Sikhs in Singapore’s new soldiers in 1967

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| Singapore | 10 Aug 2015 | Asia Samachar | 
Singapore’s first national service recruit Abel Singh (second from right) served 32 years in the Singapore Armed Forces, retiring as a lieutenant-colonel in 1999 - PHOTO THE NEW PAPER/SINGAPORE
Singapore’s first national service recruit Abel Singh (second from right) served 32 years in the Singapore Armed Forces, retiring as a lieutenant-colonel in 1999 – PHOTO THE NEW PAPER/SINGAPORE

Major (Ret) Ishwar Lall Singh was the first swearing in officer for Singapore’s national service enlisting in 1967.

Major (Ret) Ishwar Lall, 86, remembers the underlying tension in the air as they went about to perform their task, as there was opposition to the idea of conscription model, making it compulsory for all male Singaporeans to become national service enlistees when they reach 18 years of age.

“It was a very tense time. I was very worried if the recruits would get into fights in camp because they opposed conscription. That was what Barisan Sosialis iterated and I feared the young people then would be swayed by them,” he said in an interview published in The New Paper (10 Aug 2015).

In the same story, the newspaper featured the photo of Abel Singh, who is said to be Singapore’s first national service recruit. Abel served 32 years in the Singapore Armed Forces, retiring as a lieutenant-colonel in 1999.

Major (Ret)  Ishwar Lall remembers how the personnel at the Central Manpower Base were prepared for something to happen.

He said his intention wasn’t to forcefully coerce the 18-year-olds into serving but to clarify things.

“There were some boys who understood no English, so we got them into another room and had a translator facilitate communication,” he said in the interview. “And there were also some who were hesitant about serving, so I took them aside and spoke to them.”

Major (Ret) Ishwar Lall said the whole process – swearing in of about 5,000 recruits a year – went smoothly, he said in the article entitled 1967: Singapore’s First Soldiers.

“It was very orderly and most of the 18-year-olds seemed happy to serve. They didn’t protest or start fights, they were very calm. So all my preparations to contain any fights was wasted.”

He explained that creating a large army was important for Singapore, especially during the Konfrontasi era of the 1960s.

“We had very little time to create a defence force, so we invited Israeli officers to train our first soldiers quickly and we hastily constructed military camps to house our soldiers,” he said in the same article.

He said that a small country like Singapore cannot afford a standing army like other countries, so conscription was the best way to make up numbers.

 

 

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