Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Can you remember what it felt like?


Today I sent my son off for his NS (National Service) at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) in Pulau Tekong. He has been quite pensive these past few days. I asked him how he felt. He said he wasn’t fearful; just utterly ‘sian’ (I cannot think of a suitable English word - “tired” “bored”, “moody” …).

I know I am not fearful for him. I trust that training in the SAF these days is much safer than my time. Also a lot of the stupid punishments that the commanders of my days dished out to us are no longer allowed. Furthermore, being an active sportsman, he should be able to cope with the physical training a lot better than me. Nevertheless, as a father, I cannot help feeling a bit worried; although I did not let it show. After all, a grenade in 2009 is just as deadly as one in 1971.

My advice to my son? Don't try to 'take cover' and waste your time in NS ...... and help the weaker ones.

I think the SAF has done a pretty good job – with the colourful brochures, slide shows and walkabout to see the impressive facilities; and even hosted a lunch in the cookhouse – at reassuring the parents. My wife was so impressed. So was I.

I saw many other middle-age guys; ex-NSmen like me no doubt. I wondered what went through their minds. They were pretty quiet.

Inevitably, thoughts of my own enlistment all those long years ago came flooding back. I tried to recall what the feeling was like for me in those days just prior to my enlistment. However, it was too long ago and I just couldn’t be sure. I think I felt dread and fear because we had heard so much about how ‘siong’ (tough) the training was. In those early days of NS in Singapore, lots of stories were floating around about the grueling training under Israeli advisors at Safti.

How about you oldies who have gone through NS in the 70’s? Can you recall how you felt in the days prior to call up?

Related post: Pay Correct Sir

51 comments:

stanley said...

I heard that in the 70s abusive words were used extensivly by the trainers to instil fear in new recruits. I wonder this practice still continues to this day.

Victor said...

I understand how you feel. Over the last few days, my younger son started his days in his secondary school too. I felt a feeling of nostalgia as well as uncertainty. Nostalgia because it was exactly 40 years ago when I walked through the doors of Victoria School. Uncertainty because I don't know how my son would fare.

And in another year or so, my elder son would be in NS too. I am just keeping my fingers crossed that he will not end up as a "base-employed" like his father.

Oh said...

I am a year older than you, but my kid finished his 2-year NS about a year back. In the days prior to my own call up, I had mixed feelings--after 12 years of studies, I felt it will be a good break, but I also was a bit apprehensive. But after 1 month of service, my conclusion was: I underestimated how tedious and restrictive life is inside camp. I could take the physical rigours but mentally I was unprepared for the things we had to do 'unquestioningly'. So when my son was going into service, I prepared him 'mentally'.

Zen said...

Commenting on the topic NS in Singapore nowadays is like stirring up a hornet nest - full of controversy from all directions. But at the end of the day, we should ask ourselves a vital question - whether NS is still necessary in view of the present peaceful environment prevailing here. As the saying goes: 'looking after a soldier for a thousand days so that he can be of use at a moment notice', I subscribe to the logic behind this saying. There is hardly a single country in the world which do not have an army to defend itself, that includes primitive tribal societies, and in our context - the NS. Even if Singaporeans want to do away the NS, they should follow the US by having a full time regular army irrespective of its size.

Icemoon said...

Victor, I realized it is how one uses his time in NS. My MOPA (Medical Officer Personal Assistant) friend told me by teaching tuition, he actually earned more than his boss the doctor. So this CPL earned more than the CPT. LOL

But then .. we combat soldiers had mixed feelings about our non-combat counterparts. We always think they chao-keng one. Many of them play basketball and soccer in civilian life, and can do more chin-ups than us, so why are they not in combat?

Icemoon said...

Stanley, instructors at BMTC not supposed to use vulgarities. But in unit, different story. We loved to curse and swear 'cos of the therapeutic effect. When you are hauling useless metal in the Brunei jungle, it's the only way to release the pent-up feeling.

alex said...

I was enlisted in 1970, and the fear of the unknown is so great that I could not sleep well for the last few nights before the call-up day. I guess I actually "over anticipated" and it turned out quite acceptable. Our camp was in Kranji, very basic facilities with no electrical power in the day. the barrack is actually ex-British army store huts, zinc metal roof half circle in shape. Hot like hell in the day. Cook house is 15 minutes away if you run. wash up area is a row of 20 taps and yes "field toilet".

