Perhaps you’ve heard your father or uncle tell you before that NS was a lot tougher during their time. As clichéd as that phrase sounds, there are truths to it. After all, they were schooled by a generation of commanders whose credo was founded on hard work, discipline and the utmost respect and deference to authority.
In that era, some individuals stood out, and continue to live on till this day as legends.
Here are some of the more famous characters we’ve found.
Disclaimer: You will find that some characters in this post have more detailed write-ups than others, and that some characters who ought to be in this list are not included. This is simply because of a lack of information that’s shared publicly.
So this is where you come in! If you know of other stories, details, or characters from your formation, tell us about them in the comments below! We would love to feature them in a next installment of SAF’s legendary characters!
1) Captain Hong Seng Mak (Retired) a.k.a. Tiger Hong
Memorable Quote: “My son complained that you tekan him terok terok. Good! Give it to him properly.”
We start the ball rolling with someone who hails from the fledgling years of SAF. He is also likely the most talked-about legendary character of them all.
Tiger Hong, a nickname he earned during his career, was amongst the pioneer batch of RSMs (Regimental Sergeant Major) way back in the 60s and 70s. He joined the military in 1957 as a company clerk and quickly moved up the ranks. Tiger Hong served at the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI) and was known as “the terror of the parade square. On 9 August, 1965, he was commissioned as a Warrant Officer by Singapore’s first President, Yusof Ishak.
In an interview, he said that his proudest moment in his 30-year career came when he presided as RSM during his brigade’s trooping of colours at the Padang in the 1970s.
His early days as a soldier saw actual combat operations such as missions in Sabah during the communist insurgency, as well as a role as Platoon Commander in the Hock Lee Bus Riots, where he lead his soldiers into the thick of the clashes to disperse rioters. We’re sure his fearsome demeanor and loud voice aided in crowd control!
He was a strict disciplinarian during his tenure, and demanded the best from every soldier, no matter his rank or title.
Tiger Hong was eventually promoted to the rank of captain and later retired in 1987, where a parade was even held in his honour. He later went on to start his own security company, putting his no-nonsense principles to good use in the private sector!
Most Epic Move: Made an officer remove his rank and run round the parade square as punishment for cutting across the parade square – although he did salute him before and after the punishment!
2) Captain Shamsudin bin Shadan (Retired) a.k.a. The Terror of SAFTI
Captain Shamsudin during his early days (Picture Source)
Memorable Quote: “If they didn’t fear me, I wasn’t doing my job.”
Captain Shamsudin worked his way to the top from humble and difficult beginnings. His excellent performance and attitude earned him the rank of First Warrant Officer within just 8 years of his career. He was THE first appointed RSM by SAF. More than that, he trained and lead the marching contingent in Singapore’s first National Day Parade in 1966. This was no small task, as the event was held in the wake of Singapore’s independence – a time that was filled with uncertainty for the country’s security and future.
Famous for his thundering voice, Captain Shamsudin was often heard before he was seen – even beyond the Parade Square. He was feared for taking soldiers and even Officers to task if their behaviour was anything less than exemplary. However, he applied those same standards to himself, and was even known to change to a freshly starched parade uniform as often as three times a day.
In this amusing anecdote that we came across, it was obvious that his reputation preceded him:
“One evening, my two buddies and myself were walking quite leisurely towards the Muslim cookhouse when we suddenly encountered ‘the legend’. A thundering voice hit us from behind and when we turned around, there he was – in his famous starched uniform and pace stick, the distinct glasses and a fearsome expression that made us panic. Although he was about 80 metres away, we froze when we heard his bark. We could hardly make out what he was saying, but we knew in that instant that we were in very deep trouble. After a brief pause, something inside us told us that it was not a good idea to stay put. In a flash, we split and ran in different directions. For some strange reason, Shamsudin did not bother to catch us. I had a feeling he must have found the sight of three desperate, panic stricken trainees running off in three different directions, quite a comical sight. We employed all our military skills in running and hiding behind buildings as we tried to make our way to the cookhouse without being spotted by the terror of SAFTI. We joined the queue and kept a constant lookout for him while we were having our meal.” (Source)
If you’d like to know more about this legendary character. there is also a very good interview piece that was written for SG50.
Most Epic Move: When the soldiers under him were guards at the Istana, he made them remove their pants during their breaks so that they wouldn’t crumple their uniforms whilst resting.
3) SWO Jeffrey Chung a.k.a. Jeff Chang (Retired)
A photo from SWO Jeffrey Chung’s own archive (Picture Source)
Memorable Quote: “To me, it was not a bad thing after all, influencing young 18-19 year old soldiers who were very impressionable. Because if we imparted the correct values to them, they would grow further to be not just good soldiers, but also good citizens (with strong values).”
