FOR a Sikh hockey stalwart, Bhupinder Singh Randhawa was more than just “big, strong and friendly”, He was nicely nicknamed ‘The Gentle Giant’.

Simply because for someone who is powerfully-built and strong in personality, especially as a senior SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) officer, he was of a rare breed of quiet and gentle nature, wherein “action spoke louder than words”.

Bhupinder, who migrated to Australia in 1983 after serving the SAF as a distinguished Captain and Singapore as an outstanding centre-half at hockey, passed away in Sydney on Monday of heart failure. He was 72 and leaves wife, Polly, and lawyer-daughter Trisha, who practices in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

The life-chapters of “Bhupi”, as he is affectionately known by fellow SAF officers and hockey mates, perhaps read like the Sikh-version of the Hollywood Oscar-nominated screenplay for ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ by Douglas Day Stewart.

He was born just after the war on June 11 1945, in the pre-war Tudor flats in Farrer Park, fourth in the distinguished Randhawa family of nine. Late dad was Dewan Singh Randhawa, the Editor and Publisher of Navjiwan Punjabi Weekly (1951-1987), the only Punjabi-weekly in Asean.

From Beatty Secondary School, Bhupi showed his outstanding sporting credentials. He captained the school and Combined School hockey team and together with Colin De Souza and Derrick De Silva, the trio was the first to be selected to represent Singapore as prodigious schoolboys.


Younger brother Devinder Randhawa, also a SAF officer who played in the same national team, salutes his “extraordinary role-model big brother”. He says: “Growing up, everything was hockey. Career-wise, he spurred me to be a SAF officer. I mean, we all love the game, the six of us.

“It played such a major role in our lives, and we’ve had so many great opportunities through the game. Bhupi always showed the way for us to have the drive and the love for the game.”

Devinder describes the “good ‘ole family atmosphere growing up in Farrer Park as intense”. He adds: “It’s very competitive. It doesn’t matter if it’s mini-sticks or ping-pong or who’s got the remote. It was really fun growing up. It was pretty crazy but the family bonds rallied us together. I’m sure it was stressful on my mum!”

Bhupi, for the record, played in the SEAP (South-East Asia Peninsular) Games in 1969, 1971 and 1973 gold-medal winning team. He also captained the SAFSA hockey team.

As a soldier at heart, he joined the newly-created Singapore Army in 1967 and became a commissioned officer in the second-batch Officer Cadet Course. Militarily, a natural leader, he just missed out the prestigious ‘Sword of Honour’ by finishing second among the 115 graduates. He went on to become a SAF Captain and migrated to Australia in 1983.

The nine-member Randhawa family has an awe-inspiring tradition. The eldest, Ajmer Randhawa, a prolific graduate teacher in Adelaide, was (former Australian Prime Minister) Julia Gillard’s teacher. The second, Mandhir Randhawa, an Air Traffic Controller who had an unusual streak of three commissions,  RMAF (Malaysia) RSAF (Singapore) and RAAF (Australia) and retired as a Squadron Leader in Sydney. The third, Savinder Randhawa, was a Singapore Police Force (SPF) Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), who once headed the Police Prosecution Branch.

Bhupi was No 4, followed by Devinder, three sisters, Dee Bandheshe, Kay Sangheda and Kuldip Marthenis and the late Daljit (second youngest, who played for Combined Schools with me in the mid-1970s).


Melbourne-based former SEA Games striker Nantha Kumar remembers how Bhupinder inspired the younger generation like himself when they graduated to the national team, as teenagers in the early 1970s.

“He was magnanimous with his personality and character.  He was finishing when I was starting, and he looked after the young lads like me,” recalls Nantha, arguably one of the region’s best strikers in the 70s and 80s. “He was genuinely a gentle giant, on and off the field, but if some youngster wanted to play it the other way he facilitated him. He could look after himself.”

