Vital to teach young S'poreans about national defence as memories of World War II fade: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen speaking at the Total Defence Awards 2021, on March 23, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Since 2013, Evergreen Secondary in Woodlands has been organising a yearly ceremony to award certificates to teachers who have done national service and hear from them their experiences.

This helps students understand the extra roles that some of their teachers play as operationally ready national servicemen, and gives them an authentic glimpse into their future parts in national defence, said principal Vincent Toh.

He said: "We understand that the younger generation wants to form and feel confident about their own beliefs and don't want to be preached at.

"By letting our staff share their real experiences, we hope to show our students why they serve, and that one day... it will be their turn."

On Wednesday (March 23), Mr Toh received the NS Advocate Award for Organisations at the Total Defence Day Awards ceremony on behalf of his school for its efforts in promoting national service.

The ceremony, which was postponed last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, was held at Temasek Club on Rifle Range Road in Bukit Timah, and saw 148 people and organisations lauded.

Of these, 83 awards went to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), 15 to large companies, 37 to various organisations and 13 to individuals.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, the guest of honour, said in his speech that total defence has been in action throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added that other recent events such as the 80th anniversary of the fall of Singapore in World War II and the war in Ukraine have reminded Singaporeans of the importance of defending one's country.

Regarding the war in Ukraine, which began on Feb 24, when Russia invaded its neighbour, Dr Ng said: "Hearing the news and seeing the images of a modern country of over 40 million residents with their lives and freedom in peril from bombs and other explosives every day is shocking.

"It's surreal, it's unimaginable. It's depressing."

Dr Ng said Total Defence Day is celebrated on Feb 15, the anniversary of the fall of Singapore in 1942, instead of on the day Singapore was liberated on Sept 2, 1945, as a reminder of what could happen to the country without a strong national defence.

The memories of the Japanese invasion and Occupation are also quickly fading as there are fewer Singaporeans now who remember its events first-hand, Dr Ng added.

Evergreen Secondary School principal Vincent Toh (right) and humanities subject head & national education head Siti Mariam Bte Muhammad. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

He said: "It is not realistic to expect the next generation to have that same deep conviction (about national defence) because they will be hearing from those who have never had those personal experiences in 1942.

"And so, one of our challenges going forward is to find new ways to teach the lessons to the next generation, your children and theirs, of the consequences when Singapore falls," he said, addressing the crowd.

Dr Ng also thanked employers who have made it easier for their workers to carry out their national service duties.

One who received the NS Advocate Award for SMEs, was founder and managing director of security firm Deep Security, Mr Tejdeep Singh.

Deep Security Services managing director Tejdeep Singh. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

His company - which has about 200 staff - takes workers' NS experiences in the police or military police into account for hiring, performance bonuses and opportunities for special projects.

Mr Singh, 35, said: "I believe that without a strong national defence, there can be no economic growth, and businesses and employers have a huge role to play in supporting national service."

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