Vigilante Corps



The Vigilante Corps (VC) was originally a network of volunteers set up by the government in April 1964 to guard key installations and protect crowded public areas against terrorist attacks by Indonesian saboteurs during the Indonesian–Malaysian Confrontation (1963–66). The idea for the corps stemmed from the similarly named volunteer groups formed between the 1940s and early ’60s in various neighbourhoods for the purposes of crime prevention and detection. In 1967, the VC was incorporated into the National Service (NS) scheme and later subsumed under the newly formed Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) in 1982. It is currently part of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) NS scheme.

History
Vigilante corps were already in existence before the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45). These were usually volunteer groups comprising members who lived or worked in a particular district or neighbourhood. The main purpose of these groups was to maintain peace in their respective neighbourhoods, usually through conducting night patrols.1


In the 1950s and early ’60s, many residential areas also formed vigilante corps to fight crime in their neighbourhoods. Areas that established their own corps included Tiong Bahru (1953),2 Clementi (1957),3 Serangoon Gardens Estate (1960),4 Pulau Merlimau (1961),5 Kampong Yap Poh (1961)6 and Changi (1961) – the last of which had two vigilante corps known as Gulega Wardens and Somapah Wardens.7 Members of these corps were usually male residents who patrolled the estates at night and were sometimes accompanied by plainclothes police officers.8

Establishment
Confrontation
Indonesia objected to the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 and launched military attacks on Malaysia (which at the time included Singapore) under its Konfrontasi (Confrontation) policy.9 In April 1964, the Singapore government announced plans to set up a formal VC in response to bomb attacks by Indonesian saboteurs. The main objective of the VC was to keep in check Indonesian terrorist activities by guarding key installations and providing greater vigilance in congested public areas.10 In addition to the VC in Singapore, similar units were also established in the other Malaysian states.11

Pioneer enrolment
Enrolment for the VC in Singapore began on 22 April 1964 together with the registration for NS.12 Males aged 18 and above who were residents in Singapore were eligible to sign up.13 A total of 14,822 volunteers had registered for the VC by the end of the enrolment period on 16 May 1964.14


The first batch of 10,000 VC volunteers underwent six days of basic training at community centres and began their patrol duties on 16 June 1964.15 They were trained by experienced police officers who instructed them on the law, unarmed combat and first aid.16 VC members were equipped with staves and flashlights. The majority were assigned to patrol their respective residential areas at night once a week, with each shift lasting around three hours.17 They were deployed in groups of four, six, eight or more according to operational requirements.18

Sea VC
In 1965, the government announced that a special sea VC unit was to be established to guard against Indonesian attempts to infiltrate Singapore’s coastline. The new unit would work in cooperation with the Marine Police and naval units to patrol the coastline.19

Other roles
In addition to looking out for Indonesian saboteurs, VC members also played a role in crime prevention. They were reported to have helped the police with the arrests of thieves and other lawbreakers.20

Following the outbreak of racial riots in Singapore in July 1964, VC members were taken off duty to avoid being mistaken for anti-Malaysia elements who were involved in the riots. VC members resumed their patrols in September that year. In light of the recent riots, vigilante patrols in volatile areas such as Geylang were made up of equal number of Chinese and Malay members where possible and each patrol group was accompanied by at least one uniformed police officer.21

In the wake of the MacDonald House bombing in 1965, then Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye said businesses should also form their own vigilante corps to guard against destruction of their properties and premises.22

Women’s section
Although the initial call-up for VC volunteers was targeted at males, the corps also recruited women volunteers. A group of 48 women volunteers made their debut at the corps’ first passing-out parade at the Police Training School on 3 September 1967.23 By 1978, there were some 500 women volunteers serving in the VC.24

Incorporation into NS scheme

Legislation
The VC was no longer a non-statutory voluntary organisation following the passing of the Vigilante Corps Act in September 1967. Under the legislation, the corps would comprise national servicemen and volunteers whose main duty was to “assist the Police Force in the maintenance of law and order, the preservation of public peace, the prevention and detection of crime and the apprehension of offenders”. The VC, therefore, became affiliated to the police force although corps members were not recognised as police officers.25

Earlier in March, the VC became part of the NS scheme.26 At the time, NS could be fulfilled in four ways: two years’ full-time service in the Army, part-time service in the Special Constabulary, part-time service in the People’s Defence Force or part-time service in the VC. The two major tasks of the VC were to be prepared for emergency duties and to render assistance in national construction projects.27

NSmen who did their NS in the VC served for 12 years in total, which was divided into three phases of four years each. In the first phase, they served directly in the VC. In the second phase, they served in civil defence and in the final phase, they were put in reserve service.28 This three-phase service schedule was introduced in July 1971.29

