Singapore combat engineer pioneers

Colonel (Ret) Gurcharan Singh was working as an engineer in Kuala Lumpur when his father asked him to return to join the Singapore uniformed service. He went on to simultaneously hold role of a battalion commander and chief engineer

Colonel (COL) (Ret) Gurcharan Singh – Photos by Ong Ji Xuan & Courtesy of Col (Ret) Singh
By Thrina Tham | SINGAPORE |

When Colonel (COL) (Ret) Gurcharan Singh took over the reins of the Singapore Command and Staff College (SCSC) in February 1979, he had two big tasks set out for him.

First, the college, then located at Marina Hill, was to move to Seletar Camp – its library, lecture halls and classrooms were to be built up in the officer’s mess there. Second, was the complete revision of its teaching materials.

COL (Ret) Singh achieved both feats in his two years as 6th Commandant of the SCSC – and with just four instructors and a handful of administrative staff.

Today, the school has 25 instructional and 12 administrative staff. Renamed the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College in 2011, it is now located at SAFTI Military Institute. The College celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

“A lot of us were holding double roles. Thinking back sort of bring tears to my eyes, because the effort that was put in far exceeded the number of people we had, the amount of time we had,” said COL (Ret) Singh of his SCSC days, his voice going soft.
COL (Ret) Singh (front row, centre) with his SCSC staff and the graduates from the 10th Command and Staff Course in 1980.

When he speaks, his voice is deep and clear. He does not give a hint of turning 83 in a week.

COL (Ret) Singh (right) graduating from the US Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in 1975. – Photo: Courtesy of Mr Singh

This pioneer in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) did not start his military career early as some may expect: in fact, he was 29! COL (Ret) Singh was working as an engineer in Kuala Lumpur when his father asked him to return to join the uniformed service.

Selection for the first batch of officer cadets was tough, but COL (Ret) Singh made it through the IQ tests and had no difficulty with the physical training – after all, he was an avid rugby, cricket and hockey player. He was commissioned among the first batch of SAF officers in July 1967.

“But I did not attend the commissioning ceremony,” he said with a chuckle. He and fellow 2nd Lieutenant Chng Teow Hua were selected to attend an engineer officer’s course in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, United States (US).

Read the full story, ‘The Unsmiling Colonel’ (Singapore Mindef portal, 9 Nov 2020), here.

(Asia Samachar, 31 May 2020)


ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |