Wings of time

by | April 28, 2015

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 (seated, middle) celebrates his birthday with some retired SIA flight engineers and pilots.

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.

Captain Ho in front of the squadron emblem of the 1st Bombardment Squadron, Chinese American Composite Wing.

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.

Pilot cadets – Captain Ho on the right.

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.

Captain Ho was a pilot with Malayan Airways from 1951 to 1958.

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.

Keeping up with bridge sessions.

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.”


1 Comment

  1. Stephen Teng

    He has indeed good healthy genes to live up to this age of 95 being mobile/alert & even able to keep his medical condition of high blood pressure & diabetes at bay. Even so, he can’t live forever. Sooner or later his body’s expiry date will arrive without any shadow of doubt. Then what? Is he really prepared for it? Why not prepare for it while he has all the time? Should he not plan for one’s eternity after death? It may be futuristic, extraterrestrial & unlikely concepts to comprehend, but it definitely affects every human being, young & old on this earth, including the ones in Singapore. Everyone has to enter eternity after death, whether one likes it or not. However, what credentials does one need?

    Birth & death is part & parcel of human life on earth, just like spring & winter or planting & harvesting cycle. Life goes on & is replaced by someone else. So, if one has done his/her best in life & has prepared well for his/her eternity, he/she will have no angst at all to talk about death. However, life on this earth is just a fraction of eternity. Is each one of us prepared for eternity or does death end all & everything in this earth & there is nothing else after death. Is it really so? If it is really so, then be it.

    However, common sense, logic, conscience & the awe of the universe suggest otherwise. If this is so, should we not prepare for eternity? On earth, we are very meticulous in acquiring a career, car, house, marriage, etc, so that we have a satisfied earthly life. Then what about one’s eternity? Should not one be as meticulous in preparing for one’s eternity, which has no end? Should not one have eternity with bliss with the Creator, rather than His enemy, who comes in many disguises as angel of light? Should not one investigate how this can be done in this life, while we have all the time to do so?

    Ancient scriptures point to a Creator & this Creator is the God of Abraham, who has been highly regarded by the Jews, Christians & Muslims alike. Can this long history people be wrong? This Creator also caused only one sinless person in the whole universe history to be born of a virgin birth, to live & sacrifice his life for the sins of the human race & after three days, to be raised from death to be with Him to intercede for us, upon one’s acknowledgment & acceptance. So, should not one get reconciled with Him before it is too late? It is really one’s choice/decision for the type of life one wants for eternity. If there is no eternity, one has nothing to lose, as everything ends here. But, what if eternity exists, then where will one be found?

    When we came into this world, we had no choice for obvious reason, but now that we are matured & before death, we have a choice to enter the kind of eternity: bliss or torment; heaven or hell in all eternity. Can we afford to squander away this choice/decision eternally with no second chance? Do we want to regret at all for all eternity?


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