A March in August (@ Home, Truly: Chapter 1)

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! 

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!

A grey-haired man, labelled “GONG GONG”, with fair skin, kind eyes, a light blue shirt, and a smile ladles out a fried egg from a dark blue frying pan onto a piece of white bread set in front of a young girl, labelled “NADINE”, with darker skin, a sleeveless yellow top, and a red hairband tucked into black wavy hair. Her cheeks bear two pink circles, and she also wears a smile. Her elbows rest on a yellow table (upon which there is the fried egg and bread). On the yellow table is a folded broadsheet with the words “THE STRAITS TIM [cut off at the corner] BRINGING NDP 2020 TO SINGAPOREANS” and an image with a red background, five stars and a crescent in white, and five jets. There is a navy-blue cup with brown liquid and a yellow-and-red teabag hanging out from over the cup’s rim, in front of the man, and a plate with a piece of bread behind it. There is a transparent glass cup filled with white milk in front of the girl. The man and girl are each in front of a green chair (the man is standing, the girl is sitting). At the right corner of the image, there is a hint of a loaf of bread wrapped in plastic wrap. There is another egg still in the frying pan, and the man is wearing a white-blue metal watch. In the background, near the top right corner of the picture, is a painting of two white birds perched on a brown platform, against a cream-coloured background. There are some strokes suggestive of leaves in the painting.

 

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 grey-haired man from the previous illustration appears in the foreground here. This time, he is sitting on the green chair, and the brown liquid in previous illustration can no longer be seen at the top of the cup. He is now smiling with teeth, and a dimple shows. Also in the foreground is the girl described in the previous illustration. This time, she is holding on to the glass of milk, and there appears to be less milk than in the previous illustration. She wears a milk moustache and a toothy smile. Beside the girl is a speech bubble with the words “HOW DID YOU MEET PO PO?” Above and behind the heads of the man and the girl is a sepia-tinged scene of “NATIONAL DAY PARADE 1968”. All the elements in this scene are in different shades of grey and brown. The scene appears to take place in front of a grey building festooned with dark brown banners displaying white stars and a crescent. There are short white and grey strokes dashed across the image, representing wind and raindrops. In the background, around ten figures can be observed holding up umbrellas or open books over their heads. In the foreground of that scene, a young man with dark brown hair, a collared shirt and a watch strap has a speech bubble “HI, I’M HOCK SENG” next to him. He is waving his left hand at the other character in the foreground, a lady with shoulder-length brown hair and spectacles. She is also wearing a collared shirt. Their foreheads and shirts both show signs of being drenched (there are squiggly lines indicating the presence of water on them). Below the two characters in the sepia-tinged scene are the words “…AND LIFE HAS NEVER BEEN THE SAME.”

 

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

 

Photograph of spectators at the 1968 National Day Parade

Photograph of spectators at the 1968 National Day Parade 
Reproduction
9 August 1968
Courtesy of The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings

 

Photograph of Singapore Infantry Regiment (SIR) band at the 1968 National Day Parade

Photograph of Singapore Infantry Regiment (SIR) band at the 1968 National Day Parade 
Reproduction 
9 August 1968
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

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. 

 

First-day cover, 1960

First-day cover, 1960
Singapore
3 June 1960
Paper
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore
First-day cover image reproduced with permission from Singapore Philatelic Museum

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”.

First-day cover, 1966

First-day cover, 1966
Singapore
9 August 1966
Paper
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore
First-day cover image reproduced with permission from Singapore Philatelic Museum

 

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.  

 

Photograph of panoramic view of Singapore’s first National Day Parade

Photograph of panoramic view of Singapore’s first National Day Parade
Reproduction 
9 August 1966
Yusof Ishak Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

 

Commemorative badge marking Singapore’s first anniversary of independence

Commemorative badge marking Singapore’s first anniversary of independence 
1966
Metal
Gift of Tan Lee Kheng

 

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."

