I was approached by historian, Dr Loh Kah Seng, through my brother Chun See, to recall our experience of how our family was affected by the British military withdrawal from Singapore. My father worked at the British Naval Base in Sembawang most of his working life. I would like to share with readers what I wrote to Dr Loh via email. But I am afraid you are going to be disappointed if you expect tales of severe hardship and struggles arising from this ‘tragic’ turn of events in our family’s history.
A page from: SINGAPORE, An Illustrated History 1941-1984, Ministry of Culture
The irony was this. There were many retrenched base workers having a hard time, but not for my father - the opposite was true. All these years, right from prewar days to his 'golden handshake', he led a tough life - Japanese occupation, staying in a kampong, looking after a family of 7, while sustaining on a small income. This was especially so when two of my younger brothers were going to the university.
But things changed after being retrenched. He received a decent five-figure retrenchment cash benefit which included salaries accrued during the war years. The timing was perfect with all his children coming out to work, the family was in fact very much better off after his retrenchment (or retirement).
During those hardship years (before his retirement) in the sixties, I worked in the PSA as an operations staff and my sister was a primary school teacher. In short, we helped to supplement my father’s meagre salary during the lean years. To be fair to my father, I was not good in my studies like my younger brothers, hence had to start working after my 'O' level and this was a natural course of action taken by me (and many of my contemporaries in those days).
As for my father’s reaction to the ‘bad news’, he did worry a bit for Singapore when the British decided to leave Singapore, but had a great confidence in the Mr Lee Kuan Yew government to solve Singapore problems. However, he did criticize the government for acting tough to the British at first, and later on pleading with them to delay leaving Singapore.
The retrenchment benefits were given quite fast to him - a matter of months. He was not asked for retraining to other jobs. Upon retirement (or after being retrenched), he worked a year or two in his friend’s accounting firm and later on left to work in a timber firm for a couple of years and fully retired at the age of 60. Since he worked in private companies he was unaware of matters pertaining to other retrenchment workers.
As far as I know, he was not offered to migrate to UK. Anyway he was deeply rooted to Singapore.
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