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Sep 11, 2014

Traditional Friendship of Singapore and United Kingdom Remain Strong

A toast to Queen Elizabeth II by PM Lee Kuan Yew at the Istana.  Photo Credit:  AFS collection
PM Lee Kuan Yew with Queen Elizabeth II during a dinner reception in Singapore

On the 90th birthday of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 16 September, 2013, Queen Elizabeth II wrote in her birthday greetings: “Yours has been a most eventful life, inextricably interwoven with the history and development of your nation. It is notable that this year also marks the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence from the UK and I am delighted that the links between our countries remain so strong.”

Parliament also paid tribute to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on his 90th Birthday.

Although United Kingdom withdrew her military bases from Singapore over 4 decades ago, as discussed in the previous blog about the "pull-out" by Britain in 1971, the traditional friendship of Singapore and United Kingdom until today remain our relationship strong in many ways ... government to government and people to people.  It was a "pull-out" or withdrawal from Singapore which is now history,  the friendship and relationship of our two countries was never "cut-off".

In her birthday message to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Queen Elizabeth II said: "For over 50 years, you have been a decisive figure helping to shape Singapore's destiny and leading your country to peace and prosperity... You can look back on your achievements with pride."

British High Commissioner Antony Phillipson's article commemorating the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence from the UK reported here .

On September 24, 1975, the British naval presence in Singapore ended when the little warship, HMS Mermaid (a 2,520 tonne frigate), pulled slowly from the dockside as the band of the Gordon Highlanders struck up a fantasia of British sea songs, and then 'Auld Lang Syne'.  The base had already been handed over by the British on December 1, 1968 and converted by the Singapore Government into a commercial repair yard.

On October 1, 1975 the Gordon Highlanders played their last game of football on the Padang.  This was where the British had first introduced the game of cricket and other sports, some 160 years earlier.  Having played this game they quietly moved away and the occasion passed unnoticed.

The last British soldier to leave Singapore was Colonel J.C.A. Swynnerton OBE.  He departed in a commercial aircraft on Mar 31, 1976.  The Straits Times described him as the 'last link' in a chain of events which had been started 157 years earlier by Sir Stamford Raffles, who had brought the first British soldiers with him.  At one time British forces had occupied particularly a tenth of the island.

By coincidence Sir Harold Wilson who, as Prime Minister, had ordered out the troops, was in Singapore ten years later to the very day.  At a dinner party Mr Lee Kuan Yew revealed his debt to Sir Harold Wilson, saying that but for Wilson's understanding and support at the time of Singapore's separation from Malaysia, the history of Singapore would have been different.  "Put simply, if obliquely, I was saved from martyrdom by Harold Wilson."  Lee doubted if there would have been an independent Singapore.  He admitted that Singapore today was not another 'broken-back country' mainly because of the considerate manner and measured pace of military withdrawal in 1968.  All military installations (barracks, airfields, naval base) were handed over in working order, free, and as quickly as they could be converted to civilian use.  As Lee pointed out, this was not always the case when a metropolitan power departed from other parts of Asia or Africa.

Visit of Sir Harold Wilson and Lady Wilson to Singapore in 1978

With the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore, the archived photos of Sir Harold Wilson and Lady Wilson's 5-day visit to Singapore from January 9 to January 13, 1978 are curated on this blog to share.

On arrival in Singapore on January 9, 1978 by Singapore Airlines 

Acting Minister for Culture and Senior Minister of State for Communications Ong Teng Cheong and Mrs Ong at Paya Lebar airport to welcome former British Prime Minister (PM) Sir Harold Wilson and Lady Mary Wilson on the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Greetings by British High Commissioner to Singapore, John Peter Tripp
Greetings by wife of the British High Commissioner to Singapore, Mrs John Peter Tripp

Visit to the Istana

Sir Harold Wilson and Lady Mary Wilson paid a courtesy call on President Dr Benjamin Henry Sheares and Mrs Sheares at the Istana.


Dinner reception hosted by PM Lee Kuan Yew in honour of the Wilsons at the Istana

PM Lee Kuan Yew with Deputy PM and Minister of Defence Dr Goh Keng Swee and Minister of Health Dr Toh Chin Chye interacting with Sir Harold Wilson.

Sir Harold Wilson talking with Minister for Foreign Affairs S Rajaratnam and Mrs Piroska Rajaratnam.

Sir Harold Wilson talking with Minister for National Development Lim Kim San.

Minister for Finance Hon Sui Sen greets Sir Harold Wilson at the reception dinner.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Minister for National Development Lim Kim San (left), Minister for Law, the Environment and Science and Technology E W Barker and Mrs Barker interacting with former British PM Sir Harold Wilson before commencement of dinner reception at the Istana.

PM Lee Kuan Yew speaking at reception dinner
PM Lee Kuan Yew proposing a toast at the dinner reception at the Istana in honour of former British PM Sir Harold Wilson and Lady Mary Wilson.

Sir Harold Wilson speaking at the reception dinner held in his honour by PM Lee Kuan Yew.

Tribute to Lord Wilson
(Source:  The New Paper,  May 25, 1995)

"I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if Harold Wilson and the Labour Party had lost.  I believe that, almost certainly, there would not be an independent Singapore."
Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, acknowledging his debt to the former British Prime Minister on January 10, 1978 when Mr Lee entertained him to dinner at the Istana.  Lord Wilson, who announced the withdrawal of his country's military forces from Singapore in 1967, died peacefully in his sleep.  He was 79.



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