#OnThisDay (18 Jul) Withdrawal of British Troops from Singapore
#OnThisDay (18 Jul) in 1967, Britain announced the withdrawal of their troops from Singapore by the mid-1970s. Six months later, the deadline was brought forward to 1971, as Britain announced a total withdrawal “East of Suez”. At the time, there were 30,000 British troops stationed in Singapore — Britain’s second largest deployment after its NATO commitments. However, as it was becoming too expensive for Britain to continue spending £70 million a year to maintain military bases in Singapore, they decided to reduce defence spending and send troops home.
The withdrawal of British forces came as a shock, and presented grave problems to Singapore’s defence and security. We were, at the time, relying heavily on British security guarantees, and on British military bases for jobs. We were only beginning to build up our military capabilities, with the first batch of 900 national servicemen just starting training on 17 Aug 1967.
At the time, the geopolitical climate was also unstable. Today, 55 years from the day Britain announced its withdrawal, many of the concerns that Singapore had have not changed. War is not just a thing of the past, and can still happen today. We only have to look at the current conflict in Ukraine, which serves as a stark reminder of the importance of being able to defend oneself, especially as a small state.
The same day the withdrawal was announced, then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew addressed the first batch of Officer Cadets commissioned from the SAF Training Institute (SAFTI) at the Istana. He reminded the cadets of the need to build a strong security force to allow Singapore to be self-reliant and effective. Indeed, that is what Singapore has always strived to be — both then, as as fledging nation, and today, as one that has weathered and will continue to weather many storms.