SAF veterans recall first NDP in 1966 as the Padang is gazetted a national monument

Thirty-one members of the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans' League were at the Padang when it was named a national monument on Aug 8. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
(From left) Retired SAF Lieutenant-Colonels Mukhtiar Singh, Swee Boon Chai and Chan Seck Sung at the Padang on Aug 8. PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

SINGAPORE - After almost six decades, the feeling of marching in the first National Day Parade at the Padang in 1966 remains etched firmly in retired Lieutenant-Colonel Mukhtiar Singh's memory.

He relished the moment so much that when he was approached to march at Singapore's 50th birthday bash in 2015 - again held at the Padang - Mr Singh did not think twice.

"When the 50th anniversary came I volunteered straight away. Because we remember the day we marched at the first parade, and the crowd was just looking at us. Wow... I'll never forget that," said the 74-year-old.

He was among 31 members of the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans' League in attendance when the Padang - which means field in Malay - was named Singapore's latest national monument by Culture, Community and Youth Minister Edwin Tong at the National Gallery Singapore on Monday (Aug 8).

About half of the veterans present at Monday's event marched in the first NDP held at the Padang, whose monument status became effective on Tuesday, Singapore's 57th birthday.

LTC (Ret) Swee Boon Chai, 76, was also among those marching at the first NDP for the SAF, and then at the 50th as a veteran.

He did not have much time to train for the 1966 parade, having just joined the force on June 1 that year, alongside Mr Singh.

"We only had about eight weeks to prepare for the NDP. Not only that, we marched in a very difficult formation - 16 by 16," said Mr Swee, who added that training was held at the old SAF Training Institute in Jurong several mornings a week, on an open field that left soldiers' boots muddy.

The first National Day Parade was held at the Padang on Aug 9, 1966. PHOTO: ST FILE

Thousands lined the street to catch a glimpse of the first parade, which continued from the Padang to Neil Road.

Along the route, onlookers congratulated the marching soldiers, said Mr Swee.

"It was the first time people were seeing us in our skeletal battle order, with helmets and camouflage nets, and we were very proud of it," he added.

Besides serving as a ceremonial and parade ground, the Padang is one of the oldest spaces in Singapore used for recreation since the 1800s.

Mr Singh said he used to visit the Padang in his teens for outdoor activities when he was a student at Queenstown Secondary Technical School in the 1960s.

He remembers going to the Padang monthly at 5am to train with his long-distance running teammates from school and running laps around the field.

Referencing time spent training for the first parade, he said: "It was very challenging, but we achieved."

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