Total Defence Day in Singapore

Total Defence Activities
Image adapted from: Woodlands Ring Secondary School, YangZheng Primary School

Memories of primary and secondary school days can get a bit fuzzy for 90s kids like myself. But through all the events we had in school, I remember Total Defence Day the clearest. From having no electricity for a couple of hours to taking part in emergency drills, it was a day where we got to experience a very different reality.

As Total Defence Day approaches on the 15th February 2020, let’s relive some of the activities we used to do in school to commemorate this day:

1. Covering classroom windows with black trash bags

Cover windows with trash bags
Image credit: Woodlands Ring Secondary School 

A classic Total Defence Day activity, an announcement would be made over the PA system about an impending air raid and every class would have to transform their classrooms into a make-shift bunker.

During the blackout exercise, we would switch off all the lights and put up black trash bags to cover the windows in the classroom with a copious amount of tape to reduce any shattering.

Not only did this activity teach us the skills to protect ourselves in the case of an air raid, but it also showed us the importance of banding together during times of crisis to keep each other safe.

2. Bombing scenario with injured students and teachers

Bombing scenario first-aid
Image credit: Anchor Green Primary School

Total Defence Day was seemingly always fun and games, until you experience a “bombing”, that is. Nothing can erase the low-key traumatising memory of watching my friends and teachers “bleeding” or being carried away on stretchers even if it was just a ruse.

For the rest of us who weren’t on the planning team, this roleplay allowed us to practise emergency evacuation procedures. While we quickly figured out that it wasn’t real, it was enough to scare us into realising the importance of being prepared in a situation like this.

3. Rationing of sweet potato and porridge for recess

Sweet potato and porridge ration
Image credit: YangZheng Primary School

To mimic food shortages during wartime, we would all be rationed steamed sweet potatoes and plain rice porridge for recess. As someone who loves sweet potato, I couldn’t understand why my friends would look at their food like it was akin to poison.

Considering that we couldn’t bring our own food or buy our usual chicken nuggets from the canteen, we better learnt to appreciate all that we could enjoy on a daily basis.

4. Experiencing black market conditions

Milo Black market conditions
Milo more than doubled in price – a sight which no student wanted to ever see
Image credit: Zhonghua Secondary School 

Another way to feed ourselves was through food ration tickets that were given to us to purchase exorbitantly priced sweet drinks and snacks.

To really reflect black market conditions, highly sought-after items like Milo would see an increase in price – about $2 instead of the usual $0.80. It wasn’t uncommon then to see groups of students huddling over their tickets to see how much could be pooled together to buy a packet of snacks to share.

5. No electricity for a couple of hours

To make us appreciate the modern comforts we were used to having every day like lights and fans, we were subjected to lessons in the breezeless dark. This was to resemble limited and erratic electricity supply during times of emergency. 

For 40 sweaty students trapped in a dark classroom without ventilation for 1-2 hours, it was sweet bliss when we could finally turn everything back on.

6. Watching N.E.mation! videos

N.E.mation! 2020 - 明天见 (See You Tomorrow), by Huat Ah! 888 (Nanyang Polytechnic)
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N.E.mation! 2020 - 明天见 (See You Tomorrow), by Huat Ah! 888 (Nanyang Polytechnic)


Video credit: Nanyang Polytechnic

These 30-second long animations – 60 seconds back in the day – were made by secondary school and pre-university students who would share their thoughts and the meaning behind Total Defence. 

On the morning of Total Defence Day, the principal would start off with a talk on total defence before playing the top N.E.mation! clips for us. If your canteen had TV screens, you would probably remember them being screened on a loop during recess too.

7. Visiting Singapore Discovery Centre

Singapore Discovery Centre

Back in primary school, no Total Defence Day commemoration would be complete without an excursion to the Singapore Discovery Centre. It was there where we would learn about how Singapore transformed from a developing nation to a first-world city-state, our constraints and the threats to our country’s security. 

Through hands-on activities, we would learn about our parts to play as citizens during times of need such as administering first-aid. Besides being able to get out of lessons for the day, it was also a place where we could bond with our classmates and learn something new away from the classroom.

Commemorating Total Defence Day at Singapore Discovery Centre

Singapore Discovery Centre Will You Do You Exhibition

While we may have fond memories of commemorating Total Defence Day as a kid, most of us don’t observe it as much as adults. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

From 21st January to 22nd March 2020, head down to Singapore Discovery Centre for Will You Do You? – a special exhibition commemorating Total Defence Day 2020. 

The escape room-like exhibition will bring you through a dystopian future where we fail to defend ourselves against geopolitical threats that we face today. Each zone of the exhibition covers a critical threat from digital threats to climate change and trade wars.

Singapore Discovery Centre Will You Do You Exhibition

To find a way out to a brighter future – one where threats have been averted due to our united defence, you’ll have to find clues through interactive displays and piece them together to form a password. 

Not to worry – the clues are hidden pretty much in plain sight so all you have to do is look a little closer. If you’re not sure what to do next, just approach any of the guides who will be happy to assist you.

Singapore Discovery Centre Will You Do You Exhibition

By doing things like practising the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – and not sharing fake news, we are already playing a part on the individual level. Singapore relies on every citizen to be prepared for times of crisis to build a strong, secure and cohesive city.

Singapore Discovery Centre Will You Do You Exhibition

Defence for our country should not go overlooked, and this exhibition is a great reminder of how important Total Defence Day really is. Besides, it’ll be a great activity to experience with your family and friends, while reliving memories from your school days! 

Find out more about the Will You Do You? exhibition here

This post was brought to you by Singapore Discovery Centre.
Photography by Pichan Cruz.

510 Upper Jurong Road,
Singapore Discovery Centre,
Singapore 638365
21 Jan - 22 Mar 2020
9:00 am - 6:00 pm
Things to note:

Price: Free for Singaporeans and PRs, $10 for non-Singaporeans

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