‘I wanted to win for Dad’: LTA Nicholas Tang honours late father as best international cadet

LTA Nicholas Tang on his International Sword achievement at RMA Sandhurst

Winning an award and being among the best of the best — that isn’t easy.

Losing your father in the midst of all that? Even harder.

Being the only Singaporean cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMA Sandhurst), Lieutenant (LTA) Nicholas Tang felt he had to show the best of Singapore during the annual 44-week course.

And show it he did. Despite the suddenness of his father’s death during the course, the Section Instructor at the Officer Cadet School (OCS) won the International Sword — an award bestowed upon the best international cadet.

What drove him was an emotional promise to his father and the support he received from his peers and instructors at Sandhurst.

44-week course started as the dream overseas experience

LTA Tang, 26, is the youngest of three children born into a humble Singaporean family — his dad was a taxi driver while his mum worked in the F&B industry.

Though he studied Pharmaceutical Science at Nanyang Polytechnic, LTA Tang decided to sign on as an officer a few months before his Operationally Ready Date (ORD) in 2021.

LTA Tang with his family at OCS. Image provided by LTA Nicholas Tang.

In 2023, LTA Tang’s wing commander asked if he’d like to do a 44-week commissioning course at Sandhurst — a renowned military academy located in Berkshire, England.

Back then, he had jumped at the chance to travel. Due to his family background, LTA Tang didn’t have as many opportunities to see the world.

“It started off as an overseas training experience that I always wanted. Because I commissioned during the Covid-19 period … I don’t have any overseas experience,” said LTA Tang.


He described the course as a “seven-day work week”. Think fast marches, intense “log races”, and exercises testing the cadets’ ability in battle and leadership.

A photo taken with LTA Tang’s platoon during a Log Race. Image provided by The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

On top of that, he was concurrently attending lectures on leadership, behavioural science, and war history.

During one early exercise — a navigation exercise in Wales — he even questioned whether he was cut out for Sandhurst.

It did not help that LTA Tang, standing at 1.65m, was the shortest cadet in the entire cohort, which led to teasing nicknames like “Toy Soldier” and “Wee Tang”.

But he hadn’t come to the UK just to give up.

With the help of his instructors and fellow cadets, LTA Tang knew he had to hold his own among the others, some of whom were almost two metres tall.

He would even work out and go for runs during his break time because he recognised the need to keep up physically.

Unexpected tragedy disrupted plans

LTA Tang was supposed to be in Sandhurst from May 2023 to April 2024.

However, in December 2023, he received word that his father was in critical condition.

His medical ailment had taken a turn for the worst and doctors advised his family to visit him in hospital as he “did not have much time left”.

LTA Tang had just completed a parade rehearsal when he received the distressing news.

He was shocked as his dad’s condition had been stable previously.

“I felt helpless and didn’t know what I could do,” he said. “All I wanted was to at least see him one more time.” He knew he had to return home.

Arrangements were made for LTA Tang to fly back to Singapore and see his father for the last time.

LTA Tang made an emotional promise to his late dad

When the time came for LTA Tang to talk to his ailing father, he didn’t hold back. They had never spoken much except during mealtimes and supper.

“I had never been expressive with feelings for him — so the last time I got to see him, I was able to say all these things, like ‘I love you Dad’,” recounted LTA Tang.

It was during their last one-to-one conversation that LTA Tang promised his dad that he would excel at Sandhurst and win the International Sword.

LTA Tang with his dad at OCS. Image provided by LTA Nicholas Tang.

“What I knew is that for the time that I’ve been in the military, my dad has been very proud of me, of my achievements so far,” he said.

I told him about how my instructors really took care of me. My friends were really supportive and cared for me… So I then assured him that I would do my best to try my best to win this International Sword for him.

Even his family hadn’t known about this promise, he said, until he received the International Sword.

His father passed on a few days after he arrived in Singapore. “My mum told me he held on all the way until I came back,” said LTA Tang.

He then stayed in Singapore for his father’s funeral before returning to the UK.

Looking back, LTA Tang shared that it was one of the most stressful periods for him — having to juggle things back home and also training.

However, it also motivated him to continue doing his best. He said:

“I thought the very thing that I know my dad would not want is to worry about things at home. And I know his wish for me is that he wants me to do my best in everything that I do.”

Set standards as the only Singaporean cadet in Sandhurst

Besides the promise to his late father, LTA Tang was also conscious that he was representing Singapore on the international stage.

Image provided by LTA Nicholas Tang.

“What motivated me to do well is because I think I wanted to leave an impression on those who don’t know Singapore,” said LTA Tang.

“I might be the only Singaporean that some of the UK cadets know. So all I had in mind was that I wanted to represent Singapore.”

LTA Tang at a Cultural Evening with international colleagues. Image provided by The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Apart from setting a standard and excelling at the course, he also formed friendships that supported him through his father’s passing.

LTA Tang recalls when the entire platoon wrote him a letter upon his return from Singapore.

“It’s very touching because you know when you are there for a year or less, and then you get to have that connection, that friendship and that relationship with people, that really meant a lot to me,” he said.

“It’s actually what I wanted to achieve when I ventured overseas.”

LTA Tang with his friends during recess. Image provided by LTA Nicholas Tang.

They gave him space too. “One of my instructors told me that if you need time off whilst you’re doing the training, let us know, we’ll give you the space. So they kind of understood that it’s a stressful period for me.”

In the end, they passed the course together with a final exercise — held on 27 March, his father’s birthday. It was especially meaningful to have everyone working together, as they knew the significance of the date.

LTA Tang honours promise to late father

On winning the International Sword, LTA Tang said he’d not been expecting it and simply wanted to give the course his all.

To honour his late father, Jason, he requested to engrave his father’s name on the sword.

Image provided by LTA Nicholas Tang.

His family, watching the livestream from Singapore, was pleasantly surprised.

LTA Tang’s mother, who had similarly pushed him to finish his course after his father passed on, continues to support his career in the army.

“I think she shared the same sentiment as my dad, that if I’m here, we should focus on the training,” he said.

LTA Tang made sure to remain in contact with his mother through regular phone calls while at Sandhurst, even if it meant waking up at 2am due to the time difference.

He added: “I think all parents would think the same thing, that all they want is their child to be safe. So my assurance for her is that I’m well taken care of.”

“My instructors really took good care of me, [and] my friends also supported me well. I made sure that whenever I do things, I do it safely, so that I don’t injure myself and cause her to be worried.”

Work hard and reap the harvest, says best international cadet

Upon news of LTA Tang receiving the award, some sceptics claimed that he came from a place of privilege, or that he had to be a “white horse” — a military term used to describe someone who receives special privileges due to being related to a politician or high-ranking officer.

He considers himself “privileged and honoured” to have gone to Sandhurst, having been nominated by his wing commander, who saw potential in him to grow overseas and represent Singapore well internationally.

LTA Tang also wanted to address comments about him “probably being a white horse” or from an elite school.

He had not gone through the Junior College (JC) route, and is pursuing a part-time degree at Kaplan Singapore. His family background also does not suggest any privilege, noted LTA Tang.

“I just want to emphasise: as long as you work hard and when there’s an opportunity that comes, there will be a door open to you.”

“I hope my story can motivate, encourage, and bring hope to people. If you work hard for something, you’ll eventually reap the harvest.”

Also read: Father of S’porean best international cadet fell ill, died while cadet was on course in UK

Have news you must share? Get in touch with us via email at news@mustsharenews.com.

Featured image by MS News.

Jonathan Yee

Jonathan is a bedroom headbanger. His Kobo is never far from him.

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