S R Nathan Hard Seats Lecture with Minister Chan Chun Sing

Dear Members,

Many of you who would have wished to attend the exciting Fireside Chat with Minister Ong Ye Kung were unable to do so as it was very quickly oversubscribed. Fret not, for the Society is pleased to announce that on 11 January 2018, 7pm, we have invited Minister Chan Chun Sing to inaugurate the first in our series of Annual S R Nathan Hard Seats Lectures at the Pyramid Club.

“I want to tell you all about what made this country. Hard work, persistence and a first generation that always sought hard seats – not the cushy seats we were sitting in for the dialogue session.” So said our Sixth President of Singapore, S R Nathan, a few months before his death last year when he kindly addressed a small group of our alumni, mainly our younger members who we invited to meet and hear from the great man.

At his request, that session was an intimate, closed doors dialogue, limited to a dozen. Though already ill, Mr Nathan graciously spent two hours with us to share his thoughts on social mobility, leadership and the future of Singapore. With true candour, he also shared his concerns for the less fortunate in our Society, his worry about stress, mental illness and suicides amongst our younger Singaporeans and exhorted us as privileged members of Society (especially our millennials) to feel a duty to put back into the country and to not just be takers.

Inspired by Mr Nathan’s call to emulate the public service and sacrifice of Singapore’s first generation leadership, I am pleased to announce that the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Singapore has inaugurated the Annual “S R Nathan Hard Seats” Lecture Series with eminent leaders as an annual keynote event of The Oxford and Cambridge Society, in memory of our beloved former President of Singapore.

The aim of the “Hard Seats” Lecture Series is to provide a platform for us to learn from leaders and changemakers from varied walks of life who have overcome and tackled challenging circumstances to bring about impact and change in their various spheres. Thereby I hope we as a membership can then better play our part in Society, individually and collectively.

Minister Chan Chun Sing (an alumnus) is eminently suitable to do the honours. From relatively humble beginnings – and like Mr Nathan, Minister Chan was raised in a single-parent family and has said that his poor background has made him more determined to succeed. Minister Chan was awarded the SAF (Overseas) and President’s Scholarship in 1988 to read Economics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, graduating with First Class Honours. He then served with distinction in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for 20 years, rising to Chief of Army, before entering politics in 2011.

A leading member of Singapore’s fourth generation political leadership – Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Deputy Chair of the People’s Association, Minister Chan has been widely touted as a potential future Prime Minister of Singapore.

The Straits Times, for instance, noted that after entering politics in 2011, Minister Chan was the first in that batch to be promoted to full Minister. In addition to his familiarity with military and defence issues, Minister Chan also has strong links with two key groups: the trade unions (NTUC) and grassroots organisations (People’s Association). Within the PAP, after the 2015 General Election, he was tapped to head the executive committee of the party headquarters; he is also the Party Whip, rostering Members of Parliament to speak and ensuring they vote according to the party line. In October this year, when asked if he would like the job of Prime Minister, Minister Chan simply replied, “All of us have to be prepared to do the job when called upon.” Repeating a quote by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, he added that, “In Singapore, leadership is a responsibility to be borne, not a position to be sought.”

I have asked Minister Chan to adopt a “Hard Seats” approach to talk about the issues that irk our society and share his views on Singapore’s future/ our challenges / how we help the less fortunate. How does he see his role within the “4G” leadership?

Date/Time: Thursday, 11 January 2018, 6.30pm for 7pm
Venue: The Pyramid Club, 2 Goodwood Hill, Singapore 258897
Tickets: $48 for members, $60 for guests (non-members must be accompanied by a member)

Light bites and drinks will be provided. Sign up now via Peatix!

Society President Dato’ Paul Supramaniam together with President of the SAF veterans league addressing students about the importance of defence at the Sarimbun battle site.

Remembrance Sunday – 12th November 2017

by Oxford and Cambridge Society President and former SAF Lt Col ( NS) Dato’ Paul Supramaniam

It was the first time in recent memory that the Oxbridge Society had been privileged officially to be included in the annual Remembrance Service at Kranji.

It arose quite by chance as I was part of the SAF Veterans contingent which formed an Honour Guard for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall during their official visit here last week and whilst chatting, Camilla and I discovered that her great uncle George, and my great uncle Richard were killed in action within a week of each other 100 years ago in Nov/ December 1917 at the first Battle of Cambrai in France.

That led to my remarking to the FCO ( and thankfully they agreed) that it was entirely appropriate that the sacrifices made by our alumni in years gone by also be remembered .. ..many were young servicemen in WW2 and then posted to Singapore as colonial officers. And poignantly there were Singaporean Oxbridge WW 2 Veterans, including our former President, Eddie Barker who was a POW and on the dreaded Burma Railway.

Laying a wreath on behalf of the Society in the company of official representatives of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the EU , Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Romania and Peru as well as our SAF Veterans, reminded me just how privileged we all are to live in this beautiful country of peace.

