1968. The day it rained in our National Day Parade


Yeo hong eng
Yeo, Hong Eng

1968 The Day It Rained On Our Parade I participated in the first, second and third National Parade under the Singapore Teachers’ Union contingent. In the first National Day Parade in 1966, the training was most difficult as almost all participants had to learn the commands from scratch as they were in Malay. They had learnt to listen, understand and then act. That was most frustrating. We had many training sessions on Saturday afternoons at former Teachers’ Training College ground at Paterson Road. At that time I was teaching in Pin Ghee High School in Kampong Chai Chee In the second National Day Parade in 1967, the training was difficult for the first timers but for experienced paraders like me, life was much better. I was made the marker as I understood a little of the command and also taller. I was teaching in Tanjong Rhu Boys’ School then. The third National Day Parade was a Friday in 1968. I was 22 years old then and had just graduated from Teachers’ Training College after a three-year part- time course at Teachers’ Training College at Paterson Road. Before the big day, as usual as in the other two parades, we trained hard but not as tedious as the first or second. Of course as usual it was not easy for the first timers having to go through the commands in Malay. For those experienced marchers we guided the first timers and the practices were smoother. Fewer practices were required. We had a full dress rehearsal before the actual day. Each participant of the STU contingent had to wear a white shirt and black pants and a full-rimmed hat. On the morning of August 9, I woke up at about 5.00 a.m. My mother prepared a heavy breakfast- boiled rice with an egg with sprinkled of black sauce to taste and a cup of black coffee. Riding on my red 80 cc Suzuki motorcycle, I wound through the dark undulating red laterite Peng Ghee Road to Chai Chee open-air market and then to Tanjong Katong Technical School where our pick-up point was. At about 6.00 am., the participants strolled in. Those who stayed nearby, they walked. Others came by taxis. Our attendances were taken. When all had arrived, the bus moved off. Today, no matter whether participants or spectators, they were given back packs with breakfast, drinks raincoats etc. But the participants on that day (August 9, 1968), Other than their specified attire, they had got only their wallets and handkerchiefs as they were expected to march hands-free. At the Padang, all others participants were streaming in. The STU participants from other pick-up points of Singapore had also arrived. At 8.00 a.m. we were told to fall in and stand easy. The sky was overcast. A slight breeze blew. We felt the chill but we were not worried. Some hoped that the weather remained the same – overcast rather than a fine weather – then the parade would not be so energy draining. Suddenly the breeze had turned into strong winds. The lightning flashed and the thunder cracked, then it poured. No one moved but from their faces we could sense that they were thinking that the storm would only be temporary. But they were wrong. Soon we were soaked to the skin. As for me, it was not my first time in the pouring rain. When I was young in the 1950s, my whole family should such weather occurred, we would be out in the coconut estate collecting fallen coconut leaves and bracts and piled them up in heaps. On clear sunny days, we would then spread them out to dry. After drying we would process them into brooms, fire starters and firewood. Our neighbours did the same. Two or three people competing for the same fallen coconut frond was usual. The tug-of-war stopped only when another frond had dropped. One of us would give up and go for the newly dropped one. I had never felt chilly when running, chasing and competing one another in the stormy weather . But on that morning, standing easy (rehatkan diri) in the pouring rain was not easy for me. The chill made me shiver. I needed some action. Then a voice came through the speakers ‘Baris , sedi…….ya!’ followed by some other commands. Immediately, we snapped at attention, splashing water at our feet. Then ‘senang di…..ri’. We stood at ease. We could not see what was happening at the City Hall as it was misty and blur. We just obeyed the commands. We could hear the drowning sound of the bands playing. Soon the columns ahead of us began stamping swished- swaying in the rain. Our faces brighten up but not the weather. Our contingent commander snapped, “STU, sedi…ya! Dari kanan, chepat ja…lan! It was our turn to ease our cold numb legs. We moved forward into already muddy and soggy earth of the Padang. When we were out of the Padang, we tried stamping harder to get rid of the mud that got stuck on ours shoes. Then we marched with pride in tempo with the school band that led us. Soon, we reached the City Hall. The command, ‘Pandang kanan, pan…dang!” was given by our STU officer-in-command. I could not remember whether I was the front flag bearer as well as the right marker or not. I clearly remember that I did not do the ‘Eyes- right!’ as the right marker needed not heed the command ‘eyes-right’. Then we were on our way along the same route as the army. Wherever along the route, spectators under their umbrellas, and some without, while others peering out from their windows, were cheering and clapping. Some after reading our STU flag, shouted, ‘They’re teachers”, followed by an applause. We were proud that they recognized us. We marched along Bras Basah Road, Victoria Street and then turned into River Valley Road. By then, the weather had eased considerably. Our clothings had remained damp but not soaked. We felt better. We continued to march with gusto as all eyes were upon us. I did not feel tired most likely because of the cool weather, excitement and anxiety. I tried to steal a glance at anyone among the crowd whom I could recognize but in vain. The march had to continue. Bodily discomfort had to take a back seat. Finally, we went into a deserted street. By the sides were buses and army trucks. We had reached our destination. It was Queensway. The sky had started to clear up. The sun was peeking out from the intermittent breaks of the clouds. A welcome glow lit our faces. The band leading us had ceased playing. Straight ahead we could see the soldiers boarding the trucks and buses. Some of them had already started to move off. “STU akan berhenti, berhen….ti”. We banged our right foot hard and counted 2, 3 and 4 and we broke away from our files. The STU officials started issuing packed food and drinks. With the refreshment in hands we climbed into our designated buses and came back to Tanjong Katong Technical School feeling a little tired but proud that we had made it in the pouring rain. Later we learnt that the 81 contingents whom consisted of soldiers, school children, teachers, ethnic societies and associations, pugilistic groups had gone through 8 kilometres in the pouring rain. One of them was our then Prime Minister’s son – Lee Hsien Loong. He was playing the clarinet in the Catholic High School Band. We had proved ourselves that despite the stormy weather we had not stopped to seek shelter or complained. The next day from the media, we had heard and read that our Prime Minister warned us of the coming gloom we were facing. And that was the withdrawal of the British troops from east of Suez. He had praised the participants that despite the storms they had the indomitable spirits, resolve, fortitude and loyalty to complete the parade.