To Mr Gopala Krishnan, wearing the policeman’s uniform was a privilege – one he had for a rewarding career that spanned 28 years. He shares his story of keeping law and order back when the streets of Singapore were a far more complicated place.
Fanning out a stack of black and white and coloured photographs, Mr Gopala Krishnan swells with pride as he declares: “I was proud, very proud to wear the [policeman] uniform.”
Now a 75-year-old retiree, Mr Krishnan joined the Singapore Police Force when he was 17 and served from 1959 to 1987. Looking back, before joining the force, Mr Krishnan shared that he was a typical teenager who enjoyed sports and athletic activities.
A friend who played alongside him in his football team recommended him for a job with the force. He jumped at the opportunity even though it was a minor role that saw him helping out at the police station as “a coffee boy of sorts,” he described.
The following year, Mr Krishnan completed his Standard 7 education earning himself a vocational certificate in engineering. Shortly thereafter, he joined the police academy and about a year later, he became a full-fledged policeman known as constable number “1378”. Mr Krishnan explains: “Last time, they didn’t call you by name, only by your number. You would say ‘hey 1378’ if you were looking for me.”
And just as the police force grew and evolved over time, so did Constable 1378.
A young Gopala Krishnan (centre) training police motorcycle riders Image source: Gopala Krishnan
Europeans that occupied the upper ranks of the force began returning to their homelands. The policeman uniform morphed from short to long pants. Mr Krishnan studied for his senior Cambridge examinations and rose through the ranks from corporal to sergeant. His professional growth and development was driven by the desire to provide for his family – to care for his siblings and elderly parents; and later, to raise his four children and provide for their education.
Mr Krishnan took on various roles within the police force such as the training and testing of new recruit’s operational proficiencies on different police vehicles, and the handling of security matters.
Today, he boasts of having class 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 driving licenses under his belt and multiple awards recognising his service. But his biggest takeaway from the police force, he says, is simple: discipline.
He recalled how junior policemen would voluntarily bow to senior officers they met along the hallways as a show of respect. This gesture stuck with him throughout his career and he saw it as an ideal for officers: to not just command respect, but more importantly – through discipline – become a person worthy of that respect.
This need for discipline permeated all areas of Mr Krishnan’s life, from the way his uniform was ironed, to how shiny his shoes were, to the length of his fingernails, and even how his beret was positioned on his head. It also spilled over to how he ran his household and raised his four children.
A young Gopala Krishnan in his first police uniform Image source: Gopala Krishnan
He explained that during his days on the force, police officers were expected to be on their best behaviour even when they were off duty, like on the bus or in the hawker centre buying food. After all, to wear the uniform, he reiterates, is to carry yourself with decorum and dignity no matter the task at hand.
And carry himself with dignity he did, regardless of what was assigned to him.
On many days, that meant losing sleep and missing out on time with his family to break up fights and riots, which were a common sight back in the 1960s.
A particularly unforgettable experience was during the 1964 racial riots when a procession celebrating Prophet Mohammed’s birthday broke down into fights. Mr Krishnan and his team persevered in restoring and maintaining order in the streets for days after, keeping their cool even at the gruesome sight of a severed head rolling down the street towards them in the middle of the night.
“They slashed the fella, ran and then the head fell off when they dropped the body. There was more than one, I saw one Chinese body, one Malay, at different places”, he recalls stoically. He adds: “I never felt [scared]… by then I hadn’t gone home for so many days!”
He also remembered having a few close shaves. In 1965, he had been stationed close to the MacDonald House where a series of explosions occurred. It was pure luck that he had just finished his shift and left the scene for home when the MacDonald House was bombed.
But regardless of the challenges, Mr Krishnan’s time in the police force also forged many happy memories such as having the honour of representing the police force at the first National Day Parade.
“It’s not like today where you see there is dancing and everything and so many people. Back then, it was just the top forces, standing in front of city hall,” he reminisces.
In school he had been mischievous and had rarely done well in his studies, he explains. To be able to stand tall as a representative of the police force at the parade conveyed a strong sense of achievement to him – a sterling sign that he had made it in life.
He also fondly recalled the years he spent as part of the security team escorting the Prime Minister and various Members of Parliament. One notable figure he remembers meeting is the late President S.R. Nathan while he was serving as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
All of these experiences, he says, contributed to a fulfilling 28 years for him in the police force and provided him many opportunities for development and personal growth. Looking back at his time in the force, he shares that he has no regrets in his choice of career. “I finished a decent and honest job at the police force. God has given me a good life.”
Written by: Fiona Liaw
This blogpost is part of the Red Dot Stories campaign.