Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Day It Rained On Our Parade


Since 1966 I have been following the “live telecast” of National Day Parades (NDPs) on August 9 in the clean comfort of my living room.  It was no different in 1968 and as usual my late father would be in the row of VIP Guests closest to City Hall. 

For most NDPs, we would have good weather with a strong breeze and sunny skies.  However NDP 1968 was an exception because it was marred by bad weather; the heaviest downpour in what would have been otherwise a happy third anniversary following separation from Malaysia.  Spectators, guests and participants were drenched in the rain.  My father came home with his formal suite drenched and his Leica camera rendered useless.

Photo 1: Sunny skies at the second NDP on the Padang (c 1967)

The argument that the rain during NDP 1968 united Singapore as one appears to be over-blown in my opinion.  If you were to believe in that, then you miss out on other more compelling reasons.

When the rain continued to drag on, the Parade could have been delayed into the late evening or worse called off and re-scheduled to another date.  Imagine the disarray when participants run to seek for shelter from the rain.  If that had happened, it would have been a loss of national pride, especially when we left Malaysia under acrimonious circumstances.  For those older, you would recall our then military capabilities and the shocking British announcement in January 1968 of an early military withdrawal from Singapore, how could one have the confidence that this motley crowd of people would be able to defend Singapore?
What exactly do I mean by that?

On parade, our military contingents were drawn from the two regular military Singapore Infantry Regiment (SIR) battalions, the voluntary People’s Defence Force (PDF) and the newly trained National Service (NS) conscripts.  Our citizens-army was not very well equipped – officers carried pistols and the others carried Enfield 7.62mm SLRs or carried no weapons.  When it came to military hardware we had Land Rover jeeps pulling WWII 25 pounders and those “handed-me-down from the British” Bedford trucks.

Things really looked bad but when they do, Singapore always looked on the bright side of life. 

We showed the world we had great resilience against hardships and surprises; the rain was the least of our setbacks.  It was the national will to survive. The Parade did not stop.

Was our loyalty only confined to NDP 1968?

Photo 2: Military contingent marching past City Hall (c 1968).  Source: MICA

Photo 3: One of the entertainment items on the Padang (c 1968).  Source: MICA
For us still in school, we had our own special ways to prove our loyalty to this country.  Our school organized the National Defense Fund (NDF) Carnival in April 1968.  Coming together as one school and one nation, it was our way for us to show our patriotism.

Photo 4: Bad news: The first British military asset to be handed over to Singapore - Sembawang Naval Base (Dec 1968)

Being students meant the focus should have been on books because this was the one facet of a complete education, besides school extra-curricular activities.  Then we learnt something new called NS which was introduced in mid-1967.  Whilst many of my seniors in school were drafted into the Special Constabulary or the Vigilante Corp after lessons were over, we answered the national call to raise funds to finance weapons purchase and training for our new citizen-army.  Fund raising projects for charitable and social organizations by our school usually yielded a few thousand dollars but never of a magnitude for the NDF.  It was the largest donation to the NDF by any Singapore school, even matching that of the larger commercial firms and labour unions.

Photo 5: The test of loyalty: National Defence Fund Carnival held at Bras Basah Road (April 1968)

The NDF was the government’s S$10 million target set-up to raise civic and national consciousness among the people, especially the youths when it came to national conscription - a less than popular subject then.  The public, schools, guilds, companies, cultural societies and labour unions were the main contributors.  There were examples of humble professions like the trishaw riders and dance hostess who donated their earnings to the NDF.  NDF made loyal Singaporeans feel the need to pull society together to be one people with a common purpose.

Coming to this year’s NDP 2012, it is so much better.  The spirit of national patriotism was not lost on that white or blue dress code, but in red and white, like the colours of our national flag.  That’s why I call this country home.


Like Peter, I too have been invited by Mica – the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts – to blog about this special day in our history. But unfortunately, I don’t recall much about this event; and hence, I think I will just ride piggy-back on Peter’s story. 

1968, by the way was a significant year for me. I was sixteen and in Secondary 4, which meant of course that I would be sitting for that all-important Senior Cambridge Exam (O-levels to the younger generation). It was also the year they announced the setting up of Singapore’s first junior college, the National Junior College, and I had decided to apply for admission to the pioneer batch in 1969.

Coming back to the parade, of course I remember watching the live telecast of NDP 1968 on television. I believe practically every Singaporean who had access to a TV set watched the NDP in those days, when television was still a novelty to newly-independent Singapore, and when very few programmes were ‘live’. I was quite fascinated by the military bands, the soldiers doing the route march and the display of military hardware. I guess it was because I knew that, before long, I would be drafted into the army for my National Service. Yes, in 1968, compulsory national service had just been introduced in Singapore, and the most unpopular man in Singapore – at least as far as the male teenagers were concerned - was Dr Goh Keng Swee, our Minister for Defence.  I also remember the rains and the subsequent news that many school children fell sick and did not go to school.

Until recently, I have watched every single NDP on TV, except for the three occasions when I participated in the parade. The first time was probably in 1967 when I took part in the mass drill as part of the contingent from ACS (Anglo Chinese School) – I think it was together with other schools. Details are rather hazy, I am afraid. I remember going for the practice sessions in Jalan Besar Stadium. The second time was when I was part of the University of Singapore’s contingent. The third time was when I was doing my national service. I did not actually participate in the parade, but was part of the army team helping out in traffic control. At that time they had adopted a decentralized format, and I was assigned to Mei Ling Street in Queenstown. (Photo below, from the National Archives' Picas collection, shows the NDP at Queenstown Sports Complex).

