No hollow feat: These pack a historical punch

SINGAPORE - For the past five decades, Mr Ishwar Lall-Singh has kept two brass gun cartridges at home and would take them out to polish every other day.

These cartridges are not just any shells - they are the first and last shots fired during a 21-gun salute at Singapore's first National Day Parade (NDP) in 1966.

But Mr Lall-Singh, a member of the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans League, will no longer be doing any polishing.

He donated the artefacts to the league last month, which recognised their historical significance. The league, in turn, loaned them to the National Heritage Board (NHB) for preservation yesterday.

"I'm getting on in years and it's been hard to maintain them properly," said the 85-year-old.

The loan will benefit Singaporeans. NHB told The Straits Times the mementos will be part of a travelling exhibition next year on the country's first NDP.

A documentary on the first parade was also uploaded on the board's website yesterday.

The Republic's first NDP, held at the Padang, involved 23,000 men, women and children.

Both President Yusof Ishak and Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee, also the Colonel of the Singapore Royal Artillery (Volunteer) or SRAV, inspected the parade's contingents to the sounds of the gun salute.

The salute, a tradition handed down by British military forces, is typically reserved for heads of state.

In 1966, it was fired by men from the "S" Battery of SRAV from the grounds of the former Raffles Institution - where Raffles City stands today.

Mr Lall-Singh knew, for many years, that the cartridges celebrated a seminal moment in the young nation's history.

Soon after the parade, when he was 37 and an administrative officer at the SRAV camp in Beach Road, the unit discarded many items, including the shells, when it was moving to a new site in Taman Jurong.

He realised the importance of the shells and salvaged the first and last cartridges, taking them with him each time he moved house - a grand total of six times since the 1960s.

"They struck me as significant as Singapore's very first 21-gun salute. I couldn't keep all 21 shells at home, so I chose the first and the last to keep as souvenirs," he said.

NHB group director of policy Alvin Tan said the board is "heartened" by the community coming forward to contribute mementoes and stories.

"We will continue to work with them on projects showcasing defining moments in Singapore's history," he said.

The league's vice-president, retired colonel Lau Kee Siong, 67, said the group realised the historical significance of the rounds to the nation. "We wanted to have them kept safely in the hands of a proper institution, which will... take care of them and present them to future generations."

This article was published on May 6 in The Straits Times.

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