As Singapore celebrates the 200th anniversary of its founding in 2019, Paul Ng looks back to 1969 when ROSL Vice Patron HRH Princess Alexandra visited to celebrate the 150th anniversary. 

Singapore commemorates its bicentenary this year! Officially launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 29 January 2019, a series of commemorative events have been organised, and they aim to showcase a journey of discovery from Singapore to Singaporean.

Notwithstanding the fact that recorded history of Singapore goes back for about 700 years, modern Singapore can trace its roots to 1819. Looking for a new settlement for the British East India Company, Sir Stamford Raffles, then-Lieutenant-General of Bencoolen (present day Bengkulu City, Sumatra) landed in Singapore on 29 January. He signed a treaty with the Sultan of Johor on 6 February and established a trading post in Singapore. Ever since, Singapore sprung to global prominence, attracting many enterprising individuals to settle in a bid to improve their livelihoods. 

Fifty years ago in 1969, Singapore marked its 150th anniversary in a high-profile manner too and in a link of special interest to the Royal Over-Seas League, Vice-Patron HRH Princess Alexandra was invited by the Singapore Government to represent HM the Queen to attend the commemoration activities. It was noted by the then-British High Commissioner, Sir Arthur de la Mare, that then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wanted to give the visit ‘all possible trappings’, including ‘as many guns as it [was] possible to fire’, and to ‘take the opportunity to make manifest [Singapore’s] connection with Britain’. Such was the warmth and enthusiasm Singapore had towards the British back then! Princess Alexandra’s visit to Singapore lasted for seven days, during which she interacted with everyday Singaporeans, officiated the opening of a reservoir, and most notably attended Singapore’s National Day Parade as the principal guest. Throughout the visit, she was warmly received by Singaporeans.

Such was the amicable relationship Singapore had with the United Kingdom after independence, these warm ties have carried on ever since. In 2015, when Singapore celebrated its 50th year of independence from the UK, foreign dignitaries were invited to the National Day Parade for the second time in history and HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, was present as HM the Queen’s representative. Even this year, as Singapore commemorates its bicentenary, British participation is present: current-British High Commissioner Scott Wightman has co-edited a book with Singaporean Law Professor Tommy Koh to ‘contribute to the collective reflection that the bicentennial of the establishment of a trading post in Singapore by Raffles and Farquhar has stimulated’.

The bilateral relationship between UK and Singapore has been described to be ‘as broad as it is deep’ and ties span across two centuries. Singapore is supportive of UK’s ‘Global Britain’ efforts too, having announced that it is open to having the benefits under its free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union apply to the UK in a separate agreement after Brexit. It is hence within reason to remain optimistic that ties will continually strengthen and cooperation deepen even further.

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