But it was not always thus. I lost an uncle (my father’s elder brother) during the horrific Japanese Occupation ( a promising surgeon he died serving in 1944) and my father’s leg was pierced by Japanese shrapnel whilst serving in the British Medical Auxillary on 14th February 1942, but thankfully he survived his injuries.

And so Defence is a National mantra.

Within our membership now are some of the toughest men of the SAF – Commandos, SEALS, Guardsmen as well as many senior commanders.

National Service means that each of us ought with true conviction to be able to say :
” that for our children’ s tomorrows, we will gladly give our todays “.

And so of the many names etched on the memorial tablets at Kranji as well as the unmarked graves, I too was able, with utmost humility, to say

“At the going done of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them”

By Oxford and Cambridge Society Member Maj Lien Choong Luen

Across the Kranji war memorial this morning, thousands of young children, adults and veterans came to commemorate those that had fallen in battle in World War 1 and 2. Some were fighting to defend their homeland where they were born and grew up, for others their country, or just an abstract notion of KING and Commonwealth. Many perished. Amidst the tranquil grounds, the early morning sun beat down, while the angelic voices of the choir sang the redemptive words of “Amazing Grace”. Also in the audience were Boy Scouts, girl guides and other children too young to know what it meant.

I met a veteran who had conducted jungle operations in Borneo oh so many years ago. Looking at the schoolchildren, I thought of the officer cadets I had once taken through their paces in Temburong, Brunei. They were probably no older than this veteran was when he was flushing out the enemy then.

Pericles’ poem was read out; first written more than 2500 years ago, in the time of the Peloponessian war. The ringing words still have resonance today. Accompanying was the haunting wail of the bag pipes and the last call by the bugle, as poppy wreaths were laid. On the field of Flanders, in 1915, blood red poppies bloomed and are now a mark of remembrance and tribute to those that “would not get old, as we get old”.

We gathered to remember; but there were few left who remembered it from their own living memory.

We gathered to inspire; perhaps the young present whom I hoped would similarly defend their country if they knew what that truly meant.

We gathered to give thanks; though the phrase “fighting to save humanity” sounded a discordant note to me, as Pericles words reminded us – war was a constant in our history.

As the guard of honour was dismissed and storm clouds gathered overhead, we the living remembered.

And gave thanks for another year of peace.

Fireside Chat with Minister Ong Ye Kung, 7 November 2017

On 7 November 2017, the Society was honoured to have Minister Ong Ye Kung, Minister of Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Second Minister (Defence) for a special Keynote Fireside chat at the residence of our President, Dato Paul Supramaniam.

Minister Ong is widely seen as one of the core members of Singapore’s Cabinet and the PAP’s fourth generation (or “4G”) leaders. We commenced with a sit down dinner, where members ( there were 45 attendees) had the opportunity to interact with Minister Ong over nostalgic Oxbridge college fare of roast beef wine and mushy peas.

This was followed by an elucidating “State of the Nation” analysis, with Minister Ong examining Singapore’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Minister then fielded a wide array of questions from enthusiastic members, ranging from education, Sino-US relations, transport, Singapore politics, the recent changes to the selection of our Head of State, ASEAN and his own upbringing (as the son of a Barisan Socialis politician).

We concluded the evening with a vote of thanks to Minister Ong’s for his direct responses and openness and left with a sense of optimism for Singapore’s future.


Keynote Fireside Chat with Minister Ong Ye Kung

Following the extremely engaging Meet the Ambassadors Series Fireside Chat last month with Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath, Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Singapore, our next Fireside will be about Singapore, its future, and therefore our future.

The Society is delighted to announce that our next Fireside Chat will be with Mr Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Second Minister for Defence.

Minister Ong is widely seen as one of the core members of Singapore’s and the PAP’s fourth generation (or “4G”) leaders. Some political analysts and publications, including the Straits Times and the South China Morning Post, have touted him to be one of the contenders to lead Singapore in the future. The SCMP in particular highlighted Minister Ong’s long working relationship with PM Lee Hsien Loong, his “battle-hardened” nature from his experience of electoral defeat in his maiden political outing in the 2011 general election before bouncing back to be elected in 2015, and his unusual personal narrative given his father was a Barisan Sosialis MP in the 1960s in opposition to the PAP.

What does Singapore’s future hold? What is the 4G leadership’s vision for Singapore, and what are the roles that each leader is likely to play? On a personal level, how has Minister Ong’s political experience and personal background – unusual among PAP MPs – shaped his approach to leadership and does that make him a better listener?

The Society’s President has asked Minister Ong also to discuss the challenges Singapore faces in a no holds barred “State of the Nation” analysis. Come join us for an intriguing discussion at a Fireside Chat that is certain to be one of the highlights of the Society’s year. Numbers will be strictly limited to 30 pax.

Please sign up via Peatix. Details below.

Date/Time: Tuesday, 7 November, 7.15 pm for 7.30pm
Venue: 2A Victoria Park Close, Singapore 266550
Tickets: $38 for members, $60 for guests (limited spaces – no refunds allowed)