PM Lee was 'a humble officer with no airs'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong greeting First Warrant Officer (Ret) Lau Beng Huat and Colonel (Ret) Chan Jwee Kay (right) at an NS50 dinner yesterday. The two had served with PM Lee when he was in the SAF.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong greeting First Warrant Officer (Ret) Lau Beng Huat and Colonel (Ret) Chan Jwee Kay (right) at an NS50 dinner yesterday. The two had served with PM Lee when he was in the SAF.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

It is often said that national service is where young Singaporean men form bonds that last for life.

For the men who served with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the artillery decades ago, he was a humble officer with no airs, who had a taste for mee siam and kambing soup.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Ret) Tan Seng Poh, 65, remembered how he and other officers would go for supper with PM Lee at the old Chong Pang Village after strenuous training. "He had no airs, he was always very sociable."

He was among several of PM Lee's former army buddies who related their experience serving with him in the 70s and 80s, during an NS50 dinner reception yesterday.

Senior Warrant Officer (Ret) Lau Peck Woh, 63, said PM Lee was an officer who had the welfare of his men at heart.

He recounted how PM Lee, then a platoon commander in 24th Battalion Singapore Artillery, once noticed that the soles of his men's shoes had split and hung "open like crocodiles". He asked SWO Lau, his then platoon sergeant, why this was so.

The men kept missing the dates to exchange their kit because they were always out in the field for exercises, SWO Lau replied. This led PM Lee to arrange with the unit's quartermaster for new gear.

"In less than one week's time, all of us had exchanged our shoes for new kit," said SWO Lau. "When (PM Lee) was around, the morale of the men was very high."

During his speech yesterday, PM Lee said he was happy that he could meet some of his old artillery comrades.

He pointed out that he would bump into old army friends from time to time in public, and they would catch up. "The years would melt away and vivid memories come flooding back," he said.

Danson Cheong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'PM Lee was 'a humble officer with no airs''. Print Edition | Subscribe