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Apr 16, 2013

Queen Elizabeth's Royal Visit to Singapore

The royal visitors showed great interest in the people they saw and talked to ...

How Queen Elizabeth (and the Duke) made it a Royal Visit to remember

Source:  The Straits Times Annual, 1973

Historic is the word but it hardly describes the warmth and the colour which marked the 20-day visit of Queen Elizabeth to Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.  Excitement ran high because it was the first time a British monarch had visited these countries, once part of a vast British empire.  Times had changed.  Malaysia and Singapore already had the fruits of independence to show and Brunei, internal self-rule.

Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, and their daughter, Princess Anne, came as head of a world comity of nations known as the Commonwealth.  It was a getting-to-know-you visit which may have seemed ironic considering it came after the territories were no longer under the Union Jack.  But then, Queen Elizabeth had never been to this part of the world and seeing it for herself, and not just reading or hearing about it, doubtless served to foster deeper understanding and goodwill.

Visiting dignitaries are usually remote from the masses.  Not so on this occasion, although there was the formal side to it all.  The informality of walkabouts arranged for the ordinary people to meet the royal visitors gave the visit a refreshing flavour.  The people relished it.  There was instant rapport.  The ready smile and wave of the hand were enought to bring on the cheers from the multitudes.

There was opportunity to chat with the royal visitors which provided really delightful moments for the lucky ones.  Many rose to the occasion.  Some however, could not find the words.  Queen Elizabeth was always her gracious self, Prince Philip, humorous as ever and Princess Anne, the real-life, story-book princess for the children.

The royal visitors showed great interest in the people they saw and talked to.  They were particularly impressed by the clean and healthy children who were on hand by the thousands.

And the people in turn got to know the British royal family.  The easy manner in which they moved around became a talking point.  So did the the wit of Prince Philip.  Like the time he spoke to some teachers standing in the hot sun in Kuala Lumpur.  "I hope you don't turn out to be half-baked teachers," he remarked, much to the amusement of everyone present.  The story also went round about the time he visited a knitting factory in Britain and asked to see the "chief nit."

There were sombre moments when the royal family visited the war graves in Kranji (Singapore) and Labuan (Sabah) of Commonwealth troops who died in the last war and the war memorial in Kuala Lumpur.  Queen Elizabeth was 14 when the war broke out.

Fine weather blessed most of the visit.  In Singapore it rained at the time the Queen and the Princess went for a cruise along the waterfront.  Intermittent showers fell when they were in Kuching.  But it deterred neither them nor the people.

Picturesque islands and clear, limpid waters tempted the royal visitors to private picnics on two occasions - one on Pulau Tioman off the coast of Johore as they sailed down to Singapore from Thailand and the other on one of the Sembilan islands off Perak as they sailed up the Straits of Malacca to Penang.

Cultural shows wherever they went assured them of familiarity with customs, costumes, dances and music.  And they savoured local delicacies and cuisine at garden parties, receptions and banquets throughout three countries.

It was with keen anticipation that the people watched the progress of the Queen, the Duke and the Princess in Thailand - and then it was Singapore's turn.  From the moment the  Britannia set the royal visitors ashore till they left three days later it was a whirl of activity.  Greeted on arrival by President Sheares, the Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, and other dignitaries and their wives, the royal visitors were whisked to the Istana in a motorcade along a route not previously disclosed for security reasons.  Yet people were quick to spot them and say: "There goes Queen Elizabeth."

Her Majesty's Yacht Brittania

The first official function was at the Istana where there was a presentation of awards.  Queen Elizabeth and the Duke received the Order of Temasek, Singapore's highest State decoration.  Princess Anne received the Distinguished Service Order.  President Sheares in turn was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath and Collar (GCB) and Mr. Lee Kuan Yew a Knight Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG).

At a State Banquet that night the royal visitors dined on sharks fin, fried bean curd, Peking duck, chicken with walnut and sweet and sour fish.  A cultural show rounded off the evening.  Included in the show was the Republic's team of girl bagpipers.  Earlier in the afternoon Singapore's public housing flats in Toa Payoh came under royal gaze . Two families had the pleasure of having the royal visitors in their homes - much to the envy of the other flat dwellers who craned out of balconies and windows to having a good look as the royal party moved around.

Later, Queen Elizabeth moved into place the cornerstone of a new British High Commission building at the old headquarters of the new defunct British Far East Command.  More sightseeing and meetings with people followed.  The V.I.P visitors took in the sprawling Jurong complex with its 50-acre birdpark and the world's highest man-made waterfall.  Queen Elizabeth planted a tembusu tree to mark the visit.  There was the Royal Command performance by commandos of the Singapore Armed Forces and strolls in the Botanical Gardens (where an orchid was named after the British Queen) and to Pagoda Street in the heart of Chinatown.

Queen Elizabeth was entertained to a seven-course lunch at the Nanyang University, while Prince Philip lunched with members of the Joint Chambers of Commerce and the Singapore Manufacturers Association in a plush hotel.  Princess Anne, on her own, opened the new offices of the British Council and visited the House of Jade, the Swiss Cottage Primary School and the National Junior College.  Later she joined her mother at Jardine Steps for that cruise on the waterfront followed by a garden party at the Istana that had to be held indoors because of rain.  Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were ushered into one hall and Princess Anne into another; later they switched places to mingle with as many people as possible.  It all served to bring to the fore the multi-faceted life of the young republic.

To top it all there ws the day at the races for the Queen who knows the turf so well.  She presented a trophy to the winner of a 11-furlong classic to mark her visit, Jumbo Jet, ridden by English champion jockey Lester Piggot.

All too soon it was time to part, to say fond farewells.  Queen Elizabeth expressed her sentiments at a banquet given in her honour by the Prime Minister and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew.

She said: "Singapore today would do credit to the most advanced and homogenous community anywhere in the world."  She noted the republic's story of success and praised the man behind it - Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.  "To be a modern, striving and humane community demands a great variety of talent and effort," she added.

Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and President Sheares

Blogger friend,  Lam Chun See remembers Queen Elizabeth II's first visit on his Good Morning Yesterday blog.



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