• 9 things ABTM3 didn't tell you about Sembawang Camp


Posted: 30/12/2015, 1000 hours (GMT +8)

Talk about the elite Naval Diving Unit (NDU), and their strict training regime will probably come to mind, as it has been well documented in a newspaper feature, a web series called GRIT and perhaps most famously in the box office hit "Ah Boys to Men 3: Frogmen" (ABTM3).

But Sembawang Camp, where NDU is located, is more than just a place where the Navy puts its elite through their paces. We found nine things the movie didn't tell you about this former British naval base, which is now home to both the Army and Navy.

1.           The camp was part of the Royal Navy Barracks.

This wasn't even the original Sembawang Naval Base (now Sembawang Shipyard). It was where British servicemen lived, slept and played. Formerly known as the HMS Terror, there were many facilities in the barracks, from churches to even bars!

A map of the camp that was inside the "An Introduction to Singapore and Johore Bahru for Naval Families" guide that was given to new servicemen. (Source/Axford's Abode)

Located near the swimming pool, Armada Club was one of the members' only clubs in the barracks and the most popular amenities was its bar. (Source/HMS Minerva)

There were performances at the Naval Base Cinema from 4pm every evening. (Source/Singas)

One of the many swimming pools in the barracks. (Source/David Ayres)

And of course, what are barracks without any accommodation?

Some of the accommodation blocks in the barracks. (Source/David Ayres)

2.           The Frogman statue did really fly away. Well, sort of.

For those who watched ABTM3, you might remember the original Frogman statue flying away in the movie.

(Screenshot from ABTM3)

But in reality, the only thing that "flew away" was the colour of the statue. Today, the frogman statue is totally gold, thanks to a fresh paint job earlier this year.

The Frogman statue in its new, golden glory.

The Frogman statue in the old colours. (Source/TechieLobang)

The original statue was launched by then-Minister for Defence Dr Tony Tan, during the official opening of the NDU camp in 1997. If you look carefully, you will see that the frogman has one leg in the water and the other on land, signifying the diver's mastery of operations both on land and sea. Not forgetting their airborne capabilities, the frogman also has a pair of wings on his back.

3.           There isn't an NDU Cafe in the camp but there's something better.

Of course there isn't a Naval Diver Unit Cafe (NDUC, NTUC, get it?) as claimed by Lobang (played by Wang Weiliang) in ABTM3. But there's something much more iconic: Seng Fatt! For naval divers past and present, it isn't only a place for a haircut; it is also where you will go for snacks and supplies.

The original Seng Fatt (Source/Republic of Singapore Navy FB)

The shop has been run by the Ng Family since the 1960s when the British Royal Navy was still occupying the camp.

The Ng sisters. (Source/Republic of Singapore Navy FB)

Because of redevelopment plans, Seng Fatt moved to the canteen in May this year. When we visited the new location expecting to see a brand new shop, we were surprised to see many of the old items, like the salon chairs and cash register.

The chairs are the same ones used in the old Seng Fatt.

But still, there were things they had to leave behind because of space constraints. One of them was this painting:

The painting was given to Mr Ng Seng Fatt by his artist friend when the shop first opened. The lion symbolises the guardian of the shop, watching over it. Another thing that had to be left behind was the shop's nostalgic vibe. According to Audrey Ng, one of the Ng sisters, the family and many servicemen miss the old location for its kampong atmosphere. There was even a swimming pool right outside the shop in the past, making the whole place really lively.

The Senior Rates Pool in HMS Terror. (Source/HMS Minerva)

The pool has since been filled up and turned into a garden.

What is going to happen to the old Seng Fatt? It will be kept as a heritage corner, and a soft launch was held on 11 December, during NDU's 44th anniversary celebrations.



The Ng sisters with NDU divers during the soft launch. (Source/NDU)

4.           This used to be a gym used by the Royal Navy.

Today, it is one of the places where trainees are hammered and pushed to their limits. Wondering how this place got its name as The Grinder? Watch the first 90 seconds of the video to find out.



