Thursday, September 25, 2008

SAF (public) training areas – Peter recalls

Let me continue from where Chun See left off in the previous post with a story about how we benefited by "walking all over Singapore" when doing NS in the early 70’s.

1. We could never envisage thriving rural business enterprises all over Singapore that could succeed until we did our defense camp on one of the ridges of Hill 265. Today that location is the Singapore Sports School at Woodlands Drive 15.

One thing impressed me about those villagers; their business acumen. Their clients were SAF NS personnel. Many went into the drinks business whilst others did the catering.

For those into the drinks business, they either set-up permanent structures (like in this photo) or pedaled their bicycles with crates of Coca-cola and plastic bags/straws. The profit margins must have been very attractive because whenever a SAF detachment arrived, you can find many such stallholders. Some resorted to using their beautiful daughters as "magnets" to attract potential SAF lads, similar to those you see as "Tiger Beer Girls" in today's kopi-tiams. The girls or more likely children looked like they were under 16 years. Of course the village girls did not dress like "TIGER Beer Girls" but their facial beauty was enough to turn on most SAF lads. Imagine a youthful Fann Wong at 16 years of age with two pony-tails would have mesmerized every SAF lad. That girl was none other than what most SAF personnel referred to as the "Marsiling Girl". Unfortunately she was very shy to face my camera and all I have is the back of her body.

For those who went into the catering business, their kitchens were turned into frying Bee-Hoon with Mai Ling canned braised pork and canned "Fu Yee". It cost S$2 for a big plate which could feed 4 NS men. We sat at make-shift tables and were served with small porcelain soup bowls and black wooden chop-sticks. The catering business survived because nobody was keen on the SAF Wet Ration which tasted like "Sai" on most occasions because the rice was soggy and the chicken was still raw and still had strands of hair.

2. The other thing I learned was how reservoirs were able to keep the rain water. I had wondered for a long time whether the hydro engineers laid some kind of plastic sheet at the bottom of the reservoir to prevent water seepage. Well I found my answer through our exercises in the deep jungles of the Upper Pierce Reservoir and Bedok Reservoir. Actually, all you needed were huge granite boulders piled in layers until at the very top there was a layer of smaller granite aggregates. During "Exercise Red Beret", we walked to the bottom of the Upper Pierce Reservoir before emerging at Chestnut Avenue Water Pumping Station to continue our journey to Hong Kah.

The other exercise was a platoon withdrawal at the Bedok Reservoir. In 1974, Bedok New Town was under construction and Bedok Reservoir had been recently excavated. We withdrew from one end of the reservoir near Kaki Bukit to the other end near the "Clearwater Condominium and the Prison Department Sports Club (previously called the Bedok Reformatory Center)". At that time the Bedok Reservoir had not been laid with granite boulders and contained yellow earth. I can tell you that at the center of the reservoir, the depth must be at least 20 meters deep because when the platoon withdrawal exercise ended, we were all puffing and were "dying". The gradient was very steep. Guess who I piggy-backed in full battle orders? Gerard Ee the chairman of NKF Foundation. In his NS days, he weighed more than he does now.

Chun See continues …..

Actually, the kampong lasses sold much more than the soft drinks that Peter mentioned. There was also fried bee hoon, fried prawn cake (hea piah – circular shape with strands of bean sprouts, eaten with chilli sauce), fried tau kua (bean curd), hot coffee, and what I remember most, cheap chocolate wafers like the ones in this photo. I recall with great fondness, what a welcome sight those girls were to us cold, tired, rain-soaked soldier boys, appearing out of the darkness of the night in Area D, Sungei Gedong, where we did our field fortification exercises.

I dedicate this post to all the girls who ‘took care’ of us all those long years ago. I wonder where they are now. I hope some of them, or their children at least, are reading this story.

Update: 27 Sep 2000 - This is the photo that Peter and Icemoon are discussing about in the comments section.



Icemoon said...

Heehee, I guess the oldies were wearing Temasek Green then. Carrying AR15 with the short magazine (wonder why it was kinda phased out for our M16s). And they were officer cadets.

Icemoon said...

A pity the book NS 4040 does not talk about the rural business enterprises.

In some ways, these oldies had it easier than us. We never had what Marsiling Girl. In Singapore, the 'ninja van' serves at most the rifle range. During outfield, we never get to see those villages. Even the smelly farm at Lim Chu Kang became empty land the last time I was there.

Anonymous said...

What is "ninja van" may I ask?

"Marsiling Girl" Chinese name was Mei Lan. There was a song with the lyrics "Mai Lan (2) woh I nee" Every time we saw her, we sang to tease her. She said" "Mai an nah kuan. Wah laubu kwa teok......"

There was also a Pulau Tekong girl (nick name reference a flower I think) who finally married my one-time buddy. So traditional during the wedding. We had to help out at this friend's wedding and we took bum-boat from Changi Creek to fetch the bride from Tekong to his flat at Mei Ling Street. We carried baskets of gifts and live chicken and roast pig in this big tray.....

That's where we also learn that beauty also in kampong areas.

Icemoon said...

