This year, a familiar calendar event will be taking on a different look as the 55th National Day Parade goes ahead amidst a global pandemic.
Instead of the usual packed spectators at the live parade, Singaporeans will largely be enjoying 2020’s proceedings from the comforts of their homes, while the performances are broadcasted from the Star Theatre.
In addition, the mobile columns will be covering a total distance of around 200km, the longest distance it has travelled into the heartlands in order to allow more Singaporeans to view them.
Global circumstances and the uniqueness of the parade will undoubtedly make NDP 2020 one of the most memorable in Singapore’s history.
With that in mind, we take a look at previous unforgettable National Day Parades, their legacy and the significant moments that arose from them.
1998 - Home debuts
Every year, Singaporeans look forward to the release of the National Day song — this year’s tune being “Everything I Am”, performed by Nathan Hartono.
Yet arguably no National Day song has had the lasting impact of “Home”.
Written by Dick Lee and performed by Kit Chan, our unofficial national anthem first debuted at the 1998 parade, before becoming an enduring presence in our national consciousness.
Accompanied by a choir, Chan performed the song in both English and Chinese from the steps of a City Hall replica built in the middle of the National Stadium.
The song’s popularity saw it reused as the theme song for 2004’s parade, and Chan has since performed the song at various parades across the years.
1981 - The drama-filled parade
Not all National Day Parades go off without a hitch, as those who attended the 1981 edition can attest to.
According to The Straits Times, 1981’s celebrations — which were held at six locations across the island — saw the collapse of a platform for VIP’s at Ang Mo Kio Secondary School. It was apparently unable to carry their weight and gave way just half an hour before the parade was to begin.
Furthermore, a policeman was forced into drawing his revolver to break up a fight between two dragon dance troupes.
Perhaps the one moment that had audiences with their hearts in their mouthes was when a commando skydiver’s main parachute failed. He was forced to deploy his emergency one while two other skydivers missed their targets.
They landed at an electronics factory 50m from the stadium instead.
2013/2014 - Shirley Ng makes history
Speaking of skydiving, the Singapore’s Red Lions have come to be a well-loved segment of the parade, dazzling spectators with their breathtaking free-fall displays.
And in 2013, now-Second Warrant Officer Shirley Ng was set to make history as the first-ever female Red Lion parachutist to jump at the National Day Parade.
However, poor weather meant that the segment was called off.
“My relatives and friends were still waiting. They thought the jump was postponed,” Ng told the Straits Times.
“It was indeed disappointing, but then again, what’s over is over.”
Undeterred, Ng returned in 2014, and finally made history in 2014’s parade.
She will be jumping again for NDP2020, only this time the Red Lion’s will be landing in the heartlands, at grass fields near Sengkang General Hospital and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.
1991 - Fun Packs are introduced for the first time
Goh Chok Tong’s first parade as Prime Minister was significant for one other reason — it was the first NDP where funpacks were given out.
That year, the funpack was more functional than anything, aimed at providing parade attendees with a survival kit of sorts.
It included water and a snack to help tide them through the hot and humid weather, reported the Straits Times.
Since then funpacks have only gotten more — well — fun.
Temporary tattoos, now a staple of the funpack, were first introduced in 1999, and subsequent packs have included lights, clappers, and flags so that attendees could contribute to the atmosphere of the parade.
Also, who could forget 2002’s funpack which gave parade attendees the first taste of New Water — the highly treated reclaimed wastewater that now supplies up to 40 per cent of Singapore’s current water needs, according to the Public Utilities Board.
True to the circumstances of this year, NDP2020’s funpack will include a thermometer, hand sanitiser, and face masks.
1966/1968 - Rain on our parade
Of course, 2020 won’t be the first year that the parade happens in less than ideal circumstances. In fact, nature conspired so it very literally rained on our parade at the nation’s first attempt to celebrate its independence.
In 1966, a year after Singapore separated from Malaysia, the morning parade saw rainfall at approximately 10:40am.
However, the military contingents continued marching in the rain and many spectators, while drenched, were undeterred by the wet weather.
More famously, NDP1968 was also interrupted by a heavy downpour.
Videos and images from the National Archives show participants trudging ahead with the proceedings at the Padang.
Even a young Lee Hsien Loong could be spotted marching with his school band.
Speaking to The Straits Times in 2015 while the nation mourned the death of Lee Kuan Yew, Philip Cheng who was part of the National Cadet Corps contingent at the 1968 parade said:
“We were completely soaked but… we were not bothered by the rain.”
“To see our fellow Singaporeans continue to stand and watch us was very special too,” he added.
The elder Lee had decided that the parade would continue despite the rain, and even rejected the offer of an umbrella. Together with the cabinet and the other Members of Parliament, he took a seat in the rain at the Padang.
According to the Straits Times, he would later in 1988 refer to NDP1968 as his most memorable parade.
Top image via coldsuns87 YouTube Channel and from the Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.