Straits Times: Crowds line streets to witness start of final journey

Young, old, locals and expats brave downpour outside Parliament House


THE scene of unprecedented crowds for the lying in state, Parliament House still saw scores turn up yesterday to witness the start of the end of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's final journey.

By about 10am, more than 200 people - young, old, Singaporeans, expatriates, tourists - were lining the streets outside Parliament House. Some had turned up as early as five hours before the funeral procession was due to start, to pay their final respects.

A light drizzle, followed by heavy rain and strong winds, did little to dampen their spirits.

At about 11.45am - 45 minutes before the cortege was scheduled to set off - the road in front of Parliament House was closed.

This prompted mourners to surge forward to take up vacant space and police officers had to step in to maintain order.

When the combined military and police band started playing, leading a marchpast comprising military personnel and students to the front of Parliament House, some in the crowd shouted "Umbrellas down", so that the view of those behind would not be blocked.

A young man's comment - "Rain, never mind, tomorrow take MC (sick leave)" - raised cheers from those around him.

Soon after, the ceremonial gun carriage carrying Mr Lee's casket emerged from the front gates of Parliament House.

The crowd, drenched from head to toe, broke out into chants of "We love you, Mr Lee", "Thank you, sir" and "You made us, Mr Lee" as the casket made its way down North Bridge Road before turning into Parliament Place.

Walking behind before they got into their vehicles after a short distance were Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and other family members. They were joined by current and former Members of Parliament, including Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong. The group also included former MPs Mahmud Awang, Chan Chee Seng and Chiam See Tong, with the latter two in wheelchairs but determined to be present.

The gun carriage was escorted by 48 personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces and Singapore Police Force in ceremonial uniforms.

Some in the crowd wept but private tutor Ong Than Eng, 64, proudly chanted "Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Kuan Yew, God bless Lee Kuan Yew". He said: "We've shed enough tears. I cried when Mr Lee was in the Singapore General Hospital and when I paid my respects to him at Parliament House, but he's in a better place now."

Others like Madam Ang Quee Whuay, 83, could not hold back their tears. She said that, if not for Mr Lee and the Government's education subsidies, she would not have been able to put her five children through school after her husband died.

She queued for five hours last Thursday to pay her final respects at Parliament House and turned up again yesterday morning. "I'm just too thankful," she said as she wiped away her tears.

There were tourists present, too, such as Australians Brian Edgley, 67, who is retired, and his wife Susan Gilmore, 63, an administration officer. The couple had not planned to witness the funeral procession but ended up staying instead of going to Gardens by the Bay. Mr Edgley recalled: "In our 20s, anything to do with Asia, Lee was it."

About an hour after the cortege had passed, the streets had emptied and the crowd had moved to City Hall MRT Station, where train officers had to stop people at the entrances to avoid congestion inside.