Friday, June 5, 2009
MR SR NATHAN, 84
2009: President of Singapore
1959: Welfare officer for seafarers
'When internal self-government was announced, I saw it as a new beginning. But my first reaction...was a mixed one. There was exuberance on our part that this had been achieved, we were halfway towards independence.
'But in the (mainly Chinese) crowds that milled around City Hall, I found myself a stranger. This milling crowd was sometimes hostile in appearance and hostile in demeanour.
'So my main preoccupation was, what awaited us? Will we be overwhelmed by this crowd, and their behaviour?'
MR LEE HSIEN LOONG, 57
2009: Prime Minister of Singapore
1959: Primary 2 student at Nanyang Primary School
'We did not have National Education classes, but our whole society was in ferment, caught up in the excitement of the anti-colonial struggle. Major events were taking place which affected all our lives.
'Those my age, and older, will remember 1959 not only as the year we attained self-government, but also the year when the PAP first came into power.
'But for many younger ones, 1959 does not immediately ring a bell. Yet it was an important milestone on the road to separation and independence in 1965. We should not let this 50th anniversary of self-government pass unnoticed.
'Half a century ago, Singapore embarked on a journey which led, through many twists and turns, to where we are today.'
MR CHAN CHEE SENG, 77
2009: Chairman of a company running a Singapore international school in China
1959: PAP legislative assemblyman for Jalan Besar
'We were quite excited because we were on the winning side, and not squatting by the roadside in the governing of our own country.
'Our leader Lee Kuan Yew had succeeded in leading us on the road to independence. Previously, the British were running the show and there was high unemployment, bad housing, etc. So we had to get our act together and look at how we could solve these problems.'
MR FONG SWEE SUAN, 77
2009: Retired businessman
1959: Chinese-educated unionist, anti-colonial activist and founding member of the PAP who was detained in Changi Prison by the British
'That day, June 3, we were in Changi Prison, wondering how will Lee Kuan Yew treat us when we come out? Will our supporters still support us?
'We were happy that we had achieved self-government. But it was not yet independence. It was the first step of a long journey.'
MR TAN KOK KIONG, 68
2009: Lawyer and vice-chairman (education committee) in Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan
1959: Chung Cheng High School student
'The English-educated were the privileged class then. So long as they had a Cambridge certificate, they had very good pay. They also had other benefits - for instance, the civil servants were provided with transport at pick-up points.
'Dr Goh Keng Swee's speech was a wake-up call to them, that times have changed and they should identify themselves with the rest of society.'
MR LEE KOON SENG, 85
2009: Operations manager at Banquet chain of foodcourts
1959: Businessman running a chemical business
'The day we got self-government was an important day. I remember staying up with my family to listen to the announcement on radio.
'But I went to work the next day to take care of my business. Like most Chinese in Singapore, at that time what was most important was our business.
'I was happy. All the while we were thinking of being independent, of having a country. We could now have a country.'
MR WU SERK, 84
1959: Chinese teacher in Pei Hwa School in Bukit Timah
'I was very happy when I knew we were getting self-government. We wanted independence, to have 'Merdeka'. Being self-governing was different but it was one step closer to no more colonialism.
'I went to the rally at the Padang with a group of my friends. A lot of people were there by the time I got there.
'We were all in the mood for celebration and I remember the moment we all shouted 'Merdeka'. It was a great day.'
MR DOUGLAS MILLER, 87
2009: Retired. Died on May 4 in Perth, a week after he was interviewed by The Straits Times
1959: An archivist for the British Special Branch
'I don't remember if it was a public holiday or not but it was a holiday atmosphere. It was something to be cherished. Here was our country now taking the full responsibility, knowing fully well we had nothing, no hinterland, nothing, we only had manpower and the brains, the leaders.
'There were a lot of events going on like the rally on the day itself, but we did not participate. In a way we were involved in it by giving the feedback on what was going on, little disturbances here and there. The concern was to make sure there was racial harmony and peace, make sure the harmony was not disrupted, because a small thing could have sparked things off.'
DR TAN ENG YOON, 81
1959: Teacher in St Joseph's Institution and a national athlete
'It was in December of 1959 that we had our first-ever South-east Asian Peninsular Games. I won the gold medal in 400m hurdles at 2.30pm. We had self-government then and it was the first time in history 'Majulah Singapura' was played outside Singapore. Half an hour later, weightlifter Tan Howe Liang won his gold medal. I just beat him to it.
'It was a great honour and a great feeling to be the first and to represent the country. It was definitely a different winning feeling from the competitions before that.'
MR NARAYANA NARAYANA, 82
'The mostly middle-class and English-educated were generally apathetic to the event, and it was common for them to shout 'mentega' (Malay for butter) for 'Merdeka' (freedom) which was the clarion call of the day.'
MR J.M. JUMABHOY, 90
1959: Minister for Commerce and Industry in the Labour Front government (He lost a five-cornered fight to the PAP candidate in the 1959 election)
'It was an important day because it was an opening for us to go ahead to get full independence one day.
'Calling it self-governing was not really true, it was only partly self-governing. There was not the same fear as there was when we separated from Malaysia. It was almost status quo, except there was an internal fight within the PAP with the communists.
'This fight with the communists was another reason that day was important. We did not know then whether Lee Kuan Yew would succeed or not, but at least we knew he was someone who knew the communists, had seen their tactics and was determined to fight. If Lee Kuan Yew had lost in the May 30, 1959 election and the PAP had been proscribed, Singapore would have been finished. The communists would have taken over.'