Red Cross Memories: Jeffrey Chan

My involvement with the Red Cross began in 1963.

I was 11 years old and in my first few days in Secondary One of Raffles Institution when I joined Red Cross Cadet Unit 17. At that time, there was no Singapore Red Cross. So what I joined was the British Red Cross Society (Singapore Branch). I joined because the Red Cross among the first school ECAs (now called CCAs) that promoted itself to newly enrolled Sec 1 boys. It promised opportunities for learning First Aid, doing humanitarian work, community service and also many social activities. It was also a uniformed group. I was a Scout in my primary school and was so partial to uniformed activities. I could not join the army cadets as I could not meet the height requirements. I thought Red Cross was the best alternative. I was not wrong.

During the 4 years I was in Junior Red Cross, I learned many things while having a very good time with my friends. The emphasis of Junior Red Cross at that time was First Aid, community service and bonding among members. Our trainers were members of the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments (the VAD). They were all adult volunteers from all walks of life and gave their time and even their own money in order to impart Red Cross skills and knowledge to young people like us. Many of them were not that highly educated and nearly all were Chinese speaking. Despite difficulties in communications with us, which occurred from time to time, there was no doubting that they were serious, sincere and completely committed to shaping us up to be good Red Cross members.

A major emphasis at that time was foot drill. Our VAD drill instructors were all trained by the Police. They explained to us that foot drill, though uncomfortable, was designed to inculcate discipline. Discipline is required in order to effectively carry out the tasks we have to do when rendering humanitarian assistance in difficult or even dangerous conditions. We accepted its necessity. Red Cross at that time was reputed to have the best foot drill among all the uniformed groups in Singapore.

I became one of the Drill Instructors to my own Cadet Unit and to a number of other Cadet Units from other schools. RI was an all-boys school. The other schools were girl's schools or had girls. I enjoyed myself.

First Aid was very much a core of Junior Red Cross activities. We were deployed for First Aid duty at all schools and district events. So, like my other fellow cadets, I treated numerous instances of cuts and bruises, fractures, heat exhaustion and leg cramps. I hated having to massage smelly legs and feet. 

The most memorable injury I encountered was a bullet wound. One of the R I Police cadets was playing with a revolver of his Police trainers and a shot went off. Immediately there were shouts of "Red Cross, Red Cross, Red Cross". My senior, Steven Tan, rushed to treat the injured. The rest of us came immediately to back him up. The bullet entered inner side of the boy's left arm near his elbow. The wound was very small but blood was gushing out like a fountain. Thanks to our training, we knew what to do. Steven applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding we then applied a dressing on the wound. Someone called for an ambulance which arrived very shortly and brought the boy to the hospital. I do not think any Red Cross member here has have ever encountered a bullet wound!

During the 1960s, the Singapore Red Cross Society (SRC) was a very highly-profiled organisation. This was because the Red Cross symbol was seen everywhere. It was prominently displayed at the new Red Cross House at Penang Lane and at and around the venue of all the many Red Cross events. All Red Cross HQ staff wore uniforms and the Chairman and Council Members all had Red Cross uniforms which they wore proudly at all Red Cross occasions. Members of the VAD and Junior Red Cross cadets wore Red Cross uniforms at all schools and public events. Red Cross ambulances and vehicles with big Red Crosses on their side were seen almost everywhere. They played a major role ferrying the injured during the Bukit Ho Swee fire. There was also a uniformed Red Cross marching band that took part in not just Red Cross events but also at other public events such as National Day Parades and openings of national events. Then there was Singapore Red Cross Blood Bank, and we were the regional logistics centre for disaster relief operations of the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Red Cross was then one of Singapore's leading charities. The annual Red Cross Bazaar (or Fun Fair) was always eagerly anticipated while the annual Red Cross Ball, which was organised by the Rotary Club, was one of, if not the leading social event of the year for Singapore high society. All these made us very proud to be Red Cross members.

After I left school, I pursued other interests. But throughout I remained a keen observer and supporter of the Red Cross. Many years later I resumed my involvement in SRC by serving on the Management Committee of the RC Home for the Disabled. But my main interaction with the Red Cross was in the field of International Humanitarian Law (also called the Law of War). IHL is a core competence of the Red Cross Movements. As Director, Legal Services of the Ministry of Defence, much of my work involved IHL. I participated in numerous IHL events organised by the ICRC. Through IHL, I established links with SRC. As a National Society, SRC collaborates with the ICRC on the implementation of IHL in Singapore.

Subsequently, I was elected to the Council of SRC and later appointed as Vice-Chairman (International). My involvement as a Council Member in the governance of SRC and as Vice-Chairman in the international operations of SRC was very satisfying. That was the time when SRC was expanding its international horizon and greatly ramping up our capacity for international humanitarian assistance. Many stories can be shared about our work here. Domestically, a major expansion of our work was our collaboration with Health Science Authority in respect of the Singapore Blood Bank. This has been extremely successful and is now one of SRC's core activities.

SRC has changed over the years. It is no longer the same society I joined in 1963. In many respects it is a much better organisation. In other respects, I do miss the old days. But what has remained constant are the values that guide SRC in the work that we do. These are the 7 Principles of the Red Cross. These must never change.