SINGAPORE: When 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Chan Hiang Cheng Gavin arrived at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, he messaged his mother saying: “Reached camp”.
That was the last message his parents received from him.
On Sep 15, they received the news that their son died in a vehicular mishap in the training area. The 21-year-old was guiding a Bionix infantry fighting vehicle out of difficult terrain when it landed on its side. He was found unconscious next to the vehicle.
Speaking to reporters at the wake, Gavin’s grieving parents said they have “no more tears” left.
"I told my colleagues: 'Can you understand (what it's like) to cry until there are no more tears and you feel like you might suffocate?" said Mdm Lim Teck Kheng.
She and her husband Mr Desmond Chan, both 50, described Gavin as a thoughtful and independent boy who never requested much from them.
"This boy of mine was a very simple man," said Mr Chan, recounting how Gavin had only asked for a chocolate cake for his birthday last month.
“A 21st birthday to a boy or girl – at that age – is an important day. I wanted to buy him a good dinner but he refused to accept it. He just wanted to have a chocolate cake, that’s all.”
"Every birthday ... always the same chocolate cake," said Mdm Lim, a customer service officer with ground handler SATS. “Gavin knows that mummy always works hard for the family … he knows that mummy needs to send my daughter to overseas studies.”
Gavin is the eldest of four siblings. His 19-year-old sister is studying in Wellington. The other two siblings, aged 16 and 10, are in local schools.
In fact, Mdm Lim said Gavin had planned to apply to study overseas after coming back from training in Australia.
"He wanted to do social work. He couldn't get into a local course. Since his sister was coming home, I said I'd work hard so he could have the chance as well," she told reporters.
Mr Chan and Mdm Lim said they never had to worry about Gavin as he was a responsible boy.
"When he came home (from camp), he didn't bother me. He would see that I was very tired and (would) wash and iron his own clothes. Gavin was always like that,” Mdm Lim recounted, breaking into tears.
Mr Chan said even though Gavin had until 11.59pm to book in to camp, he always made sure he arrived well ahead of time. “(He would) chase me from 18:00 sometimes … to send him back to camp.”
"He was a responsible man. He knew what he was supposed to do. It's a loss," Mr Chan added. "We never worried about him because he was very independent. He knew how to take care of himself."
Mr Chan and Mdm Lim thanked the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for the assistance offered during this difficult time, including flying their eldest daughter from Wellington to Rockhampton Airport in Queensland to receive Gavin’s body.
When asked about how they were coping, both parents broke down.
"To lose a son, it's very painful," said Mr Chan. "To lose a good son, I can't swallow that. He was a good son. No words can describe how we are feeling now.”
3SG Chan will be accorded a military funeral. The cremation ceremony will be held at Mandai Crematorium on Saturday.