Singapore’s National Day is around the corner and the public airwaves are playing national day songs on loop. People of my generation are more familiar with the songs of the 1980s and the 1990s. These include the incredibly hard to sing “Stand up for Singapore” and everyone’s all-time favourite, “Home”.
But the younger generation like my niece and nephews sing the newer songs with gusto. They did not understand me when I labeled their current favourite, “Tomorrow’s here today”, the 2016 NDP song, as “recent”. To them, it was old news as it was from the year before.
Nevertheless all this singing, coupled with my attending one of the National Day Parade previews got me thinking: what were the early National Day Parades like?
I did a quick search of NewspaperSG and found the programme for the first official NDP in 1966:
9am-10:30am: Parade at the Padang
10:30am – 12noon: Route march of the military, navel and police contigents along North Bridge, South Bridge and Tanjong Pagar Roads
4pm: Daylight fireworks display at Padang
7pm – 8:30pm President’s cocktail party at Istana Negara
7:30pm – 8:30pm: Fireworks display at Fort Canning
8:30pm – 11:30pm: “Sea Dragon” (floating dragon illuminated by 12,500 bulbs) at sea, off Princess Elizabeth Walk
In 1966, there were no tickets involved and people lined the streets to participate in the festivities. It was like a huge street party that lasted throughout the day. Some interesting nuggets of information recorded in the Straits Times (10 Aug 1966):
- the 4pm fireworks display was a “minor flop” as after the first 10 shots of fireworks shooting little paper flags, the rest of the fireworks failed to ignite;
- the opposition parties (including the Barisan Sosialis and Party Rakyat) boycotted the celebrations saying that it was “phoney independence” and the celebrations were a waste of public money.
A decade later, 1976, NDP was an evening parade (starting at 6pm) held at the National Stadium (completed in 1973). After the performance, the parade took to the streets for a 6km route ending up at Marine Parade. The marching contingent was followed by a caravan of floats and a fireworks display off Clifford Pier.
More changes had taken place by NDP 1986. There was a 7,000 strong school choir leading in the singing of community songs such as “Stand up for Singapore” and “Count on me Singapore”. The main draw was no longer the military but mass display performances. 1986 was also the year that torchlights were used to brilliant effect in one of the mass displays.
While watching the NDP preview this year, I thought of how much the parade has changed since those early years. The NDP is not one special day but replayed over several previews, we have new songs every year, a comprehensive NDP pack with food, items to wave and even a rain poncho. Our displays now use the latest technology. Even the military has upped their game and put on elaborate simulations showing off its sophisticated machines and weapons rather than the staid marches.
Yet, there is continuity. NDP continues to generate excitement among most Singaporeans, especially for those who are at the actual NDP site (and not watching it on TV). One cannot help but feel a rise of patriotism and pride. Even a cynic like me gives in to the idealism of the moment waving my flag like a groupie and singing with tears in my eyes “Count on me, Singapore!”