| Singapore | 25 Aug 2016 | Asia Samachar |
One ﬁne morning, a military land rover drove up to the front of his house. He boarded it and soon after, together with two other persons, he was sworn into service in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) at Port Dickson in Malaya. Colonel (Retired) Jagrup Singh’s application to join the army was approved and it marked the beginning of his long and fulﬁlling military career, one which enabled him to make telling contributions to the nation.
Jagrup was born in 1938. At that time, his father was attached to the police force and the young Jagrup spent most of his childhood at the police training school at Thompson Road. When he was four years old, he vividly recalled seeing the Japanese marching in from the MacRitchie Reservoir area and life drastically changing for him during the Japanese occupation. Back at the police training school barracks, Jagrup’s father had a small plot of land where he planted rambutans and beans for his family. Jagrup’s family was later transferred to the Hill Street Police Station. They made a home for themselves there on a vacant plot of land at the premises. With his knowledge of farming, Jagrup’s father planted vegetables on the land.
Around that point of time, tragedy befell the family. One of his brothers was taken gravely ill. The doctor could do little beyond providing vitamins to his ailing brother. Given the limited resources, there was little his family could do to help his brother. Jagrup recounted, “Food was scarce and difﬁcult to come by during the years of the occupation. My mother would cook rice when available and if possible but this was extremely rare. However, what we really needed was milk for my brother in order for him to recover.”
His family’s prayers were somewhat answered when his father managed to rear a cow with the help of some Indian commissioned ofﬁcers. The plan was to provide the commissioned ofﬁcers with milk in exchange for their help. At the same time, the family was very grateful to the Tamil community for providing space to keep the cow at no cost. To his family’s joy, his brother recovered, though not fully. This episode was just part of the travails endured by the family which made many sacriﬁces to ensure its collective well-being. Such travails were also important lessons of life for Jagrup.
During the years of the Japanese occupation, Jagrup enrolled in a Japanese school. All the subjects were taught in Japanese. It was difﬁcult for the local students to adapt to these changes as many, if not all, could not understand Japanese. Jagrup recalled: “I learnt nothing there.” Fortunately, life eventually improved when the Japanese left Singapore in 1945.
When Jagrup neared the completion of his education at Rafﬂes Institution, his parents wanted him to enter the university. However, he was apprehensive, especially given his family’s constraints. He knew that if he went to university, his siblings would likely lose out. Instead, he wanted to become a planter in a rubber estate in Malaya. As his parents had shown him early in life their capacity for sacriﬁce, he wanted to become a planter so that he could earn an income and support his family. He completed his GCE ‘A’ Levels, which in itself was an achievement at that time.
When Jagrup was in the ﬁrst year in the GCE ‘A’ Level programme, national service was introduced in Singapore. While attending part-time national service in a camp at Beach Road, a military ofﬁcer approached him to consider joining the SAF.
Jagrup confessed: “I did not know anything about the SAF. (The Major) explained it to me and passed me an application form. My parents left the decision to me and assured me that they would support my decision. Despite the uncertainties, I chose the SAF.” That marked the turning point in Jagrup’s life.
Jagrup’s ﬁrst posting in the SAF was to the 1st Singapore Infantry Regiment. He was briefed on his reporting details upon his arrival at the then-Tanjong Pagar railway station. However, he would soon return to Port Dickson to be trained as an ofﬁcer in the SAF. After undergoing training for two years, he passed out as a commissioned ofﬁcer.
In the course of his duty, Jagrup was posted as an instructor to Command and Staff College. He ensured that his unit was efﬁcient in its training. More importantly, he ensured that his soldiers were always operationally-ready. On various occasions, his unit emerged victorious in these competitions. He recalled: “During one exercise, a top Israeli General was invited to inspect my unit. The General left impressed with the work of my team, especially the high standards expected of and delivered by the personnel in the unit.”
During his time in the SAF, Jagrup was also deployed on several overseas posts and tours in various signiﬁcant capacities. He was also sent to represent Singapore and the SAF on various occasions. Some notable examples of such postings and his experiences included the 62nd Regimental Signal Ofﬁcers Course in the United Kingdom; the Jungle Warfare Course in Kota Tinggi (Malaysia) and Australia, the Military Accounts Course in Perak (Malaysia) and the Command and Staff College Course in Australia.
An important highlight in Jagrup’s military career was the privilege of being sent to England in 1963 to represent Singapore at the Queen’s birthday. Jagrup was additionally also Singapore’s Military Attaché in Manila in the Philippines and attended the United States Army Familiarisation Course in the United States.
When he retired, it was no surprise that Jagrup was well suited, with his vast experience, to continue to be involved in military work undertaken by the Singapore Ministry of Defence. This included the sale of military equipment to overseas partners. He then started his own enterprise dealing in military equipment. Finally calling it a day, Jagrup decided to look after his family full time.
I have known Jag, as he is fondly known, since our primary school days. We were in the same standard. We separated during our secondary school days but met again when I reported at the Federation Military College for my military officer training. He was then in his second year. Jag went on to have a distinguished career in the SAF. During his service, he had a high degree of perseverance and discipline, and he expected that as well from his soldiers and those who worked with him. Although a senior officer, he never abused his authority.
Jag came from a humble family. His compassionate and caring nature is reflective of his family’s environment. He is a good friend and is full of humour. We have a round of golf on Sundays when we are free. I bring along my son, Andrew, and we have a wonderful breakfast at his house before setting out to the golf course.
All in all, Jag and I have been friends for about 65 years and the friendship is still going strong.
-Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Kesavan Soon (Singapore Armed Forces)
As Jagrup laps up his retirement years, he recapitulates that the Japanese occupation was the one event which left an indelible impression on him. “I watched, saw and learnt lessons from the Japanese occupation. The same Japanese who were masters suddenly became prisoners of war. My father used to say that this is life. Today, you may be the top man but tomorrow you may go down. My circumstances were what made me different.”
Having gone through some trying times, his advice to young Sikhs is simple, “Work hard! Chardi kala! Look forward to the future. If you are a Sikh, you are special. We are now much better off. Maintain your faith. This is very important. Maintain your beliefs. Work hard. Success is only a stone’s throw away.”
Jagrup’s motto in life is “One should persevere and also be a keen learner. This applies to many, if not all aspects, of life. Only then will one realise one’s dreams”.
He made sacriﬁces for the family, persevered in the face of adversity and took a leap of faith to join the SAF. He eventually went on to realise his dreams and in the process, made signiﬁcant contributions to the nation.
[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]
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