National Day Parade: 10 interesting facts of parades of the past

This year's National Day Parade will be held at the Padang, drawing inspiration from the first National Day Parade in 1966.

This year's "vintage" parade will include policemen in shorts and trishaw pullers.

Take a trip down memory lane to check out interesting moments of the past parades on National Day. 

1. Informal parades to draw out shy SingaporeansBetween 1975 and 1983, the parade was decentralised every other year to take the celebrations out to the heartland. The year 1983 was the final year the NDP was held in multiple venues.

Ndpdecentralise0603

Audiences could not only have their choice of six different locations - at places such as Jalan Besar Stadium, Toa Payoh Stadium and Temasek Junior College - they could also choose from morning and evening parades. While there was no guard of honour and fewer military contingents, more civilian groups and organisations joined in the celebrations, while choirs and go-kart racing entertained spectators before the arrival of the contingents.

Each centralised location usually had about 50 marching contingents, including cultural groups, educational institutions, residents' committees, police and military, with about 4,000 to 5,000 participants. These decentralised parades were not telecast but the highlights were shown the next day.

But Singaporeans it seems, were a shy lot, with some columnists and forum writers exhorting Singaporeans not to be shy - and to cheer as the contingents marched by.

Ndpshy0603

2. Much ado about NDP ticketsNational Day Parade ticket queues were previously the stuff of legend, with snaking kilometre-long queues, two-day-long overnight waits, frequent reports of mob-like behaviour, prompting even the Special Troopers to be called in to control ticket-crazy crowds.

Ndpqueue0603

Tickets were snapped up quickly, often averaging about two hours for all the tickets to be taken up. In 1990, the tickets were given out in record time, in just half an hour. This was because only about 11,000 tickets were available as the event was held at the Padang, but resulted in deep unhappiness with the waiting crowds.

This prompted officials the next year to ensure that queues were informed of the number of remaining tickets left at intervals. The orderliness lasted until 1993, when there were just 8,500 tickets available for both the preview and the actual event at Padang. Swelling crowds at one of the distribution centres, Clementi Stadium, got impatient and 40 troopers from the Police Special Operations Command had to be called in. 

Ndpfamily0603

By 1996, organisers gave in to the crowds queueing overnight, turning the stadiums where 22,100 people were reportedly queueing, into a carnival-like atmosphere. By 1997, perhaps because of the financial crisis, the first reports of scalping emerged, with tickets going for $150. By the next year, tickets were allegedly going for $500.

Ndpqueuenights0603

In 2002, in a bid to stop the long queues, organisers tried to keep the locations for ticket distributions a secret until the morning of their being handed out. But eager Singaporeans remained undeterred, sniffing out the spots and queueing the night before, causing a mob-like scene.

3. Cutting the queues with e-balloting

In 2003, balloting was introduced for the first time, allowing people to register using their phone numbers and e-mail addresses. But this introduced new problems of its own, as some 4,000 tickets were not collected. The same occurred the next year, with 1,800 tickets not collected by the deadline even though only phone registrations were allowed that year, because many people had given an invalid phone number.

Ndpticketballot0603

Furthermore, in 2003, it was revealed that there were some 600 attempts a day to hack into the National Day website. More than 80,000 thronged the website in the first two days, creating an online jam, as well as the record high of 557,000 applications. Figures of ticket applications in subsequent years hovered around 450,000.

4. Primary students go to rehearsals

For some Singaporeans, one of their happiest primary school experiences would probably be going to the National Parade rehearsal as a Primary 5 student, chomping on fast food and watching the parade up close.

Ndpstudents0603

The tradition started in 1997, when a National Parade rehearsal was set aside for enthusiastic student spectators for the first time. Around 40,000 students cheered performers on at the rehearsal on July 19, which included low-flying Air Force jets and a small sample of fireworks, which exploded into crescent moons and stars.

The National Parade rehearsal for students was part of the National Education programme launched in May that year. A spokesman said that it would be a permanent feature to provide an opportunity for students to attend the parade at least once in their years in school.

5. Blast from the past

While this year's parade has a strong focus on nostalgia, this is not the first time that the National Day Parade has concentrated on the past.

In 1980, parade organisers also put the spotlight on tradition, showcasing then-vanishing trades like the face mask vendor and the movie man.

6. Venues

From the first National Day Parade in 1966, Singapore's biggest celebrations were held at the historical grounds of the Padang, where Singapore declared its independence.

Ndpsteps050315

It was only in 1976 that the National Day Parade was moved from the Padang to the National Stadium to allow more people could take part in the nation's celebration.

Natstadium0603

Natstadiummin0603

While the National Stadium had roughly six times more capacity than the Padang, offering about 60,000 seats, demand for tickets remained high, encouraging organisers to decentralise the venue to encourage more Singaporeans to join in the celebrations. Between 1975 and 1983, celebrations  alternated between decentralised venues and one centred at the Padang. But in 1995, it was decided that the historically important Padang would be the venue every five years, although it poses greater logistical challenges to have the parade staged there.

 Ndpfloat0603

It was moved to the floating platform at Marina Bay in 2007, which was initially meant to be just a stop-gap venue. But organisers found that the venue allowed them to play with the water element, wowing audiences with Police Coast Guard vessels and gun boats.

Ndpfloatgun0603

7. Rainy National Day ParadesIn 1960, the press report of the National Day rally read "teeming rain today washed out the National Day mass rally and march-past. It was a vast disappointment for the people of Singapore..."

Indeed, rain has drenched many of Singapore's National Day Parades, including its first after independence, in 1966.

Ndprain0603

Ndprainstudents0603

In 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong emotionally recounted during his National Day Rally speeches about being one of 25,000 youths staying put in the pouring rain in the 1968 parade, which he called "a really powerful memory for all those who participated". He was then a 16-year-old Catholic High student leading a combined schools brass band.

Ndplhl0603

The theme of the NDP that year? "The Rugged Society".

8. From daytime to an evening classicThe National Day Parade was held in the day until 1973, when it became an evening event. Until 1984, the finale was usually made up of a mass lion and dragon dance display.

Ndpliondance0603

9. Ancient 21-gun saluteThe 21-gun salute is a classic of the National Day Parade, but its long tradition dates back to the 14th century, signifying a mark of the highest respect.

While the tradition was inherited from the British, gun salutes have been a way for soldiers to signal their friendly intentions since the Middle Ages, while the number 21 has to do with an old naval superstition that even numbers were unlucky.

Ndpguncch0603

10. Music at the ParadeBefore there were the National Day theme songs, there were bagpipers. In 1967, a contingent of all-girl bagpipers appeared for the first time, and stole the show. They were such a hit that they made a return again in 1970.

Ndppipers0603

Ndpgirlpipers0603

Music makers have also experimented with different instruments, including the use of the Indonesian kronchong, a ukulele-like instrument, in 1972, while in 2003, 12 Singapore Armed Forces buglers also sounded the call to begin the celebrations. Historically, the sound of the horns were used by generals to rally their troops to battle.

Ndpbuglers0603

Theme songs were not particularly prominent until the widely well-received Home, composed by Dick Lee and sung by local singer Kit Chan. Organisers have also played with different types of music, with varying degrees of success.

In 2009, they introduced What Do You See, the first National Day song to be performed by a rock band. One music teacher commented that it was "not easy for Primary 1 and 2 pupils to sing because of its more complex melody".