“He was remarkably soft-spoken for someone with a commanding military-styled aura, with his colossal looks. He was a rousing leader with a few choice words but a very gentle smile.  He could instantly rally his mates, either in the SAF military ranks, or on the hockey field, where he was an impressive centre-half.”

Nantha, who was a member of the 1973 SEAP Games hockey gold-medal-winning team with Bhupi, says “he knew his playing days were numbered when several 18-year-olds made their way up the national team ranks…and Bhupi admitted his time was up and he magnanimously gave way to the younger generation. Simply outstanding!”.

There were discreet plans to hail Bhupi during July’s annual get-together in Singapore of former hockey greats. Nantha says: “He was looking forward to it and we wanted to remember him as a giant, legend and hero. But sadly it was not to be.”


SEAP Games 1973 vice-captain Arul Subramaniam, also a senior SAF officer, remembers how Bhupi held him by his hand in introductory rounds. He says: “I was a newbie in the national team in 1969 he always offered me encouraging words on how to be a good defender (left-half), how to mark the opposing right-wing and to play a value-added role in the team.”

When Arul joined the SAF as a recruit at 4SIR (Fourth Singapore Infantry Regiment) “Bhupi immediately got in touch with me to play for SAFSA (Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association)”.

He adds: “He positively spoke to my superiors and that was the beginning of my SAF career and SAFSA player. I later went on to be the SAFSA hockey convenor, thanks to Bhupi’s exemplary guidance.”

Melbourne-based former Singapore midfielder Rajkumar salutes Bhupi as a “man of few words”. He says: “His philosophy is probably ‘action speaks better than words’ and on and off the field, he superbly led by example.

“A very cool player in the heart of the team, as centre-half, he never got flustered. I remember (the late) Don Surajan calling Bhupi ‘Samson’, obviously in reference to his slim physique! Now Surajan has his Samson up in his hockey team in heaven.”

Award-winning football coach Jita Singh, the SNOC ‘Coach of the Year’ 1982, reflects on Bhupi and (SEA Games 1973 skipper) Vear Singh as “phenomenal sportsmen”. He explains: “They had the height, physique and temperament to be regional-class hockey stalwarts and both Bhupi and Vear matched the powerful Indians and Pakistanis in match-play. It’s very rare to find such big-hearted players these days.”


Former senior police officer M. Neethianathan described Bhupi’s death as a “tragic loss,,,I’m personally very distraught”. He adds: “He taught me many first-class values on sportsmanship and life. His awesome physical build instantly got him respect but he always remained a gentleman with a rare selfless disposition.”

Neethianathan, who played hockey, cricket and football for Singapore in the 1970s and was a Past Vice-President of the Singapore Cricket Association (SCA), paid tribute to Bhupi’s “rip-roaring influence in enabling me to advance as a police officer and also on the hockey pitch”.

“We won the SHF (Singapore Hockey Federation) Division One title, primarily because of Bhupi’s commanding leadership. He could rally the team when the chips are down and got everyone to play at their optimum best from his role as an inspiring centre-half.”

The nostalgic Sikh-liner “big, strong and friendly” perfectly summed up Bhupi says younger brother Devinder. “He’s one of those guys who has that ‘it’. And they don’t come along, those players that have ‘it’ very often. He’s a very gifted, special player and leader who could get the best out of you.”

Retired educationist Ajmer, the eldest of the Randhawa family, put it solemnly: “Bob’s sudden death has left us all shattered and I hope the family and friends will find strength to accept God’s will and continue to cherish the fond memories of our brother as long as we can.”

Farewell Bhupi, truly an officer, sportsman and gentleman, Let me genuinely reiterate, for a Sikh hockey role-model, he was more than just “big, strong and friendly”,

‘The Gentle Giant’ will be given a final sendoff on Monday, April 23 at Rouse Hill Crematorium in New South Wales, Australia. – BY SURESH NAIR


  • Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, who knew the Randhawa family for three decades and (the late younger brother) Daljit Singh was his hockey-mate during the 1974 hockey tour to India.
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