Pioneer enrolment
The first batch of 2,377 NS VC conscripts was recruited in September 1967.30 The conscripts underwent six months of basic training, which included four-hour training sessions twice a week and up to 14 days of in-camp training. Upon completion of their basic training, VC members were required to undergo one week of full-time in-camp training once a year.31 Members were trained in basic law, unarmed combat, first aid, civics, foot drills and camping.32 They had to do three hours of duty per week, usually on weekends or after office hours. Outstanding recruits who completed their basic training received leadership training and promotions.33


By 1972, the training phase had been extended to one year: six months of basic training and six months of post-basic training.34

Civil defence
In December 1971, civil defence training became part of the VC training programme. The first batch of 700 VC members to receive such training subsequently formed the core of the Auxiliary Fire Service, which was established in 1972 to augment the work of the Singapore Fire Brigade, the Unified Aerodrome Fire Service and the Port of Singapore Fire Department.35 The selection criteria for the AFS were: completion of basic and post-basic VC training, good physique and perfect eyesight.36


Other units
Over the years, various VC units were formed to fulfil different functions. Initially, there were the regular, marine and cultural units of the corps. The regular units were focused on sports, the marine unit on sea-oriented activities and the cultural units on the promotion of mass musical activities.37


In 1974, the VC launched the Community Security Force (CSF) to enhance the image of the crops, help with crime prevention and improve cooperation between the community and the police. Members of the CSF were selected from the main corps and vetted by the Criminal Investigation Department.38 In July 1974, the CSF began recruiting women volunteers for administrative work.39 In 1975, the CSF formed an antidrug squad to provide uniformed patrols for drug-related operations.40 In March 1976, a CSF crack squad of 1,000 men was created to carry out “aggressive patrols” in parts of Singapore with higher crime rates. These men were selected from the main body of CSF members and were deployed every night to the eastern and western parts of Singapore accompanied by regular policemen.41

The lifeguard unit of the VC was launched on 24 February 1974 at Changi Point.42 This unit provided lifeguard services at public beaches on Sundays and public holidays.43

In 1974, selected VC members were trained in lift rescue to provide such assistance during major islandwide power failures. By 1976, more than 1,000 VC members had been trained in lift rescue work. The VC lift rescue service was subsequently implemented at all public housing estates in 1977.44

Description
Organisation
When the VC was first established in 1964, it was set up as a voluntary organisation administered by the People’s Association in association with the police.45 The commandant of the VC was a voluntary police officer from the Special Constabulary.46

In 1965, the jurisdiction of the VC was transferred to the Ministry of Interior and Defence.47 Two years later, in 1967, with the passing of the Vigilante Corps Act, the corps came under the jurisdiction of the Police NS Command with a regular police officer as the VC commandant.48

When the VC first started, its headquarters was located at the former Whitley Primary School. By 1972, it had moved to Jalan Kolam Ayer, the site of the former Singapore Works Brigade.49

Uniform
In 1964, the pioneer cohort VC members could be identified by their blue armbands with the letters “VC” and their serial numbers written in white. They also carried their letters of appointment with them while on duty.50 It was common for corps members on patrol to wear their own civilian clothes.51


By 1967, when the VC had become part of NS, its members wore a uniform comprising a white shirt, beret, dark pants and black boots.52

In 1972, NS VC members on civil defence duties wore light-brown shirts and trousers with red berets. They were also issued light-brown overalls and maroon helmets for operational use.53

A ceremonial dress for special functions was introduced in 1975, comprising a blue jacket, white trousers with gold braiding, epaulettes of twisted gold chords and boots. Officers wore pearl caps, while the other ranks wore blue berets and standard boots.54

Ranks
There were seven ranks in the VC: unit leader, assistant unit leader, group leader, assistant group leader, section leader, assistant section leader, and member.55

Benefits

VC members were not paid for their services, but free transport was provided for those who had to travel long distances for duty. Free meals were also provided during full-day in-camp training.56

As part of a 1978 scheme revision, VC members who incurred loss of income due to training were reimbursed for their services.57

Dissolution
In December 1980, then Minister for Home Affairs Chua Sian Chin revealed that the government was reviewing the part-time NS scheme and that the VC might be phased out. According to Chua, this was because of the increasingly small pool of young men, the bulk of which needed to be channelled into full-time NS.58 Other reasons cited included the part-time status of VC members, which hampered the corps’ ability in carrying out its functions, as well as a lack of commitment and interest in members.59

On 8 September 1981, the government announced that the VC and the Special Constabulary would come under a newly formed Civil Defence Corps under the command of the SPF.60 There were over 50,000 VC members at the time.61 Those who had served for more than five years were demobilised, but they remained liable for a call-up in the event of a national emergency until the age of 50 for officers and 40 for other ranks.62 During the launch of the Civil Defence Plan in 1982, it was announced that VC members who had served less than five years would be drawn into the newly formed SCDF.63

The VC is currently part of the SPF NS scheme in which recruits undergo a 14-week basic police training programme before being deployed to a unit in the SPF or other departments in the Ministry of Home Affairs.64

Timeline
22 Apr 1964:
Registration for VC volunteers opens.

