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When policemen wore shorts: Singapore's oldest living retired officer recounts the early years of the force

When policemen wore shorts: Singapore's oldest living retired officer recounts the early years of the force

Mr Yusof Mohammad with photos from his days as a police officer. (Photo: Try Sutrisno Foo)

SINGAPORE: For many Singaporeans, the phrase "last time policemen wear shorts" may just be a way of saying that something happened a long time ago.  

But for retired police officer Mr Yusof Mohammad, it is not just a saying - he lived it, serving as one of the shorts-wearing police officers during Singapore's post-war era. Comparing the khaki shirt and shorts he wore back in the day to the uniforms worn by today's police officers, he said: "They look smarter now." 

At 98, Mr Yusof is the oldest retired police officer alive in Singapore.

Mr Yusof was speaking to reporters at his home in Taman Jurong, where he lives with one of his daughters, on Wednesday (Jan 8), ahead of the launch of SPF200, the year-long celebrations marking the bicentennial of the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

Although just two years shy of his hundredth birthday, he is still active, able to walk unaided for some distance. 

When CNA met him, he had just returned home, having travelled by bus to the mosque for prayers and then to the clinic and back home unaccompanied. 

Mr Yusof Mohammad is only left with old photos and police badges as keepsakes from his time as a police officer. (Photo: Try Sutrisno Foo)

Mr Yusof joined the police in 1946 at the age of 25.

He said it was a tumultuous time, with the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II having ended just a year earlier. During the war years, he recalled scenes of bombs going off and people running for shelter. Mr Yusof was a hospital porter at the time, and saw patients who had been injured and disfigured during such attacks.

When the war ended, he wanted to play his part in keeping the peace and chose to join the police. After passing the physical test, Mr Yusof had to learn the laws as well as how to handle his weapons before becoming a patrol officer.

He was stationed in the Queenstown area, which he patrolled on foot as well as bicycle. During his rounds he would sometimes encounter gamblers and thieves, and be forced to give chase. He also had to intervene in domestic disputes that ended in slashings. 

The worst cases happened at night, he recalled. "No matter how late it was, if there were robberies and kidnappings or other crimes, we had to go down."

Though he mostly did his rounds in Queenstown, he had to attend to cases in other areas as well. "If we got called to go down to Woodlands or Tanjong Pagar, we would go down."

During the post-war period, Singapore was threatened by secret societies and communists, he said. 

One of the darkest periods in Singapore's history also happened while Mr Yusof was in the force - the Maria Hertogh riots of December 1950. Mr Yusof said he was not called to the frontlines - a job left to the riot squad in their "ang chia", or red buses - though he knew  of colleagues who were caught up in the riots and had bottles thrown at them.

"We were at the police station, waiting on standby if needed."

Still, Mr Yusof recalled much of his time was occupied by the mundane day-to-day matters like registering births and deaths, and the change of addresses.

One of the few photos Mr Yusof Mohammad still keeps from his policing days.

During the last four years of his service, Mr Yusof was transferred to the Marine Police – the predecessor of today’s Police Coast Guard.

He would make his rounds in a boat around Singapore's waters, particularly in the northeast in areas such as Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong. He and his colleagues would board vessels to look for smuggled goods or people who were trying to enter Singapore illegally.

"Occasionally we would encounter pirate vessels, and we would have to fire warning shots to scare them out of Singapore waters."

He would also come across dead bodies in the waters - which occasionally would be found mangled by the propellers of boats. One of the victims was even the crew of the patrol vessels, he recalled.

An old photo of Mr Yusof Mohammad working as a police officer at an oil refinery.

Though Mr Yusof had seven children with his late wife, he did not encourage them to join the police, allowing them to choose their own paths. 

He noted though being a police officer put a strain on his marriage - his wife often complained about the long hours and dangerous nature of the job. 

But he stuck it out and only left the force in 1969 when he was 48 - the age of retirement for the police then to become a security officer for a number of years. It was the same year the police uniform changed to feature long pants.

Today, Mr Yusof is long-retired. 

He is proud about his career as a police officer, though he has a sense of humour about it.

"When I was in the uniform, I had pride. Now I am out of uniform, I don't have pride," he quipped. 

He also has a sense of pragmatism about the job, noting it was one of the better career opportunities available at the time. 

"It was enough to put food on the table for my family," he said. 

Still, he keeps mementos to remind him of his time with the police - like old photos and badges - and notes the important job the police continue to play in keeping the peace. 

"The uniform might be different but the responsibilities are the same."

Source: CNA/az


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