Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the book launch of "On Parade: Straits Settlements Eurasian Men who Volunteered to Defend the Empire 1862-1957" at the Singapore Management University on 27 November 2018.
Professor Elvin Lim,
Director of the SMU Wee Kim Wee Centre,
Mary Ann Jansen,
John Geno-Oehlers, and
Ann Ebert Oehlers,
Members of the “On Parade” Team,
I could not say no when Mary Ann asked me to launch the book, but there were many other reasons why I said yes. I will go through them when I say what I have to say this evening.
I am really very happy to join all of you at the launch of “On Parade”. It is a book that chronicles the history of Eurasian Volunteers in Singapore, and indeed it is a very distinguished history, a history that needs to be written.
Our Eurasian Community
Our Eurasian community has always been an essential part of Singapore’s social fabric. It is not a very large community, but it has been an important and essential community in Singapore. Although your family trees can be traced to distant lands like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal and Germany, your families have integrated, inter-married and settled in Singapore for generations and you know no other home. Singapore is home. Your community embodies the values of openness, acceptance and adaptability that all Singaporeans embrace and cherish. Although we come from different parts of the world, we have been here for many generations and you learn to live together.
The Singapore Recreation Club which was first founded by a group of Eurasians in 1883 in many ways exemplified that. In the Eurasian tradition of openness and camaraderie, the club has been admitting non-Eurasians since 1955, making it a Singaporean Club rather than a Eurasian Club. This is a true reflection of our Singaporean values, in which we have made our diversity a source of national pride. We celebrate the diversity; we accept each other with open arms. Our different ethnic groups may have our own customs and traditions, but we are able to come together as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to share experiences and work for the common good. We enjoy each other’s food, whatever it is – Devil’s Curry, sugee cakes.
You are a small community, but as I said, you are a key component of our Singapore population. You have turned this into a strength, because being small also makes it easier for you to reach out to all members of your community. I am glad that Eurasians in Singapore are a highly close-knit, active and well-supported community today, with many scholarships, bursaries, mentorship programmes, and family support services to help and take care of one another. But also, you have many activities which help to remember, preserve and develop your culture and customs.
Our Eurasians have made important contributions to our nation’s development over the years – in national and political leadership, public administration, the law, medicine, the media, as educators, writers, journalists, in sports, music and the arts, and in many other varied fields.
I have studied with, been taught by, worked with, served with and been friends with many Eurasians over the years.
The book that we are launching today celebrates an important core value of our Eurasian community, namely the spirit of service. As the book documents, Eurasians have been actively involved in safeguarding the peace and stability of our homeland by participating in the Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps since 1862. Over time, as the local Volunteer Corps took on different forms, our Eurasian volunteers continued to serve throughout the two World Wars, ever ready to defend our homeland and sacrifice for your family and friends. “Defending the Empire” through two world wars in our pre-independence days was also an awakening. If we were good enough to defend the Empire, then surely, we should be measured by our merit and contributions along with anyone else, and surely, we should be good enough to govern ourselves.
As we moved towards self-governance and independence, Eurasian volunteers continued to play an integral role in the People’s Defence Force, or PDF, which included the training of part-time National Servicemen. A good number of our volunteers, including our Eurasian volunteers, were mobilised and formed the core of our fledgling armed forces in our earliest years, and I think some of you are here today. I served under James Aeria who was the Commander of the Maritime Command, as our Navy was then known. Although the role of the PDF changed and diminished over time with the introduction of compulsory conscription and the strengthening of the Singapore Armed Forces, the spirit of the Eurasian Volunteer continues to live on, serving as an inspiration for all our National Servicemen today. I can still picture John Jansen marching very proudly, chest out, in his PDF uniform.
I thank Mary Ann Jansen, John Geno-Oehlers, Ann Ebert Oehlers, the SMU Wee Kim Wee Centre, and many others who have come together to produce this book.
Next year we mark the 200th anniversary of the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore, which changed the course of Singapore’s history. This book is an important addition to our collective history and journey as a nation as we reflect on these past two hundred years.
I am confident that this book will strengthen the identity and shared heritage of our Eurasian community, by capturing the proud tradition of service and bravery of your forefathers. I believe that the book will also help to raise greater understanding of our Eurasian community and their important contributions to nation-building, and serve to strengthen the bond of all Singaporeans to our multi-racial and multi-ethnic society.
Congratulations once again. Thank you very much.
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