Ninja van is the food van, selling canned drinks, burgers, bee hoon etc.

By the way, the rural enterprise can still be found in Thailand. But no chio bu like Peter's Marsiling Girl.

The hawkers know the route better than us. They will wait at a junction for us, when nobody is buying, disappear and reappear at the next junction. But during a battalion mission when all are on tactical march including the RSM, who dares to buy?

I remember vividly the little boy hawker climbing up the hill barefooted or with old dusty slippers - we were wearing boots - just to earn our business.

We love their char mee, they love our combat rations. Peter talked about the Brits introducing him to fish and chips. I guess we are like the Brits to them - giving away our rations like the Kong Guan biscuits.

Icemoon said...

I remember the papers featured the guy, the inspiration for the mobilization mascot (soldier with rifle).

Chey, not interested. Why don't they interview Mei Lan instead? Haha.

Lam Chun See said...

Mybe I can suggest to my friend in New Paper to do such a story.

Lam Chun See said...

For some reason, I often ended up as casualty during the withdrawal exercises. Maybe it's becos of my size. Slightly below ave built. Therefore not so heavy as to 'kill' the survivors, but heavy enough to give them a tough time.

Sometimes those guys don't know how to carry properly .. damn painful for me. But dare not complain. Scared they fed-up; 'accideantally' drop me down Hill 265

Victor said...

I also loved the choc wafers as a kid. Ah... maybe time for another blog article.

The wafer wrapper in your photo, though of the right colour, looked different from the one that I am familiar with as a kid. The words on your wrapper made me think of the current melamine scare.

Lam Chun See said...

Those wafers of old were made in China. The ones in this photo are made by a factory in Tampoi Johore called Apollo. Ever did some work for them years ago.

alex said...

Peter, did you remember the boys and their parents who came rushing to us after a live firing exercise, to collect the GPMG cartridges. copper sells for good money. This is always the problem we have, they run after our V200, as safety officer, I almost die every time I saw 3-5 running up the hill following the vehicles.
Ring a bell?

Anonymous said...

Alex - I am not sure the reason(s) why villagers were not so interested to pick-up blanks but I remember they were always interested to pick-up spent "live" amo like 60mm mortar shells, 5.56mm and GPMG rounds. For us, the 60mm mortar shell made a good ash-tray piece.

One other thing we tend to forget is the SAF Wet ration food. Those unconsumed food were readily welcome by the villagers. I can still picture hordes of them, usually small children and women hanging around the food ration point.

Every time a solder threw away his plastic bag wrapped around a mess tin (oldies will remember this was one way to keep the mess tin clean and oil-free, the villagers rushed for the either the dustbin or eagerly stretching out their hands as if begging for food. The coolected food was stored in plastic pails like those you find as pails for mopping the floor at home. Places like Bah Soo Pah, Ulu Sembawang and Lorong Asmara in Mandai saw more activities than in the Jurong. Maybe there was social disparity between people living outside Jurong area and those within Jurong area.

Anonymous said...

Chun See
If you read this SAF commemorative book "Shoulder to Shoulder" (given to every NSman) on page 79, you can find yours truely behind the Indian soldier (circa 1973). That Indian fella was my SSL colleague "Morgan" Kumar. The location was a hill at Sime Road, next to the golf club (you turn left instead of turn right inside the golf course) I think that hill gone to make way for PIE. That is section withdraw carrying casualty.

Lam Chun See said...

Oh yeah. I recall now. The platoon IC used to buy those plastic bags in bulk for the mess tin. Reason is becos afraid the oil difficult to wash away and then get into trouble during stand-by-bed.

I think the kampong folks collect the unconsumed food (swill) for feeding pigs. Was it YG who blogged about this before?

Peter. I have not seen "Shoulder to Shoulder". Must try to borrow from one of the younger men in my church.

alex said...

Peter, for blanks the copper is only on the Percussion cap, where as for live round it is all metal. Mortar "tail" is all aluminum, sells for good price. The wet food they collect to feed the pigs. They like too, the bread and kaya butter that we dont eat for breakfast. The best joke was they collected the bee hoon, went back and fry them add eggs, resell to us.

Some time they sell dirian and other fruits.


Icemoon said...

Come, let me show you guys and gals his macho posture!

Peter must be thinking why didn't Kumar casevac him instead?

By the way, how come like got dead people on the forest floor??

Anonymous said...


Thanks for photo. Actually I did not know about this photo until I kaypoh to see what SAF send to every NS household some 8 or 10 years ago.

To answer your question about dead soldiers. Well I remember SAFTI Photography Unit (not sure any old Pasir Laba soldier can recall that unit. It was somewhere in the Old SAFTI Parade Square behind the Senior NCO Mess, sports field and a cookhouse). It was not voluntary nor a members club. We were instructed us to do "action". We did several "dry runs". Some of us were told to play dead to pretend dead, some to roll down the hill - in fact one fella did and he kena hit the rubber trees, and the remainder to continue to charge up the hill. The 4 of us in the photo were the remainder.

