Rare glimpse into Singapore's colourful past

Government departments and industrial and commercial entities showcased their work and products at the expo. Airplane models and radio-controlled model ships docking in a model port were also displayed.
Government departments and industrial and commercial entities showcased their work and products at the expo. Airplane models and radio-controlled model ships docking in a model port were also displayed.PHOTO: RALPH CHARLES SAUNDERS COLLECTION
The Saunders on a family outing to Haw Par Villa. The family said that photographic slides used to cost 10 times more than a black and white negative, so few were used to capture everyday life in Singapore. A young Dr Clifford Saunders (bottom right)
The Saunders on a family outing to Haw Par Villa. The family said that photographic slides used to cost 10 times more than a black and white negative, so few were used to capture everyday life in Singapore.PHOTO: RALPH CHARLES SAUNDERS COLLECTION
The Saunders on a family outing to Haw Par Villa. The family said that photographic slides used to cost 10 times more than a black and white negative, so few were used to capture everyday life in Singapore. A young Dr Clifford Saunders (bottom right)
A young Dr Clifford Saunders (bottom right) watching a Chinese funeral procession in Orchard Road. Last month, he shipped to Singapore 1,425 35mm photographic slides taken by his father, of which 667 images were of the island.PHOTO: RALPH CHARLES SAUNDERS COLLECTION
A digitised photo of Capitol Theatre, featuring a billboard of the 1959 Hong Kong movie The Kingdom And The Beauty, which starred legendary actress Lin Dai.
A photo of the Singapore River. Mr Saunders’ collection also has images of the Botanic Gardens, Jalan Kayu and Pulau Ubin.PHOTO: RALPH CHARLES SAUNDERS COLLECTION

NHB catalogues Briton's photo slides of life here in the 50s

A larger-than-life Pepsi-Cola bottle, with red neon light illuminating the drink's name in Chinese, sat atop a booth at the Singapore Constitution Exposition in 1959.

It was one of about 450 booths at a month-long event held to commemorate Singapore's transition from colonial status to internal self-government.

Government departments and industrial and commercial entities showcased their work and products at the event in Kallang.

The colour image of the fair is rare. It was captured on a photographic slide by the late Ralph Charles Saunders, a radio operator for General Communications Headquarters in Britain, who was posted here.

He lived in Jalan Kayu with his family from 1956 to 1959.

A total of 1,425 35mm photographic slides taken by Mr Saunders were shipped here last month in seven boxes by his son, neuroplastician Clifford Saunders, 68, at his own expense.

The Saunders on a family outing to Haw Par Villa. The family said that photographic slides used to cost 10 times more than a black and white negative, so few were used to capture everyday life in Singapore. A young Dr Clifford Saunders (bottom right)
A digitised photo taken by late radio operator Ralph Charles Saunders of a Pepsi-Cola booth at the Singapore Constitution Exposition in Kallang in 1959, held to commemorate Singapore's transition to self-government. PHOTO: RALPH CHARLES SAUNDERS COLLECTION

Of the lot, 667 images were of Singapore. The National Heritage Board (NHB) is in the process of cataloguing and digitising the slides to identify images suitable for use in its galleries, exhibitions and heritage projects.

Some of them might also be added to the National Collection.

NHB's assistant chief executive of policy and community, Mr Alvin Tan, encouraged Singaporeans and friends of Singapore living abroad to follow Dr Saunders' example and help Singapore grow its repository of heritage materials.

According to the Saunders family, photographic slides used to cost 10 times more than a black and white negative, so few were used to capture everyday life in Singapore.

Such coloured slides of pre-independence Singapore are therefore "valuable", said Mr Tan.

Another slide in the collection captured the main entrance to the expo, and beyond its gates was what appeared to be a futuristic set-up.

A photo of the Singapore River. Mr Saunders' collection also has images of the Botanic Gardens, Jalan Kayu and Pulau Ubin.
A digitised photo of Capitol Theatre, featuring a billboard of the 1959 Hong Kong movie The Kingdom And The Beauty, which starred legendary actress Lin Dai. PHOTO: RALPH CHARLES SAUNDERS COLLECTION

Dr Saunders, who was 10 when he visited the event which took up a 20ha site, said: "A lot of new technologies were on show.

"These included airplane models and radio-controlled model ships docking in a model port to give people an idea of what Singapore could be like. It was truly amazing."

The collection also includes shots of Capitol Theatre, the Singapore River, the Botanic Gardens, Jalan Kayu, Pulau Ubin and a Chinese funeral procession in Orchard Road.

 

Dr Saunders said he hopes Singaporeans can "experience a sense of wonder" through the photos, as well as discover the island's past when life was slower.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2018, with the headline 'Rare glimpse into S'pore's colourful past'. Print Edition | Subscribe