. It was their fifth and largest gathering since the first one in 2015 initiated by retired Lieutenant-Colonel Albel Singh, 70.

A book titled That Motley Bunch was launched at the get-together to mark their commissioning 50 years ago. It featured mainly black-and-white photographs of them in training, including taking unarmed combat lessons and firing a general-purpose machine gun.

The book, which is not for sale, was written by The New Paper's former sports journalist Brian Miller, 69, who is also a member of the group. It describes some of the highlights of their military days, such as their commissioning parade at Safti and deployment in the 1969 racial riots.

 

They were full-time national servicemen for three years, compared with the current two years of national service.

LTC (Retired) Singh, who was among the first 900 men enlisted in 1967, said the 1969 deployment when they carried live ammunition was among his most memorable experiences as a trainee.

"In the past, there was a lot more confusion and we were still in testing mode. Today, training is a lot more systematic and there is no wastage of time," he added.

He signed on as a regular after his national service in 1970 for a monthly pay of $400, and served in the military for 32 years.

The oldest is Mr Foo Ming Yeow, 80, a former human resource director who retired in 2006. He was drafted as part of his bond with the Singapore Government.

Others from his batch enlisted at 18 years old or after completing their university studies. They went through three months of basic military training, a six-month section leader course and 71/2 months as an officer cadet.

The Sword of Honour recipient from the batch, or best trainee, was veteran banker Ng Tat Pun, 74.

He was among those drafted into the army after he finished his studies at the then University of Singapore, and found a job in the private sector that paid up to $1,000 a month. As a military recruit, his allowance was $60 a month.

"Although we were very unhappy and complained a lot, looking back, we learnt how to get along with people from different backgrounds, and developed leadership skills that made a difference in our careers later," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2019, with the headline 'New book honours pioneer NS officer cadets'. Print Edition | Subscribe