National Service, Poetry, Politics

National Disservice

how can dis  🅱️  allow?

DEAR SIR, I read with grave concern
that pple sign petition for football player
to allow to be defer. That is not fair.
If he want Fulham, must fullpack first.
If he want play defence, must Mindef first.
If he want play midfield, must outfield first
If he want to strike, Guards ever ready to strike.
If he want Charity Shield, then I say
charity begin when you hold riot shield at home.

DEAR SIR, if you let this one defer,
then it will open floodgates.
Next thing you know every father mother son
will sign contract with Man U,
Arsena, Tot Ham, then the whole BPL
become SPL. Pls, I don’t want to pay so much
just to watch some si gina from Sengkang
on Starhup.

Warm regards.

No football allowed

Yesterday was the World Cup Finals, where plucky Croatia proved unlucky against fancied France. I was at the community centre in my HDB estate, watching the match live on a huge screen with hundreds of other residents.

When the French scored (through a Croatian own goal), the crowd dutifully cheered.

But when Croatia equalised, the crowd erupted in the ecstasy of watching a fellow small little country with red and white chequered across their jerseys bop one across the nose of a football superpower. In Singapore, we love the underdog.

And then the country woke up this morning to the news of a 17-year old Singaporean being told to give up the opportunity to play in an English Premier League club because of National Service (NS) in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

His application to defer NS was denied, on these grounds:

“As all male Singaporeans liable for full-time NS put aside personal pursuits to dutifully enlist and serve their NS, it would not be fair to approve applications for deferment for individuals to pursue their own careers and development.

“Very few applications have been approved over the years and based on criteria which are made known to the public. In sports, deferments are granted only to those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympic Games and are potential medal winners for Singapore. In the last 15 years, only three have met this criteria,” (source: Channel News Asia)

I’ve served NS, 2 years 4 months of full-time service and then between 2 to 3 weeks each year for a subsequent 10 years. 

But I also “disrupted” my NS. I served 9 months of NS, then stopped midway through Officer Cadet School (OCS) to study in the UK on a Government scholarship, and then returned only three years later to serve out the remaining 19 months in the SAF. Three quarters of my OCS platoon also disrupted to study, as we were all from Delta Coy, the supposed “scholar” Company where most government and military scholarship applicants were channeled to during NS.

Did I benefit from disrupting NS and going into university earlier? Hell yes!

Going to university after 9 months in the army was tough enough. Brain cells had atrophied and I actually found myself struggling to spell words. I can’t imagine what 2 years plus would have done.

And when I did return to serve, I was 21. Three years older, a little bit wiser, not so quick on the trigger, not so soft in the head. I regained my fitness fairly quickly and returned to OCS.

And all of this makes me wonder is, while us overseas govt. scholars were allowed to put on hold our contributions to National Defence, with the idea that in the future, with the knowledge that we gained at this critical age, we would contribute to the nation in the various branches of the Civil Service, none of us would ever, ever match the value in terms of the national pride of having a Singaporean play for an English Premier League Club. 

And here is where, I am sorry, but the SAF, and the larger Singapore Civil Service of which the SAF is a part, has scored a huge, huge own goal.

And this is what happens when you are disconnected from the people you seek to serve.

Football is the one sport that unites Singapore. And yet, as the picture I took at the void deck (empty space at the ground floor of public housing apartment blocks) clearly shows,

No Football Allowed. 

And they wonder why the Singapore flag no longer flies from HDB flats anymore.

Good luck Ben Davis.


memory, National Service, Poetry

Thank you for your service

In the half-light before dawn,
Seventeen years before you were born,
Boys stood half-waked on a parade square
A hundred conscripts gathered there.

One by one, to each in turn,
Gun-metal was given, assigned to learn
The ways to maim, to shoot, to kill
All extensions of a nation’s will.

Then, as I cradled plastic and metal
Cold and deadly in my arms
I thought,
I hope I never have to use this.

Now as I sit in a cab
Carrying not a rifle, but you,
I think,
I hope I never have to lose this.

National Service


Nothing quite inspires divisions in Singapore as National Service.

  • Some love it. They think it turns boys into men and in doing so, unites those men no matter their background, giving those men a stake paid for in blood, sweat and time.
  • Others hate it. They think it perpetuates patriarchy (by excluding women), infantilises infantrymen, steals away 2+ years of life, puts at risk health and safety; and is simply a penny-pinching way of raising and maintaining an army on the cheap.
  • Many just surrender themselves as they surrender their civilian identity cards and their hair.

I enlisted in 1998, I remember it was sometime in February because my first week coincided with Chinese New Year and all the Chinese recruits got to book out while the rest of us Indian, Malay and Others stayed back to guard the camp from bak kwa.

The other thing I remembered was the initiation – when they introduced you to your rifle. I remember being woken up at an ungodly hour because the ceremony was supposed to be held at the break of dawn. I remember holding that Colt AR-15, cold and slick with rifle grease and thinking, “Could I actually kill someone with this?”

The rest of NS passed in a haze of training, guard duties, getting in and out of trouble on weekdays and falling in and out of love on the weekends, always waiting for the next book-out and and counting the days to freedom. And after that the yearly recall for refresher training, mind-numbing patrols, filling sandbags and failing fitness tests.

I wrote this poem after this picture was taken, at the Army Open House in 2017. I think I must have been four or five when I first attended my first Army Open House at my dad’s military camp. My father was an army regular, and I distinctly remember riding around in an M113 armoured personnel carrier, wearing oversized mufflers to drown out the rattle and roar.

Thirty-three years later, I’m once again sitting in the back of an M113 APC, holding my daughter as a cheerful National Serviceman tells us to smile for the camera.

And I thought to myself, those two-and-a-half years in green – yes – she is worth it.