16 Jun 1964: First batch of VC volunteers is deployed for patrol duties.
Jul 1964: VC members are taken off duty due to racial riots.
1965: VC is transferred to the jurisdiction of Ministry of Interior and Defence.
Mar 1967: VC becomes part of NS scheme.
3 Sep 1967: Batch of 48 women volunteers debut at VC’s first passing-out parade.
22 Sep 1967: Vigilante Corps Act comes into force; VC becomes affiliated with SPF.
1971: New VC training scheme is introduced; VC members take on civil defence duties.
1972: New uniform introduced for VC members on civil defence duties.
1974: Community Security Force is launched.
1975:
Ceremonial VC uniform for special functions is introduced.
1981:
Government announces the demobilisation of VC members with more than five years of service.
1982:
Government announces redeployment of VC members with less than five years of service to the SCDF.




Author
Jaime Koh




References
1. Chai, Y. H. (Interviewer). (1982, April 13). Oral history interview with Ong Chye Hock [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000168/47/21, pp. 125–127]; Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1981, November 14). Oral history interview with Lee Mun [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000109/16/06, pp. 47–48]; Lim, H. S. (Interviewer). (1981, March 27). Oral history interview with Ho Yeow Koon [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000034/06/02, pp. 17–18]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

2. Tiong Bahru defence plan. (1953, February 8). The Straits Times, p. 1; Over 100 volunteers for Tiong Bahru vigilantes. (1953, February 13). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Terrified women flee from the oily phantom. (1957, October 12). The Straits Times, p. 4; Kathi and the phantom. (1957, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. The town needs them too. (1960, February 25). The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. The island of fear forms its own vigilante corps. (1961, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Blades commends kampong heroes. (1962, March 19). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Another vigilante corps launched: Patrols bring fall in crime rate. (1961, June 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Over 100 volunteers for Tiong Bahru vigilantes. (1953, February 13). The Straits Times, p. 4; Vigilantes are a great success. (1954, June 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Clutterbuck, R. (1985). Conflict and violence in Singapore and Malaysia 1945–1983. Singapore: Singapore: Graham Brash, pp. 158–159. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 CLU-[HIS]); Mackie, J. A. C. (1974). Konfontasi: The Indonesia-Malaysia dispute, 1963–1966. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 327.5950598 MAC)
10. Security corps guards vital plants. (1964, April 15). The Straits Times, p. 1; Vigilante Corps: Enrolment next week. (1964, April 18). The Straits Times, p. 1; Now on the beat: Singapore's Vigilante Corps. (1964, May 16). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Eyes that watch for the enemy. (1964, November 17). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. National service call-up begins in S’pore today. (1964, April 22). The Straits Times, p. 6; Conscripts and volunteers: Where to sign up. (1964, April 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Conscripts and volunteers: Where to sign up. (1964, April 21). The Straits Times, p. 4; Eyes that watch for the enemy. (1964, November 17). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Ministry of Culture. (1964, May 18). Vigilante Corps [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Enrolment period for corps extended. (1964, May 10). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. 10,000 to watch for Jakarta saboteurs. (1964, June 16). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. A voluntary job ‘done well at some sacrifice’. (1964, July 4). The Straits Times, p. 12; Vigilantes to celebrate founding. (1971, July 6). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. 10,000 to watch for Jakarta saboteurs. (1964, June 16). The Straits Times, p. 20; 10,000 vigilantes on duty by June 16. (1964, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. A voluntary job ‘done well at some sacrifice’. (1964, July 4). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Now a sea vigilante corps for Singapore. (1965, April 16).  The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Vigilante Corps help smash bicycle thieves. (1964, July 3). The Straits Times, p. 11; Police praise for vigilantes who arrested thieves... (1964, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Vigilantes on rounds again. (1964, September 20). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Singapore employers told to form own V-corps. (1965, March 14). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Yong, J. (1967, September 5). Vigilante girls make their debut at parade. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Soon – 500 women in the VC. (1978, April 11). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Republic of Singapore. (2014, December 31). Vigilante Corps Act (Chapter 343), pp. 2–4. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/download/0/0/pdf/binaryFile/pdfFile.pdf?CompId:bfe34d3e-dd02-4e7d-858f-9a3af2862723
26. Call-up bill: All the details. (1967, March 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Ministry of Interior and Defence. (1967). The Singapore Vigilante Corps: Orientation handbook. Singapore: Ministry of Interior and Defence, pp. 2–3. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.232 SIN)
28. Vigilante Corps. (1972, March). The Vigilante, 1(1), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
