What makes Singapore, Singapore? And what makes Singapore home? @ Home, Truly, follow Nadine, and her Gong Gong (Mandarin for “grandfather”) as they relive the highs, lows, and moments in between of Singapore’s journey from its beginnings as a nation to today.
Each chapter in this digital experience is illustrated by a different artist, in their own inimitable style. Check back every month as our story unfolds! If you have already read Chapter 1, click here to explore other chapters!
This experience is presented in collaboration with The Straits Times. For our first edition, we’re featuring Singapore’s National Day Parade (more fondly known by Singaporeans as NDP) as we celebrate the nation’s 55th birthday.
We hope you stay a while, and make yourself at home, truly!
Welcome to Our Home
Welcome to the home of Hock Seng and his granddaughter, Nadine. This is Hock Seng’s usual home, but for Nadine, it’s only her “for now” home. It’s May 2020, and in the midst of the many other firsts in Singapore – the first time all playgrounds are closed, the first time it is essential to wear masks while outdoors – is the first May school holidays.
Nadine’s parents both have to be at work for long hours, and they thought letting Nadine spend time with her Gong Gong would be the best for the whole family during this period. So, here we are!
Psst! This chapter’s artist is Jeanette Yap, also known as jhawnette. She loves drawing people, experimenting with different compositions, and playing with colour. Be sure to feed Chatbird before you leave this page! He’s waiting at the bottom right corner of your screen.
A Rainy Day to Remember
Nadine has spent many days and nights at Gong Gong’s home by now, and yet she hasn’t run out of questions to ask him! Her latest interest is the one grandparent she has no memories of – her Po Po (“grandmother” in Mandarin), who passed away many years ago. Nadine wants to know what Po Po was like, what her hobbies and favourite foods were. Most of all, Nadine wants to know…
The 1968 National Day Parade was a memorable one for many. The theme that year was “Rugged Society”, and indeed, participants and spectators alike had to grit their teeth and carry on with the parade that year as showers cascaded on them.
“The lightning flashed and thunder cracked, then it poured. Soon we were soaked to the skin. We could not see what was happening at the City Hall as it was misty and blurry. We just obeyed the commands. We moved forward into the muddy and soggy Padang. Once out of the Padang, we tried stamping harder to get rid of the mud stuck on our shoes. Later, we learnt that we had gone through eight kilometres in the pouring rain.” – Yeo Hong Eng (participant of the Singapore Teachers’ Union contingent in the 1968 National Day Parade), in a submission to the Singapore Memory Project
National Day for the State of Singapore
The 1968 NDP wasn’t the first rainy National Day Parade we had. In fact, on what was supposed to be Singapore’s first National Day Parade several years earlier, it had rained so much that the parade got postponed! The scene at the Padang was vividly described in the newspapers – “The Padang was a lake after hours of rain”, and “the croaking of frogs filled the air”.
Do you know the date of that first parade? It wasn’t on the 9th of August! It was on 3 June 1960, a year after Singapore had achieved full internal self-governance. We weren’t an independent nation yet, so the first-day covers (commemorative envelopes that are decorated with postmarks and a special set of stamps) had the words “State of Singapore” inked on them.
The Second First NDP
On 9 August 1966, Singapore had her second first NDP – or her true first NDP after independence. On that day, 23,000 participants took part in the 90-minute National Day Parade, which carried the theme “National Pride and Confidence in the Future”.
As the first-day cover reflects, we were now the “Republic of Singapore”! Interestingly, the words “National Day” are not explicitly used, unlike on the 1960 first-day cover. In 1966, both “Independence Day” and “National Day” were used by different organisations before the Singapore Government announced on 5 August 1966 that Singapore’s anniversary as an independent nation should be called “National Day”.
Both first-day covers are featured in our Singapore History Gallery at the National Museum, and together with other artefacts, they tell a story of Singapore’s journey towards independence.
This badge features a crescent and five stars, representing Singapore’s national flag. Based on the year inscribed, it is likely to be a souvenir issued in commemoration of Singapore’s first National Day.
The then-Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam explained the symbolism of the crescent and five stars at the Legislative Assembly session on 11 November 1959:
"The crescent moon signifies a country eternally young. This is expressive of one of the essential qualities of our people, for not only are our people physically young but they are also young in spirit and outlook… The new Singapore… finds its inspirations in what it hopes to do in the future rather than what it has done in the past… It is only the youthful who are more conscious of the future waiting to unfold before them.
The five stars represent the ideals on which the new State of Singapore is founded – democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality."
A Flurry of Firsts
There are plenty of “firsts” for Singapore’s NDP – here are just a few of them:
The debut of our first batch of national servicemen marching at the NDP.
The mobile column (a parade of the hardware owned by Singapore’s defence forces) featured 18 of Singapore’s newly acquired AMX-13 light tanks. Singapore was the first in the region to acquire these tanks.
The first flypast was at the 1970 parade
“Just before 9.09 a.m. the air was charged with restrained excitement as Cabinet Ministers and school cadets alike kept glancing from wristwatch to sky. Then ears pricked at a faint whirring sound coming from the Singapore Recreation Club end of the Padang. Heads turned as if in unison and ears strained into the clear blue sky. And the specks began to appear above the Beach Road War Memorial as the whirring grew louder.
