Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee: Coronation and Celebration (Part III)

In 1953, half a million people flooded Singapore's streets for one of the biggest parades the city had ever seen, to celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.

According to reports in The Straits Times, the special Chinese dragon procession for the event on 2 June 1953 cost S$2 million – a huge sum of money by today’s standards, let alone nearly 60 years ago.


The newspaper’s reports covering the event said: “If The Queen, in her Royal Coach, could have ridden through the crowded streets of Singapore, her heart would have been filled with pride.”


Hundreds lined the streets of London to watch The Queen's Coronation in 1953


Hundreds lined the streets of London to watch The Queen's Coronation in 1953


The procession, which began at 7.30pm, drew huge crowds and people waited all afternoon to get a good spot: “The waiting thousands stood on every available inch of ground. At Empress Place and on Connaught Drive, the multitude presented an extraordinary scene, looking for all the world like a vast swarm of bees,” said Singapore newspaper reports the following day.


Adventurous spectators even took to the tops of unfinished structures, like the Fullerton Building, to catch a glimpse of the parade. The two-hour procession culminated on Beach Road. Here, newspaper reports of the day say the dragon, which was breathing real fire throughout, collapsed as the people manoeuvring it from underneath became exhausted and overcome by the heat.


The Chinese dragon procession marked the end of Singapore’s Coronation celebrations, but earlier in the day thousands of people rose at the crack of dawn for a 7.30am parade at the Padang, Singapore’s colonial heart.


More than 3,500 took part in what was the city’s official Coronation Parade, with representatives from Britain, Malaysia and other Commonwealth services and volunteer organisations. Royal Air Force (RAF) planes flew past in royal salute and the parade music was courtesy of bands from the RAF, the Royal Marines and the 1st Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment.


Following the parade, hundreds attended a special thanksgiving service at St Andrew’s Cathedral. Today, in a lasting legacy to the Coronation of 1953, the Coronation Carpet in the Epiphany Chapel of the Cathedral is a portion of the flaxen carpet that was used for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey.


June Raper, a British expatriate living in Singapore at the time, recalled the day the Coronation celebration came to Singapore: "We had a fantastic view of the pageant as one of our dear friends was then Chief of the Waterboats, whose office was directly opposite the Fullerton Building, on the seaside, we had an amazing experience sitting on his first-floor balcony. The decorations all round the Padang were wonderful and most buildings were lit up,” she said.


Businesses across Singapore marked the Coronation celebrations, most notably Asia Insurance, which was still constructing its building in Collyer Quay in 1953. The company erected a large banner over the scaffolding, which read, "Long Live The Queen. The Asia Insurance Company".


The Queen Elizabeth receives flowers from the public during her Diamond Jubilee visit to Birmingham


The Queen Elizabeth receives flowers from the public during her Diamond Jubilee visit to Birmingham


Mrs Raper recalls seeing the banner from her vantage point: “It was high up, on the fifth or sixth floor, and could be seen for miles both on land and from the sea. It’s a rather amusing tale. It was fine from the land, but those of us who sailed had a splendid view of not only the dragon boats and sea sports put on for the Coronation, but also of this display which, when read from the sea, said ‘Long Live the Asia Insurance Company!’”


In a tribute to Singapore’s royal connections, the top of the Asia Insurance building (which is now the Ascott Raffles Place serviced residence) was topped with a stone crown that remains in place today.


Celebrating Post-Independence


In 1963, Singapore gained independence from British rule, marking the beginning of a different era in the city’s history. Despite the withdrawal of British administrative presence, British spirit remains strong.


The British Association was founded in 1956 and has a rich and vibrant history in Singapore. Every year its members celebrate Her Majesty’s birthday and they have marked occasions such as Jubilees and royal visits. In the 2012 edition of The BEAM, the British Association’s magazine, members recalled the 1977 Jubilee celebrations, which were centred on Eden Hall, the Tanglin Club and St Andrew’s Cathedral.


