#OnThisDay (29 Oct) Withdrawl of British Far East Command
#OnThisDay (29 October) in 1971, Britain withdrew the British Far East Command from Singapore and Malaysia. Although the decision was already made known since January 1968, the withdrawal came two months ahead of the original scheduled date of 31 December 1971.
The potential impact on our own security and economy was enormous: we lost the presence of 30,000 British troops stationed here and £70 million a year spent on maintaining the bases when Britain cut their defence costs and sent the troops home.
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.
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. This will also allow us to become desirable and reliable partners in defence arrangements.
He added, “what we lack in numbers, we will make up for in quality: in the standards of discipline, training, dedication and leadership.” For Singapore, it was “discipline, grit and stamina” that were crucial to our survival. Even at a time when we were starting out and finding our footing, we held on to our convictions. We believed that with enough grit, Singapore could be defended, even if it seemed unlikely. And that we could rely on ourselves to do so, together.
That has not, and will never, change.