29. Three 4-year phases for VC servicemen. (1971, July 29). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Vigilantes to celebrate founding. (1971, July 6). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Ministry of Interior and Defence. (1967). The Singapore Vigilante Corps: Orientation handbook. Singapore: Ministry of Interior and Defence, p. 3. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.232 SIN)
32. Vigilantes to celebrate founding. (1971, July 6). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Ministry of Interior and Defence. (1967). The Singapore Vigilante Corps: Orientation handbook. Singapore: Ministry of Interior and Defence, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.232 SIN)
34. Vigilante Corps. (1972, March). The Vigilante, 1(1), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
35. Vigilante Corps. (1972, March). The Vigilante, 1(1), 5. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V); Training in fire fighting for the Vigilante Corps. (1971, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Ng, E. (1973, January 15). VC ‘fire brigade’ to help out in disasters. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Vigilante Corps. (1972, March). The Vigilante, 1(1), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
38. Vigilante Corps. (1974, February). The Vigilante, 3(1), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
39. Khoo, B. L. (1975, January 14). When those doors opened wider… New Nation, pp. 10–11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Vigilante Corps. (1975, April). The Vigilante, 4(2), 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
41. Crack CSF squad for patrol. (1976, March 15). The Straits Times, p. 8 Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Vigilante Corps. (1974, April). The Vigilante, 3(2), 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
43. Vigilantes to take in more lifeguards to patrol beaches. (1978, December 24). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Vigilante Corps men get lift rescue training . (1974, May 6). New Nation, p. 3; 1,000 VC men trained in lift rescue. (1976, January 14). The Straits Times, p. 11; VC lift rescue for all estates. New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Vigilante Corps. (1972, March). The Vigilante, 1(1), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V); Seah, C. M. (1973). Community centres in Singapore: Their political involvement. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 37. (Call no.: RSING 301.5095957 SEA)
46. Vigilante Corps. (1972, March). The Vigilante, 1(1), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
47. Seah, C, M. (1973). Community centres in Singapore: Their political involvement. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 37. (Call no.: RSING 301.5095957 SEA)
48. Vigilante Corps. (1972, March). The Vigilante, 1(1), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
49. Vigilante Corps. (1972, March). The Vigilante, 1(1), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
50. A voluntary job ‘done well at some sacrifice’. (1964, July 4). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
51. Sam, J. (Ed.). (1980). The first twenty years of the People’s Association. Singapore: The Association, p. 72. (Call no.: RSING 301.34 FIR)
52. Vigilante Corps. (1972, March). The Vigilante, 1(1), 5. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
53. Vigilante Corps. (1972, June). The Vigilante, 1(2), 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V); Vigilante Corps. (1972, September). The Vigilante, 1(3), 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
54. Vigilante Corps. (1975, August). The Vigilante, 4(4), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
55. Ministry of Interior and Defence. (1967). The Singapore Vigilante Corps: Orientation handbook. Singapore: Ministry of Interior and Defence, p. 5. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.232 SIN)
56. Ministry of Interior and Defence. (1967). The Singapore Vigilante Corps: Orientation handbook. Singapore: Ministry of Interior and Defence, p. 5. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.232 SIN)
57. New training, pay deal for VC men. (1978, September 5). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
58. Vigilante Corps. (1980, December). The Vigilante, 9(5), 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.34095957 V)
59. End of SC and Vigilante Corps no surprise. (1981, September 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
60. Jacob, P. (1981, September 9). New plan for civil defence. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
61. History of the VC… (1981, September 10). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
62. Jacob, P. (1981, September 14). Demobbed NS men may still volunteer service. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
63. We’ll be ready. (1982, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
64. Ministry of Defence. (2012, April). My son the NS Man: What parents should know about NS. Singapore: Ministry of Defence, p. 41. Retrieved 2016, March 15 from National Service Singapore website: https://www.ns.sg/mha/documents/10184/14418/Parent+Handbook.pdf; Singapore Police Force. (2013). Police national service trainees’ handbook. Singapore: Singapore Police Force, p. 20. Retrieved 2016, March 15 from National Service Singapore website: https://www.ns.sg/cs/content/eServices/spf/Pre-Enlistees/Document/Trainees%20Handbook.pdf



The information in this article is valid as at 29 March 2016 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.

 

Subject
Community and Social Services
Politics and Government>>National Security
Politics and Government
Organisations
Singapore--Armed Forces--Reserves