Winston Choo

Singapore Infopedia

by Tan, Joanna Hwang Soo


Winston Choo Wee Leong (b. 18 July 19411) is a retired general of the Singapore Armed Forces, where he served as Chief of Defence Force from 1974 to 1992.2 After a military career spanning 33 years (1959–92), he held diplomatic appointments as Singapore’s envoy to Australia, Fiji, South Africa, Papua New Guinea and Israel.3

Choo’s grandfather named him after British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.4 He received his early education at Monk’s Hill Primary School5 and then, following in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, enrolled at Anglo-Chinese School (ACS). There, Choo captained the school football team and played hockey.6 He was also active in the Boys’ Brigade, where he was a bugler and won the Queen’s Badge (now the Founder’s Badge), the brigade’s highest honour.7 He graduated from ACS in 1957 and attained the Higher School Certificatein 1959.8 During his career, he completed a master’s degree in military history at Duke University in 1982 and the Advanced Management Programme at Harvard University in 1992, both in the United States.9

Military career
Choo enlisted in the Singapore Military Forces in December 1959.10 He completed his officer cadet training at the Federation Military College in Port Dickson, Malaysia, and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in December 1961.11 He was sent to the 1st Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (1 SIR), where he served as platoon commander of ‘C’ Company.12 During his time with 1 SIR, he was deployed to Sebatik Island in Borneo from 1963 to 1964 during the Confrontation (1963–66) between Indonesia and Malaysia. He was also involved in domestic security operations in Singapore such as street patrolling during the 1964 racial riots.13

When Singapore became an independent republic in August 1965, Choo was the battalion signals officer.14 That year, he was appointed the first military aide-de-camp to President Yusof bin Ishak, and then recalled to the SAF in 1966.15 In 1968 he took up the Communications Course for Officers at the United Kingdom’s Royal School of Signals, then went on to become Chief Communications and Electronics Officer (a position now known as Chief of Signals) from 1969 to 1971.16

Choo served briefly as commanding officer of the 4th Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (4 SIR)17 before attending the Command and General Staff College at Fort Canning.18 He credits then Minister for Defence Goh Keng Swee with marking him for higher command during this period.19 The following year, Choo became the first Singaporean to attend the 11-month US Army Command and General Staff course at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, United States. He was among the top five foreign officers to graduate from the course, scoring distinctions in all his subjects.20 Upon returning to Singapore in September 1972, he took up command of 1 SIR.21 That year, he was also named an honorary aide-de-camp to then President Benjamin Sheares22, became the youngest colonel in the SAF at the age of 31;23 and took up command of the 2nd Singapore Infantry Brigade (2 SIB).24 In 1974, he succeeded Brigadier Kirpa Ram Vij as Director of General Staff.25 In the same year, at the age of 35, he became the youngest officer to rise to the rank of brigadier.26 Two years later, he was the first professional soldier in the SAF to reach the rank of major-general.27

In May 1981, Choo was involved in organising the funeral of President Sheares.28 Several months later, he left for the United States, where he completed a master’s degree.29 During his absence, Brigadier-General Tan Chin Tiong was appointed Acting Chief of General Staff.30 Choo resumed command upon his return to Singapore in 1982.31 In 1988, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general, becoming Singapore’s first three-star general.32 When the position of Chief of General Staff was renamed in May 1990, he became the first Chief of Defence Force (CDF).33 He retired from the SAF on 30 June 1992 at the age of 51.34

As CDF, Choo oversaw the formulation of the SAF Personnel Management Philosophy (1983) and the SAF Declaration (1984), a statement of the SAF’s values and goals.35 He also presided over the reorganisation of the SAF and the formation of the Joint Staff (later known as the Joint Operations and Planning Division) in the early 1980s to bring about greater operational coordination between the army, navy and air force. Singapore’s good military ties with a number of Southeast Asian countries have also been attributed to his cordial relations with his regional counterparts.36

Diplomatic career
After his retirement from the SAF, Choo served as Singapore’s high commissioner to Australia and Fiji (1994–97) and South Africa (2001–05).37 He was also the non-resident ambassador to Papua New Guinea (2000–06),38 and has been the non-resident ambassador to Israel since 2005.39

During his career, Choo collected a number of significant medals, some of which were featured in a National Library Board exhibition in 2006.40 The 2013 Singapore Book of Records lists him as being Singapore’s “Most Decorated Soldier”.41 He was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Gold) in 197842 and the Public Administration Medal (Military) (Gold) in 1981.43 In 1990, he received the Meritorious Service Medal (Military), an SAF award given for exceptional distinguished service in military command or staff work.44 He was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2005 for his work with the Singapore Red Cross Society in tsunami relief operations,45 and the Public Service Star in 2009 for his work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.46

Choo has received awards from most countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).47 These include the Bintang Yudha Dharma Utama (War Service Star) (First Class) (1986)48 and the Darjah Panglima Gagah Angkatan Tentera (Honorary Malaysian Armed Forces Order for Valour) (First Degree) (1987),49 the highest military honours of Indonesia and Malaysia respectively. He has also been accorded awards from the United States,50 People’s Republic of China and France.51

