A moment of reflection

A moment of reflection

A palpable hush fell over 82 National Day observance ceremonies islandwide yesterday morning as public warning sirens blared and the familiar tenor of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's voice pierced the air.

"Whereas it is the inalienable right of a people to be free and independent...," started the man who, in the early 1960s, had drummed up support for merger with Malaysia and, barely two years later, broke down as he spoke of separation from the Federation.

The momentous occasion, at 9am yesterday, marked the first time Singaporeans got to hear its founding Prime Minister read the Proclamation of Singapore.

He had not been able to do so in 1965, leaving the duty to radio announcer Steven Lee as he had "too many other things to do", Mr Lee recalled in his memoir. But he agreed to do a recording three years ago.

Singapore's 50th birthday is also its first without Mr Lee, who died in March at age 91.

But hearing him brought back memories for an older generation of Singaporeans, some of whom choked back tears as they recalled the uncertain times.

Mr Satwant Singh, 67, a lifelong resident of Tanjong Pagar GRC, where the late Mr Lee had been MP for 60 years, said: "I heard the Pro-clamation 50 years ago; I still remember it was at 10am.

"I was shocked hearing it on the radio because I didn't expect it to happen: Singapore getting thrown out of Malaysia."

The administrator at a security firm added: "I saw the flag at the police station come down after hearing the Proclamation."

Retired sales assistant Helen Chan, 62, who was in Jurong West, said: "When we were separated from Malaysia, we didn't just split from another country. We also split up friends and families."

The clip was also a timely reminder of how far the country has come, for a young generation of citizens.

In Bedok, Secondary 1 student Layla Hanna Kocak, 13, said: "I feel very proud of our 50 years of independence. It's all because of everyone working together that has made Singapore possible."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was at the ceremony at Teck Ghee in Ang Mo Kio GRC, where he is MP, rallied Singaporeans to continue building on the foundations laid by the pioneer generation.

"They worked hard to give us - their children - a better Singapore and brighter prospects.

"They worked hard to make sure that that dream came true, that it wasn't just ideas, but realities, which they created," he said.

Exhorting the young to embody the fighting spirit of our forefathers, he added: "I believe the next generation will be able to do even better than us, to make Singapore more prosperous, to maintain our unique place in the world and the shine of our little red dot."

The drizzly morning did not dampen the celebratory mood of Singaporeans. Thousands turned up at grassroots ceremonies in the national colours of red and white.

Each ceremony marked the Golden Jubilee in its own way, be it through sports like the Great Singapore Workout in Bedok or a Pioneer Generation run in Sembawang; nostalgic sights like residents dressed up as samsui women in Jurong West and Marine Parade; or tributes such as a flower bed in Tampines.

Tampines GRC MP Heng Swee Keat, who is Minister for Education, said of Mr Lee's passing: "(It) brought a deep sense of unity among our people, and a deep sense that Singapore is our home."

In Tanjong Pagar, 6,000 residents lined Lower Delta Road as the Proclamation recording was aired.

In March, they had done so out of grief as they sent Mr Lee off on his final journey. Yesterday, they did so in a symbolic gesture of strength, unity and a shared commitment to Singapore's future.

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah, who is Senior Minister of State for Education and Law, said yesterday: "I hope that it will remind Singaporeans not just how far we have come, but also that we have a new chapter in Singapore's history to write for this new generation, and we will write it together."

Travel agent Lee Chee Ming, 46, said the recording had resonated with him and his family as they listened to it in Teck Ghee.

His 10-year-old daughter, Chantal, has already raised the subject of SG100 with him. And he told her: "It will all depend on you, and your generation, when you grow up."

This article was first published on August 10, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.