NDP returns to the Padang: 5 things you need to know

Fireworks at the National Day Parade preview at the Padang on July 27, 2019.
Fireworks at the National Day Parade preview at the Padang on July 27, 2019.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The Republic's annual birthday bash will return to the Padang on Aug 9 this year, as the country commemorates its bicentennial.

The recreational field near City Hall has witnessed many key events in Singapore's history, including its first National Day Parade (NDP) in 1966, after independence.

More recently, the Padang became the first green, open space here to be gazetted as a national monument.

What else makes the homecoming to this historic site special? Here are five things you need to know.

1. When was the idea of the Padang born?

Since the 1880s, the Padang has been a gathering point for many people of Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Padang was first planned in 1822 as a civic space, around which politically and culturally significant landmarks were later built, such as the Victoria Concert Hall and Theatre as well as the old Supreme Court.

The British carved out the space by flattening the land there, creating the wide, green space that we know today.

Since the 1880s, it has been a gathering point for many people of Singapore.

During the colonial period, Chinese New Year, royal birthdays, jubilees and coronations, and occasionally Thaipusam, were commemorated at the green space with displays of fireworks.


But people also converged on its grounds to witness key historical milestones such as the victory parade on Sept 12, 1945 which celebrated the formal surrender of the Japanese in Singapore at the end of World War II.

2. Why is the Padang such an important historic site?

Some evidence suggests that it was where negotiations between the British, Temenggong Abdul Rahman and Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor took place in the lead-up to the 1819 treaty which allowed the British East India Company to set up a trading post here.

It was also where Palembang Prince Sang Nila Utama was said to have spotted a beast which led him to rename Temasek "Singapura" or Lion City.

In 1959, when Singapore became self-independent, the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara, Yusof Ishak, who went on to become the first president of the Republic, was inaugurated at the Padang.

The site also bore witness to the announcement of the merger with Malaysia in September 1963.

3. What makes National Day Parades at the site significant?

The first National Day Parade was held at the Padang in 1966. The site continued to host the annual parade until 1975. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Padang was where the first NDP was held in 1966, a year after Singapore's separation from Malaysia.

Then-President Yusof Ishak presided over the parade, which began at 9am.

A march-past comprising some 23,000 participants was a key highlight, and drew cheering crowds along its route through Chinatown.

The site continued to play host to the annual parade until 1975, after which it was held at the old National Stadium.

Since 1995, the parade has been held at the Padang every five years, the last time being the SG50 bash in 2015, which included highlights such as F-16 fighter jets forming the number "50" and a tribute to late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that returning to the Padang this year will be special, as it will reflect how far the country has come, 200 years after Sir Stamford Raffles landed here in 1819.

Since the last NDP at the old National Stadium held in 2006, the Aug 9 celebration has taken place twice at the Padang, nine times at the floating platform and once at the new National Stadium.

4. What were some of the memorable parades at the Padang?

Thousands of spectators lined the streets despite wet weather at the 1968 parade. PHOTO: ST FILE

It may have rained on the parade in 1968, but the wet weather did little to dampen the spirit of Singaporeans that year.

Those who were there recounted how participants braved the rain to complete their 8km march, while thousands of spectators lined the streets, with or without umbrellas, to cheer them on.

It became a symbol of the country's sense of unity and strength in Singapore's early years as a young nation.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, too, performed in that parade as a member of the combined school brass band.

His father, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, had decided that the show would go on despite the rain, and even waved off the offer of an umbrella.

In 1970, fighter jets made their debut at the NDP at the Padang, along with the first fly-past of the state flag. Both have since become an annual highlight.

And in 1973, the parade was held in the evening for the first time.

5. I love the Red Lions. Will I get to see them at the Padang?

The Red Lions last performed at the Padang in 2010. This year, they are set to wow the crowds again. PHOTO: MY PAPER

Parades held at the Padang do not feature a sea display as they do at the Marina Bay floating platform.

However, the Red Lions skydivers, who are crowd favourites, can still perform a parachute display there - something they could not do at the National Stadium in 2016 due to safety reasons.

The Red Lions last performed at the Padang in 2010.

In 2015, the jump had to be called off because of poor weather during the SG50 celebration.

But this year, the team of nine Red Lions parachutists are set to wow the crowds with their classic skydive manoeuvre, starting with a freefall from over 3km.

The team will come together in mid-air to form a ring by linking their arms together, in a traditional formation known as the "bomb burst".

Sources: The Straits Times archives, Roots.sg