Singapore

Ex-Services Association of Singapore to close after 95 years

Formed in 1920 to provide welfare and help for discharged service personnel, the Ex-Services Association is calling it quits

It was their one last link to the past.

But after 95 years, the Ex-Services Association of Singapore will cease operations on Saturday after a flag-lowering ceremony to be held at St. Patrick's Secondary School.

The association, which was formed in 1920 and opened by then British Governor Chas Horgarth, aimed to provide welfare and aid for discharged servicemen and women.

ESAS was initially only for those who served in the then British army but it later opened its doors to veteran soldiers in general.

The association's vice president, Mr Leslie Terh, 73, said that the association had been providing a small allowance for ex-servicemen.

There were also annual dinners and gatherings for the remaining servicemen to meet.

Mr Terh, who was asked to take over the leading role at the ESAS after the president fell ill, added that the decision to close the association had a lot to do with its ageing members and the lack of newcomers.

Mr Terh said that, at its peak in the 1950s, the association saw "a few hundred members" under its wing. Today, fewer than 30 remain.

He said: "The ESAS had a very glorious 95 years. It is sad to see it go but we have to face reality.

"All the members are getting much older and there are no new members.

"It needs to be done."

For war veterans like Major Lall Singh, 86, and Lieutenant Adrian Villanueva, 75, it signifies the end of a chapter.

"The reality is, as we age, we will pass on," said Major Singh, who served in both World War II and the Indonesian Konfrontasi.

OLD FRIENDS

He added: "Not being able to see my old friends anymore really saddens me. We are all so old and it's hard to see everyone."

Mr Villanueva, who was then on the frontline with the Malaysian navy during Konfrontasi, said: "All good things have to come to an end and this is one of them."

While the ESAS's closure saddens these former servicemen, Major Singh hopes one thing will stay.

He said: "The closure is inevitable but nothing changes what the many men gave for the freedom of this country.

"The association will close but I certainly hope the memory of these men is never forgotten."

At 14, he hit a Japanese soldier

He was only 14 during the time of the Japanese occupation of Singapore in World War II but that didn't stop Mr Lall Singh from standing up to a Japanese soldier.

"I remember quite clearly. I whacked him with a stick, he slipped and fell in the drain," said Major Ishwar Lall Singh, 86.

The soldier had come out of his residence to take a bath during the time that was set for women to take their showers.

"The guy only had a cloth on when he walked to the shower area, where about six women were washing up.

"A few kids and I were playing in the area and we didn't think much of it.

"Then, I noticed that he started (behaving lewdly) so I gave it to him," he says.

Knowing that he would probably get in trouble for what he did, his father arranged for him to get a job at the Indian National Army (INA) to keep him out of the family's residential area as much as possible.

Little did he know that it would be the beginning of a military career.

"I answered calls and liaised in Japanese for them during the period of the war. But I left soon after the war ended and joined the British army as a storekeeper," he added.

It was during stints in the INA and the British army that Major Lall realised his passion.

In 1956, he joined the militia unit, the Singapore Volunteer Corps, and later became an officer when he handled the security of locations they were deployed to.

CONFRONTATION

"I remember being stationed at Pontian in 1963 for about six or seven months. We were sent there to handle the water supply but not long after we arrived there, the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation began," he said.

"I never had any run-ins with Indonesian soldiers but it was still a tough period for all of us, but we stuck together.

"With all the commotion and these servicemen being away from home, I had to continuously keep them motivated because we had to make sure our water supply remained undisturbed."

Having been through two major points in Singapore's history, Major Singh said it is imperative to remember how we got to where we are.

He added: "Servicemen sacrificed and risked a lot for the freedom of this country. Many also gave their lives for Singapore.

"And because of that, we have come to where we are today. That should never be forgotten."

The closure is inevitable but nothing changes what the many men gave for the freedom of this country. The association will close but I certainly hope the memory of these men are never forgotten.

- Veteran soldier Major Lall Singh, 86

From my ship, I saw weapons pointed at us

TWO DATES: Mr Villanueva now has only the two seminars he conducts for cadets at the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College to look forward to. PHOTO: ADRIAN VILLANUEVA 

He was only 23 when he was posted to the waters off Sabah to protect Malaysia from the threat of an Indonesian invasion during Konfrontasi.

Lieutenant Adrian Villanueva, now 75, was mobilised as a naval volunteer reserve officer with the Malaysian navy.

"For the first month, I was scared. I went down to the frontline. I could see them getting very close to our ships. I had a rosary (prayer beads) around my neck, I slept with my pistol and hand grenade," he recalled.

For about seven months, Mr Villanueva worked on patrol ships, which came face to face with their adversaries. He said that it constantly kept him on his toes.

"They weren't far away - about 3kmfrom our ship.

"I would observe them through my binoculars, and all I saw was them aiming their weapons at us, getting ready to blow us out of the waters," he said.

It was only after Singapore's separation from Malaysia that Mr Villanueva, who is now married to a retired teacher and is a father of three, was pulled back into the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), where he became one of two officers who started the operations of a security intelligence department.

TWO DATES

Now, the retireehas two dates to look forward to. He helms two seminars annually at the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College where he is able to recount his experience to younger SAF cadets.

On ESAS' closure, he said: "It is sad that we won't have the gatherings to meet the rest of the servicemen. We always had a good time catching up with each other, but that is going to be hard to do now."

The two seminars are all he has left.

He said: "I aim to teach the cadets the different lessons they can learn from the confrontation and how they can apply it to threats of terrorism in this day and age."

What started out as volunteer work for the navy ended up becoming his life's passion.

He added: "I think it is safe to say I have dedicated almost all my life to the security of the nation.

"All I want to see is for this country to have a strong Singapore Armed Forces that is equipped with a young generation committed to the defence and security of our nation. That really is my biggest wish."

The ESAS had a very glorious 95 years. It is sad to see it go. All the members are getting much older and there are no new members. It needs to be done.

- Mr Leslie Terh, 73, the vice-president

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