50 Years and Counting: Tracing the History of the National Day Parade

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Text by Jan Chen
MuseSG Volume 9 Issue 2 - Apr to Jun 2016

National Day procession at Chinatown, c. 1960s.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

The National Day Parade (NDP) is an annual celebration of Singapore's independence. It is also a platform for Singaporeans from all walks of life to come together to celebrate the nation's milestones and achievements while rallying ourselves in preparation for the future. This article traces the many first and highlights of NDPs over the 50 years to 2016.

Singapore's first NDP was held in 1966, a year after being separated from Malaysia.

National Day Parade 1966 at the Padang - marchpast by the Guard of Honour contingent.
Yusof Ishak Collection. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

In the 1960s, all the parades were held at the Padang, which is one of the reasons that the Padang is still an iconic historical landmark in Singapore. The military displays and marching parades drew spectators young and old, regardless of the weather. This speaks of the nation's strength, progress and unity.

National Day Parade 1968 at the Padang - close-up of members of combined schools bands. including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left row, holding clarinet).
Collection of Ministry of Information and the Arts. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

National Day Parade 1968 at the Padang - Cadet Corps girls' contingent marching along St Andrew's Road.
Collection of Ministry of Information and the Arts. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

The 1970s was a decade that saw a surge in industrial development and technological advancement. This was evident in the NDP celebrations as Singapore had her first state flag flypast in 1970.

National Day Parade 1974 Second Rehearsal at the Padang - flypast.
Collection of Ministry of Information and the Arts. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

In 1974, the parade was broadcast in colour for the first time. In 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1983, NDP celebrations were decentralized and were more informal and casual. This allowed more people to catch the performances and parades on-site. In the 1980s, National Day songs made their debut with songs such as Stand up for Singapore (1984). Separately, Singapore's impressive military displays grew continually and advanced technologically. Since 1986, parade spectators have enjoyed atmospheric effects created through laser beams, lights and projections.

NTUC float at the National Day Parade at the Padang, 1982.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

Flower girls at 1982 National Day Parade at the Padang.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

Singapore Armed Forces armoured vehicles at the 1982 National Day Parade at the Padang.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

National Day Parade 1983 at Ang Mo Kio - Guest-of-Honour, Dr Ahmad Mattar, Acting Minister for Social Affairs reviewing the parade.
Collection of Ministry of Information and the Arts. Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

As Singaporeans came together in 1990 to sing One People, One Nation, One Singapore in celebration of Singapore's 25th birthday at The Padang, they also saw, for the first time, a sea review of our defence on water. NDPs in the 1990s were filled with much spectacle. Particularly memorable was the 1994 NDP "night parade" that started later than usual at 7.15pm.

National Day Parade 1990 at the Padang - President Wee Kim Wee reviewing the parade.
Collection of Ministry of Information and the Arts. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

National Day Parade 1990 at the Padang - aerial view of contingents.
Collection of Ministry of Information and the Arts. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

NDPs in the 2000s were vastly different from the ones before, reflecting the changes and progress the young nation had made. In NDP 2002, there was a grand toast to Singapore's NEWater. The shift from the National Stadium to the Float@Marina Bay in 2007 was also a key event for Singapore. That year, Singapore saw the first ever NDP on water with Singapore's skyline providing the backdrop.

The Colours Party and Guard of Honour contingent marching into the parade area, 2007.
Collection of Ministry of Information and the Arts. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

National Day Parade 2007 at Marina Bay - President S R Nathan on ceremonial Land Rover.
Collection of Ministry of Information and the Arts. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

NDP 2015, however, was the grandest NDP to date, with the nation celebrating its 50th birthday. Year-long celebrations marked the golden jubilee, which was termed SG50.

Spectators at the Golden Jubilee NDP at Padang watching the F-16 fighter jets forming the number "50" as part of the Republic of Singapore Air Force's salute on 9 August 2015.
Courtesy of Singapore Press Holdings.

The 50 years leading up to 2016 for Singapore have been a swift march of growth and confidence, with these changes reflected in the choreography of our parades. National Day is not just a day for Singaporeans to celebrate their nation's birthday, it is also a day when Singaporeans set aside everything to celebrate their achievements, and look back with pride at the nation's growth from year to year, recalling key national moments that will stay in their hearts and minds.