“I grew up hearing about my mom’s childhood in Singapore, but I never visited the city until this past July. When we arrived, I became the fifth generation of my family to settle, for a time, in Singapore and our three children, Coco, Ezra, and Vita, became the sixth. The first to start this family tradition back in 1895 was my maternal great-great grandfather when he came here from New Zealand fo…r a six-month stint as manager of the Tanjong Pagar Dock. Some 46 years later, in 1941, my maternal great grandparents and grandparents moved to Singapore from Shanghai as the Japanese Army advanced through China. Their respite in Singapore was brief as Malaya was also falling to the Japanese and just before Christmas 1941, my grandmother and my mom – only a year old at that time – boarded a ship for New Zealand. My grandfather and great grandfather stayed behind to do their part to defend Singapore. My grandpa signed up as a volunteer in the Auxiliary Fire Services and as an Air Raid Precaution warden. When Singapore fell in 1942, both men were taken as civilian prisoners, first to Changi Prison and later to Sime Road Camp. They remained prisoners until the war ended in 1945.
After the war, the family reunited and spent many happy years in Singapore. They owned a house in Bukit Timah and my mom attended the Convent of Holy Infant Jesus in City Hall and the British Army School at Alexandra Barracks. For fun, they had picnics at the Raffles Lighthouse and went dancing to the Big Band at Raffles Hotel. One remnant of that time – my grandma Kathleen’s organza ball gown – is currently on display at the National Museum of Singapore in the “Witness to War” exhibit.
After meeting in Europe while traveling, my parents continued their parents’ transient lifestyle, and my husband and I, with our family, have done the same. My husband is in the U.S. Navy and as a military family, we move every few years. The children were born on different continents, and this is already part of their own stories. To offset the constant change, we try to savor current experiences, treasure friends and memories, and seek certain routines that give us a sense of grounding. We have a painting – a watercolor rendering of the Australian Outback, which shows the arid landscape with cattle tracks crisscrossing the vast plane. I like to think of that painting as a metaphor for our – and our ancestors’ – lives. Moving to Singapore is like walking along the tracks left behind by previous generations.”
– Jacqueline Ahn, wife of Defense Attaché Silas Ahn