Showcase of five decades of National Day Parades

Explore how national event celebrating Singapore's independence evolved over the years at new exhibition

From a fly-past with a flag about the size of a billiard table during the National Day Parade (NDP) of 1970, to one as large as a basketball field during last year's parade - the event celebrating Singapore's independence has evolved over the decades.

Highlights can be seen in a new travelling exhibition featuring 102 archival images and stories, which were put together after a "retrospective survey" by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

The exhibition, "50 Years of National Day Parades", was launched at Kallang Wave Mall yesterday and will travel to Bedok Public Library, Velocity in Novena and One Raffles Place before returning to Kallang Wave Mall in the lead-up to National Day on Aug 9.

The showcase has been divided by decades into five sections from the 1960s to the 2000s. NHB assistant chief executive of policy and community Alvin Tan said the board felt it was timely to put together the showcase as Singapore celebrates its 50th parade this year.

He added: "We hope that Singaporeans will realise that the NDP is more than just a parade - it is the one time in the year that we are truly united in feeling proud of our achievements and hopeful for Singapore's future."

The first NDP in 1966 was held at 9am at the Padang and involved 23,000 participants. Another notable parade of the 1960s was the one in 1968 when participants performed their roles undeterred by a heavy downpour.

A NATIONAL EFFORT

I was just a teenager when I took part in the first parade. I was very proud to be involved. Each parade is a countrywide effort that takes a year to put together.

RETIRED MAJOR PONNOSAMY KALASTREE, 69, noting that the exhibition would help the public understand the work that goes into developing the show each year.

Retired major Ponnosamy Kalastree, 69, who took part in the first NDP in 1966, remembers being too excited to sleep the night before.

He said: "We felt a sense of duty and pride to serve and fight for the nation as soldiers. It was the first time we were appearing in public in our uniforms. It was also the first time that Singapore had its own soldiers to be proud of."

The section on the 1970s features technological advancements. For instance, three colour cameras were acquired in 1974 to capture the parade's proceedings. In 1976, the parade was held in the new National Stadium.

The 1980s was marked by a surge in confidence in Singapore's growth and success in development since independence.

It was also in 1984 that the first National Day song, Stand Up For Singapore, was introduced.

The following decade also had several firsts, including the debut of the 21-gun salute in 1994.

In 1998, the National Day song, Home, a local favourite, was launched as Singapore celebrated 33 years of independence.

Meanwhile, a thread that runs through the millennium parades is national identity - remembering the country's roots while gearing up for the future, said Mr Tan.

The grandest parade took place during the country's Jubilee celebrations at the Padang last year.

Highlights included F-16 fighter jets forming the number "50", a tribute to the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, a Singapore Airlines A-380 flying across the parade grounds, as well as a vintage parade.

Mr Ponnosamy said the exhibition will help the public understand the work that goes into developing the show each year.

"I was just a teenager when I took part in the first parade. I was very proud to be involved. Each parade is a countrywide effort that takes a year to put together."

NHB is calling for members of the public to share their NDP memorabilia to be incorporated into the exhibition. People who wish to contribute may e-mail nhb_feedback @nhb.gov.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Showcase of five decades of National Day Parades'. Print Edition | Subscribe