Other activities
On 1 July 1992, the day after his retirement from the military, he became deputy chairman of the Central Provident Fund (1992–94) and chairman of Chartered Industries (1992–94).52 He was also on the boards of a number of companies such as Keppel-Tat Lee Bank (1992–2001).53 Choo has been chairman of the board of Metro Holdings since 2007.54

He was a member of the Singapore Sports Council from 1975 to 1979.55 Between 1996 and 2008, he was chairman of the Singapore Red Cross Society.56 In 2012, he was appointed the third honorary president of the Boys’ Brigade.57 Choo has contributed to several publications, including his recollections of former Minister for Defence Goh Keng Swee, and of his time in the Singapore diplomatic corps.58 He also supported the Dads for Life movement in Singapore by contributing to the book Letters from Grandpa and Grandma (2008).59

Wife: Katherine Seow Guat Lee (m. 1966)61
Children: Karina Choo Yi-Ying and Warren Choo Wen-Shih


Joanna H. S. Tan

1. Dominic Nathan, "SAF’s Soldier-Diplomat," Straits Times, 29 February 1992, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
2. S. Kaur, "A Soldier-Diplomat – Lt Gen Choo Leaves the SAF," Pioneer  (June 1992), 1-3. (Call no. RSING 355.225 NP)
3. Kaur,  "A Soldier-Diplomat – Lt Gen Choo Leaves the SAF," 1–3; "New Envoys to Four Nations Appointed," Straits Times, 29 December 2005, 2; "MFA Appoints Three New Ambassadors," Business Times, 29 December 2005, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Goh Yue Yun, "Soldier Diplomat," Straits Times, 1 July 1988, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Melanie Chew, Leaders of Singapore (Singapore: Resource Press, 1996), 208. (Call no. RSING q920.05957 CHE)
6. Paul Jacob, "SAF Chief Returns to Alma Mater for Review," Straits Times, 2 March 1984, 12; "I Want My Son to Send His Son, Too," Straits Times, 1 March 1993, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Jacob, "SAF Chief Returns to Alma Mater for Review"; "Boys’ Brigade Names Honorary President," Channel NewsAsia, 10 February 2012. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
8. "292 Passes in H.S.C. Exams," Straits Times, 14 February 1960, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Ronnie Wai, "Winston Choo, MA, Is Back at Work as SAF Chief," Straits Times, 7 August 1982, 11; "Winston Choo Joins Keppel Bank Board," Straits Times, 9 October 1992, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Kaur, "A Soldier-Diplomat – Lt Gen Choo Leaves the SAF," 1–3. 
11. "Col. Choo Gets Top Job," Straits Times, 31 May 1974, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Ronnie Wai, "Salute for First and Foremost," Straits Times, 7 November 1982, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Winston Choo Wee Leong, oral history interview by Mok Chok Sun, 17 September 2002, transcript and MP3 audio, 31:02, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 002343/03/01) 
14."‘What Will Happen to 1 SIR?’Straits Times, 9 August 1990, 12 (From NewspaperSG); Winston Choo Wee Leong, oral history interview by Mok Chok Sun, 17 September 2002, transcript and MP3 audio, 30:00, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 002343/03/02) 
15. Kaur, "A Soldier-Diplomat – Lt Gen Choo Leaves the SAF," 1–3; “Col. Choo Gets Top Job,” Straits Times, 31 May 1974, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Kaur, "A Soldier-Diplomat – Lt Gen Choo Leaves the SAF," 1–3; S. Charanjit et al., “Profiles of Past & Present Chief Signal Officers,” Pointer: Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces (December 1996): 65–71 (Call no. RSING 355.005 P); “National Day Honours,” Pioneer (September 1990): 22–23. (Call no. RSING 355.225 P)
17. “National Day Honours,” 22–23.
18. Melanie Chew, Creating the Technology Edge: DSO National Laboratories. Singapore 1972–2002 (Singapore: Epigram; DSO National Laboratories, 2002), 8, 25. (Call no. RSING 355.806 CRE)
19. Winston Choo Wee Leong, in Barry Desker and Kwa Chong Guan, eds., Goh Keng Swee: A Public Career Remembered (Singapore: World Scientific, & S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 2012), 92–93. (Call no. RSING 959.5705092 GOH)
20. “Advice to COs: Listen to Men’s Problems,” Straits Times, 5 April 1973, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “LTC Choo Back With Honours,” Pioneer (September 1972): 3 (Call no. RSING 355.225 NP); Teh Joo Lin, “SAF Pioneer Unit Marks 50 Years,” Straits Times, 10 July 2007, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “25 Named Honorary ADCs to the President,” Straits Times, 17 April 1972, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Choo Is Now Youngest Colonel,” Straits Times, 3 October 1972, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “Col Choo Takes Over,” Pioneer (November 1972): 3. (Call no. RSING 355.225 NP)
25. "Col. Choo Gets Top Job," Straits Times, 31 May 1974, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Colonel Winston Choo Promoted Brigadier,” Straits Times, 1 August 1976, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Masie Kwee, “Winston Choo Made Major General,” Straits Times, 6 July 1978, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “Mammoth Task,” Straits Times, 17 May 1981, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Wai, "Winston Choo, MA, Is Back at Work as SAF Chief." 