Food was real bad, because the cold room breaks down every now and then, so the meat is never fresh. Fishes are never scaled, mutton has that strong smell. However, being in the rural make you feel like having a holiday overseas.

I guess if you expect the worst, everything should be ok.

peter said...

Alex, which SAF unit occupied that Kranji Camp. I believe the railway line was next to the camp.

I was in KL when I received word I was enlisted. So I rushed down with my friend taking a free lift from the Straits Times lorry which distributed newspapers in all the major towns up to JB. I just made it home 1 day before enlistment which was at Dempsey Road. We were separated not knowing which camp we were posted to. My name was on the MINDEF list bound for Taman Jurong Arty Camp but on parade I was posted to infantry unit. Then it was a long 3-tonner Mercedes ride to our new camp.

The first vulgar word I heard from from the section corporal who caught me sleeping on the metal bed without mattress. He shouted, "What the FXXX you r doing? You think this is your mother's house?" The whole day I kept hearing "F" here and there.......F this fellow, F the OC, F storeman......

Anonymous said...

sian = low-spirited or glum

stanley said...

Icemoon,

Thanks for that piece of news. I don't know much about life during NS. The only "NS" that I was asked to register was during the beginning of the Indonesia Confrontation with Malaysia, but I was not called up for military training.

alex said...

Hi Peter,
I was posted to 41 SAR, the home of the first V200 unit. You were lucky to have a Mercedes to take you to the camp, we had Bedford, if your still remember or seen them in your army days. The SAF used these old 3-tonners to transport us from CMPB to Satgmont Ring. The ride was like 1 hour.

peter said...

Alex

I still want to touch base with you. I visited one of my friends at an armoured camp during in-take in 1971 I assume it was 41 SAR.

Can I check again with you whether you had to enter via Yew Tee Village, croseed a railway track and turned right to continue your journey to the camp? Was there an open field with plenty of aerial masts as you journey to camp?

It could be worst if SAF transported us on the Chrysler trucks bought from the Israelis, the ones with the exhaust pipe next to the driver. When the wind blew, the exhaust smoke came into the passenger-compartment and everybody felt dizzy due to smoke inhalation.

unk Dicko said...

Relax lah, C See...your son is in a place which I am so fond of..p Tekong. He will come out of BMT and at the end of his NS a stronger and even more responsible person. The only unknowns may still be those lingering and occasional experiences that our army boys and others have reported before...wandering spirits and ghosts on Tekong.

kenny8blog said...

I recall my traumatic 1st couple of
days in the military,a bloody
experience.But,laughable now.
The sergeant insisted I shave
off the "bum fluff" on my chin.
This first for me created a red
sight,not as bad as it looked,
but messy.Sure your son will be
much more manly than I then was.
Have you heard of Raymak,I have
a photo of my late father who served in Singapore at the fall,
marked Raymak,unfindable on maps.

alex said...

Hi Peter,

The intake for 71 is "H" or Hotel Company, they were housed in the new barracks direct, and no ex-British store huts. H company barrack is just behind the canteen, lucky boys can buy drinks and beer from the canteen's back window, in PT kits, and need not change into uniform :)

They were in this new two stories building with NCO mess and company office, arm store and CQ signal store on ground floor, and recruit's room on the upper floor.

Yes, that is the camp, to get there you cross the rail way track,turn right pass the BBC Kranji transmission towers, two sawmills, some farm houses, a patch of tobacco plantation, up the road to the camp gate. The distance from the Yew Tee Village to the camp gate is 2.5 miles, and we use to run full pack up and down that road.

The south bound train will pass the gate at Yew Tee 21.55, and therefore the gate is closed from 21.50 to 12.05. You have to catch the first few pirate taxi (40 cents) to get to the camp or you will be later than 23:00.

I hope the experience for you when you ere there was the same. Let me know.

Alex

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Kenny8. I am sorry, I have not heard to Raymak.

Pleasantly surprised that you follow this blog. Are you acquainted with Tom Brown?

peter said...

Alex

Were there big ammo dumps next door to that Kranji camp? If we are talking about the same camp, the ammo dumps should have been near the S. Kranji in the forested area away from the camp.

If correct then it was a pre-WW2 British ammo base. Your camp does indeed have a long history.

Puzzles me why they need to close the level crossing for the train to pass for so many hours.

alex said...

Peter,

Apologies, it should be 21.50 to 22.05, already old lah :(.