Caryl Tay, one of the association’s longest standing members, remembers the Silver Jubilee in Singapore. “A huge fair was held at Eden Hall, which was sponsored by British business houses present in Singapore. In those days I was not very closely involved with the British community but felt that this was a very special event, so attended with my four children, together with a friend and her three daughters. Needless to say it was grey and rainy in true British tradition! However, the British spirit was very much in evidence with loads of activities planned that were as traditional as possible.”


One of the highlights of the day was the presentation of a piglet. Sponsored by Standard Chartered bank, people were invited to guess the weight of the animal. Ms Tay remembers her son winning the first prize, which was a savings account with Standard Chartered.


Before coming to Singapore, Ms Tay recalls sleeping on the pavement in Whitehall, London, to catch a glimpse of The Queen as she married The Duke of Edinburgh. She added: “She has been with me all my life and I hold her and her family, as well as the monarchy, in great regard.”


Tanglin Trust School also has a history of celebrating royal occasions and has welcomed many royal visitors over the years, including The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and The Duke of York. To celebrate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, pupils planted a tree and laid a commemorative plaque in the school grounds. In 2012, alongside the Golden Jubilee tree, children planted another to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.


Peter Derby-Crook, Chief Executive Officer at Tanglin Trust School, speaks fondly of the connections that have been forged by the school between Britain and Singapore. "Tanglin Trust School Singapore was established in 1925 to provide a British education for families posted here for employment purposes. Tanglin has always been regarded as ‘the British School’ and it maintains very close links with the UK and with the British High Commission in Singapore.”


‘May the Union Jack fly here forever’ – Eden Hall


Many of Singapore’s royal celebrations and occasions have taken place at Eden Hall, the British High Commissioner’s residence.


Eden Hall sits on Nassim Road and was built in 1904 by Ezekiel Saleh Manasseh, an Eastern European Jewish businessman who had settled in Singapore. Initially it was run as a boarding house until 1916 when Mr Manasseh married an English widow, Elsie Trilby Bath. They moved to Eden Hall with Trilby's two children Molly and Vivian, and the house later came into possession of Vivian Bath.


Eden Hall, the British High Commissioner's residence in Singapore


Eden Hall, the British High Commissioner's residence in Singapore


During the Second World War, Mr Bath joined the Singapore volunteer forces and was taken captive. Following the occupation by Japanese forces, the house was used as an officers' mess. The original wrought-iron staircase managed to survive being melted down for the Japanese war effort. In the 1930s, the staircase’s ironwork had been boarded over to give it a modern look and the Japanese never thought to look behind the wooden facade.


On his return to Singapore after the war, Mr Bath regained possession of Eden Hall, which had been requisitioned for use by the British forces. He later decided to retire to Australia and sold Eden Hall to the British government in 1957 with the stipulation that a plaque be installed at the bottom of the flagpole saying: "May the Union Jack fly here forever". The plaque remains in place to this day. Since then, Eden Hall has been the residence of successive British representatives in Singapore and, since 1965, the British High Commission.


Recalling the 1977 Jubilee party at Eden Hall, Ms Tay said: “In those days there was a huge lawn at Eden Hall, where today stand two or three immense privately owned houses. The garden was so big that when ridden on horseback in a figure of eight, the rider had completed a furlong.”


Today the grounds are smaller, but Eden Hall remains the venue for Her Majesty’s birthday celebrations each year.


A Modern Celebration


The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was celebrated by British communities worldwide and spurred something of resurgence in following for the British royal family, particularly among those in the UK.


In Singapore, British expatriates marked the occasion with street parties, gala dinners and musical events. His Excellency, Antony Phillipson, British High Commissioner to Singapore, was the Guest of Honour at the British Club Gala Dinner and the Tanglin Trust Diamond Jubilee Fete. He also hosted a Diamond Jubilee reception with BBC Worldwide, and a British Association charity dinner at Eden Hall.


In a speech celebrating The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who visited Singapore in 2012, described The Queen as “an unmatched example of the highest ideals of our society”. The 2012 celebrations highlighted the strength of the ties between Britain and Singapore, and the appreciation for the British monarchy around the world. It may be 60 years since Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne, and almost 50 years since Singapore became independent from Britain, but the bond between the two nations has gone on to become stronger.


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