Singaporeans celebrate 50th National Day with nostalgic and touching Parade

Singaporeans celebrate 50th National Day with nostalgic and touching Parade
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Sunday's Golden Jubilee National Day Parade was a melding of old and new. It was both a nostalgic look-back at Singapore's roots as well as a celebration of how far the nation has come in 50 years.

A sea of red and white filled the Padang, where the first post-independence National Day Parade was held in 1966. Some of the 26,000 people there began trickling in as early as 3pm and waited under the sun until the Parade started at 5.40pm.

As Members of Parliament filed to their seats, local pop quartet The Sam Willows kicked off the parade with a folksy rendition of 1998 National Day song Home.

Unfortunately, the much-anticipated Red Lions segment of the Parade was scrapped because of safety concerns.

"The safety of all our Red Lions performers is our foremost concern," said Brigadier-General Melvyn Ong, chairman of the parade.

"Due to the low cloud cover which obstructed their view of the designated landing area, a decision was made to call off the jump to ensure the safety of the jumpers."

The last time the Red Lions had to abort their performance was at the 2013 parade, also because of the weather.

But the no-show didn't dampen the spirits of spectators at the stands. They waved their scarves and flags and sang along to National Day song Our Singapore.

Among the special guests who sat at the steps of the historic City Hall were three People's Action Party stalwarts - Mr Ong Pang Boon, 86, Mr Jek Yeun Thong, 85 and Mr Othman Wok, 90. They are the three surviving Old Guard leaders who signed the official document that marked the independence of Singapore 50 years ago.

Mr Othman, who arrived in a wheelchair, told The Straits Times: "I feel very honoured and touched to be invited to celebrate this landmark event. It's our 50th year of independence - a milestone that is especially meaningful for the generation of people who have seen Singapore grow since we became a sovereign nation."

Heads of states and foreign dignitaries from 18 countries also attended Sunday's Parade, for the first time since 1969. They included Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who is here as Queen Elizabeth's representative.

A combined band and a precision drill squad, which made its debut in the Parade last year, combined rousing military tunes with popular Singapore songs.

The crowd cheered as drum major Muhammad Hafis bin Amrul, 33, spun and caught his baton to end a flawless routine.

Soon after, the audience turned up the noise as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived.

But immediately after, silence fell over the venue as a video tribute to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was played. Some spectators teared visibly as the video played.

Said manager Magdelene Soh, 59: "The whole tribute was very touching. It's so sad that he's not here today. I only wish (Mr Lee) could be with us every year."

Mr Lee, who died on March 23 aged 91, had attended every National Day Parade since the first one in 1966. Last year, his entrance at the parade had been met by rousing cheers. A sprig of yellow orchids occupied Mr Lee's usual seat, which was left vacant this year in honour of his memory.

At the end of the tribute film, aerial acrobats The Black Knights soared overhead in a "Five Stars" formation, symbolising the ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice, and equality.

The Parade show started proper after this sombre interlude, in a segment featuring how Sang Nila Utama, Singapore's legendary founder, "sailed in" dramatically leading a fleet of ships. Three hundred performers from Republic Polytechnic decked out in elaborate costumes and carrying intricate props, portrayed early migrants, re-enacting Singapore's days as a bustling trading post.

Then it was fast forward to 1965 as the vintage parade started to enthusiastic cheers. The segment was a throwback to the early days of Singapore's independence. It featured 450 participants - including policemen in old-time khaki shorts, firemen in olive-green uniforms, women from the People's Association in knee-high socks and flight attendants from Singapore Airlines (SIA) in their distinctive sarong kebaya.

They were wheeled in traditional trishaws manned by soldiers from the 3rd Battalion Singapore Guards.

Video clips of interviews with pioneers preceded each Parade segment reliving the early days of Singapore's modern history for the audience.

As the Singapore Girls rolled past, an SIA Airbus 380 soared overhead, decked out in a special livery of red and white. This was the first time that any SIA craft has taken part in the National Day fly-past. The A-380 is the world's largest passenger aircraft.

"The parade is phenomenal. It's been very nostalgic especially when the veterans marched past during the vintage parade. The fact that they are still willing to come and March despite their age shows their immense love for Singapore," said polytechnic student S. Surrenthiran, 19.

Another first, the Parade featured the largest number of civilian contingents - 16 - in the Parade and Ceremony. There was a total of 37 contingents on parade at the Padang, comprising four Guard of Honour contingents and other uniformed groups.

Lieutenant-Colonel Alvin Tjioe's voice boomed across the Padang, moving with precision the more than 2,000 men and women who were part of the parade. He also announced the arrival of President Tony Tan.

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