Yes, there is a ammo dump, it is known as Kranji camp II, the 41SAR is Kranji Camp I. If I have not mistaken. Both camps have different entrance gates, and sometime we went from our camp to camp II (ammo dump) to collect 7.62 GPMG rounds.

I was told there is a "drug rehab centre" or "detention centre" for NS boys located in camp II, part of ammo dump.

Anyone has more info on this camp?

Hope it helps Peter.

Regards

Lam Chun See said...

Actually the video that they showed us in the camp is quite enjoyable for sentimental oldies like many of us here becos it contained many scenes of the old 'army daze' e.g. enlistment exercise, obstacle course, route marches and old style army cookhouse. For those of you who are too young to have children going for NS, such as our younger Foyers, they should try and get themselves invited for this tour. But the visit is quite long - more than half a day.

peter said...

There was an old railway track that connected Kranji Camp 1 to Keat Hong Camp. Did u hear or see it? It was there in the 1960s and was a WW2-built.

That was not the BBC transmission tower. It was used by the British Royal Navy and was built in 1934. Today the top of the hill is the SAF School of Signals.

Because of these 2 sites, the Japanese landed in Kranji (west of the causeway) and made these as their key targets.

Victor said...

Chun See, I notice that your "recent comments" widget is now working. Yay!

Icemoon said...

Alex and Peter,

A little confused now. Where is that railway crossing today? Is it the one at Kranji Road, Sungei Kadut or Stagmont Ring?

I got lost with all the 'Kranji' camps. I think there used to be a Kranji Camp (rommel huts?) beside Kranji crossing, but today both Kranji camps are at Choa Chu Kang (Lorong Kebasi and Bistari).

When Alex mentioned detention centre, I keep thinking of the detention barrack at Kranji (actually Mowbray Camp).

Icemoon said...

Peter, I thought the School of Signals is at Stagmont Camp, at Teck Whye?

alex said...

Icemoon & Peter,

Too many years and memory play tricks. The railway crossing I mention is at stagmont Ring.

Learn something new today about the transmission towers, thanks.

I cant recall the rail link to Keat Hong, we visited 40 SAR quite regularly, also took the AMX 13 familiarisation course there.

I am not sure which is the detention barracks now, we were shown the place once or twice.

These days, the camps switches locations and the old names do not link with the new locations any more, please remember I was talking about 1970 and 1971. Our company move to Selarang Barracks to take over the (later named) 42 SAR from the British Army in 1971.

Regards

peter said...

Icemoon
The names you mentioned about "kranji Camps" at Lorong Kebasi....are SAF-built; so they never existed in our era.

Confusion also arose during the British Army era when there was one at Stagmont Ring (aka Kranji Ammo Depot under the British and later occupied by 41 SAR under the SAF), and another one at Kranji (@Jalan Lam Huat and Jalan Wat Selak). I am still trying to find out the name of the last one at Jalan Lam Huat. Jalan Lam Huat was a WW2-built camp which I believe was a British Army logistic base until 1971.

I think there is a reason why they use Keat Hong and Kranji Camp 1 for armoured units. British Army Centurion tanks were kept there.

Yes SAF School of Signals is called Stagmont Camp which is even more misleading because it is at one end of Jalan Teck Whye. Did you know that Kranji Expressway was one the small road leading into the Royal Navy wireless station?

Alex, yes I also heard about Kranji DB in my time but didn't quite know where it was although I did kear of the name "Kranji DB". "Kranji DB" was to replace the one at Dempsey Road DB (near the sports field but visible from Pierce Road).

I used to use those huge aerial masts like the ones you describe in Stagmont Ring on my way to JB from Bukit Panjang. There are similar ones also at the corner of the old Upper Jurong Road and Jalan Boon Lay, which we used to identify as a prominent landmark on the way to SAFTI. Another one was just beside old SAFTI (now the big lake and the SAF Army Museum), which later occupied by SAF 3 Signals Bn - we use this one as prominent landmark when we alight from the bus to get into SAFTI.

kenny8blog said...

Hi Lam,
thanks for your reply.No,I don't know Tom Brown,but,I remember enjoying "Tom Bown's Schooldays".
Teenage literature.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor. From I understand scanning the discussions at the Blogger Help Group, it is a problem with Blogger. I think it happens when your total number of comments reach 5,000 or something like that.

It took Blogger a long time to resolve the problem becos it was the year end holidays season and many staff are away.

alex said...

Peter,

Thanks for all the update.

