NSmen Share: Spanning Two Generations

NSmen on the special bond they share with their dads.

By Mandy Lim Beitler      1 July 2021

Times have changed, and so has National Service. This SAF Day, we chat with fathers and sons who despite the proverbial generation gap, celebrate a unique bond.


“At short notice, I was told to report for GCC (Guards Conversion Course) the Sunday after graduating from SCS (Specialist Cadet School) and was completely unprepared for what lay ahead. Despite trying to psych myself up, those GCC days were arguably the toughest in my NS journey. We endured all kinds of suffering, being ‘tekan’-ed, and having to maintain the push-up position for what seemed like hours was unbearable!

But I would recall something my father, who had served as Company Sergeant Major in his day, had told me: “the bonds you make with your bunkmates will last a lifetime”.

And it was true. In those moments of suffering, whenever my buddies and I happened to exchange glances, we’d see our own damn ‘shag’ faces and pained expressions reflected in one another’s eyes. Often we’d start laughing at the faces we made or the silly remarks, which would lighten the mood and take all the pain away. Going through hardships with them really sealed the bond; it’s always a great time just sitting around talking about the ‘tekan’ we used to receive in GCC, long after it was over.

Things have definitely changed in the army since my dad’s time. Technology, training and even the soldiers, but one thing that has remained the same is the bonds that are forged amid the hardships. It is like no other.” – Sunil Ubeyratna, 2SG, 3 Guards, on his father Noel Ubeyratna, 1SG, 311 SCE

“As a young boy, I loved to hear my father’s stories about the hardship he had to go through when he was serving NS. He shared about the condition of the Ranger course and how during his time everyone cherished the food they had. How they would finish fruits down to even the core or how you’d never find any edible parts left on bones. This is of course very different from today where we have outsourced our cookhouse!

But these stories served me well as they were what kept me going during my own Jungle Confidence Course when it was my turn. I think we both agree that NS, no matter the generation, will continue to challenge our young men physically, mentally and emotionally.” – Goh Cheng En, MAJ, Guards Formation, on his father Goh Yeow Heng, 2WO, 9 Div HQ Infantry

“My dad was the second batch to be drafted for NS. His three older brothers did not have to serve, but instead of feeling aggrieved, he was actually looking forward to it. He did his BMT at Pulau Blakang Mati, or Sentosa as we know it today. During one of the many visits to Sentosa when I was a kid, he showed us the hill he had to ‘duck walk’ up – a practice that’s since been banned – and I could see the pain in his eyes when he talked about it.

He spoke of his military life with fondness and a sense of achievement. Sadly, his entire batch had to serve as clerks as that was what was needed at the time. I dare say he might have stayed on in the army and would have been an amazing soldier otherwise. Instead he served our country as a Customs officer and retired after a long career only a few years ago.

Which is why this picture means so much to me: That was the day my mum and dad placed the rank on my shoulders that made me an Officer of the SAF. A crowning moment only matched by the day I got married and the birth of my two children, and an event made even more meaningful by the fact that my dad had, only a few weeks prior, survived a heart attack.

Just upon arrival at camp in Taiwan as part of my OCS training, I was ordered to the office. I couldn’t think of what I had already done wrong, but it turns out that wasn’t what I had to worry about. Frantically trying to call everyone back home, it was my aunt who finally picked up and said, “Your father said, don’t come home, he’s fine!” When I got to speak to my dad, he told me to finish the training.

So I did. And only got the full story three weeks later when I got home. How his heart had stopped twice and he was brought back again with CPR. How the doctors decided to operate on him on that very night and thankfully saved his life. I guess he didn’t want his son to miss out on an opportunity that had not been available to him.” – Mark De Silva, CPT, OCS, on his father Sunil De Silva, CPL, CMPB


There are only two types of people in Singapore: Those who enjoyed National Service (NS), and those who didn’t – but all will agree it was a memorable time. In this series, we speak with several NSmen who share their most memorable experiences during National Service.

Share your favourite NS memories with us at magnsman@sph.com.sg