The beautiful thing about friendship is that it can be forged anywhere at almost any point in time, be it at school, work or even over the Internet. However, nothing builds the bond of brotherhood or sisterhood quite like going through the highs and lows of military life together. Best Friends Day falls on 8 June every year, and so for this year, we commemorate the occasion by sharing with you the experiences of Andrew and Suresh. The men first met one another early in their military careers and the rest, as they say, is history.
Andrew and Suresh reminiscing about the good old days.
Suresh (left) and Andrew (right) during their service days.
Q: How did the both of you meet, and what were your first impressions of each other?
A: Suresh: Andrew and I first met each other as recruits back in 1st Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (1 SIR). In our time, you did your Basic Military Training (BMT) in the unit itself, not at Pulau Tekong like recruits in this day and age. Andrew was easy to get along with, and I liked him straight away. He struck me as an intelligent guy. I could tell straight away that some of my platoon mates were blur sotongs, but Andrew was eloquent and confident. That might explain why he ended up as an intelligence officer (laughs).
A: Andrew: Like Suresh said, we met each other as recruits. The day was 14 April 1975. I still remember that we were transported from Central Manpower Base (CMPB) at Napier Rd onboard 3-ton trucks to our unit at Guillemard Camp. We were assigned to the same section and coincidentally went for the same Section Leaders Course in SAFTI Military Institute (SAFTI MI) after our BMT. We then met again in Officer Cadet School (OCS) 2 years later. Suresh was easy-going and had a perpetual smile on his face. I found him to be a caring and practical person with no airs about him. It helped that he had a sense of humour too. Most importantly, he was trustworthy.
Can you spot Andrew and Suresh? (Andrew is in the second row while Suresh is in the back row).
Andrew's and Suresh's batch photo with their fellow Infantry Section Leaders and Officer Cadets.
Q: How was the cookhouse food, and what were your favourite and least favourite dishes?
A: Suresh: The food wasn't great honestly. The cooks were mainly full-time national servicemen (NSF) who were chefs by vocation. They were not concerned with the taste or the quality of the food. To them, it was just a job which I suspect they didn't enjoy. My favourite dish was probably the curry from the Muslim kitchen as it had some spices that made the big chunks of meat palatable. I usually liked going for the spicy stuff because it gave the food some taste. My least favourite food was probably the eggs that somehow didn't smell too good.
A: Andrew: Come on, the food was alright lah (laughs). But, Suresh is right to an extent because there were days where meals could really spoil your appetite. The NSFs were trained to do mass cooking at the Army School of Catering. Generally, the food was alright, especially when we were hungry after training. Everything tastes good when you're hungry. Like Suresh, I also liked spicy food. I usually went for the Muslim menu which comprised rendang and curries, which were my favourites. The least desired food was served at breakfast. The eggs were, at times, badly handled and had a sulphuric odour. There were fried noodles too and we used to call it "barbed wire".
Andrew and Suresh in their 1 SIR Ceremonial Dress, taken during the 1 SIR Trooping of Colours.
Andrew (seated on the right side) and Suresh (standing 2nd from the left) and their buddies during an outing after their overseas training.
Q: What was National Service like in the 70s? Did you both stay in camp?
A: Suresh: As recruits, whilst undergoing section commanders training and at OCS, we were stay-in personnel. This policy differed from unit to unit, but if you were married, you were allowed to stay-out. You could say that Andrew and I were stay-in personnel for half the time in our military careers.
A: Andrew: But honestly, sometimes we'd choose to stay in camp over the weekend even when we had the option to go home. We really enjoyed and appreciated the company of our comrades. There was a spirit of brotherhood and camp was like a second home. The atmosphere there was really enjoyable for us. Sometimes, a few other friends along with Suresh and I would drive to town for dinner or supper on weekends, then return to camp at the end of the night. Those were good times.
Q: What were the most memorable experiences that the both of you went through together?
A: Suresh: Oh, it had to be the one where one of our fellow soldiers tried to sell us disposable paper underwear. There was an entrepreneurial guy in our batch who was selling us paper underwear as it would be more convenient when we were outfield. He gave a good price too. The experience with the underwear ended badly, but it was hilarious.
A: Andrew: Yes, I remember this. It sounded like a great idea at the time and it was practical. After all, it saved us time from not needing to wash our undergarments constantly. However, we completely forgot that the paper was not waterproof. During an exercise, we had to do a river crossing. Our bodies were submerged till waist level and everyone’s paper undergarments were soaked and eventually disintegrated, leaving only the elastic band. So under our long 4 pants, we were only wearing an elastic band around our waist. Money wasted (laughs).
Illustrations from Suresh's book – When I was in uniform.
A: Suresh: Andrew and I also played instruments so when we stayed-in, we actually gathered a few of our peers and played together. We even started an amateurish band. Don't think we had any real gigs to speak of though (laughs).
A: Andrew: That's right. I can't remember the name of our band, if it even had one to start with. But, we did perform on occasions like SAFTI's Talent Time event. Because we were performing nearly the whole night, we missed out on the chance to dance with the female officers (laughs).
Despite leaving military life behind many years ago to pursue their own endeavours, the buddies still remain in constant contact today. Occasionally, they'll even visit each other's family. The men also make it a habit to meet up with each other every year during Christmas to have a meal together.
Do you have a best friend or good friend too? Do make time to meet up with each other once in a while. Or in today's context of safe social distancing, why not make a phone call to wish him or her a Happy Best Friends Day!
Written by: REC Basil Sim (Army News)
Photography by: LCP Steve Lee (Army News)