I am shy to admit that nowadays I seem to have lost interest in the NDP. Not sure why. Must be age. I find today’s format too 'showy' .... too 'Hollywood', and so I seldom sit through the entire show. Anyway, it is apparent that the young people enjoy it, and that's what matters most; don't you agree?  


MICA, the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts has launched a campaign to (in its own words) “tell the story of a defining moment in Singapore’s history – where Singaporeans at the 1968 National Day Parade braved the heavy rain and stood as one”. Among the highlights:

A Facebook App will launched on Mica’s  Facebook page @ on 27 Aug. This App will feature,

1) An interactive comic-book style interpretation of the “iconic day”,
2) Story-telling from the point of view of 7 characters, and,
3) Exclusive pictures from the actual 1968 NDP.

They have also produced a four-part drama series which will be shown every Saturday at 10.30 pm on Channel 8 (4-25 Aug) as well as a documentary which will air on Channel 8 and Channel News Asia on the 2nd and 28th of September respectively.


Lye Khuen Way said...

Somehow, we cannot compare with the Brits when it comes to Military Parade. The way the Colours Party is escorted unto the Parade Ground always evoke some tickling feelings.

As for the "showy" type, the recent Olympic Games Cremonies & the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebration are in my opinion unique and hard act to follow.

Zen said...

I agree with chun see that we oldies might have gone stale with similar fanfare-type of ndp programmes, year in and year out. I am sure with many creative minds around, something 'entertaining and special' can be put up to liven ndp- for example a cocktail combination of getai singing (local favour), peranakan comic sketches (without censoring the hokkien or dialect input), stand-up jokes (of the decent kind)could give that extra 'shiok' to ndp and why not throw in some singlish lingo as well. Ndp needs not be an entirely solemn affair especially with so many foreign visitors viewing it.

Icemoon said...

NDP would be more interesting if all the MPs participate in the celebration. Not just use eye power, but actually sing, dance and lead the mass in the joyous occasion. Only the President and Minister's wives can sit there idly.

Keith said...

I watched the NDP every year since I was a child until a few years ago. The format ought to undergo a drastic change as it has remained largely unchanged since inception. I guess also my nationalism also faded over the years as Singapore has become more like a profit-driven corporation than a country.

However getting involved in the organisation of the NDP was a thrilling and rewarding experience. In that year during my NSF days, I was very much responsible for organising the 21-gun salute.

Lam Chun See said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lam Chun See said...

Actually, for me it's the other way around. Prefer it to be more solemn and less entertainment. I guess, I belong to the minority,

Zen said...

From the first ndp to the latest is a continuous and seamless flow of time - nearly half a century has gone by, encompassing the past the present and moving towards the country's future. We cannot remain the same, marching all the time and on the spot.

peter said...


Tell us more about the 21-gun salute - the actual firing. Balnks. safety distance?

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Wasn't this the year when the slogan was, "To Build A Rugger Society"? And then it rained. Must have been a gift from someone up there. To prove we're rugged?

Zen said...

When I was a primary student, my english teacher quoted a saying: "when in peace prepare for war" - very wise indeed. In other words, a country whether big or small must prepare for any eventuality. Having said this, we cannot run away from the fact that we are still a small but rich country. In the international arena, we should behave like the proverbial 'mouse' nimbly maneuvering amid very expensive porcelain pottery in a china shop. So whoever casts a stone at us, has to face the consequences.

Keith said...

1 battery of 6 25-pounder guns were used. These guns are WW2 weapons with no operational use now, and are only for ceremonial use now.

In my year at the National Stadium, the guns were deployed at the empty field just besides Oases restaurant. The battery commander was responsible for the guns deployment, which were aligned in parallel about 5 - 10 m apart. As blanks were fired, safety distance was not an issue, and asthetics were the more important consideration in the guns positioning.

At the higher level - CO and I, we were more concerned about the firing timings and intervals of the 21 gun salute. During most of the rehearsals, I was the one relaying fire orders through telejays to the battery. On the actual day, the CO needing to be seen as doing his job issued the orders. It's not too difficult timing the orders using the president's position during his walk. At the battery level, the orders were heard through a speaker placed just in front of the Gun Position Officer in ceremonial no 1 who relayed through shouting out the orders to the battery.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Keith. This is the kind of traditional ceremony I to watch. You shd try and get hold of video clip.

peter said...

Have u ever seen a dress rehersal for NDP where every step is checked to make sure nothing cocks-up on the actual day.

One of my sons took part in NDP but played the role of the President of Singapore at City Hall.

You got this ceremony of the President's motorcade arriving in front of the City Hall steps, he enlightens and waves to the crowd and then walks to the President Dais to take the President Salue with the Parade Commander shouting his orders "Hormat President, Hormat Sejata.....". Then those guards (not sure the right name) drop their lancers halway to the ground.

peter said...

Thanks Keith for the explanation about 21-gun salute.

Now I know I can stand in front of the gun with no danger except smoke covering me. Hehehehe!!!!

Keith said...

Talking about cock-ups, the GPO my year was spotted wearing his red sash wrong way round by Winston Choo during the live telecast. Probably because he was only a NSF, he was given 21 extra weekend duties. The rest of us were happily thanking him for giving us more time to spend with our girlfriends over weekends.

Lam Chun See said...

I have just added a section on Mica's The Day It Rained On Our Parade campaign to this article.