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A bomb threat that could have ended his life: A former police officer tells his story

A bomb threat that could have ended his life: A former police officer tells his story

Mr Chan Soo Wah poses for a photo in his younger years. (Photo: Chan Soo Wah)

SINGAPORE: The young inspector couldn't believe he was alive. 

A bomb had just gone off right in front of his eyes, and he was a kick away from being blown to smithereens.

"After the bomb went off, I came to my senses that this was for real," said 74-year-old Chan Soo Wah, a retired police officer and one of the exhibition guides at the SPF200 Exhibition - "Frontier Town to Safest City".

"I was shivering because I could smell the gunpowder, the flashes of pyrotechnics. I could see the ground tremble ... I was actually shivering because I was suffering from shock, I thought I was dead."

The year was 1969, and what must have seemed like an eternity earlier, Mr Chan had been activated to the scene of a suspected bomb threat - a parcel left somewhere along Bukit Timah Road.

Mr Chan Soo Wah poses for a photo at the SPF200 exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore. (Photo: Matthew Mohan)

READ: Exhibition marking 200 years of policing in Singapore opens at National Museum

"Around 6pm, we got a call which said that there was a parcel found on the roadside, placed by a lady who came in a yellow top taxi," said Mr Chan, who was the duty officer for the E Division that day. 

As part of his duty tour which required him to work a 24-hour shift, Mr Chan had to receive and investigate routine cases as well as attend to reports of possible bomb threats. 

"I was in and out of the police station, for the whole day I was getting these calls - hoax calls, (there was a) bomb here, (a) bomb there - maybe a basin, a pain or bag," he recalled. "It turned out to be a hoax call every time.

"I went there and saw a brand new shoe box placed in a paper bag. I saw the thing, I was tired, hungry, a bit annoyed and wanted to kick the thing like a football."

But Mr Chan wasn't the only one at the scene. A Volunteer Special Constabulary officer had been on hand to secure and guard the suspicious object, and he stepped in.

"He actually held my thigh, blocked me from kicking the thing, because I treated the bomb like a football, as an object ... I’d been working around the clock. And I didn't realise it was real, this was for real - a bomb."

It was not till the SAF bomb disposal unit had detonated the package, that it finally dawned upon Mr Chan just how close he had come to certain death.

"I wouldn't be here today if I had kicked that thing," he said. "I was very thankful to this saviour who saved my life. Unfortunately, I lost touch with him. 

"He must be quite old because I was a young man and he was already middle-aged." 

FROM BEING ROBBED TO JOINING THE FORCE

Mr Chan joined the Singapore Police Force in 1965. He had decided on that career path after being accosted by gangsters with knives and robbed of his watch.

"I joined the force because I was robbed," said Mr Chan, who was a Secondary four student at the time, and on the way to the National Library with two other friends.

"So after I went to the police station and made the report, I saw this officer - he would become my boss after that.

"I was very impressed with the inspector who recorded my statement ... so I felt I would join the force to be like him."

Beginning his career as a constable, Mr Chan remembers helping with the Marine Police during the Konfrontasi.

"(Serving during the) Konfrontasi times was one of the most difficult part of my career," he said "I was given a rifle and asked to join the Marine Police group.

"It was very tough, I'm not attached to the Marine Police but there was a shortage of men so they put me there, (and said) you just carry on. They just give us some bullets, a 303 rifle. (It was) you and your helmsman, two people in a boat ...We were told that if we saw Indonesian gunboats, we would have to intercept them," explained Mr Chan.

"Fortunately, this deployment was only for a short period, we were then sent to guard the coastline - all the way from Changi to Labrador. After 8 hours you come back like a lobster - burnt."

Later on, Mr Chan went on to become an investigation officer with the Secret Society Branch in the CID.

There, he helped to clamp down on gangs, compiling evidence to put members of secret societies behind bars.

"Those days secret societies were more organised," he explained.

"Some may have gone through triad ceremony, you can call it the initiation ceremony. The ceremony entails you to drink each others' blood, just a little bit, with some Chinese wine, and maybe you slaughter the chicken with some blood and then you drink (that as well)."

The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA), in force since 1955, also helped break the "backbone" of secret societies, said Mr Chan.

The CLTPA allows for the detention of suspected criminals without trial for the sake of "public safety, peace and good order".

"We broke down the secret societies managed in the 60s, because this law, the legislation was so strong," he said. Those days, it was about the safety of families because ... it was rampant.

"This was in the 60s, this problem continued until the mid-70s to late 70s or so. By then, we had a stronghold on these people."

Mr Chan retired in 1999 as a Deputy Superintendent of Police, but remains eager to share his experiences with others as one of the guides at the SPF200 main exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore.

The exhibition is part of a year-long series of events to commemorate 200 years of policing in Singapore.

"It certainly is an honour to be here. I’m still alive, I would like to share this story with everybody," explained Mr Chan, who is now married with two children. 

"I wish to encourage people who love this (form of) service to join the police force. It is a wonderful career. And I have no regret joining it."

Source: CNA/ad(mn)

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