Growing up, Dr Luisa Lee loved reading but money was tight at home. Turning to her neighbours, who were boys, she found that all they had for her to borrow were comics and books on combat and war. These were to have a lifelong effect on the medical doctor, who became Singapore's first woman doctor in the Singapore Armed Forces volunteer medical service in 1979.
For 20 years, she served the military. It gave her a deep insight into the lives of national servicemen that proved invaluable when she sat on the Committee to Strengthen National Service. Dr Lee, 65, tells Maryam Mokhtar how the panel's recent recommendations will fortify the national service core and let Singaporeans show their commitment to the country.
Five years of your childhood were spent in Melbourne, Australia. How did the experience shape you?
When I was between age four and nine, my father was studying engineering at the University of Melbourne, under a colonial government scholarship. We were poor because the scholarship covered only his expenses. The rest of us lived on my parents' savings. I loved reading and borrowed books and comics from my neighbours, who were boys.
These were all about combat, war and fighting and, at that impressionable age, I was taken by events like the Battle of Britain and war heroes like John Paul Jones of the American Revolutionary War. My penchant for the military was also stirred at school in Australia, where plenty of stories were told about war heroes. The school also celebrated wartime commemorations such as the annual Anzac Day and Poppy Day. But you became a doctor instead of a military historian. Why?
I was eight years old when an aunt very proudly proclaimed that one of her nieces had become a nurse. It made me think that I could be one too, working in a hospital and helping to heal sick people. It sounded very glamorous. But the notion of nursing was put on hold when I decided to continue studying after my O levels.
I prepared my application to the then University of Singapore to do science but the day before submission, my cousin urged me to try medicine and I thought: "Why not?" I think one thing that drove me was that I wanted to keep on studying, and not work.
You joined the Health Ministry's Training Health and Education Department in 1974. What led you to volunteer in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF)?
In 1979, I came to know the SAF had a group of volunteer doctors and nurses. When I heard they were recruiting, I asked the chief medical officer if I could volunteer. The women volunteers then were nurses, no doctors. He said: "Okay, put in your application." I was thrilled when they accepted me, and went for the Medical and Medical Ancillary Officers' course.