After the government’s announcement of the Queen’s first visit to Singapore in 1972, the whole island was in a frenzy with the preparation for her visit. The whole of Tanjong Pagar, where our port was located, was to be cleaned up. Since this part of the country was quite unsightly then, an order came down that all the buildings and their surrounding areas needed to be white-washed, spruced up and unsightly parts to be covered up. How? The solution was to rack up wooden panels, like cosmetic cover-up, to hide all ugly sights where the Queen’s motorcade passed through. The seedy bar called 'Toby Paradise', a water-hole for many a tired sailor, was transformed into a dignified place, worthy of VIP’s patronage. In short the whole island was geared to project an unforgettable image to Her Majesty. All government departments were on their toes, nothing was left to chance. There was no such thing as failure in the CS dictionary for this grand occasion. Many top government staff, I believed, had sleepless nights before the big day arrived. Security was at its best and the top bosses were as though placed on war-footing.
The big day came. The whole port was ready for action. Our section, Go-down 46/7, was chosen for the Queen’s yacht, The Britannia to berth. Flowers pots lined all the roads and buildings leading to the berth. As the tugs was pulling the yacht into the berth, our best work supervisor Anthony, dressed in full suit, was commanding his best stevedore, with the best gangway available, to move into position. Anthony looked so smart in his suit that one could have mistaken him for bride-groom that day.
The Britannia crew threw down the ropes which Anthony's stevedores quickly tied onto the capstans. The gangway was efficiently attached to the vessel and here came the Queen with her husband Phillip following behind. The Queen came down to inspect the guards of honour, with band striking out the national anthems of both countries. The whole area was practically red-carpeted. Diplomatic corps were at full strength and PM Lee gave a welcome speech and later acknowledged by her majesty. The Queen impressed upon me as lady of extreme grace and like a swan swimming in a sea of pageantry and pomp.
After the ceremony her majesty and entourage left the port. I as rookie of the port, gasped with awe of the big occasion, that unfolded before my eyes.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh each planted a tembusu tree at the Garden of Fame at Jurong Hill Top. After one quarter century, the two stately trees still stand ‘majestically’ nearest to the entrance to this garden where many dignitaries from all over the world had visited in the early years of Singapore’s independence.