It is a well-known fact that Pulau Tekong has a number of ghosts. Some of you readers may have read or heard about the ghost at Charlie Company at the old basic military camp I. Unfortunately, some versions that I read or heard have been distorted over the years.
Here, I hope to set the record straight. Instructors and trainees of Charlie Company, Infantry Training Depot during the March-June 1983 period can vouch for my version of the story. It is NOT my intention to revive hurtful memories especially for the bereaved family or to blame anyone, but purely to narrate facts as they had happened.
The starting point of this true story should be the 16 Km route march about 18 years ago. Before the march, the Officer Commanding of the company asked the trainees whether anyone was sick or not feeling well. No one put up his hand. But there was a trainee among the company, Recruit Tham W.K., who was down with flu but did not put up his hand.
Then the route march started. The platoons took turns to lead the company after each break during the route march. Sometimes, the pace of the march became too hot for some trainees, who could not keep pace and had to fall out. They became stragglers and had to be picked up by a few instructors walking at the rear of the company. The landrover with the medical orderly was also supposed to be at the rear.
Somehow, Tham fell out and managed to slip out of view by taking cover in the forest. He was not to be seen alive again.
During subsequent rest breaks, there were head-counts. He was presumed to be with the medical orderly. It was only in the evening after the route march, when the the rifles were due to be returned to the armoury, that they realised Tham was missing. They went to the medical centre but he was not there. The instructors feared the worst. Overnight, they organised a night-search party for him, re-tracing the 16-Km route taken earlier in the day. They could not find him.
The next day, the entire Camp I ceased training and batches of instructors and trainees were dispatched to find Tham. It was only about 5 p.m. that his own platoon commander (PC) found his corpse. Near a forest track junction, the PC noticed a half-pictched tent. He called out but there was no response. As he neared the tent, he noticed many flies buzzing around and detected a foul stench. There lay before him his dead trainee, lying with one hand holding his rifle and the other hand outstretched with a water bottle, with its cover opened. The PC broke down in tears and wept openly.
(A subsequent post-mortem showed that Tham had apparently died of stomach rupture. When his body system was still hot from the heat of the route march, against the advice of instructors, he had apparently gulped down massive amounts of water suddenly. It was like pouring ice cubes into a thin glass of hot water, which can cause the glass to crack. But the post mortem also found puncture marks on his body, which could not be satisfactorily explained to this day.)
It was left to the Company Sergeant Major and his landrover driver to drive the corpse back to camp for transfer to the mortuary. It was twilight at that time. Inexplicably, the engine could not start. The thought of the two of them spending the night with the corpse unnerved them. But eventually, they somehow had the engine started and returned safely to base.
The late Tham was promoted to NCO and cremated at Mount Vernon with full military honours. As the company trainees lined the road snaking up to the crematorium to salute our late comrade, it was a heart-breaking sight to see a distraught mother being supported by two daughters following the hearse.
A few instructors returned to the site where he departed from this world, to offer incense and prayers. One instructor asked the late Tham not to come back and haunt us, but rather to express his last wishes in a dream so that his soul could rest in peace after his wishes were fulfilled.
But Tham did not listen.
Incident 1: One of the instructors came to the Platoon 9 bunk to remove his personal effects. When he opened up his metal cupboard, there was a foul stench from inside that could not be explained.
Incident 2: In the dead of the night, some trainees of Charlie Company heard Tham’s voice shouting for the platoon or company to fall in at the common company compound.
Incident 3 (more scary): One of the platoon 9 section mates woke up in the middle of the night and saw the white figure of Tham’s ghost standing in front of his former cupboard ! He bolted to the next double-decker bed, grabbed to share his blanket and said “ghost!” The next morning, the platoon mates could see two trainees pale and ashened by the encounter.
Incident 4: During one of the subsequent route marches (by Golf Company), the company noticed a figure of a soldier in full battle order standing in the distance among some trees. The OC (a former Commando Captain) dashed forward to take a closer look. He quickly ordered the whole company to double past without slowing down to see what he saw. Subsequent route marches were diverted to avoid that area of sighting.
It’s been a long time since I last set foot on Pulau Tekong in June 1983. But I heard that the bunk in which the late Tham used was converted into a lecture room and subsequently into a store room. The room was installed with padlocked doors for obvious reasons.
Over the years, generations of trainees who became instructors passed down their version of Tham’s story by word of mouth, which unfortunately got distorted in the process.
May his soul rest in peace.