Wings of time
Captain Ho Weng Toh has had a rich past and today at 95, he is blessed for what he has gone through and for being still mobile and alert.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Captain Ho Weng Toh celebrated his 95th birthday in March. He is probably one of the few surviving World War II combat and earliest serving national pilots in Singapore. He smiled: “There are not many people like me. A number of my classmates are immobile and some are senile. We are all about the same age. I have survived till today and have continued to keep myself agile. No use saying I am 95 and I can’t talk to you!”
He went on, “Physically, I am almost whole; I still have most things. For instance, I have only lost two teeth since WWII. In my last visit with my dental surgeon, he shared that I am good for the next 20 years! How many people my age or even younger can say they still have most of their teeth?”
And that is not the only thing he has over those his age. “I also feel lucky that I can see without glasses. How many 70-plus can see near and far?” said Captain Ho. “You have to maintain and take medication to keep yourself going. Mine [health issues] are only marginal and not serious, like high blood pressure and diabetes.”
He also moves around every day without a walking stick and confesses that he even chases after buses and MRTs. His days are packed with various activities, and it has been like that for the past 30 years, he said.
Unlike many of his peers who are lost once they retired, not Captain Ho. Since his retirement in 1980, he has been keeping himself busy with travelling and keeping in touch with old friends. “I have been going to Europe, US and China on my own for the last 37 years. No one comes and helps me, I go by myself,” he said. Because of his interest in sports, he has even gone to six Olympics, five World Cups and two Wimbledons.
Last year, he went to watch the World Cup final in Koblenz, Germany but it wasn’t without incident. “When Germany finally won, some excited Germans fell on me, damaging my legs. I had to seek medical treatment at a nearby hospital at midnight. Luckily no bones were broken. But I had to limp around,” said the father of three children and grandfather of two.
Earliest days were the happiest
He is also very thankful that he managed to return in one-piece after the war, as many did not. He continued, “My earliest years were the most dangerous but they were my happiest times. I had an important mission as I had to fight the war. Even though I didn’t get much pay, it was very meaningful. It is different now.”
Born in Ipoh, he started flying in 1942 to 1945 as a WWII bomber pilot. He was attached to the 1st Bombardment Squadron of the Chinese American Composite Wing which was based in Hanchung in Shanxi province, China, which became known as the Flying Tigers, and he carried out bombing missions over Japanese-subjugated China. His American colleagues and friends used to call him “Winkie” Ho.
After the war, from 1947 to 1949, he became a commercial pilot with the Central Air Transport Corp, based in Shanghai, flying rehabilitation and relief flights in post-war China. Then the Korean War erupted ending his flying in China. In 1951, Captain Ho joined the Malayan Airways at Kallang Airport in Singapore. He was one of the first local pioneering pilots. He conducted air drops over the rubber estates during the Malayan Emergency in Layang-Layang, Johor.
From 1963, he went on to teach trainee pilots with Malaysian Airways (known previously as Malayan Airways), which he enjoyed. Later when Malaysian Airways was incorporated into the Malaysia-Singapore Airlines and when the company split in 1972, he chose to join Singapore Airlines (SIA), where he became a training captain on the Boeing 737 aircraft. He was also the training captain for the F-27, DC-3 and B-737 aircrafts.
He stayed on till he retired in 1980 as the chief pilot. At the time of his retirement from SIA, he had clocked 20,000 flying hours. “Even now, some of the boys I took care in the early days of SIA who were at the time 19 years old still come to look for me as I am their shifu (in Cantonese meaning master or teacher).”
Busy with bridge
Since WWII, he has been playing bridge and this continues today. “There was nothing else to do at that time. There were no facilities like there are today.” He plays the game on Monday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons. Captain Ho said that he has even tried marathon bridge sessions which can last for eight hours.
“I wanted to test myself on whether I had the stamina. I like testing myself. Most people my age would quit after three hours!” And no surprise, he lasted beyond that. “Despite all the long years in playing bridge, my standard of the game is still mediocre,” he said.
His days are also filled with socialising. He belongs to a PUB retirees group (even though he never worked with PUB) and joins them for eating, shopping and drinking kopi at different venues. He calls the session his “Tuesday Walk About”. He shared that in a week he also has some “off” days like on Wednesday and Friday, however that doesn’t mean he does nothing. He sometimes goes swimming and socialising at the clubs. Or even partakes in ad-hoc events like dinners or lunches.
Occasionally he joins the SIA retired flight engineers and pilots in their ‘Thursday Night’ drinking session, adding: “I am a guy; I have to be naughty sometimes.” On Saturdays, he is at church and after, he watches football on TV till 1am and on Sundays, he catches up on his sleep and treats himself to fish-head curry. Captain Ho is also in the process of penning his memoirs which he shared that it is on-going.
He knows not to dwell on the past but move forward – “Everybody has some regrets as we are only human and not perfect. I try not to dwell too much into my regrets otherwise I’ll pressure myself.” Asked if he has any secrets to living such a full life, Captain Ho said, “If I knew those secrets, I could sell them and become a millionaire! It is really about genes and one’s lifestyle.”