By Bryan Chua (14A01A)
As RI celebrated its 190th anniversary, the theme ‘Great Expectations’ encouraged Rafflesians past and present to reflect on the journey Raffles has taken and the milestones it has achieved to arrive at where we stand today. With this, the school launched its first Memory & Artefact Donation Drive (MADD) in 2013 to collate pieces of Rafflesian history donated by alumni. These artefacts will be preserved and displayed at the Raffles Archives and Museum; which is currently under construction and is scheduled to open later this year.
Henry Ford once said, ‘Every object has a story to tell if you know how to read it.’ We trawled through crates of items to search for ten objects that bring to life a side of the Raffles story that, while less well-known, nonetheless forms an integral part of the school’s identity.
At first glance, this seems like any other school flag used for morning assembly— but it isn’t. This flag was used by the rugby team after winning the ‘A’ Division rugby final back in 1990, held at the Padang. Fathul was one of the senior players on the team that year, and they sang the school anthem to the flag, as was the tradition after every final. Being in his final year in RI, Fathul then decided to ‘hold on to the flag as a keepsake’.
Of course, Fathul would like to remind all that the flag was technically ‘stolen’ property, despite his noble intentions—and that he does not encourage such acts. Rather, he hopes that Rafflesians will view the flag as representative of the school spirit Fathul and his teammates had (and still have).
2. Rafflesian Times
The Rafflesian Times has had a long standing history as the school’s student-run publication. Notable past editors include Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. Formerly known as the RI Times, the paper featured articles on the major happenings in the school, such as sporting results, messages from the principal, and announcements of new prefects, and was in essence a student newspaper.
The Rafflesian Times was relaunched in July 2013, combining the student newsletter with the Eagle Eye school magazine and the ONE alumni magazine to become the school’s new official publication. It is currently written by the members of Raffles Publications (Year 1–4) and Raffles Press (Year 5–6) in conjunction with alumni and staff from the Communications department.
3. First Female Prefect Blazer
In its early years, the Raffles Institution Prefectorial board (RIPB) was an all-male organisation despite the then co-ed environment—until Leaena Chelliah (Mrs Leaena Tambyah) became the first female prefect in the school. The blazer belongs to Mrs Tambyah, who attended RI from 1955–1956. Mrs Tambyah was nominated to the Prefectorial board by RI Principal Mr John Young in 1955.
As the first female prefect on the RIPB, Mrs Tambyah was not just a student leader, but a pioneer for the subsequent generations of female prefects in the school, and the female councillors after the formation of RJC.
4. Mount Sinai Railroad Tracks
The Mount Sinai campus housed RJC from 1990 to 2004, and one of the most significant parts of the campus would be the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway which ran behind the school. The KTM train was especially known to disrupt morning assembly on a daily basis, often running past the school in the middle of the daily morning announcements.
The school has retained some sleepers taken from the original railway—these will be treated and placed in the Looi Eng San Memorial Garden, which is currently under renovation.
5. Blazer Crests
Dr Kevin Tan was elected to the RIPB in 1979, and donned the Raffles blazer when representing RI at various events and competitions, such as the Current Affairs Quiz and the SBC Debates (Raffles emerged champion in both events).
Aside from the RIPB crest (bottom left) and the school crest (bottom right), there is a third, special crest (middle) embroidered with gold thread, which was given to those who won school colours—‘the greatest honour the school could bestow on anyone’. The crest is no longer found on any blazer today, making this a rather extraordinary artefact from the past.
6. Grange Road School Crest
The Grange Road campus was home to Raffles from March 1972 till 1990, the same year RI attained its independent status. This crest was the prominent feature on the entrance to the school gates.
The Grange Road campus now houses the Ministry of Education’s Gifted Education branch.
7. Raffles Institution Military Band Uniform
Known for its ‘sharp precision military marching’, the RIMB was one of the top school bands in Singapore, and it was also the first to adopt the all-black outfit. The uniform was changed somewhere around the mid-1970s, championed by Principal Mr Philip Liau, who was ‘one of the great supporters of the band’, and ‘had a hand in designing the uniform’. Former RIMB member Mr Bryan Chang (RI, 1980; RJC, 1982) recalls how ‘the black beret with the red feather (in addition to) the black uniform stood out very well against the green colour of the field’. The all-black uniform was later adopted by schools across Singapore.
8. Rugby Jersey
Mr Mok Yew Fun was a member of the Raffles Rugby team from 1957 to 1962, playing for the RI First Team (equivalent to the A-Division) from Secondary 3 onwards. He was also the first school student to play rugby for Singapore in 1962. As part of the national team, Mr Mok played games in Malaysia (then Malaya), and remembers ‘travelling by train to play in Negeri Seremban, Selangor and other states’. He was one of two Chinese players in a team comprising mostly expatriates.
9. Graffiti Table
This special table has been painted over several times by Mr Greddy Khong, Operations Manager at RJC until 2008. It used to be vandalised on a regular basis, but not by random streaks of paint—this table featured all kinds of messages, from expletives to hearts, sketches or a teenager’s longing for love.
As a result, Mr Khong would show up at the end of every year and douse the table in a fresh coat of black paint, free for students to draw on once again the following year. What makes this table even more incredible is how, because of this table, students would no longer vandalise other parts of the school (like toilet doors or school walls), and the table became the central focus point for Rafflesians attempting to ‘go rogue’.
The iconic photo from the Bras Basah campus in 1972 was taken with this Nikon SLR, which belonged to Mr Low Hou Loke, the 1966 senior team rugby captain and also the person who took the photo 41 years ago. Featuring the entire staff and student population of RI, the photo was taken on RI’s last day at the Bras Basah campus in 1972 before it moved to Grange Road.
The day before the shoot, the school had the scouts build a structure on the parade grounds as a form of ‘scaffolding’, to enable Mr Low to take the aerial shot. Principal Mr Philip Liau requested Mr Low (who was an alumni by then) to return to RI to take the photo. With assistance from the scouts and Mr Roney Tan, Mr Low took his camera, climbed atop the structure and took the well-known photo, which can be found on the wall outside the former Raffles Heritage Centre.
These ten objects alone hardly tell the history of the school, but each individual object donated portrays its own facet of the Rafflesian story. As the Raffles Archives and Museum moves towards completion, the MADD is still ongoing and the school appeals to all Rafflesians, past and present, to donate items they wish to see preserved and kept in the museum for generations to come. Rafflesians who are keen to donate their memorabilia can contact Mrs Cheryl Yap (HOD, Archives & Museum) at firstname.lastname@example.org.