'The attack was a sad thing. It made you angry'

Daljeet Singh was a young soldier when he heard the news. A bomb had gone off along Orchard Road, and there were civilian casualties.

"It was a sad thing. It made you angry," he told The Sunday Times, recalling that day.

He had joined the army at 19, after secondary school. That was the start of a 32-year military career. Now 74, he retired as a lieutenant-colonel in 1991.

The MacDonald House bombing happened during Confrontation, the period in the 1960s when Indonesia waged an undeclared war against the formation of Malaysia. Singapore was part of the new nation briefly, from 1963 to 1965.

Mr Singh was a young commander when he and his men were on the frontlines of Confrontation, which he remembers as a short, sharp and violent conflict. It was the only real fighting he experienced.

In March 1965, as a platoon commander with the 2nd Battalion of the Singapore Infantry Regiment, he joined a hunt for about 60 Indonesian soldiers who had infiltrated Johor more than a week earlier.

The Indonesians had landed in groups at different parts along the eastern coast of Johor. A major incursion took place when some of the Indonesians killed nine soldiers, including four from Singapore, in an ambush in the Kota Tinggi area.

"We were psychologically very affected that we were given a blue nose by the Indonesians," recalled Mr Singh.

"We had already lost nine soldiers. We had to do our job, if not we'd definitely be killed."

He led his unit in several encounters with Indonesian soldiers over about two months. He had a close shave once when the Indonesians fired from higher ground.

But his soldiers returned fire and the Indonesians were later captured in an ambush.

That mission ended with about half the Indonesian infiltrators killed and the rest arrested.

The episode taught him that good training and equipment were of great importance in the military.

He later led efforts to prepare national servicemen for jungle training.

While he experienced Confrontation as a soldier, the MacDonald House blast put civilians on the frontline.

Mr Singh said it was important for Singaporeans to remember what happened in Orchard Road that day and the lessons remain relevant today.

"We are a young country, we don't have much to bond people together. When we are faced with a common threat, we bond together," he said.

The incident also underlined Singapore's vulnerability, but he feels disappointed when people these days question the relevance of national service.

"We can be very vulnerable if we are not properly defended - that's the main lesson," he said.

Mr Singh did marketing for a firm under the Singapore Technologies group for 10 years after retiring from the army.

The grandfather of three will be at a memorial for MacDonald House victims on Tuesday.


This article was first published on March 08, 2015.
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