When The Reserve Unit Met Its Match

Old Riot Squad Vehicle
  1. The Riot Squad/Police Reserve Unit "Ang Chia"
Police wicker shields
  1. Wicker shields similar to the ones used by Riot Squad/Reserve Unit
Riot Squad With Wicker Shields

Riot Squad/Reserve Unit With Wicker Shields

Nightsoil lorry
      • Night Soil Van - Famously Refered To As Van With 36-Doors


The Day The Riot Squad/Police Reserve Unit* Met Its Match

Background : In the 1950’s many parts of Chinatown did not have the modern sanitation system. The bucket system was in use. Every day the night soil truck ( famously refered to as the truck with 36 doors) would come and the night soil carriers as the workers were called will  remove the buckets from the houses and replace them with clean buckets. Streets like Chin Chew Street, Hokkien Street  and Nankin Street were among those in Chinatown which had the bucket system.

At that time strikes by public service workers was quite common. One year in the 1950’s there was a strike by the night soil carriers who refused to clear the buckets as they were demanding for more pay and better work conditions from their employer, the City Council.  Within  a few days  the  situation became critical as the night soil buckets were overflowing.  The City Council brought in a new  group of workers to clear the buckets at Chin Chew Street. The original group of night soil carriers were very upset. They tried to stop the new group from working. Soon there were scuffles. The Police was called. A Police Patrol Car which arrived at the scene realised they could not control the situation. The Police Reserve Unit (Ang Chia – 红车 ) was summoned as reinforcement. At that time the Reserve Unit was a formidable force and feared by all in its way. Within minutes a Riot Squad/ Reserve Unit truck arrived and headed towards  the group of striking night soil carriers. The troopers very quickly disembarked to formed up and ordered the strikers to leave. The latter refused to heed the order and continued to harass the new group of workers. The Riot Squad Reserve Unit Commander standing on the lofty command post of his truck ordered his troop to charge at the strikers and arrest them. The Riot Squad/ Reserve Unit officers with their wicker shields and baton moved menacingly towards the strikers with a view to psychologically cow the strikers.  The strikers were expected  to either flee in fear or to surrender meekly.

But this was not to be. All of a sudden, the strikers ran to the truck with 36 doors and pulled out as many buckets as they could. They opened  the lids and used their bare  hands to pick up the contents of smelly awful excreta./human waste. They turned around and flung whatever  were in their hands towards the advancing troopers. The rattan wickers( unlike the present day, full -length transparent  fibre glass shields), were quite useless for shielding the troopers from whatever the strikers threw at them. Much of it went right through the gaps of the rattan and splattered  onto the faces and bodies of the troopers. They were in shock. Many screamed in disgust. Some had the misfortune of having the content unwittingly getting into  their mouths while  they were  shouting  to scare off the strikers. As a result, some threw out.  There was utter confusion. For once the Reserve Unit appeared to have  met its match.

The strikers were delighted. They had found a powerful and effective weapon to use against theRiot Squad/ Reserve Unit. The on-lookers were amused and amazed to see the Riot Squad Reserve Unit in a shamble. The Riot Squad/Reserve Unit Commander  lost his composure momentarily.  He was heard frantically barking orders through his megaphone. He lost his cool and confidence. His men were not listening to his orders.  They were desperately trying to remove the stinking human waste and toilet paper which   landed on them. The horrid stench and grisly sight overcame most of the troopers.  Some troopers retreated and ran back into their truck for cover.

The Commander soon regained his composure. He ordered tear gas canisters to be fired at the strikers. The sting of the tear gas was too much for the strikers to bear. They ran helter-skelter in all directions leaving many buckets of night soil on the street. The combined stench of night soil and sting of the  tear gas drove all by-standers away as well.

This was probably   a very memorable incident for the Reserve Unit. There were a number of learning points to be had. It probably expedited the switch to the use of full-length fibre glass shields. But it was not something the Reserve Unit would be like to remember .

This incident is probably not recorded in the Special Operations Command annals or the Police Museum.


  • The Reserve Unit is now known as the Special Operations Command.




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