[I've interviewed many people for my blog but this is the first time I'm interviewing my dad! This is for a themed challenge for the Singapore Blog Awards 2013. Please vote for me here - one vote everyday! Thanks, everybody, thanks!]
Now, what really intrigues and inspires me about the 60s, apart from how we
were kicked out broke away from Malaysia and survived, is how the men from my dad’s generation were introduced to the concept of National Service, went through with it, and emerged as tougher men. I would have protested if I were them, after all, I’d say, my dad didn’t have to do NS! But those guys did something their own dads didn’t have to do, and because of them, the baton of defending our nation-state has been successfully handed down from a generation to the next! And what all these NSmen have done is to help ensure the sovereignty of our nation-state. Sometimes we forget that Singapore is such a tiny red dot that it is unlikely to survive without a dedicated defence force to protect us from external threats. So, a big thank you to all who have played their part!
As a kid, I used to listen enthralled to my dad’s tales of his army days and recent heroics. As I grew older, my friends and later, Facebook, took over. But for this blogpost, I sought out my dad to ask him about being an NSman in the 60s and he was very thrilled to share the tale again.
Here’s a photo of me and my dad (taken in the 80s or even 90s!)
I know I look cute
Some background: National Service began in 1967 in Singapore and in 1968, my dad got into the fifth batch. After 6 months of combat training, he became a combat medic due to his prior stint with the Red Cross.
1) Why is this person in the picture screaming away?
This photograph was taken during medic training. We had NO anaesthetic! Your partner will have to use a big needle to draw blood from your arm. Some men cried out of fear or pain or because they couldn’t stand the sight of blood! Some of them anyhow poke and your arm would be blue-black the next day! And the very next day, the person gets another shot at drawing blood from you again! Your partner MUST successfully draw blood from your arm. Nurses get to “train” first with fruit like oranges, but we had to just do it straightaway!
2) Who were the instructors back then? The Israelis? (Something I remember from History lessons in the past)
They were gangsters, with tattoos! Only these guys would sign on as regulars. They were bullies and often ill-treated us. So we became very tough, not like these weaklings nowadays.
The Israelis trained the first batch then supervised the exercises for the subsequent batches once in every few months.
There was a Chinese saying back then that 好人不当兵 (good people don’t join the army). Only the notorious figures joined the army – even those who only had primary school education could join.
3) What sort of punishment did you guys get?
There was ‘stand by bed’ to check if there was any dust in our bunks. The punishment could be a ‘changing parade’ – one moment, they would want us in one attire, and then make us take a bath and come back in another attire. If your bunk is on the third floor, then good luck to you. You must be fast in running up and down lah and cannot take your own sweet time. We were only given a few minutes for bath-time and they said they MUST smell Lux soap on us.
But we were also smart (*grin) and we only washed our faces and arms with soap. They think we are stupid but we are actually quite intelligent! They would not smell our boots anyway.
If one guy does something wrong, the entire company or battalion would be punished. At night, a “blanket party” will be thrown for the guy who sabo-ed everyone. He would be covered with a blanket (so he won’t know who is attacking him) and people would whack the fella.
4) Were there handphones at that time? What do you guys do in your free time?
There was no handphone, no pager even. [Matter of factly] We washed our own clothes and polished our boots.
5) What was army food like back then? Was it good?
It was not nice lah, packets of dried meat, etc. But we must eat or else we won’t have enough strength and if we faint, we won’t get to go back home on Sunday!
6) What was the training like?
Sometimes it was very dangerous, like when we had to cross rivers at night. It was probably somewhere in Punggol. An instructor would swim across and tie the rope to a tree. Thankfully, the current was not very strong so nobody got swept away! Our rifles had to be covered in plastic and we had to get across and set up camp. We also had to keep oiling our rifles, drying them, then oiling them again. We had to take care of our rifles or we would be punished.
The 3-day, 3-night road march was the worst. We had to cover 70 miles. And by the second day, everyone got blisters. But I was a first-aider so I stuck many plasters to my feet and got fewer blisters! We got a 10-minute break after every hour. So those who still fainted were punished. Why? Because you are weak so you have to train harder! You are supposed to be fit!
And sometimes, we had to evacuate a “casualty” as part of our field training. We would choose the youngest or the thinnest guy. And four of us would carry our own arms plus the casualty on a stretcher. We had to cross small streams and go up and down small hills carrying the fella! But once the Sergeant had his back turned to us, or when we were hidden by some bushes, we would kick the fella and make him walk with us. (That was in the Jurong area, where there were hills once, but which have been replaced by flats now) When the Sergeant turned back, we would have the guy return to the stretcher quickly. If not, wah, really tired you know!
Those fellas just enjoy themselves lying on the stretcher so we will sometimes give them a kick.
7) Men these days complain all the time about having to serve NS. What about in your time? Did you all do this because you love the country or something?
[Without hesitation] NO LAH! We were forced to join also what!
Grace says: That’s how honest my dad is. No politically correct answers to be given. I like.
(Solemn) Some people committed suicide then, as training was very tough. People these days have become soft, everyday play game (*casts a glance at my laptop screen).
Grace says: In my own defence, no, I do not play games on the computer everyday. I blog, I Facebook, I send emails and I watch movies on the computer. But no, I do not play games everyday. Is my dad referring to you?
Finally, I have to say that the people who went through the tough NS training in the 60s truly deserve our respect and admiration. Also, without them, we would probably have had to ‘merge’ with some other country in order to ensure our survival!
During the course of this ‘interview’, my dad showed me his arms with prominent veins bulging out and said that people these days don’t exercise enough and hence, their veins can’t be seen (causing headaches for nurses who need to draw blood from them). Because my dad seemed to be referring to me as one of those who “don’t exercise enough”, I looked down at my own arms and sure enough, my veins can’t be seen.
Ok… ok… I’m gonna go do twenty pushups now, alright?
In the meantime, VOTE FOR ME LAH!
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