One of the oldest military formations in Singapore is the Singapore Artillery. With a rich history since its conception in 1888, the Singapore Artillery has played a crucial role as a deterrent against any threat to Singapore’s sovereignty.
Although command of the unit has changed countless times since its formation, one commander particularly stands out from all these great leaders. He is the late Colonel (Retired) Mancharan Singh Gill. Living true to the motto of the Artillery formation, ‘In Oriente Primus’, which means ‘First in the East’, Mancharan was the first Chief of the Singapore Artillery and he played a critical role in the rise of modern-day Singapore Artillery.
One of 11 children, Mancharan was born in Muar in Malaya in 1934. He completed his early education in Malaya. Despite the Japanese invasion of Malaya during the Second World War, which led to a disruption of his studies, Mancharan persevered and continued studying after the war, graduating from Saint Xavier’s College in Penang. Following the completion of his early education, Mancharan came to Singapore in 1952 and enrolled in the University of Malaya.
In 1955, Mancharan graduated from the university and became a teacher before joining Singapore’s Metrological Service. During his stint at the metrological service, the Indonesian Konfrontasi broke out and Mancharan joined the Singapore Volunteer Artillery where he served to protect Singapore and Malaysia which had merged at that time.
In 1965, when Singapore separated from Malaysia, Mancharan was in Sabah. Along with the other officers in the army, he was given the option to choose between the Singapore and Malaysian armies. Although most of his family members were in Malaysia, Mancharan chose to remain in Singapore. His time spent here, his interactions at university (where he was housemate with Singapore’s former President, Mr S R Nathan, and others) and thereafter imbued in him a sense of commitment sophistication needed by the troops. His men were also not trained well and many did not know how to handle the artillery pieces properly. His first tenure as the Chief of the Artillery formation was from the end of 1969 till May 1971.
In this short time, Mancharan built up the Artillery formation from scratch. He utilised many of his old comrades from the volunteer artillery as instructors in the Singapore Artillery units and they trained the pioneer batches of soldiers in handling the various types of artillery pieces effectively and confidently. Mancharan also knew that, on top of his men being well-trained, to defend Singapore effectively, they needed modern guns. As such, he approached several countries to discuss the sales of artillery to Singapore.
At the end of his first tour, Mancharan was sent to Fort Leavenworth in the United States for training at the Command and Staff College where he excelled in his batch and was promoted to the rank of Colonel. Upon his return to Singapore in 1973, Mancharan was appointed the Chief of the Artillery formation for the second time. He had the opportunity to further carry on his work in developing Singapore’s artillery capability. During his two tours as the Singapore Artillery Chief, Mancharan set in place plans, policies and processes for the modernisation of the Singapore Artillery. At that point in time, the Singapore Artillery used a simple ‘aim the mortar tube and fire’ system. Having personally experienced the Second World War, Mancharan was fully aware that for Singapore to avoid such a catastrophic scenario again, the SAF needed to be a top-notch entity with modern equipment and well-trained men.
When it came to his men, Mancharan was extremely disciplined but fair. It was very common to see him mingling with his men as often as he could so that he could build rapport with them, and motivate and push them to their limits. To his officers, Mancharan was a hard taskmaster who was always demanding the maximum to the newly independent country and he wanted to contribute to its development.
As the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had not been formed at that point in time, Mancharan served in the precursor of the SAF, the Singapore Military Force, where he held the rank of Captain. When the SAF was formally set up and the various units were formed, Mancharan was appointed Singapore’s first Chief of the Singapore Artillery in 1969. He was a committed, experienced and highly capable ground officer.
When Mancharan became the Chief of the Artillery formation, he was faced with many challenges. The British had left Singapore in a hurry and did not leave any proper equipment for use by the Artillery. The Singapore Artillery consisted of simple mortars, which lacked the range and from them at all times.
Mancharan was convinced that the Singapore Artillery officers’ leadership was crucial to the effectiveness of the formation and he expected much more from them. His officers acknowledged that his methods were highly effective and those under his charge were willing to go that extra mile to ensure that the formation excelled in the quickest time possible. It was due to his dedication, efforts and contributions that he became famously known as the ‘Father of the Singapore Artillery’.
