| Singapore | 24 June 2017 | Asia Samachar |
In the current stable climate, one can be easily forgiven for forgetting the moments in history when Singapore was a victim of terrorist attacks and race riots. For Singapore to be able to establish itself as a sovereign state, it had to develop, among others, a formidable defence force. Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Daljeet Singh was one of the men responsible for laying the foundation of the armed forces of an independent Singapore.1
When Daljeet was growing up, Singapore was beginning to gain autonomy from the British in home affairs, education, and law and order. It was in the time of pre-independent and pre-merger Singapore and a young Daljeet was in the process of realising his true calling.
Even when he was in school, his leadership qualities began to show. With the support of his teachers, a friend and he helped set up the National Cadet Corp Club in Gan Eng Seng Secondary School. After completing his secondary studies, and before the merger took place, Daljeet joined the armed forces, forgoing plans to pursue further studies in India or Australia. This decision was significant as it marked the start of an illustrious career in the armed forces for Daljeet.
JOINS ARMED FORCES
In 1963, when Singapore joined the Malaysian Federation, the armed forces of Malaya and Singapore merged to become the Armed Forces of Malaysia. Malaysia consisted of the Malaysian Peninsula, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. With respect to defending the now expanded boundaries, the four battalions from Singapore were divided between Singapore and Johor, with two each for Johor and Singapore. Each battalion was 800-men strong. The troops were a mix of both Malaysians and Singaporeans. A lieutenant now at a young age of 23 years, Daljeet was a Platoon Commander in the 2nd Singapore Infantry Regiment (2S1R) and he was responsible for southern Johor and part of Singapore.
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The regional expansion of Malaysia caused ripples in Indonesia. President Sukarno was keen on expanding Indonesia’s border to include Sabah and Sarawak. He waged an undeclared war along the border of Sarawak and sent infiltrators into various states of Malaysia to cause chaos through rallies and terrorist attacks.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck in February 1965. Indonesian infiltrators entered the east coast of Johor and the 2SIR responsible for that jurisdiction despatched a company of soldiers to confront the infiltrators. During a rest period for the soldiers, the tailing infiltrators launched an attack on them, causing the death and mutilation of nine soldiers.
Angered and humiliated at the failure of its first mission and the horrific mutilation, a platoon from 2SIR, led by Daljeet, along with other platoons, was sent to the jungles to hunt for an estimated 60 saboteurs in a mission that lasted three months. Daljeet’s platoon killed six to seven men on its own. According to Daljeet: “We had taken an oath to defend our nation. We had an obligation to fulfill. Moreover, we were angry that we had lost our own men. When you spend night and day with them, the regiment becomes your family.”2 This incident reflected a clear example of a man who not only carried out his responsibilities as a leader but also showed loyalty and determination in protecting the dignity of his fallen soldiers.
On 9 August 1965, Singapore was left to fend for itself as a sovereign nation following separation from Malaysia. The government decided that Singapore needed to implement mandatory national service to make defending the small country the business and interest of all citizens.3
Daljeet was one of the few men hand picked to help develop methods of training for the Singapore Armed Forces. For that, the Israeli Armed Forces, one of the most elite and sophisticated forces of the world, was invited to train these handpicked men in an Instructors’ Preparatory Course4 that lasted three months and ended with the establishment of the Pasir Laba Camp, where Daljeet was appointed Alpha Company’s Second-in- Command.5
Being a specialist in jungle warfare and weaponry, Daljeet set up a unit specialising in weaponry called the School of Infantry Support Weapons in the SAF Training Institute.6 He helped design the jungle training course and established an overseas training facility for the SAF in Brunei.7 He also went on to head five out of the seven infantry schools in SAFTI.8
“Daljeet and I have been friends for more than 50 years. I met him in 1963 when I was posted to 2SIR.
Daljeet was a major contributor to 2SIR’s excellent record of success in military operations, a fact that is known throughout the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). In 1965, we were involved in military operations in the jungle in Johor and Sabah. Daljeet has been known to have several encounters with the enemy, during which he led his men to victory in each and every one of the battles. When he posted to Infantry headquarters, his expertise in military matters was openly acknowledged by several senior foreign military advisers of the SAF and they wasted no time in taxing his knowledge and experience. That speaks volumes of him as a professional and a experienced military officer.
My friendship with Daljeet blossomed over the decades and it has remained strong till today.
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) James P K Chia
Singapore Armed Forces
It would not be an overstatement to say that Daljeet played a key role in shaping and developing the SAF to what it is today. Daljeet justifies his efforts by saying that anyone in his position would have done the same: “We had taken an oath and we had to honour it.”9 A humble man by all measures, the inspiration for his national contribution was also due to the fact that he wanted to build something for the country and society that has provided the opportunity to his ethnic community and him to attain a better life.
POOR BUT HARD WORKING
Growing up in Cairnhill with three sisters and studying at Khalsa English School, Daljeet was not alien to the struggles faced by his fellow Sikh immigrants in coming to Singapore in search of a better life.
He stated: “Our grandfathers were very poor people but they worked hard and made sure their children studied hard to get somewhere in life… Singapore’s Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, also made sure our society allowed hardworking people to succeed and it was fair and equal with all races in Singapore.”10
Combining the experience of witnessing the humble beginnings of many Sikh immigrants with the success stories of highly revered and recognised men such as the late Justice Choor Singh, it only made Daljeet more determined to succeed and contribute to society. He was and still is dedicated to paying his respects to efforts made by his Sikh forefathers. He contributes as best as he can to the country that established a meritocratic system to allow his ethnic community equal opportunity to succeed in life.
Daljeet retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. Today, his charges are his grandchildren. However, he constantly reminds young Singaporeans of the tough times Singapore faced to get to this stage of stability and security. He may no longer be leading a group of soldiers but he is more than happy to provide important words of wisdom to anyone who comes forward to learn about his success story. After all, he has always lived by these words that “To get anywhere in life or to accomplish anything at all, you need dedication.”11
This year, Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary as an independent nation. The protection of the sovereignty of a small and vulnerable nation surrounded by much larger nations, particularly in the post-independent period, was a daunting task. It took a special breed of men to dedicate their lives to defending their fellow citizens and country. Daljeet was one such special officer who was instrumental in laying the foundation for a strong defence force for Singapore and, in doing so, has occupied his rightful place in Singapore’s national military history.
1 Leaders are simply men who choose to bear the weight of others. (ND). Retrieved on August 25, 2015.
2 Interview with Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Daljeet Singh, June 2, 2015.
3 Koh Boon Pin and Lee Gok Boi, Shoulder to Shoulder: Our National Service Journal: commemorating 35 years of National Service, Singapore: Ministry of Defence, 2002.
4 Leaders are simply men who choose to bear the weight of others, op. cit. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid.
8 Ibid. 9 Interview with Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Daljeet Singh, op. cit. 10 Ibid. 11 Leaders are simply men who choose to bear the weight of others, op. cit.
[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published in 2015 by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]
Singapore army pioneer Daljeet Singh in parade (Asia Samachar, 10 Aug 2015)