Regards

Alex

ordinary guy said...

I guess the BMT that we undergone has taken a new shape as what is is now. It was just standing on the LST (can't sit as the metal floor is too hot) that ferrys recruits to/fro P.Tekong to Commando jetty. It's by foot all the way to Camp 1 rain or shine. No night training on Thursdays. Dog biscuit, sardines, pork cubes, baked beans. The spewing of vulgarities to get everybody understand the same language to enhance cohesion. The CSM which you won't want to crossed path with...all these has made us very resilient to face the challenges in life after of BMT/NS days.

Tom said...

Tom said...
Hi Kenny8 wellcome to G.M.Y.You said your father served in Singapore, was your dad out there in year 1940? I was stationed in Selarang, the year 1961 to 1964 I was a regular soldier then, Chun See you said your son has been called to do his N.S.I hope they are not to hard on him? I agree with Zen, Singapore should have a regular army,Chun See your son will come out the army a better man,be proud of him for going in to do his N.S.

Zen said...

The usefulness of having a full time regular army on volunteering basis is that of its professionalism, but this is not to say that NS is lacked of it. My personal view is that a regular army man knows that his career advancement, family welfare, and above all his country, are all directly linked to his performance as a soldier. If these qualities have eroded, then he would realise that it is time for him to leave the army and returns back to civilian life. Just to illustrate the effectiveness of a regular army. It is recorded that just two batalions of the local Malay Regiment, under their colonial master, fought the battle-hardened Japanese army (imperial guards) to a standstill in Bukit Timah area in WWII, whilst themselves facing a total wipe-out.

Lam Chun See said...

Zen. Do you know that Israel depends heavily on its reservists. Those in Gaza now are mostly reservists.

Zen said...

Chun See - Frankly speaking it boils down to one thing, and that an army depends on the commitment of its people, be it a regular army or a reservist one. Most countries do have an army that also consist of regulars and reservists, that include Israel and Singapore, which are unique in the sense that they depend mainly on reservists, as a back-bone of defence of the country. If the people of Singapore supports NS like that of Israel, imbued with fierce patriotism for the country, SAF will definitely emerge a potent force to be reckoned with, not otherwise.

fighting fit said...

Zen, do you think our reservists are fiercely patriotic or even serious about defending this land?

I think it would be a mistake for us not to be. I think it might also be a mistake to assume we do not have a potent force.

Zen said...

fighting fit - You really ask a good question and I do not know the answer, but I do hope that in the future there is no need for our SAF to be called upon to prove themselves as a potent fighting force.

fighting fit said...

Zen,
I think thousands upon thousands of NSmen hope the same.

However, given the world we live in now, if we, as trained soldiers, ever come upon a situation where our skills can be put instantly to use to defend life, limb, and this land, I hope our men would not shrink from such a duty.

Zen said...

fighting fit - I do NOT believe our NSmen will ever shrink from the sacred duty of defending the country in time of need. It totally immoral to do it. Furthermore, guilty soldiers are likely to face court-martial and to receive severe punishment like in most countries.

fighting fit said...

Although I didn't exactly say our guys will shrink from the duty, I sometimes wonder given that we see callous people who just stand by and watch some helpless crime victims shout for help but no one offers a hand.

I guess I wasn't thinking about NSmen who receive the big call of duty to go into a combat zone and if the guys would go. What if the fight came to us here unexpectedly. Imagine a few crazed guys shooting up the streets, and a few of our men in uniform go down in the fight. If we are there and seeing the gunmen turn their backs to move on, would we without a moment hesitation grab the weapon from our fallen comrade and pick up the fight? I mean, the scenario isn't very far fetched.

I don't mean to sound "Bruce Willis" about it but I would. Instincts would take over. Survival instincts first. Then instincts honed by training kicks in. And by golly i hope there are like minded guys around then.

So there, Chun See. We strayed from your post's theme, but the gist is if we "old birds" still got what it takes, and the balls, the army trained us right.

Icemoon said...

fighting fit, the average soldier is trained only in M16/SAR21. they have no proper training in revolver/pistol, much less the AK47 used by Mumbai terrorists.

the instincts honed by training is this: take cover first, find your buddy and team-mates. everyone starts to search frantically for the gunmen. somebody gives clear and unambiguous direction to target. then cover and fire to target.

not likely to be useful in your scenario. a BUA attack is a coordinated effort. you need smoke and a lot of soldiers. SAF fights in the ratio of 3:1.

also very dangerous to chiong amid all the chaos. with enemies not wearing uniform, they are almost invisible to you. like somalia '93.

