Singapore Volunteer Corps


The Singapore Volunteer Corps began as the Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps in 1854, with the support of the Governor, Colonel J. Butterworth. The outbreak of riots between Chinese secret societies in 1854 led to the formation of a volunteer force to booster the internal security of Singapore. The group underwent several reorganisations and was known by various names through its history. In 1965, it was renamed the People's Defence Force.

The idea for a volunteer corps to supplement the local constabulary for tighter internal security was first raised in 1846. Formed in 8 July 1854, the group was one of the earliest official volunteer organisations in the British Empire.

The first corps, the Singapore Volunteer Rifles Corps (SVRC), was formed after the outbreak of riots between Chinese secret societies on 5-17 May 1854. The conflict caused widespread unrest and loss of lives on the island. The riots were so severe, the police required the support of the military, some marines, European residents who acted as Special Constables, sepoys and even convicts, to restore order. More than 400 people were killed and 300 houses burned down.

In view of the escalating violence from the Chinese secret societies, and the outbreak of the Crimean War, it was decided that a volunteer corps would heighten security for the settlement. The European residents, led by British officers, formed the first corps - the SVRC. It was initially run on private funds, and members had to use their own weaponry.

Contributions to Security
The Singapore Volunteer Corps had played an important role in the security of Singapore. Among its contributions, the force helped to quell the Sepoy Mutiny of 1915 in which a number of officers lost their lives. The force was also involved in the defence of Singapore against the Japanese during the World War II, and in the Indonesian Confrontation of the mid-1960s, the force was enlisted to guard vital installations in Singapore against saboteurs and to squash racial riots.

With the passing of the People's Defence Force Act in 1965, the Singapore Volunteer Corp was renamed the People's Defence Force. The volunteers continued to play a role in national security, which included the training of part-time National Servicemen when the National Service was introduced in 1967. However, with the introduction of compulsory national service and the strengthening of the Singapore Armed Forces, their role has diminished over time.

1854 : Formation of Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps.
December 1887 : The Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps was disbanded when the numbers dwindled to a small half company.
February 1888: Reformed as the Singapore Volunteer Artillery.
1901 : Renamed as the Singapore Volunteer Corps.
1922 : Singapore Volunteer Corps was absorbed into the newly-formed Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, which included forces from Malacca and Penang.
1954 : The Straits Settlements Volunteer Force was disbanded. The Singapore Volunteer Corps was reformed and absorbed into the Singapore Military Forces.
1965 : Creation of the People's Defence Force (PDF) to replace the Singapore Volunteer Corps.
1971 : The People's Defence Force was reorganised and trained as full-time National Service operational battalions.
1984 : As less attention and resources were allocated to the volunteer corps, 101 PDF, the last truly volunteer battalion, was disbanded.
1985 : The People's Defence Force was reorganised into two commands the 1 PDF at Maju Camp and the 2 PDF at Beach Road Camp (moved to Clementi Camp in 1997).

Marsita Omar

Choo, M. (Ed.) (1981). Singapore Armed Forces (pp. 34-39). Singapore: Public Affairs Dept., Ministry of Defence.
(Call no.: RSING 355.0095957 SIN).

Liew, D. (2007, July). First in the East: The Singapore Volunteer Corps. This Month In.....History. Retrieved 23 October, 2008, from

Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, p. 590). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)

Menon, R. (1992, March 14). Volunteers' efforts are recognised in their own right.The Straits Times. Retrieved October 23, 2008, from Factiva database.

Mills, T. F. (2003, October). Singapore Volunteer Corps. Retrieved January 26, 2005, from

Peer M. Akbur. (2002). Policing Singapore in the 19th & 20th centuries (pp. 20-21). Singapore: Singapore Police Force.
(Call no.: RSING 363.2095957 PEE)

Winsley, T. M. (1938). A history of the Singapore Volunteer Corps 1854-1937, being also an historical outline of volunteering in Malaya. Singapore: Govt. Print. Off.
(Call no.: RCLOS 355.23 WIN)

The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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Law and government>>Security>>Civil defence
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