The 1949 Water Carnival

Water Carnival, 1949

One of the more memorable events of 1949 was the Water Carnival. The following account of it in The Victorian is by Yong Ming Sang, today the Chairman of Star Publications, then a pupil of Senior I. The photographs are by courtesy of Lim Hock Han, the 1949 School Swimming Captain and chief organiser of the Carnival. (A similar event, the Swimming Gala, was held five years later, in 1954, in conjunction with the V.I.'s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations):

his year the School held its first Water Carnival and although the spectators attended the Carnival in the usual expectation of a fine show - one of the traditions of the V.I. is its ability to produce splendid shows - they were amazed at the ingenuity of the novelty items, the unusual talents of the participators and especially the precise organization.

No one would have thought that this interesting show - at times it amounted to a brilliant one -was produced by no more than a talented team of boys under the supervision of the School Swimming Captain, Lim Hock Han. Not a cent was spent and whatever materials were necessary, the boys themselves procured them. It was solely the efforts of the boys that created this highly successful show and if any special credit is due, it should go to the 'brain' of the team, Lim Hock Han.

Yet behind this success, there is the story of hard work and perseverance. One of the items of the show was the Fancy Dress Competition. Many unusual fancy dresses were proposed by the boys but the difficulty was to procure them. The enthusiasm of the boys was so great that it took only a few days to obtain the necessary costumes. The school artists under George Lee drew a series of posters to publicise the Carnival; the School Orchestra under the leadership of our talented musician, Fong Ying Hong, practised zealously to provide music for the occasion. A month before the Carnival, the boys started rehearsing. Hock Han and his associate producers - all the House Swimming Captains - were busy as bees, instructing the competitors of their parts, appointing the various officials and printing the programmes. The boys had their dress rehearsal on the day before the Carnival and after the rehearsal, chairs were placed neatly in rows along the sides of the pool; the last bit of dirt was removed and everything was spick and span, ready for the big day.

(12th April, 1949). It is also interesting to add that the Water Carnival was the last V.I. show in which our former Headmaster, Mr. F. Daniel, was present before he left for England on retirement. It is very gratifying that we were able to give him such a successful farewell performance and nothing could be more appropriate as a send-off than a well organised show for Mr. Daniel was always very proud of the organising ability of the school. The morning was exceptionally fine; dazzling white clouds floated in the azure sky like the rays of the sun on a placid sea. At 2.30 p.m. the guests began to arrive and as they approached the pool, they were greeted by bright Carnival posters and at the door, many were surprised to see a creature in black from head to toe who was none other than the ticket collector. By 3.15 p.m. nearly all the seats were occupied. The clear blue water of the pool reflected the gaily coloured dresses of the damsels who formed a majority of the spectators as always in V.I. functions.

Water Carnival, 1949

At 3.30 p.m. sharp, a loud banging was heard and a few moments later, a train of comically attired characters was seen streaming into the pool. This stream of masqueraders was headed by a masked individual who was dressed in cowboy garb but held a sword in his hand. He was none other than the announcer and his team were only the officials of the Carnival. The first item was the School Teams Relay which was won by the Athletic Team. Then followed many novel relay races such as the 'Piggyback-relay' where a boy carried another boy on his back to the centre of the pool, and the boy who had been carried swam to the other end of the pool and returned to the boy to be carried back to the starting place. The 200 metres "Book Worm Relay" amused the spectators greatly for not only the participants had to read a book while they were swimming, but also had to hold an opened umbrella. Just before this race, a distant rumbling was heard and a few minutes later, the sky darkened. Many gazed fearfully upwards and their fears were justified for a sharp drizzle fell soon after. This mishap did not dampen the enthusiasm of the spectators or the spirits of the competitors, but the musical part of the programme had to be cancelled as there was no roof to shelter the musicians. Many were keenly disappointed for the school always played very fine music before the war. The Ronggeng was a very pleasant item and although the 'ladies' were slightly stiff, the dance was skilfully executed. One of the judges, Yew Yee Thye, who was dressed as a clown evoked a great deal of laughter by imitating the ronggeng dancers. Fong Ying Hong revealed another side of his talents with his performance of sleight-of-hand tricks. Many of his tricks seemed impossible and the spectators were baffled and amazed.

Then came the highlight of the day, the Fancy Dress Competition. The rain by now had abated. The competitors came out a few at a time and paraded before the judges and the spectators. The costumes were very striking and the make-up would not have shamed Hollywood. Even some of the girls envied the beautiful dresses of the 'ladies'. So numerous were the fancy dresses that many wondered how they were obtained. There were Hula Hula girls; a Dorothy Lamour accompanied by a guitar-strumming Jon Hall; a bow-legged jockey and his wife; a Malay Penghulu and his spouse; Dr. Fu Manchu; Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandma and many others. Dorothy Lamour was rather dark but had the same dreamy look that always captured Jon Hall's heart on the screen and when she leaned against a coconut tree (the diving stand) beside a blue lagoon (the swimming pool) with Jon Hall strumming his guitar before her, many of the boys sighed. Yew Yee Thye's impersonation of a clown was a hit and no one was surprised when the judges awarded him the first prize. Second prize went to Surinder Singh who as a Red Indian gave an almost too realistic performance for he scared the girls by brandishing his knife too closely at them. A jester and his kangaroo were awarded the third prize.

After the fancy dress competition, a team of swimmers coached by Hock Han gave a swimming exhibition. They formed the letters V.I. in a very clever manner and deservedly won the applause of the spectators.

The spectators reluctantly left the pool for many of them wanted more of this interesting display and there was not one present on that day who did not agree that it was a jolly good show.

S. I.

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Created on 30 January 2000.
Last update on 23 November 2003.

Contributed by: Chung Chee Min