S'pore takes part for first time in France's Bastille Day parade

Above: Singapore's Flag Party, led by Contingent Commander Major Nicholas Tong Jun, carrying the Republic's flag at the parade. Left: A combined flypast involving an RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer and five French Air Force Alpha Jets. Prime Minister
The Patrouille de France military aircraft passing over the Louvre Museum's pyramid during the traditional Bastille Day military parade. The event featured about 4,000 soldiers, 220 vehicles, 250 horses, 64 aircraft and 30 helicopters. Among these were the Republic of Singapore Air Force's 150 Squadron. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Above: Singapore's Flag Party, led by Contingent Commander Major Nicholas Tong Jun, carrying the Republic's flag at the parade. Left: A combined flypast involving an RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer and five French Air Force Alpha Jets. Prime Minister
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shares a light moment with French President Emmanuel Macron during the parade. Mr Lee is the first Singapore leader to be invited to the parade. PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: Singapore's Flag Party, led by Contingent Commander Major Nicholas Tong Jun, carrying the Republic's flag at the parade. Left: A combined flypast involving an RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer and five French Air Force Alpha Jets. Prime Minister
A combined flypast involving an RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer and five French Air Force Alpha Jets.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KELVIN CHNG
Above: Singapore's Flag Party, led by Contingent Commander Major Nicholas Tong Jun, carrying the Republic's flag at the parade. Left: A combined flypast involving an RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer and five French Air Force Alpha Jets. Prime Minister
Above: Singapore's Flag Party, led by Contingent Commander Major Nicholas Tong Jun, carrying the Republic's flag at the parade. Left: A combined flypast involving an RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer and five French Air Force Alpha Jets.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KELVIN CHNG

RSAF personnel involved in flypast and Flag Party, with PM Lee in attendance

PARIS • The jaunty tunes by the French military band were unmistakably European, and the crowds standing at attention were French citizens.

But two of the flags being marched down the Champs-Elysees and past the grandstand were of Asian nations - Singapore and Japan.

For the first time, Singapore took part in France's National Day Parade this year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was in attendance, invited by French President Emmanuel Macron as guest of honour - the first Singapore leader to be invited to the parade.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono was also there, in place of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, who cancelled his trip to deal with floods in Japan.

The National Day Parade, also known as the Bastille Day parade, marks the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution in 1789.

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The parade featured about 4,000 soldiers, 220 vehicles, 250 horses, 64 aircraft and 30 helicopters. Among these were the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) 150 Squadron based in Cazaux Air Base, in south-western France.

Of the six RSAF personnel involved, two were in the combined flypast and four took part in the parade as Singapore's Flag Party.

The flypast began with nine jets zooming across the sky, leaving behind jet trails in the French national colours of red, white and blue. Later, a combined flypast involving one RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer and five French Air Force Alpha Jets flew across the sky as well.

The officers flying the trainer were Captain Yeap Wei Jiun and Captain Jerevin Chia Min Feng.

Singapore's Flag Party, led by Contingent Commander Major Nicholas Tong Jun, carried the Singapore flag at the parade. Other officers in the party were Captain Jerome Tan Shang-Yang, Lieutenant Tan Yi and Lieutenant Jacob Lee Yong Jin.

Major Tong told The Sunday Times that he was proud to be Commander of the Flag Party, especially as it was Singapore's first appearance at the parade.

Asked about challenges RSAF officers in France face, he said: "Due to the language barrier, simple tasks like setting up Internet access for your home or getting your car insured become much more difficult."

Singapore's participation in the parade comes as the RSAF celebrates the 150 Squadron's 20th anniversary this year. More than 180 RSAF fighter air crew trainees from the squadron have undergone training at Cazaux over the past two decades.

Helicopters began circling in the sky above the Champs-Elysees and Place de la Concorde around 8am, before the parade.

The parade began at around 9.30am with an inspection of the French troops by general officers commanding the foot and motorised troop columns.

Mr Macron arrived at 10am, making his way from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Elysees in an armoured vehicle to the Place de la Concorde, where he inspected the troops. He then took his seat between his wife Brigitte and Mr Lee.

The French citizens watching the parade were a reserved crowd, applauding at key moments. They also clapped in encouragement when two motorcycles in the parade collided - nobody was injured - but they otherwise remained quiet and respectful.

After the flypast, special tribute troops started from the Arc de Triomphe and marched down the Champs-Elysees, ending at the Place de la Concorde.

There was then a march-past of foot soldiers, followed by a helicopter flypast, and a mobile column of armoured vehicles. There was also a display of a mounted column on horses.

The parade closed with a military choir singing traditional military songs and France's national anthem - the rousing La Marseillaise.

Yasmine Yahya

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore takes part for first time in France's Bastille Day parade'. Print Edition | Subscribe