This Is Probably Not in The Police Annals

The Day The Police Reserve Unit* Turned Tail

Background : In the 1950’s many parts of Chinatown did not have the modern sanitation system. The bucket system was in use instead. Every day the night soil truck ( famously refered to as the truck with 42 doors) would come and the night soil carriers as the workers were called will  remove the buckets from the houses and replace them with clean buckets. Streets like Chin Chew Street, Hokkien Street  and Nankin Street were among those in Chinatown which had the bucket system.

At that time strikes by public service workers was quite common. One year in the 1950’s there was a strike by the night soil carriers who refused to clear the buckets as they were demanding for more pay and better work conditions from their employer, the  Singapore City Council.  Very quickly the  situation became critical as the night soil buckets in all the houses  were overflowing.  The City Council brought in a new  group of workers to clear the buckets at Chin Chew Street. The original group of night soil carriers were very upset. They tried to stop the new group from working. Soon there were scuffles. The Police was called. The Radio Car which arrived at the scene realised they could not control the situation. The Police Reserve Unit (Ang Chia – 红车 ) was summoned. At that time the Reserve Unit was a formidable force and feared by all in its way. Two Reserve Unit trucks came from different directions and cornered the group of striking night soil carriers. The troopers formed up and ordered the strikers to leave. The latter refused to heed the order and continued to harass the new group. The Reserve Unit Commander standing on the lofty command post of his truck ordered his troop to charge at the strikers and arrest them. The Reserve Unit officers with their wicker shields and baton moved menacingly towards the strikers with a view to psychologically cow the strikers.  The strikers were expected  to either flee in fear or to surrender meekly.

 But this was not to be. All of a sudden, the strikers ran to the truck with 46 doors and pulled out as many buckets as they could. They opened  the lids and used their bare  hands to pick up the contents. They turned around and flung whatever  were in their hands towards the advancing troopers. The rattan wickers( unlike the present day, full length transparent  fibre glass shields), were quite useless for shielding the troopers from whatever the strikers threw at them. Much of it went right through the gaps of the rattan and splattered  onto the faces and bodies of the troopers. They were in shock. Many screamed in disgust. Some had the misfortune of having the content unwittingly getting into  their mouths while  they were  shouting  to scare off the strikers. As a result, some threw out.  There was utter confusion. For once the Reserve Unit appeared to have  met its match.

The strikers were delighted. They had found a powerful and effective weapon to use against the Reserve Unit. The on-lookers were amused and amazed to see the Reserve Unit in a shamble

This was  a very memorable incident for the Reserve Unit – one which it probably was not very proud of.  There were a number of learning points to be had. It probably expedited the switch to the use of full-length fibre glass shields.

This incident is probably not recorded in the Special Operations Command annals or the Police Museum.  

  • The Reserve Unit is now known as the Special Operations Command.

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