Icemoon said...

also you oldies forget one very important aspect of weapon handling la - IA drills. lol .. you can't just pick up any weapon and start firing. this is not a counterstrike game.

zen said...

Like most armies in the world, and not surprisingly, we have our fair share of local black sheep participating in heinous crimes. I do not envisage any country wanting to fight a war with Singapore, especially without a good reason, though there was one crafty former head of state in a neighbouring country, always threatening us saying that he would cut off our water supply and to declare war on us if necessary, but in the end all were empty talks which he thought could enhance his political image. The likely scenario could come in the form of a terrorist attack which I hope we are all prepared for such an eventuality.

Lam Chun See said...

I think it is very difficult during peaceful and comfortable circumstances to imagine how we would react during crisis; whether war or terrorist attack. Would we become 'hero' or 'coward'? Only God knows. And I trust that He is in control of our lives and would not put us through what we cannot endure.

Zen said...

The older generation of Singaporeans had gone through the great depression of 1929, Japanese occupation, deprivation of the post war years, social unrest in the fifties, confrontation years (with Indonesia)in the early sixties, and survived despite untold hardship. Now that the younger generation has taken over the baton in happier time, holding destiny in our own hands, still caution should be at the uppermost in our minds. There is a real possibility a storm after a lull, and it is a natural phenomenon for events to repeat themselves in a cyclical pattern. Therefore the saying - 'make peace while preparing for war' still holds water.

fighting fit said...

Guys,

I was not advocating a style like Rambo--pick up weapon and stand out in the open to engage the enemy singlehandedly lah. If we want to fight, we have to fight smart. Use everything around you to your advantage.

yes, it is risky to chiong, esp. when you aren't wearing uniform cos you might be mistaken to be the enemy too. But what I meant was if the golden opportunity presented itself for you to attempt to stop the enemy, would you? (I am not asking you to put on a bandana and tote that weapon like some vigilante until all the baddies are gone.) Or would you hesitate and worry about whether you are trained on the weapon, what if the thing jammed, what if this and that happened?

Think about it. We don't have to drag this discussion out too extensively. In closing, I wondered about the guys on the last plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. When they decided they needed to try take on the hijackers, did they worry about whether they were specially trained, or what if they got cut and slashed?

Zen said...

My thinking is this. When plane crew and passengers are caught suddenly by surprise facing armed hijackers or terrorists, how are they going to response? Most probably all on board would be shocked, and immobilised by this sudden encounter. Only trained personnel could counter these merciless 'demons'. Should the innocent passengers, crew and pilots surrender to these 'devils from hell' - to ensure safety or united as one to fight it out? No one actually know the correct answer until the whole episode is over. After all my unpleasant imagination, I am in favour of having an armed air marshall dressed in plain cloth sitting among the passengers to deal with any unforeseen incidents, and also air crew, especially the stewards including the pilots, need to be trained to handle such a frightful situation. By taking all the necessary precaution those unfortunate enough to meet these 'devils in disguise', will have a fighting chance of survival.

peter said...

There are 2 schools of thought.

1. If u have a gun pointed at your face, you got a choice; you either shoot the other guy first or be shot by him.

2. During peace time, if you can't stand-up for your office colleague because you fear trouble coming down on you, how can you fight for your men?

If and when we come to this situation, I guess the above holds water.

Icemoon said...

I think when there's a plane hijack, the pilot should suddenly nose-dive, all the terrorists will fall down and passengers can do the necessary.

Lam Chun See said...

I saw some soldiers in the new 'pixelated' camouflage uniform. The colour is very light and not even green. I think we may have to stop referring to our soldiers as 'our men in green'.

irah said...

Hi Mr Lam,

I'm a secondary school student and i found ur blog very interesting yet resourceful but the thing is my school is participating a competition which required us to present the history of the Kranji railway..Also, we have to interview peolple who either had been there in the past or know a bit or so abt the place.I not too sure if you are interested in helping us but if you would like to know more pls email me at irah_roses@hotmail.com
for any clarification.By the way im a student frm Regent Sec.

Thank You.

peter said...

Chun See
You can "Hoi Tong" now. Start off my pitching a tent and some signboards.

Victor said...

Chun See, this can be your second career - Railway Consultant. :-)

Must charge reasonable fees for regulars like us.