30. Ronnie Wai, “Man Who Became No. 2 in 10 Years,” Straits Times, 7 September 1981, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Wai, "Winston Choo, MA, Is Back at Work as SAF Chief." 
32. “Colonel Winston Choo Promoted Brigadier.”
33. “New Titles for Military Chiefs,” Straits Times, 1 May 1990, 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. “Gen Choo to Leave the SAF,” Straits Times, 29 February 1992, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “SAF’s People-Oriented Management,” Singapore Monitor, 7 December 1983, 2; Ronnie Wai, “SAF to Reach Out With Its Pledge on Defence,” Straits Times, 1 July 1984, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “Key Role in Building Up the SAF,” Straits Times, 10 November 1990, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
37. Winston Choo Wee Leong, “A Soldier in Diplomacy,” in Tommy Thong Bee Koh and Li Lin Chang, The Little Red Dot: Reflections by Singapore’s Diplomats (Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies; World Scientific, 2005), 171–78. (Call no. RSING 327.5957 LIT)
38. Singapore. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, “Appointment of Lt-Gen (Retd) Winston Choo As High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea,” press release, 15 March 2000. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 2000031504)
39. “Envoys Named,” Today, 29 December 2005, 4 (From NewspaperSG); “Embassy of the Republic of Singapore – Israel,” Singapore Government Directory, accessed 6 April 2016,
40. T. Rajan, “Medals of S’pore Heroes Go On Show,” Straits Times, 6 July 2006, H3. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Singapore Book of Records (Singapore: Singapore Book of Records, 2008), 130. (Call no. RSING q959.57 SBR)
42. “National Day Awards for 368,” Straits Times, 9 August 1978, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
43. K. Bala, “New Military Honours for Outstanding SAF Officers,” Straits Times, 9 August 1981, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
44. “Key Role in Building Up the SAF.”
45. Goh Chin Lian, “N-Day Honours for Tsunami Volunteers and Helpers,” Straits Times, 9 August 2005, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
46. “Here Is a List of This Year’s National Day Awards Winners,” Straits Times, 9 August 2009, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
47. Kaur, "A Soldier-Diplomat – Lt Gen Choo Leaves the SAF," 1–3.
48. Yang Razali Kassim, “Top Indonesian Military Honour for SAF Chief,” Straits Times, 4 October 1986, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
49. “Top KL Award for Major-Gen Choo,” Straits Times, 12 August 1987, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
50. “Choo at the Pentagon,” Straits Times, 5 October 1978, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
51. Choo, “A Soldier in Diplomacy,” 171–78.
52. “Gen Choo to Leave the SAF”; “Winston Choo to Give Up CPF Job,” Straits Times, 30 April 1993, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
53. “Winston Choo Joins Keppel Bank,” Business Times, 9 October 1992, 4; Angela Tan, “OCBC Takes Over Helm at Keppel Capital,” Business Times, 18 August 2001, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
54. Metro Holdings Limited, Annual Report 2007 (Singapore: Metro Holdings, 2007), 21 (Call no. RCLOS 338.761658871095957 MAR-[AR]); Metro Holdings Limited, Annual Report 2008 (Singapore: Metro Holdings, 2008), 24 (Call no. RCLOS 338.761658871095957 MAR-[AR]); Metro Holdings, Annual Report 2015 (Singapore: Metro Holdings, 2015), 6.
55. Singapore Sports Council, Annual Report 75/76 (Singapore: Singapore Sports Council, 1976), 5 (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR-[AR]); Singapore Sports Council, Annual Report 1979/80 (Singapore: Singapore Sports Council, 1976), 4. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR-[AR])
56. Singapore. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, “Appointment of Lt-Gen (Retd) Winston Choo As High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea”; Theresa Tan, “Red Cross Gets New Chairman,” Straits Times, 19 December 2008, 61 (From NewspaperSG); Singapore Red Cross Society, Annual Report 2008 (Singapore: Red Cross Society, 2009), 2.
57. “Boys’ Brigade Names Honorary President,” Channel NewsAsia, 10 February 2012. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
58. “Winston Choo Wee Leong,” 92–93; Choo, “A Soldier in Diplomacy,” 171–78.
59. Letters from Grandma and Grandpa (Singapore: EPB Pan Pacific, 2007), 70–73. (Call no. RSING 306.8745095957 LET)
60. “Obituaries – Choo Keng Ho,” Straits Times, 4 March 2002, 5; “Obituaries – Lim Wee Sen,” Straits Times, 3 October 1999, 44. (From NewspaperSG)
61. “Acknowledgments – Captain & Mrs Winston Choo,” Straits Times, 6 December 1966, 19. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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