This mural, painted on a platform where instructors stand on to conduct training, reminds trainees to push on with their training.

Look at the grinding drills the trainees have to go through! And if ABTM3 gave you the impression that only males can become naval divers, you are wrong. There are female naval divers as well, and they had to go through the same training. Talk about girl power!

5.           You can do more than swim (and get punished) at HMS Terror.

And no, I am not referring to the old camp, but a place where you may recognise as the one where the boys in ABMT3 got punished.

(Screenshot from ABTM3)

But did you notice this structure?

This is HMS Terror today. HMS stands for Hull Mock-Up System and it's used to sharpen the skills of servicemen needed to take over ships or structures out at sea. It's named after a royal navy monitor used to protect the country while Singapore's naval bases and coastal fortifications were being built.

The Royal Navy monitor HMS Terror photographed in 1933. (Source/kementah)

But there's more than meets the eye. Under the pool lies this underwater gallery!



6.           We found the fourth Panglima.

Remember RSS Panglima – School of Naval Training (SNT) we mentioned in our article on Changi Naval Base? We found its old sign in Sembawang Camp.

Panglima was the name of three naval vessels that served in Singapore. After the third vessel was decommissioned in 1991, the name RSS Panglima was given to SNT located at Sembawang Camp.

Today, the fifth Panglima at Changi Naval Base continues to drive the Republic of Singapore Navy's training and doctrine development.

7.           The words on the buildings have lots of meaning.

If your vision is good enough, you might notice words on these buildings (if you can't, don't fret and read on for more details). I am not referring to the NDU values of honour, integrity and team spirit. I am talking about the ones in bold. They are named after various navy ships but they also represent qualities required for the different vocations within NDU.

"Brave" houses the training school because to be a naval diver, you need to be really brave.

"Courageous" is for the clearance diving unit because, obviously, courage is needed to go face to face with a bomb.

The building for special warfare group would of course be "Daring".

And last but definitely not the least, the building where NDU's commanders are is called "Fearless". What kind of operations will there be if the commanders aren't fearless and decisive?

There are more words on the buildings at the other side of the camp.

These buildings used to be part of SNT. Classes for the SNT trainees were held at "Hawk" while "Independence" and "Justice" were accommodation blocks. Find "Justice" block a little familiar? It was the bunk for the ABTM3 characters.

8.           There's a red house that turned green.

(Source/David Ayres)

Obviously you can't see from this black and white picture, but the roof of the Royal Navy's former Naval Base Sailing Club used to be red. We were told that this was also where the Far East Fleet Clearance Centre was at one point in history. Is there anyone out there who can help us verify this?

The roof has since been painted green.

Today, it is fenced up and no longer in use. We understand that the building is now under the purview of the National Heritage Board, but we are unsure if there are plans to preserve or restore it.

9.        The Army and Navy share the camp.

When the British troops withdrew in 1971, the SAF took over the camp, and in 1976, parts of it were taken over by the Infantry Training Depot (ITD). It was subsequently relocated, and in 2002, the Army's Transport Battalions moved in, making Sembawang Camp home to both Navy and Army units.

This used to be the headquarters for SNT. Today, it houses the Army's 3rd Transport Battalion.

The Transport Formation recently held their milestone parade at the parade square. (Source/The Singapore Army FB)

This was the former headquarters of ITD. Now, it is a mess for enlistees of 1st and 3rd Transport Battalion known as the Pitstop.

The symbol of the Transport Formation, made up of a tyre, a steering wheel and two M16 rifles.

*        *         *

One of just a few SAF camps with both Army and Navy units, Sembawang Camp has played an important role in Singapore's defence since the 1930s, and is definitely unforgettable to naval divers who push themselves to their limits in their quest to be the Navy's elite.

Photos by Danny Ng

Back to top