When Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (UK) and Head of the Commonwealth on 2 June 1953, Singapore celebrated the coronation along with other British colonies and the UK. Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952 when her father, King George VI, passed away. However, the coronation was held nearly a year later in 1953.1 Singapore celebrated the coronation with a week of festivities that were held from 30 May to 6 June 1953.2
A Singapore delegation to London
A contingent from the army, navy and air forces was sent to London to represent the colony in the coronation procession on 2 June 1953.3The men belonged to the Royal Malayan Navy, Singapore Division of the Malayan Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Singapore Volunteer Corps and the Singapore Wing of the Malayan Auxiliary Air Force.4
A delegation representing the different communities of Singapore also travelled to London. Sir Han Hoe Lim, a former member of the executive and legislative councils, headed the delegation. Rajabali Jumabhoy, prominent businessman and member of the executive and legislative councils, was also part of the delegation. Another legislative council member in the delegation and also the only woman was Elizabeth Choy, a Japanese Occupation heroine.5
Two committees were created to plan the activities for coronation week. One committee organised activities for the city while the other committee planned activities for the rural areas. The government spent $200,000 decorating the streets and buildings of Singapore with spotlights and standards. Shops and businesses joined in and also decorated their buildings with flags.6
Coronation week was inaugurated with the opening of Queen Elizabeth Walk and the Esplanade Gardens. The seafront promenade had been refurbished at the cost of $600,000. Until then, the seafront promenade had been used by unlicensed hawkers. Yuen Peng McNeice, wife of Sir Percy McNeice, then president of the City Council, opened the promenade on 30 May 1953.7In 1999, Lady McNeice returned to that same spot to unveil two plaques. The first plaque was a restoration of the 1953 plaque and the second one marked Queen Elizabeth Walk as a historic site recognised by the National Heritage Board.8
The coronation parades
One of the highlights of the celebrations that attracted a large crowd was the coronation parade held on 2 June 1953 at 6:30 am. The British armed forces and the Malayan volunteer forces paraded before Sir John Fearns Nicoll, then Governor of Singapore, and the 3,500 people who had gathered at the Padang early that morning.9
Guns of the Royal Navy and Royal Artillery led the royal salute as jet fighters of the Royal Air Force (RAF) flew overhead. This was followed by an inspection of the troops by the Governor, the singing of God Save the Queen, the British national anthem, and the march-past of the military forces. Once the parade was over, the crowd began to disperse in a somewhat disorderly fashion. The traffic police had to intervene but fortunately the parade ended with no incidents.10 Labourers proceeded quickly to set up scaffolds and benches along the streets to accommodate the crowds expected for the coronation processions in the evening.11
During coronation week, there were nightly processions organised by different bodies. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce, guilds and associations organised an illuminated procession.12 The Singapore Lighter Owners’ Association put together the Sea Dragon procession. The sea dragon was 400-ft long (about 122 m) with a body made from cloth, and three generators powered the 8,000 electric bulbs that set the sea dragon aglow. Two tugs and several launches pulled the dragon over the water.13
Churches, temples and mosques held special religious services. There were fireworks displays, film exhibitions, sports carnivals and a coronation ball held at Government House (now known as the Istana), among other activities.14
Coronation week ended on 6 June 1953 with a grand final parade at 7:30 am. The parade at the Padang celebrated the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. This June birthday differs from her actual birth date of 21 April.15 Spectators were treated to another impressive performance by RAF jet fighters. They also witnessed a repeat performance of the 21-gun salute by the Royal Artillery.16 Three thousand personnel from the Armed Forces and Volunteer forces did a march-past to pay tribute to their Queen.17
The coronation parade of 2 June and the parade on 6 June held in honour of the Queen’s official birthday were among the last colonial activities held in 1953 at the Padang.18
1. Tim Graham and Patricia Burgess, Queen Elizabeth II: A Celebration of Her Majesty’s Fifty-Year Reign (New York: Rizzoli, 2002), 26. (Call no. R q941.085092 GRA)
2. Singapore. Public Relations Office, The Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: Singapore Celebrations Programme (Singapore: Singapore Public Relations Office, 1953). (Call no. RCLOS 394.4 SIN-[GBH])
3. “Singapore Men for Crowning Parade,” Singapore Free Press, 9 January 1953, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Straits Times, The Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 1953), 127. (Call no. RCLOS q941.085092 STR)
5. Straits Times, Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 127.
6. Straits Times, Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 127.
7. “Mrs. McNeice Opens Queen Elizabeth Walk and Gardens,” Straits Times, 31 May 1953, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Sharmilpal Kaur, “Taking a Walk Back in Time,” Straits Times, 1 August 1999, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “A Parade the Colony Won’t Forget,” Straits Times, 3 June 1953, 4. (From NewspaperSG); Straits Times, Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 129.
10. “Parade the Colony Won’t Forget.”
11. Straits Times, Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 129.
12. Singapore. Public Relations Office, Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 3.
13. “Bigger and Grander than City Day’s,” Singapore Free Press, 24 April 1953, 3; G. T. Boon, “Even the Rains Won’t Stop the Parade – or the Sea Dragon,” Singapore Free Press, 2 June 1953, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Singapore. Public Relations Office, Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
15. “80 Facts About The Queen,” The Royal Household.
16. “It Was a Grand Birthday Parade,” Straits Times, 7 June 1953, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Singapore. Public Relations Office, Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
18. Singapore. Public Relations Office, Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2, 6; Gretchen Liu, In Granite and Chunam: The National Monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, 1996), 68. (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
The information in this article is valid as at 8 April2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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