 

Photograph of fireworks at one of the earliest parades (1968)

Photograph of fireworks at one of the earliest parades (1968) 
Reproduction 
9 August 1968
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

A Flurry of Firsts

There are plenty of “firsts” for Singapore’s NDP – here are just a few of them: 

1. 1968 

The debut of our first batch of national servicemen marching at the NDP.

Contingents of Singapore Armed Forces marching past City Hall at the 1968 National Day Parade

Contingents of Singapore Armed Forces marching past City Hall at the 1968 National Day Parade
9 August 1968
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

 

2. 1969

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 mobile column, comprising 18 AMX-13 light tanks which Singapore was the first in the region to acquire, as it made its debut at the National Day Parade in 1969

Land Rovers fitted with L6 Weapon of Magnesium Battalion Anti-Tank (WOMBAT) 120mm recoilless rifles formed part of the mobile column which made its debut at the National Day Parade in 1969
9 August 1969
Image from Rod Trevaskus, as part of the Home, Truly Open Call

 

3. 1970

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


4. 1976

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. 

Photograph of the first National Day Parade at the National Stadium, 1976

Photograph of the first National Day Parade at the National Stadium, 1976 
Reproduction
9 August 1976
Steven Lee, courtesy of The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings

 

5. 1984

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” 

 

6. 1996

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”. 

Photograph of the debut performance by the Red Lions at the 1996 National Day Parade

Photograph of the debut performance by the Red Lions at the 1996 National Day Parade
Reproduction 
9 August 1996
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

 

Photograph of the debut performance by the Red Lions at the 1996 National Day Parade

Photograph of the debut performance by the Red Lions at the 1996 National Day Parade
Reproduction 
9 August 1996
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

 

7. 1998 

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. 

Photograph of “City Hall” adorned with banners with the words “Consensus”, “Community”, “Nation”, “Harmony” and “Family” at the 1998 National Day Parade

Photograph of “City Hall” adorned with banners with the words “Consensus”, “Community”, “Nation”, “Harmony” and “Family” at the 1998 National Day Parade
Reproduction
9 August 1998
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

 

Photograph of the City Hall replica at the National Stadium, for the 1998 National Day Parade

Photograph of the City Hall replica at the National Stadium, for the 1998 National Day Parade
Reproduction
9 August 1998
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

 

8. 2007

This was the first NDP to be held at The Float @ Marina Bay (and therefore also the first to be held on water).

Photograph of fireworks at The Float @ Marina Bay, during the 2007 National Day Parade

Photograph of fireworks at The Float @ Marina Bay, during the 2007 National Day Parade
Reproduction
9 August 2007
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Parades over Decades

Tan Pin Pin
9th August
2006
Video
7 minutes 35 seconds
Mediacorp Pte Ltd, Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

 

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 grey-haired man and the girl with the red headband are shown reading the newspaper. It is spread so that it covers the bottom halves of both their faces. The words on the newspaper read “THE STRAITS TIMES” in the first line, and below that, an image of six grey triangles and lines following them (jets with air trails), is set within a red rectangle with a white crescent and five stars on the top right of the image. There is text next to it: “BRINGING NDP 2020 TO SINGAPOREANS”. Above the girl’s head is a speech bubble with the words “THIS YEAR’S NDP IS SO DIFFERENT!” This speech bubble is encapsulated within an even bigger speech bubble with the words “THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME NDP WILL BE AT MANY DIFFERENT PLACES AT ONCE! WE HAD SOMETHING LIKE THAT IN THE 70S AND 80S.” Below that line are four bubbles in brown. The first bubble, on the top right, reads “1975”. Directly below that is an image of a figure in uniform (white long-sleeved shirt with a sash and black belt, dark brown trousers) holding a white sword pointing down in his left hand, and a brown flag with a circular image in the middle of it in his other hand, with his elbow sticking out. This image is marked “HAIG ROAD”. To the left of the image is “TOA PAYOH STADIUM” with an image of stepped seats filled with spectators. The left-most and last image is “MAXWELL ROAD” showing about fifteen figures in white shirts and brown pants, holding out small, brown, square flags pointing downwards with both hands, in a performance of sorts.

