SINGAPORE: The words ‘Jalan Kesusahan’, which translates to a road of struggles, would sound familiar to police NSmen who had trained at the Old Police Academy (OPA).
“A lot of us would remember Jalan Kesusahan, which was the finishing point of our 2.4km run. This is the part where most of us (were) exhausted and all our instructors and batchmates would be cheering us on,” recalled Mr Nicholas Phua, who used to train at the OPA during his national service days.
“Once you mention Jalan Kesusahan to our trainees here, they will remember how much they suffered towards the end of their run,” the 44-year-old added.
After completing his eight-and-a-half months of training at the academy, Mr Phua said he felt sad at the realisation that it was the last time all 76 of his batchmates would be seeing each other.
“Even when we organised gatherings after that, it was always unlikely that all 76 of us would meet at the same time again. Up until now, we have not managed to get all 76 together,” he added.
Nonetheless, many batchmates turned up when police NSmen planned and organised a reunion at the OPA last Saturday (Jul 22). More than 4,000 people gathered there as the gates opened for the last time to retired and serving police NSmen and their families before the area is redeveloped.
Speaking at the reunion, Second Minister of Home Affairs Desmond Lee said: “The Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development are working together to see how some of the significant OPA landmarks can be retained as part of the redevelopment plans of the area.
“We will ensure that the design of the new developments will reflect elements of the OPA.”
The OPA was the official training ground for police officers from 1929 to 2005; it also served as a venue for community events to educate the public about the police force, including the Annual Police Week Carnival organised back in the 1970s.
Iconic parts of the OPA include the Dixon stand where trainees used to sit and watch rugby matches. During their passing out parade, NSmen used to move the stand from the field to the parade square so the crowd could sit. Once the OPA and areas around it are being redeveloped, some stands that are still in good condition will be moved to the Home Team Academy.
As part of the NS50 celebrations, a time capsule containing items of historical significance to police NSmen was sealed and will be opened in 50 years’ time. The capsule includes items such as notes from current police NSmen to future generations of NS officers.
The OPA also served as a second home to one of its "living legends". Known as the “Black Panther”, or the “living legend of the Old Police Academy”, Mr Sri Kanthan Chelliah first joined the police force as a constable in 1971. Former recruits trained by him include Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.
A mention of Mr Sri Kanthan's name used to send shivers down NSmen’s spines due to his fearsome reputation for discipline.
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, he recalled that his daughters used to remind him that “we are not policewomen”. He said he is very particular about the image of police officers and the way they uphold themselves.
He said he constantly emphasized the importance of instilling the right values in policemen as they are “serving the public”, and he had plenty of opportunity to do this as, during his 33 years in the police force, he spent most of the time overseeing the training of recruits.
Despite his reputation for toughness, however, he recalled how aspects of the OPA offered some relief to him and his trainees.
“The trees provided us with coolness and because of the shade, it made our trainings more bearable and less challenging,” said the now 67-year-old.
Deputy Assistant Comissioner (NS) Chua Song Heng, the chairperson of the organising committee for the event, said that the initial plan was to have “a simple walk down memory lane” rather than for the event to be part of the NS50 celebrations.
“With multiple recces of the site and many ideas being thrown in along the way, the event ended up (being) a large-scale one.”
When asked about the challenges he faced in organising the reunion, Mr Chua responded: “We wanted to make the event as enjoyable as possible and allow police NSmen who have trained here to show their families where and how they used to train. However, some parts of this academy can no longer be accessed, such as the swimming pool and our bunks.”
Putting together a common theme for the event was not so easy too for the organising committee.
“Ultimately we decided on the theme of a reunion – not just with the place, but also with the people.”