An ex-Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officer recounted how he had to get permission from Singapore’s first Chief of Defence Force before he could get married.

Singapore’s very first Chief of Defence Force was also the nation’s longest-serving Chief of Defence Force and the nation’s very first three-star General, General Winston Choo.

General Choo worked closely with Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and mentored politicians like Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and other former Cabinet Ministers when they were young soldiers reporting to him.

He also was in the Boys’ Brigade with veteran opposition Member of Parliament Chiam See Tong and has known Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim since she was a young girl.

In a recent interview, General Choo – who is now 78 – recounted how he had to postpone his wedding to serve as Singapore’s first military aide-de-camp to Singapore’s first President, Yusof bin Ishak. He told Mothership:

“I was actually engaged to be married, but the job required me to be a bachelor… So I told the president, when he interviewed me, I said, ‘you don’t want me, I’m going to get married.’
“But he said, ‘No, if I choose you, postpone your wedding.’ And then I said, ‘he won’t choose me la’. The next day I was told to report to report to the Istana. And I told him, ‘I told you I’m getting married!’ He said ‘okay, postpone your wedding!’
“And I did — in those days you must understand, we were very obedient people.”

President Yusof bin Ishak later threw a special wedding reception for General Choo at the Istana. General Choo told Mothership that his wife Katherine almost singlehandedly raised their two children, Warren and Karina:

“I think she should be given all the medals that I got. It’s not easy to be the wife of a solider and worse still, wife of a CDF… I hardly ever had time for (my children). Whatever time I could get, I spent with them. But most of the time, I was out.
“I was out of the country more than I was in the country for a long time. When my daughter was born, I was in England. I didn’t see her until she was seven months old. When I tried to carry her, she cried.
“Career is important, but balance is key. That time I had no choice, I couldn’t balance. The demands on my time (as CDF) were so much, you know. You ask me if I were to live my life again, would I do it differently? I think I would do it differently.
“I would tell all the young officers today, family first. Because there will come a time when you will find yourself suddenly missing— I missed the time when my children grew up. So I always tell them family first.”

General Choo said that his own experience led him to implement greater recognition within the SAF for the wives of army men. Revealing that the wives of top-performing officers and soldiers now also receive awards for their husbands’ achievements, he said:

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“At every occasion, every opportunity I get, I thank the wives. Because if they are not understanding, they don’t play their part, the husbands cannot do their jobs.

“(That wives also get awards now) is tremendous. Last time all they got was thank you from me. Which is right, because it is the family that ensures the wellbeing of the officer/soldier and his ability to do the work.”

Interestingly, an ex-SAF officer who served under General Choo has since revealed how he had to seek permission from commanding officer (CO) to get married to his sweetheart. Revealing that this was the protocol back in the day, Clement Puah Neo wrote on Facebook:

“In the very early days of the SAF a young officer had to get the CO’s approval before he could get married. And that’s exactly what I had to do. My CO in 1969 was LTC Winston Choo.”

Revealing that General Choo initially did not give him permission for him to marry his sweetheart Mona, Mr Neo wrote that General Choo would only allow Mr Neo and Mona to get married once his own wife had a conversation with Mona and ascertained her readiness to get married to Mr Neo.

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When Mona met General Choo’s wife Katherine, Mona said she wanted to get married to Mr Neo. Katherine apparently asked Mona if she was mad and listed all the challenges the spouse of an army officer would encounter.

Mr Neo wrote: “Well, Mona did consider all the challenges and decided since Katherine dealt with them well, so could she!

“And 45 years of the best of the best married life before Mona was called to be with HIM, confirmed the value of having eyes wide open and managing expectations prior to tying the knot.”

Wondering whether there would be less broken marriages if people went through the same process he and his wife did before they were married, Mr Neo wrote: “If only they required young officers today, to go through the same process that I did before getting married wouldn’t there be much less broken marriages?”