Monday, January 19, 2009

From My Inbox: From Vancouver, Poh Guan Huat shares his NS experience

Hi Mr Lam,
My name is Poh Guan Huat. I share your interest about passing our experiences and knowledge about the Singapore of old, especially in the 50s and 60s when we were growing up. I myself was born in 1950, in the Geylang Serai area, near a Malay and Indian kampong. Later, in the late 50s my family moved to Siglap, just across the road from the Siglap C.C. I am very interested in jotting down my memories regarding these places during those times.
My family and I relocated to Vancouver, Canada in 1992, but I still keep in touch with Singapore and read quite a bit about Singapore social history. My favourite books are those by Julian Davison and David Kraal's The Devil in Me.

I was among the batch of recruits who were sent to Tg Gul camp (6SIR), which was dubbed the Siberian camp of Singapore, being as you said located so far on the western tip of Singapore island. The saving grace was that this camp was one of the very few (perhaps the only one?) with a swimming pool at that time, which was 1973. However, I did not enjoy the pool which was deep all around, and I did not swim well, and as I remember, we were only allowed to use the pool about once a week. The camp commandant then was LTC Jimmy Yap, a slim, dapper man with a neatly trimmed moustache and sunglasses. The camp was so isolated that we had to walk along a dirt track to the nearest road, perhaps a kilometre or two away, and at night when we returned to the camp after weekends at home, we could only see the glimmering lights of the camp from the bus stop.

The food at the camp was very bad, as the "cooks" were all NS men, and very few of them really knew how to cook. I remember the mee goreng, which was gluey and quite tasteless, but I enjoyed very much the red bean soup (ang tau) which was served after night training.

After Tg Gul camp, I was posted to SAFTI for the section leaders training. I was part of Golf Company, who Company Commander was a rather flamboyant man, LTA Chong. Among the things I remember about this camp was the cross country night training we did a number of times. On one of these training sessions, we had to pass through the Chua Chu Kang Chinese cemetery. While there, we were ordered to take cover, and each one of us had to sit or keel beside a tombstone. Another landmark in the area when doing night training was the Hindu cemetery. What an exciting time we had. There were many horror stories told about these times, e.g. a recruit who fell asleep while waiting for order to move on, and he had a nightmare and couldn’t wake up until his friend next to him, shook him up. When awake, he said that he felt something or someone preventing him from waking up, and when he did, he was shocked to find himself staring at a picture of the deceased person on the tombstone.

Well, there are many other stories but I will write about them another time.

A recent photo of Tanjong Gul Camp taken by LCS.

A 1986 photo of reservists doing their IPPT in Tanjong Gul Camp (from the National Archives of Singapore collection) watched by minister Yeo Ning Hong.


Lam Chun See said...

Now that Guan Huat mentions it, I recall the fried noodles. I used to tell my family members that when the army says 'fried noodles', they mean exactly that - noodles that are fried with little else.

But my son has called back from BMT Tekong and told us that the food is 'not bad'.

Anonymous said...

Gul Camp had a swimming pool?! I wonder where's it. Didn't notice when I was inside.

Today Gul Camp is not so isolated anymore with the road and bus stop a stone throw away from the gate.

Anonymous said...

You want good food, you must wait until "CO's Evening" and out of a sudden, the army cooks can whip-up a fantastic meal @hotel standard.

Of course "Co's Evening" got female entertainers from SAF Drama & Dance Company.

Chun See when you saw your son off at Tekong all parents were invited to try the cookhouse food. What do u think of the standard?

Anonymous said...

Needless to say, the food that the parents were invited to eat must be palatable!

Lam Chun See said...

Not fantastic but definitely better than our time. Also quite fresh compared to the canteen food in some company buildings. (shall not quote names). But as a 5S person, I cannot help noticing that the trays were very clean; much, much cleaner than those in food courts and hawker centres. In fact you could feel the heat meaning they were washed and machine dried.

During my time in OCS, we had to brind our own chinal mug and stainless steel food tray to the cookhouse. During stand-by-bed, the tray and mug is placed neatly on the bed. Rather silly practice don't you think?

Icemoon said...

Luckily the food there are palatable. Or it will be a waste of taxpayers' money.

BMTC has one of the better cookhouses. Pasir Laba also. Did you oldies try the cookhouse at Pasir Laba during the camp visit?

Anonymous said...

Looking at the soldier in the photo completing his 2.4km run reminds me of the time where the army only issue you those flat sole canvass shoes. There wasn't the sporty and well-cushioned runnings shoes that the SAF issued nowadays. Onlu during IPPT test that you are allowed to wear your own sports shoes for the 2.4km station. The army issued green t-shirts were not of the dry-fit fabric. The moment you perspire, you feel the weight of the t-shirts weighing down on you.

Lam Chun See said...

OG is right about the PT kit of our time. We looked more like inmates of Changi Prison and drug rehabilitation centres in them.

Plus the T-shirt goes out of shape and looses its colour in no time and we had to go to Sungei Road or Safticana to purchase our own.

As for the black shoes, they provide little or no protection for our feet. No wonder I have knee pain nowadays.

Still, I wish I had more photos of this PT kit besides the one here.

Anonymous said...