Mancharan was the first Chief of the Artillery in the SAF. Armed with little knowledge, he built up Singapore Artillery, together with the Artillery formation pioneers. This marked the development of MODERN DAY Singapore Artillery. He worked very hard, never seemed to rest and was a real hard taskmaster. He strove for excellence and always demanded the best from those under his command. As his OFFICER, I learned greatly from him. He remained dedicated and committed to his job and his position till he retired. He was a great OFFICER.
Colonel (Retired) Chan Jwee Kay
Former Chief of Artillery
After completing his second tour, Mancharan took up various positions in the SAF. From 1976 to 1979, he served as the Assistant Chief of General Staff (Logistics) and the Assistant Chief of General Staff (Training). From 1979 to 1982, he was Commander of the 3rd Singapore Infantry Division. During his tour here, alongside other officers from the various SAF formations, Mancharan was a core member of the Combined Arms Division planning team. This Division housed the various units of the SAF which worked together to achieve full effectiveness on and off the battlefield. His last command was Deputy Chief of General Staff from 1982 until his retirement in 1986.
LIFE AFTER ARMY
After leaving the SAF, Mancharan joined the Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS), known today as ST Kinetics. He focused on the artillery aspect within CIS and was heavily involved with artillery equipment development for the SAF.
One particular weapon system that Mancharan helped developed was the FH-2000 gun system. This was an advancement of the existing FH-88 system, which was fast becoming outdated. Mancharan saw the FH-2000 system as a critical factor in the defence of Singapore as it was one of the most modern gun systems at that time. He was aware that one of the reasons Singapore fell to the Japanese was due to its ineffective or outdated guns so he strongly believed that the FH-2000 would change that.
In addition to helping with production of the FH-2000 system, Mancharan acted as a representative of CIS to other governments and arranged for the sales of Singapore manufactured arms and equipment to them.
Mancharan finally called it a day in the late 1990s. He felt that he had contributed immensely to the SAF and Singapore, and that it was time for the younger generations to carry the torch forward. After years of working constantly and always on the go, he finally could sit back and enjoy his free time doing activities that interested him, such as reading.
Colonel Mancharan Singh Gill: The first Chief of Artillery from December 1969 to May 1971, and again from September 1973 to January 1976. He was also Captain of the 20 People’s Defence Force (Artillery) (August 1966); Commanding Officer of the 20 Singapore Artillery Battalion (1969); Director of SAFTI or Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (1971-1973); Assistant Chief of General Staff (Logistic); Assistant Chief of General Staff (Training); Commander of the 3rd Singapore Division (1979); Deputy Chief of General Staff (1982-1986); and President of the Singapore Armed Forces Veteran’s League (1995). He was promoted from LTC to the rank of Colonel in May 1972. He was conferred the Public Administration Medal (Silver) and the Public Administration Medal (Gold) (Military) by the Government of Singapore in 1971 and 1982 respectively. Title devised by Library staff. – Source: The Singapore Artillery 100th year commemorative book
Over a period of 40 years, Mancharan was instrumental in transforming the Singapore Artillery both when he was in charge of it and as part of the CIS establishment. When some of the systems he implemented were replaced with more modern ones, rather than feeling aggrieved, Mancharan was extremely proud that the Singapore Artillery was always upgrading itself based on the principles of the early years of its formation. Importantly, to continue to remain a potent force, it must have the best equipment to bring out the best in the soldiers.
In spite of being out of the army, Mancharan kept abreast of developments in the Artillery formation. Sadly, Mancharan passed away in 2008. However, his legacy lives on in the Singapore Artillery. He firmly believed in a strong sense of principle, discipline and pride, and he infused these values into the Singapore Artillery. For Mancharan, failure was not an option in matters concerning the defense of the nation. He practiced what he preached and led from the front.
Today, the Singapore Artillery plays a crucial part in the defense of Singapore. It is highly indebted to the ‘Father of the Singapore Artillery’ for its development and success.
 Evan Teo, In Oriente Primus B – First in the Orient, 2005. See http://
 Tan Chong Lee, Army News Special Supplement #7, 2011. See http://
 Father of the Singapore Artillery’
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