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Back to Origins: The RI Crest

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Change has been a significant part of RI’s long history. The school has shifted from Bras Basah Road to Grange Road, separated into a secondary school and junior college, moved to Bishan and, as of 2009, finally re-integrated as a single school running the seamless six-year Raffles Programme. Despite the numerous changes in location, the Rafflesian spirit has remained constant, a camaraderie that reaches across the generations. Similarly, the school crest has also evolved over the years, yet there are common elements that stay true to the school ethos.

The RI crest is based on Sir Stamford Raffles’ coat of arms, with the double-headed eagle and the gryphon forming the two central elements along with other items such as the gold medallions. Each part of the crest is symbolically linked with the school`s values and goals.

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The coat of arms of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles

The circumstances surrounding the origins of the crest are somewhat hazy; school records show no specific mention of how the school crest came about. According to The Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, a record of the school’s history written by former Headmaster Mr Eugene Wijeysingha, we know only that it formally emerged ‘somewhere during the period after the Second World War’. However, an earlier iteration of the crest survives to this day in the form of the school badge.

By the sixties, one problem emerged – there was no one standard template for the school crest. Over the years, students had been drawing the crest without fully understanding the significance of the symbols in the crest. As a result, the proportions and colours of the crest varied in accordance with the person drawing it.

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One of the earliest official RI crests, this was taken from a book prize awarded in 1918.

This crest was taken from the December 1932 volume of The Rafflesian. It is most likely a student-drawn copy of the official crest at the time.

 

This changed when Mr Philip Liau entered the scene. Shortly after he joined RI in 1966 as Headmaster, he called upon Mr Wong Suan Shee and Mr Lee Suan Hiang, who were the teacher-in-charge and chairman of the Art Club respectively at that time, and tasked them with the project of bringing the crest ‘back to its origins’. 

Mr Wong, who is now retired, recalls, ‘We redesigned the crest around the end of the year. A former art teacher, Mr Liau pointed out various parts of the different versions of the crest that were in use at that time and showed me what to modify.’

Mr Lee, from the Class of 1968 and who is now the Executive Director of the Arts and Culture Development Office at the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, remembers being called into Mr Liau’s office and given a book on English heraldry. ‘Mr Liau marked out various pages in his books on hereditary crests and symbols for my reference,’ he says, ‘I remembered adding in the ermine tails in the background which are insignias of Sir Stamford Raffles’ knighthood. The leaves at the side are actually ivy leaves. Based on these inputs, I drew what I felt was as close as possible to the true original crest.

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The RI crest, after its redesign in 1966,
by Mr Liau, Mr Wong and Mr Lee

Possibly derived from the 1966 crest, this appeared in the school newsletter, Rafflesian Times, as well as in the school’s official correspondence in the 1970s.

 

Mr Ong Eng Hin, from the Class of 1971 and a member of RI’s Board of Governors, recalls running an errand at the art room one day as a young Secondary One boy and seeing Mr Lee, three years his senior, hard at work painting the new crest. To him, the crest has symbolic meaning. ‘It represents the school and the school body. Human beings look for symbols to bind them together, like the flag of a country, and this is one of the symbols that bind us as the Rafflesian community.’

Soon after the crest was redesigned, it fell upon the Art Club again to decorate the school for Sports Day. Mr Wong and his students had to work through the weekend doing silkscreen-printing, but their efforts were rewarded when they saw the whole of RI decked out in an array of flags and coloured pennants bearing the new crest. ‘In those days, the RI flags were all done in-house,’ Mr Wong recounts, ‘I was very honoured to be part of this process.’

Since then, the crest has ingrained itself deeply into the Rafflesian psyche, becoming the one thing that Rafflesians of all ages identify with most. The eagle and gryphon, faithful guardians of RI all these years, sit resplendent in the crest of Raffles, and will do so for generations to come.

 

Are you interested in sharing your story about the RI crest? Please email us at [email protected]

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