Can u remember the blue colour PT shorts? It was like hot-pants and also very baggy. The moment you sit down or squat down, your underwear can be seen. So the solution was to sit cross-legged or one leg cross over the other leg.

pcwong said...

Not all PT kits were green and blue. When I was at School of Signals, our PT kit was red top and blue shorts. Maybe to reflect the colours of the Signals formation sign.

Anonymous said...

Green vest/blue shorts = OR, Red vest/blue shorts = NCO, white vest/white shorts = officers, at least this is what I knew. Things might have changed. Icemoon what do you think?

alex said...

Peter is correct in saying what the NCO and Officers are "entitled" to wear. If the "men" put on the "wrong combination", they will be told off by the NCO, who are "you father, mather and girl friend",so they claim to be, and told to you on the first day of enlistment.

Tg. Gul is indeed far, and I remember visiting the camp once, when we were given permission to camp there at the "theater hall area", overnight, after night training. It was likely 1972, and we were doing training in Tuas reclaim land. We were allowed to 6 SIR for fuel refill (for V220), quick wash up, and night snack from their cook house. (Food request made in advance).

Nice place, new buildings. That is all I remember, we "move out" by 5:00 a.m. back to Tuas reclaim land.

Icemoon said...

At BMT at the turn of the century, Grey vest/black shorts = OR, Yellow vest/black shorts = NCO, White/Yellow vest, black shorts = officers.

The Yellow vest is for the infantry. Officers can wear that, or their white OCS vest.

Anonymous said...

I was in contact with LTC Jimmy Yap, who has been a resident of Vancouver for the past three decades.
An officer from the first batch corresponded with me, and he provided me with an extra copy of their publication "One of A Kind" so that I may forward it to Jimmy Yap. Jimmy Yap was a LTA, and an instructor at OCS in 1967.
I believe he left the SAF, after being the CO of OCS, then probably ACGS Intelligence.
As CO of OCS, he interviewed me when I was at SISL.
nickname "Colonel"

Anonymous said...


Can u forward me Jimmy Yap's Vancouver contact to my email please? I love to get in tourch with him again after so many decades.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear from someone 20 years my senior.

I was posted to 6SIR on Dec 1992. I was there until September 1994 when 6SIR was moved to Selarang camp in Changi.

But my relationship with Tg Gul camp did not end there. Tg Gul camp was converted to Infantry Training Center for reservist. So I when back to Tg Gul camp for my reservist until my unti was posted to PDF Maju camp. I remember telling the 84mm commander to say goodbye to the camp during out process.

But...that's not the end. 6SIR moved camp again. This time to Maju camp. I think their role has changed. Their current role has to do with internal security. So my unit has to move back to Tg Gul camp for reservist training in 2005. And that was my last resevist training.

The swimming pool is still there during my active days. But it is seldom use. Its rather old, with algae on the walls.

During my active days, Tg Gul was split into 2, 6SIR and PDF. The buildings in the 2nd photo is part of the PDF camp.

Alex Ho

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Alex Ho for that update. Helps to clear some of the mystery surrounding the place. I remember in the late 80's going to the company Pan Abrasives quite often and passing this camp. At that time, I marveled at the great changes taken place since the early days. Imagine, now another 2 decades on, I had difficulty just to find the place.

Anonymous said...

In the late 70s, Tg Gul was also 6 Div HQ

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, now i remember. The other half of the camp is 6 Div. Thanks peter for reminding me

Alex Ho

Life is Short said...

This is the first time I am writing something on Chun See's blog although I started noticing this nostalgic site quite sometime ago.

I was posted to HQ 6 Div in 1983 for a few months as a G3 clerk before being upgraded again to rejoin OCS. Yes, that place was so far away from civilisation, worse than SAFTI. But the most memorable thing I had was seeing a huge water spout there for the first time in my life.

Lam Chun See said...

Keith and Alex's remarks about Safti (now called Pasir Laba Camp) and Tanjung Gul Camp reminds me of something quite interesting which I had shared before in the comments section of one of my very early articles. I would like to repeat it here.

When I was a trainee in Safti, our weekends of course were very precious. But those irritating commanders liked to torture us by deliberately being very fussy with our area cleaning etc. so much so that by the time we were released, it was already way past lunch time. And when we finally got out of camp we were greeted by a most depressing sight. The bus stop, where we could catch the only bus home, which was Green Bus 175, was already packed with lots of soldiers impatient to get home. To make things worse, the bus, when it finally arrived, was packed with soldiers from Tanjung Gul Camp (6 SIR) who boarded the bus at Tuas Village.

Some of us thus resorted to desparate measures. We crossed the road (Upper Jurong Road) and boarded the bus 175 in the opposite direction. When it reached the terminus at Tuas, we remained in the bus; to the frustration of the 6 SIR soldiers waiting eagerly there.

I narrated this to my son who is doing his BMT in Pulau Tekong just the other day; and about how I used to take a bus 175 to Adam Road, enjoyed a nice ice kacang at the Adam Road hawker centre before taking another bus to my home in Lorong Chuan. In comparison, he and many other recruits were provided transport from BMTC in Pulau Tekong to White Sands in Pasir Ris where many parents, like me would fetch them home in air-conditioned cars.

Well, at least he was very appreciative.