 

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!  

1975 National Day Parade at Queenstown Stadium

1975 National Day Parade at Queenstown Stadium
Image from Koh Kim Chay, as part of the Home, Truly Open Call

 

View of the 1975 NDP from my residence at Blk 45 Stirling Road. "It was the first time that the NDP was decentralised and Queenstown Stadium was one of the venues. From the comfort of my seventh-storey corridor, I watched the entire procession with my family and took some pictures as well. The photos are special to me as it was the first time my family had owned a camera, a budget Canon SLR camera." – Koh Kim Chay

Photograph of a Lion Dance, part of the celebrations at the National Day Parade held at Bukit Panjang in 1975
Photograph of a Lion Dance, part of the celebrations at the National Day Parade held at Bukit Panjang in 1975
Reproduction
9 August 1975
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
Photograph of the National Day Parade held at Paya Lebar in 1975
Photograph of the National Day Parade held at Paya Lebar in 1975
Reproduction
9 August 1975
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
Photograph of the National Day Parade held at Tiong Bahru Secondary School in 1977
Photograph of the National Day Parade held at Tiong Bahru Secondary School in 1977
Reproduction 
9 August 1977
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
Photograph of a school band participating in a 5-km route march as part of the National Day Parade held at Jurong Stadium in 1977
Photograph of a school band participating in a 5-km route march as part of the National Day Parade held at Jurong Stadium in 1977
Reproduction 
9 August 1977
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection 
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
Photograph of the National Day Parade held at Jalan Besar Stadium in 1981
Photograph of the National Day Parade held at Jalan Besar Stadium in 1981
Reproduction 
9 August 1981
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
Photograph of fireworks at Punggol on National Day in 2019, in celebration of the bicentennial of the founding of modern Singapore
Photograph of fireworks at Punggol on National Day in 2019, in celebration of the bicentennial of the founding of modern Singapore
9 August 2019
Courtesy of The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings
Photograph of fireworks at Bishan on National Day in 2019, in celebration of the bicentennial of the founding of modern Singapore
Photograph of fireworks at Bishan on National Day in 2019, in celebration of the bicentennial of the founding of modern Singapore
9 August 2019
Courtesy of The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings

Sing, Singapore

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. 

 

The grey-haired man and the girl with the red headband are seen standing in the top half of the image against a salmon pink background. Only the top halves of their bodies are shown. The grey-haired man has his eyes closed and his left wrist rests upon his right forearm. The girl’s eyes are open, and she is holding a blue rectangle (a portable music player), from which dark blue cables proceed and appear to be connected to their ears. The girl’s right hand is tucked into the crook of the man’s left elbow. There are musical symbols surrounding them (treble clefs, quavers and joined quavers). To the left of the man are the words “FAVOURITE NDP SONG: We Are Singapore”, and on the right of the girl, “FAVOURITE NDP SONG: Love at First Light”. The man’s hands overlap onto a scene on the bottom left of the illustration titled “COVID 19 SINGALONG”. The image is predominantly navy-blue (representing the night sky), with pinpricks of white representing stars. There is a white crescent and five stars on the top left of the scene, and a white banner beneath that with the words “This is home, truly” in curly text. Below the banner are images of yellow rectangles (residential blocks) with grids of blue (representing the many stories and windows in these blocks). To the right of the scene are the words ‘”Singing the songs will bring Singaporeans together, to share our feelings with one another.” – Sing Singapore songbook, 1988’.

 

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. 

Fireworks at the 1998 National Day Parade rehearsal at the National Stadium

Fireworks at the 1998 National Day Parade rehearsal at the National Stadium
Reproduction
30 July 1988
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection
Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

 

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!

 


This was Chapter One of the @ Home, Truly digital experience. We hope you enjoyed it, and we look forward to welcoming you at Home, Truly: Growing Up with Singapore, 1950s to the Present at Exhibition Gallery 2, National Museum of Singapore when it opens later this year.

@ 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.