Agnes Fong Sock Har
First female commanding officer in the Singapore Armed Forces
Agnes Fong Sock Har was working as a clerk at the Ministry of Defence when she discovered that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was keen to attract applicants for its first lady officers’ training course.
She jumped at the chance to do something different. She was tired of the ‘boredom of typing, filing and other clerical duties’, she later told the media.
Agnes signed up and found that she was one of just three women to take on the challenge of breaking into what was at that time very much a man’s world.
This was in 1967, when National Service was just getting underway and the first batch of recruits was being called up.
Together with Nancy Tan Soo Keow and Patricia Koh Kim Toh, both of whom had served a stint with the Singapore Police Force, Agnes went through the 2nd People’s Defence Force School Army Officer Cadets (Girls) Course. The three became full-fledged officers later that year.
Twelve years later, in 1979, Captain Agnes Fong made history when she became Commanding Officer of the 1st Air Supply Base. It was the first time a woman had been promoted to the post of commanding officer.
Asked then by Pioneer, the Singapore Armed Forces’ publication, how she felt about being the first woman to breach the glass ceiling in the armed forces, Agnes replied: “I’ll try hard to respond to the challenge. After all, I’ve more than my own future prospects to lose. This is the first time they’re putting a woman to such a major test.”
She clearly passed the test. Agnes had been promoted to Major by the time she retired. And today there are growing numbers of women in the SAF.
By responding to the call in 1967, Agnes helped pave the way for women to serve Singapore in a myriad of ways as members of the armed forces.
“I’ll try hard to respond to the challenge. After all, I’ve more than my own future prospects to lose.
This is the first time they’re putting a woman to such a major test.”
The Straits Times, 23 November 1979, excerpt from article “Making waves at sea and in the air”