SWO Jeffrey Chung had a long 37-year career in the SAF. Despite graduating with educational qualifications that could have cut a path to success in the private sector, he chose to follow a calling with the SAF instead – thanks to being deeply inspired by his mentors at that time, such as Officer Commanding (OC), then Captain (CPT) Wilson Tay. He rose through the ranks and retired with distinction as the SAF Sergeant Major.
He wrote a personal reflection of his NS life and military career here. As we went through it, what struck us most was his deep sense of responsibility, dedication and spirit of leadership. He always sought to lead and inspire his men by example and imparting good values to them.
This can be seen through accounts of his exploits, shared by men who served under him:
– “SWO Jeffrey is a person of extremes. He can be extremely nice and caring, and at times extremely harsh, especially towards seniors ranking persons, like unit RSMs and specialists. Very fair. Goes by the book…Doesn’t care whether you are a regular or not.”
– “His standard was damn freaking high. He would tekan till jia lat. Everyone needed to be on their toes. He didn’t give face, whether or not they were officers. He would pay due respects to the officers then start blasting them. When he was our RSM, everyone was always on the ball.”
– “He always prowls the guard room in the mornings, ready to pounce on anyone who wasn’t doing his job.”
(Quotations edited for clarity)
Most Epic Move: During his tenure, SWO Jeffrey Chung made it a point to attend every funeral of the SAF’s fallen.
4) 2WO Edwin Ong a.k.a. Monkey God
We could not find a photograph of this legendary character. In fact, not much is publicly recounted about 2WO Edwin Ong, nicknamed Monkey God (neither are we sure how his nickname came to be). We do know that he was a PTI (Physical Training Instructor), well known for his physical prowess and insane level of fitness (okay, maybe that is how he earned his nickname).
An account that circulated online even tells of how his PT sessions were so siong they sometimes drove men to lose consciousness! Apparently, a trainee even passed out once and had to be ferried away by emergency helicopter.
Most Epic Move: The Monkey God once challenged an entire platoon to pull-ups and single-handedly beat them by clocking over 100 pull-ups. Perhaps he did the pull-ups with a single hand as well. We wouldn’t be surprised.
5) CWO Tamizh Kannan
CWO Tamizh Kannan sporting the khaki beret of his formation (Picture Source)
Memorable Quote: “Unlearn, re-learn and stay relevant.”
And now, for a modern legend who hails from Guards. Like Captain Shamsudin, CWO Kannan’s years of growing up were grueling. He had to start working when he was in Secondary One to help his father earn an income. When he joined the SAF in 1985, he started off as a Guardsmen with the rank of Corporal, and committed himself to a series of outstanding achievements, which eventually earned him the appointment of 2WO in just 12 years.
CWO Kannan was known for being a modern Infantry Leader and a strong believer in education and continuous development. He himself embarked on a long journey of learning in his adult years in order to stay up to date with current methods of teaching and management. His pursuit in academia lead to a Specialist Diploma in Learning Science and a Bachelor in Human Resource Management.
All this was amidst achievements in his military career, mind you.
He did Singapore proud and shone even amidst the best in the world when he was the youngest-ever SAF warrant officer selected to attend the United States (US) Army Sergeant-Major Course in 1998. CWO Kannan, then at the tender age of 31, graduated from the course with triple honours: Distinguished Honour Graduate, Outstanding International Military Student, and US Army Achievement award.
In an interview in 2014, CWO Kannan stated that his greatest career highlight came when he was one of the first three warrant officers selected to attend the Command and Staff Course (Executive) at the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College. This course was previously designed for commissioned officers earmarked for higher command appointments.
In fact, we were so inspired by his story that our Parade RSM collectible figurine was based on a photograph of him as Parade RSM.
CWO Kannan as Parade RSM in NDP 2012 (Picture Source)
We’d love to do a second post on this topic. Do you know of anyone who should go on the list as an ‘SAF Legend’?
Let us know in the comments below! Other anecdotes or details about the men we’ve just written about are welcome also.
We created a very special 1st Generation Soldier figurine in Temasek Green uniform to pay tribute to the early generation of National Servicemen, including the pioneer legends who we are certain will go down in history as leaders who played a role in shaping the soldiers of today.
The figurine will be launched at the Public Garden Consumer Trade Show on 22 & 23 Apr, 1pm – 7pm at Suntec Convention Hall 403. Come on down to check it out! It will be released for sale at our online shop after that.