Now the more I think about it, there were some shots where we "action" smoking whilst on guard duty. It was meant to teach SAF soldiers not to smoke. I dont know whether SDAF still got that photo because I was the "model" who smoked. Ah yah DUNHILL brand!

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. Which one are you in the foto. The casualty is it?

Anonymous said...

Behind Kumar. I had to carry 2 rifles; one mine and the other the casualty. I think the one to my left was Teo who became Best Trainee in Section Leaders course.

Also on this exercise, we saw some kind of WW2 "shrine" in the jungle(can't remember whether it was a shrine or a hut) but we were told to stay far away from it. I recently came to know that it was WW2 gazetted heritage site. But actually the fun part was to watch golfers playing - first time ever seeing a golf course. We were told it was "rich man's game".

Icemoon said...

I knew there was something different about Peter carried the rifle. Why didn't he sling it like Teo? They were going upslope and it is siong to hold a rifle this way. Moreover a right-handed person will normally carry the rifle on his right hand. So I guess he was carrying another rifle with his left hand.

Hey, their rifles not fitted with blank attachments. Or catridge pouch. So realistic ah.

Icemoon said...

I think Peter was training near Sime Road Camp or the Combined HQ. The nearest shrine is the Syonan Jinja in Macritchie.

Anonymous said...

Why we hold the rifles like that? Because of our OC then, LTA Avtar Singh wanted us to look like US GI.

Morgan was a very good friend - somewhere u can trust. We both made it to OCS. Unfortunately Morgan had a fall in the last month of the course (his backbone was broken) and was considered out of course. He fell down from a coconut tree which was in the sloping garden of the old OCS Wing - that garden is now the sloping section of the PIE after the bridge linking Old SAFTI to SAFTI MI.

I still have 2 photos - one of the garden (with coconut trees and rambutan trees) and the other photo of all our platoon buddies who visited Morgan in the SAFTI Medical Center where he was warded.

Tom said...

Tom said...
Peter and icemoon keep this blog going ,it is good reading, it brings back memories, when I use to do alot of exercises around Singapore , and you have named afew areas were we use to do them

Icemoon said...

How come in the medical center photo, the guys are so formal? And I'm surprised their hair, save one person, can pass inspection .. lol

Anonymous said...

The dress code for OCS cadets in those days was long-sleeved shirt, pants and tie - any colour combination or fashion style. Today OCS cadets must wear black pants, white shirt and tie (not sure colour) and carry official OCS brief case.

U need to follow dress code when u go from point to point with SAFTI and when leaving camp. U also had to mrach in this dress code as well.

As for hair, they were less strict but no hair touching ears and collar.

I think from the photo of the medical center visit, we just booked-in after trip to Boon Lay (think there was a shopping center there at that time) and got some goodies for Kumar.

Anonymous said...

BTW the 2 persons next to the person with arms stretched were SAF regulars; one commando (left) and the other infantry (right). I believe they rose to the rank of colonel before retirement. In those days, people sign-on in SAF after they attained NCO rank and not when they were OCS cadets. The other friend not in photo became defense attache in our embassy in Washington and retired as 1/2 colonel.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. the more I look at that top photo of you and your comrades resting in the hut, the more I think I have been there before. Can you remember more details of the location?

Anonymous said...

chun see
u r impossible lah. It's like asking me where Mei Lan now lives or who she married lah.

OK I try. If i follow the shadow cast by the hut, the sun is behind the hut. That should be morning sun because usually "tea-break" about 10am+ and not lunch-time. If long shadow that would be noon or afternoon right?

So if that was morning sun, east is behind the hut and west is in the fore-ground. Now Hill 265 has 2 ridges; one short and one high (always used for SAF training area). The short one is today's Sports School at Woodlands and the ridge is now SLE. The high hill is still there, opposite to the school and the SLE. Conclusion: down in the "valley" of SLE and the high hill = the present slip road out of the PIE into Woodlands New Town my guess.

To verify you can try to drive or walk through Lorong Asmara from Mandai Road (I was told by some of oldie SAF regular friends, it is now an unnamed track with a road barrier across it opposite some Civil Defense camp). This was where the 3-tonners used to go into Hill 265 area.

Can u remember training area in Ulu Sembawang? I got some old photos (not very clear) of our field camp on one of the hill. This area was used by us when we were doing BMT. Dont ask me why or how come we took camera with us during field camp. We took all sorts of photos then like "Half Monty".

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Peter. I guess it is just not possible to trace back to when or whether I was ever at this place before. On the other hand, I believe in Safti's demolition range there was a hut quite similar to this one I seem to recall.

I am not familiar with Ulu Sembawang area. Only did training there once. Remember seeing a lot of rubber trees.

Anonymous said...

Chun See
Can u check my impressions of this grenade range in pasir Laba.

1. It was on a hill after Peng kang Hill?

2. Once you up there behind the sandbag, you could see the sea?

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry. No impression of grenade range. Ony went there as blur recruit and junior cadet. But Demo range I went many times. SISL, OCS, Engineers and even reservist days.

Icemoon said...

Not sure where is grenade range, but I know the range for LAW, think M203 also nearby. It is at Tuas, and our vehicles enter by the causeway beside Raffles Marina.