An excited murmur rose from the waiting crowd. The specks became three Alouettes of the Air Defence Command of the SAF. The national flag had seldom fluttered higher than it did slung beneath the leading helicopter 300 feet up in the wind. Then nine silvery Strikemasters zoomed past in perfect V-formation, with bright sunlight glinting on their wings. Barely seconds – and they were past. Eyes strained after them till they were mere specks again in the distance.”
– Ow Wei Mei, “A jet-age anniversary”, The Straits Times, 10 August 1970
The NDP was held at the National Stadium for the first time, three years after the opening of the Stadium in 1973. There were 18 NDPs held at the Stadium before its closure and demolition in 2007 and 2010 respectively.
The first NDP song, “Stand up for Singapore”, was launched. The song was written to mark 25 years of nation-building for Singapore, from self-governance in 1959.
The original lyrics of the first verse of “Stand Up for Singapore” were:
“In 25 years we’ve come so far
In building up this nation
People working hard have made us what we are
In just one generation
We owe a lot to Singapore
There’s much we can be thankful for
But now’s the time to give back something more
We’ve got to stand up, stand up for Singapore”
This parade marked the first time the parachute displays were done by a team known as the Red Lions. There had previously been parachute performances, beginning from the 1970s, but this was first time the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team performed under the official name and identity of the “Red Lions”.
This was the first time that the NDP was held in front of “City Hall” and at the National Stadium at the same time! A replica of City Hall was created as part of the backdrop at the National Stadium, and the popular National Day song “Home” was also introduced at this NDP.
This was the first NDP to be held at The Float @ Marina Bay (and therefore also the first to be held on water).
Parades over Decades
This 2006 video shows footage from decades of National Day Parades, and captures how different, and yet similar, each year’s parade is.
Ask Someone! Do you remember watching or participating in a National Day Parade or big celebratory event? What did you see, hear, and even smell? How did you feel?
With Heartland Soul
Back at home, as Gong Gong reaches for his newspapers, Nadine asks him, “Why do you read the big paper news? Isn’t it difficult to hold? Appa (dad in Tamil) reads the news on his iPad!”
Gong Gong explains that he likes the smell of ink, and the feel of each page crinkling under his thumbs and fingers. Gong Gong asks Nadine if she’d like to join him in reading the news today, and together they find out…
The National Day Parade was first de-centralised in 1975, Singapore’s 10th birthday. The idea was to allow as many people as possible to join in the celebrations. There were “pocket pageants” at 13 NDP centres including Toa Payoh Sports Complex, Maxwell Road, Bukit Panjang, and Paya Lebar, among others. These parades were held throughout the day, with different ministers as Guests of Honour at different locations.
The day was beautifully summarised in The Straits Times the following day – “The celebrations began in an after-breakfast rain, continued in mellow afternoon sunshine that came racing out of cloudy skies and ended in a brilliant firework display at night.” (The Straits Times, 10 August 1975, pg. 1)
Click the arrows to explore some of the scenes from de-centralised parades from 1975, 1977, 1981 and the heartland fireworks from 2019!
As Gong Gong and Nadine finish reading the news for the day, Nadine asks, “Gong Gong, do you think there will be a new National Day song this year? What’s your favourite National Day song? Can we sing our favourite songs together? Please?” Gong Gong laughs – every time Nadine speaks, he can almost see the question marks – and nods.
Gong Gong says his favourite is “We Are Singapore” because the lyrics are so stirring – “This is my country, this is my flag! This is my future, this is my life!”
Nadine asks, “Gong Gong, what is stirring? You mean the song is about soup?” Gong Gong replies with a twinkle in his eye, “It’s not about soup, but you’re right, in a way! Just imagine that your heart is like soup, and singing the song makes your heart feel different.”
Nadine likes “Love at First Light” because there’s a young girl singing in the song – “She’s a kid like me!” − but she also likes the feeling she gets when she hears about “sunny days” and “stars twinkling”. Even while at home during the May holidays, she can see these lights.
After listening to both songs, Nadine asks Gong Gong (again!) if they could sing one more song together – “Home”. She remembers how just last month, people – including Gong Gong and herself – were singing it from their homes.
Ask Someone! What is your favourite song or poem about Singapore, or about your home? Why do you like it?
How well do you know your National Day songs? Click on Chatbird, the friendly white bird on your screen, to find out!
This Is Where I Know…
The COVID-19 sing-along took place at 7.55 p.m. on 25 April 2020, with Singaporeans all over the island waving torchlights from their windows and balconies and belting out the all-time favourite National Day song, “Home”, to thank front-line workers and migrant workers.
This year, in 2020, we’re celebrating National Day differently – although actually, we’ve always celebrated it differently. May it nevertheless be meaningful and special for you and your loved ones. Happy National Day!
Click here for Chapter Two, or here to explore other chapters.
This was Chapter One of the @ Home, Truly digital experience. We hope you enjoyed it! Visit us at Home, Truly: Growing Up with Singapore, 1950s to the Present at Exhibition Gallery 2, National Museum of Singapore (19 Dec 2020 – 29 Aug 2021) to see some of these artefacts in real life, and more!
@ Home, Truly is both a prelude and companion to the physical exhibition, and it covers similar themes, in a different format and through different perspectives and content. Click here to find out more about Home, Truly.