by Ian Henery
The Black Country Flag has been flying in Singapore to mark their 50th Anniversary of Independence from what was the Malaya Federation (later Malaysia) on 9th August 1965 To capture the moment in words and photographs was Bugle Ambassador Ian Henery.
“I love Singapore” said Ian “and I have been coming to this island city-state for years to record the experiences of Black Country folk who eschewed a life down the colleries or in the foundaries to make a new life for themselves in the Colonial rubber plantations, shipping or tea industries of the Far East. They were a million miles away in geography and culture from the Black Country – how did they cope with the heat, food and new challenges of Malaya and Singapore? In 1942 most of them joined the Singapore Volunteer Force to stand against the Japanese Invasion and the survivors conscripted into the Thai-Burma Railway of Death. Their graves are at the Kranji Memorial in Singapore where past Presidents of Singapore are also buried. Their stories are forgotten in the West and the dates on the graves reveal, tragically, that many of them continued to die after the official end of the Second World War”.
Ian joined his friends from the Singaporean Scout Association in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Singapore before joining them in water-based activities in the South China Sea. The story of Singapore in the past 50 years is the story of a city-state that has gone from Third World status to First World, with gleaming modern office blocks with banks of computers linking Singapore with London, New York, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and other major financial centres.
“My father-in-law was born in a rubber plantation in 1942″, said Ian, because of the atrocities being committed by the invading Japanese soldiers. The world is currently acknowledging the 70th Anniversary since the end of the Second World War and Japan has apologised for it`s war crimes but the fact remains that they murdered 10,000 Chinese civilians in Singapore alone.”.
Ian`s father-in-law`s mother, under Colonial rule, sang God Save the King and later God Save the Queen. Under the Japanese, in 1942, she and her family had to start each morning with a bow to the east and a rendition of Kimigayo in schools, homes and public places or risk beheading by the Japanese. The merger with Malaya in 1963 brought with it a new national anthem – the Malayan Negaraku.
“Singapore had a new national anthem 50 years ago called Majulah Singapura and Ian sung the English version with Sinagporean Scouts::
“Come fellow Singaporeans
Let us progress towards
May our noble aspiration bring
Come, let us unite
In a new spirit
Together we proclaim
Ian also repeated the National Pledge with Singaporean Scouts, used on national Day and all civic events to unite all of the differing ethnic communities of Singapore into one community:
“We, the citizens of Singapore,
Pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion
To build a democratic society
Based on justice and equality
So as to acheive happiness, prosperity and progress
For our nation”.
“It sounds cheesy”, said Ian, “but isn`t that what everybody wants? Happiness? Prosperity? Justice? As I sang I prayed to God. I said, “please look kindly on this nation that has suffered so much in it`s history”. The Singaporean Scouts and I sang with all of our hearts. 50 years ago Singapore was expelled from the Malaya Federation. Their backs were against the wall. Sinagpore was not expected to survive Inbdependence but they had such resolve. When Singaporeans sing they are telling each other: “look how far we have come”. When they sing Majulah Singapura it is an anthem for the people. Their future is theirs, in their hands alone and look at how far they have come”.
9th August 1965 and a voice on the radipo announced that Singapore had been unceremoniously turfed out of the Malaya Federation. The then Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, famously wept on TV and described “this moment of anguish” in his first press conference that day. Newspaper headlines decried the news in Singapore that day as “tragic news”, “a cruel shock” and “sad beyond belief”. Singapore had no army to defend itself, no natural resources and relied on Malaya even fotr it`s water. There were also fears that ethnic tension between the Malays, Chinese and Indians could flare up in violance, so fragile was the new city-state. There were also concerns over high unemployment, poor education and a lack of housing.
50 years later newspapers in Singapore are full of high property prices, tight labour markets and how Singapore sends more students to top universities like Oxford and Cambridge than any other country outside the UK apart from China. Lee Kuan Yew had pledged to build a model multi-racial society in Singapore and they have set an example to the world. Singapore is not a Malay nation; it is not a Chinese nation or an Indian nation. Everyone has their place with equal language, culture and religion.
The Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day message:
“50 years ago we began building a nation. And what a journey it has been! It started with the first generation of leaders convincing our pioneer generation that Singapore could succeed as a sovereign country. Together, leaders and the people – the lions and the lion-hearted – fought with unwavering determination to secure our foundations. After them younger generations picked up the baton and took Singapore further. Year after year we have kept the promises that Mr Lee Kuan Yew made on 9th August 1965: that we will be “one united people, regardless of race, language or religion” and that we will always have a bright future ahead of us”.
And flying in Singapore as part of the celebrations was the Black Country flag in memory of Black Country folk`s blood, sweat and tears shed on this jewel in the South China Sea over the years.