A time before conscription
Duty-free alcohol and the promise of faraway shores were too good a deal to pass up for the then 18-year-old Sardar in 1958—as it would be for any 18-year-old in any year, for that matter. He served for over three decades.
Dissatisfied with the humdrum of civilian life and brimming with brazen vigour, he enlisted with the MRNVR voluntary core—a British-based naval unit located at the Telok Ayer Basin. Assigned to the RSS Panglima, which served mainly as a training ship for the volunteers, the fundamental duties of the core were to safeguard key installations, among other responsibilities. The Raffles Institution old boy has the honour of being part of a force that predates the current national service conscription—the existence of which isn’t known to many.
“The beauty of the group was how different we all were,” he adds. Fate couldn’t have dealt a more unexpected card than the uncanny assortment of professionals who formed the core strength of the corps. Naval architects, dentists, specialist doctors and lawyers were just some of the many characters in the MRNVR, serving alongside a young Sardar. Divided by professions, they found themselves united by a common ideology to defend their city-state, one that would achieve independence in a few years’ time.
Weekends meant touch-and-go trips to places like Malacca, Penang or Langkawi—a welcome reprieve from the daily regime of training and soldiering classes. “Good times,” he says, as he flips through a weathered scrapbook with neatly arranged black and white photos where a single photograph of a man in full naval gear stares back. He looks somewhat different these days, but the searing gaze remains the same.
Text by Prabhu Silvam
This was part of a feature on Esquire Singapore on national service veterans.