NDP 2016 returns to National Stadium: 5 memorable parades at the old stadium

SINGAPORE - The former National Stadium, the Grand Old Lady of Kallang, hosted 18 National Day Parades between 1976 and 2006.

Ahead of this year's NDP, the first to be held in the new National Stadium at the Sports Hub, we take a look at five of the most memorable ones held at the former landmark.

1. 1976: First NDP at National Stadium

The move to the National Stadium allowed far more spectators to take in the parade live. PHOTO: ST FILE

The National Stadium was officially opened in 1973 and hosted its first NDP three years later.

It had already seen boxing great Muhammad Ali fight but even The Greatest could not match the show put on by the 12,000 young men and women who "presented for all the world to see a colourful and exciting portrait of a vibrant but disciplined Singapore", reported The Straits Times.

And that show was watched in comfort by more than 65,000 spectators seated at the stadium terraces. In previous years, "one had to jostle and crane one's neck so as not to miss the action", New Nation said.

A solemn moment during the parade as then President Benjamin Sheares inspects the Guard of Honour to the boom of a 21-gun salute. PHOTO: ST FILE

As then President Benjamin Sheares inspected the Guard of Honour, a thunderous 21-gun salute rocked the stadium. A flypast thrilled the crowd and twinkle-toed dancers from schools charmed them.

One of the contingents in the parade. PHOTO: ST FILE

The splendour was not confined to the stadium. Sixty-four marching contingents, led by the 1st Commando Battalion, took to the streets along a 6km route that was lined with thousands of spectators clamouring for space while others peered from flats.

There is still time before the parade, so this Singapore Airlines stewardess steals a last glance in the mirror. PHOTO: ST FILE

The procession even had a 21m replica of a Singapore Airlines jumbo jet, complete with stewardesses flashing smiles and blowing kisses.

2. 1980: The big birthday bash

The National Stadium was the centrepiece of the National Day celebrations that marked the 15th anniversary of independent Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

A big, bright, beautiful birthday cake, complete with colourful icing and candles. That was what the National Stadium - packed to the gills for Singapore's 15th National Day - looked like from the air.

A photograph of the sight was splashed across both the front and back pages of The Sunday Times the day after.

The stuff that nostalgia is made of: (from left) the kachang puteh seller, the satay seller with his portable stall and a group of Boat Quay workers. PHOTO: ST FILE

The face mask vendor, the movie man, the wooden stool seller - trades labelled "vanishing" in 1980 and which have since disappeared - were among those featured in a parade that celebrated the past.

Samsui woman Ng Lian Ho, 72, gets a helping hand with the complicated folds of her red cloth head dress from SAF Corporal Sharmaine Sta Maria. PHOTO: ST FILE

Also spotted in the tableau were samsui women, vintage cars, sedan chairs and Boat Quay labourers.

Whitley Secondary School students running out for their mass display to depict Strength and Grace In Harmony. PHOTO: ST FILE

But the parade also painted a picture of Singapore's future: new F-5E Northrops fighter planes streaking overhead, and happy children and students from schools who "offered reassurance that Singapore's future is in good hands".

3. 1989: First NDP day fireworks display

Singapore's first-ever daylight fireworks display was a surprise item that organisers kept under their hats until the big day itself. PHOTO: ST FILE

Spectators at this NDP were treated to fireworks in the day, in what was Singapore's first ever attempt at the display. A string of 20 successive smoke patterns took the shape of chrysanthemums and willows.

One member of the audience called the colourful smoke "eye-catching", while others were not convinced. "The fireworks could hardly be seen. There were only a few sparks," said another viewer.

That was just one of the parade's surprises; another was much better received.

Twenty-four free-falling commandos had streamers strapped to their legs. PHOTO: ST FILE

What looked from the ground like specks wafting lazily down in the sky was actually 24 free-falling commandos rushing down at 190kmh. With streamers strapped to their legs, the jumpers deployed their gold, red and blue parachutes at staggered intervals to form a descending trail in the sky.

Also worth mentioning was what was described as the quiet courage of then President Wee Kim Wee, who smiled and waved to the crowd as he stood up throughout his presidential drive past, despite having undergone several major operations in the months before.

4. 1998: City Hall "moves" to National Stadium

A soldier parachutes into the National Stadium during the National Day Parade 1998. PHOTO: ST FILE

National Stadium or the Padang? At the parade in 1998, spectators got both rolled into one, with organisers building a two-third-scaled replica of City Hall in the National Stadium.

Taking to the stage was Kit Chan in a resplendent burgundy gown, who belted out the now iconic National Day song Home, which was making its parade debut. There were two National Day songs that year, but City For The World has not lingered in Singaporeans' hearts quite as long as Home has.

The Singapore flag being projected onto a water screen. The screen was created by spraying thousands of litres of water into the air. PHOTO: ST FILE

It was colour that caught the eye. Newspaper reports described its "amazing technicolours" as performers, in four segments, told the Singapore story as exemplified by the Singapore River.

And of course, the parade came complete with six parachutists gliding into a gentle touchdown, five super Skyhawks executing a perfect starburst formation and a multi-coloured fireworks display.

5. 2006: Final party at the stadium

A final explosion of fireworks lights up the sky around the National Stadium, as it bows out in style. PHOTO: ST FILE

The stadium had played host to some of the world's best football teams and biggest rock stars but it would have been hard to beat this final party for spectacle.

The last NDP to be held in the old National Stadium saw 55,000 spectators singing, dancing and cheering their hearts out, having come from all across the island and even from overseas.

Highlights included four heliospheres, or big balloons, from which acrobats dangled, army contingents forming "2006" as five F-16s fanned out overhead and low-level fireworks during the parade, before the traditional finale.

But it was a bittersweet affair for many, with a number of spectators sharing their memories, accumulated over decades, of the stadium.

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