On this very day 80 years ago, the first bombs were dropped on Singapore, marking the start of almost four years of fear, suffering and oppression for the people of the island.
The thought of Singapore's darkest days was not far from the minds of the recruits who received their Singapore Assault Rifle - 21st Century (SAR 21) this morning at the Float @ Marina Bay. Against the city's iconic skyline, the 60 recruits were reminded of their duty to defend country and home.
"It feels like a very big responsibility has been placed on me, because this rifle is the weapon that I will use to defend my country. I must be mindful to handle it responsibly," said 22-year-old Recruit (REC) Noor Muhammad Fattah Bin Muhammad Adnan, who was holding his rifle for the first time today. He had enlisted on 9 Feb.
The Weapon Presentation Ceremony for these soldiers of Basic Military Training Centre School 2 was held in conjunction with the Total Defence Day Commemoration Event (TDDCE). The event was witnessed by Guest-of-Honour Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and 2nd Minister for Law, Mr Edwin Tong.
A deeper appreciation for Total Defence
Since enlisting in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the recruits have also found a deeper appreciation for Total Defence, particularly the pillar of Military Defence.
Said REC Ashwin Sunil Hathiramani: "Being a soldier in the SAF is the way for me to play the biggest role in Military Defence, which I can do by carrying out my training well and being operationally ready when I need to be, so that I can defend my country."
The 19-year-old, who enlisted on 9 Feb, added: "Since I enlisted, I've learnt much more about what it means to protect Singapore. I see how passionate my superiors are about protecting the nation and it makes me want to be as passionate (about my duty)."
The importance of National Service (NS) was also highlighted in Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen's Total Defence Day Message. "NS is the strongest commitment to military defence – one of the key pillars of Total Defence, the backbone of the SAF to defend against any potential aggressor.
"This is the SAF's core mission, in which it cannot fail. But Total Defence requires every Singaporean to do his or her part, if we are to overcome the enemy."
Memories of WWII
This year's TDDCE marks the 80th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore in World War II. For REC Ashwin, receiving his rifle and becoming a full-fledged soldier on this day is especially poignant as his late grandfather was a prisoner of war (POW) during the Japanese Occupation.
"My grandfather was a POW, and it's still something that's very difficult for my parents to talk about. His experience in the war was one of the reasons I'm passionate about standing here and holding this rifle. (Singapore) used to be colonised and now we're independent.
"So it makes me feel very proud to hold this rifle and protect my nation, as it's my turn to play my part, and make sure this (what my grandfather went through) never happens to us again."
As for REC Fattah, he remembers the stories he had heard from his late grandfather, who had helped to hide the Chinese locals when they were being targeted and captured by Japanese soldiers.
He is proud to see Singapore growing from a country without independence or its own military force into it has achieved today, said REC Fattah. (And I'm determined to do my best) now I'm given the chance to defend my country."
New Total Defence Trail
During the TDDCE, Mr Tong also launched the Total Defence Trail as part of the GameOn Nila! Campaign.
Jointly organised by Nexus and Sport Singapore (SportSG), the first Total Defence Trail features six locations in Singapore linked to the six Total Defence pillars. Participants can join the walking trail by registering via the ActiveSG mobile application.
The six locations are The Float @ Marina Bay, NTUC Learning Hub, Civil Defence Heritage Gallery, Asian Civilisation Museum, National Museum of Singapore, and National Library. By exploring the trail, participants can learn about Singapore's history and how individuals and communities can contribute to keeping Singapore strong and independent.
A second Total Defence trail featuring other locations will be launched on 1 Mar. Find out more at http://go.gov.sg/GONTDTrail.