Away from the glitzy cityscape of downtown Singapore, lies its once bloody past hidden in the green frolics and rolling hills of the west coast. I’ve been to Singapore a number of times mainly for concerts, shopping and food but this time I had another mission – to dig deep into a famous battleground and pay tribute to a great warrior who valiantly fought the Japanese to the death in World War II.
Reflections at Bukit Chandu
I took short MRT ride from the city center to the tranquil neighborhood of Pasir Panjang, where houses lined the foot of the hills while the expressway looming above provided an unnatural but much needed shade. A brisk 10 minute walk from the train station along the tiny Pepys Road led me to “Reflections at Bukit Chandu.”
It is an interpretative center that chronicles the Japanese invasion of Malaya & Singapore, the role of the 1st Malay Regiment in defending the nation and a snapshot of Lt Adnan Saidi’s life. The center is housed in an elegant bungalow built for senior British officers during the colonial era surrounded by lush greenery and a reflecting pool noticeable once you enter the gates.
The Fall Of Malaya & Singapore
The two-story bungalow holds a solid display of artifacts and information regarding the fall of Malaya and Singapore to the Japanese, including a detailed account of Battle of Pasir Panjang. This was the last key battle between the British and Japanese forces before the latter won and captured Singapore the next day.
The most overwhelming fact about the fall of Singapore was that the British thought their enemy would go on an all-out naval assault on the island so they decided to fortify the coastal batteries. However, the Japanese were smart enough to invade Malaya first before infiltrating Singapore through neighboring Johor, totally catching the British off-guard. The best part about this invasion was the Japanese troops used bicycles to march across the whole peninsula!
Battle of Pasir Panjang
Pasir Panjang was the British’s last line of defense after the northern part of the island was breached. An intense fight broke out here between both sides in a lop-sided manner – 1,400 Malay soldiers were up against 13,000 Japanese army. The two-day skirmish on 13 and 14 February 1943 brought untold damage to the belligerents but the Malay troops were inflicting much more losses on their foes although being outnumbered 9 to 1.
Their last stand was at Bukit Chandu as the Japanese finally overwhelmed their opponents by charging at them with numbers, knowing that victory was imminent. The remaining members of the 1st Malay Regiment fought to the very end as they engaged in hand-to-hand combat after all their bullets and supplies ran out, before succumbing to the piercing bayonets of their Asian foes.
“Biar Putih Tulang, Jangan Putih Mata”
Meaning “death before dishonor,” this Malay proverb was the motto of Lt Adnan Saidi, who led “C” Company of the 1st Malay Regiment in the Battle of Pasir Panjang. He was born in Kajang, Selangor and received his military training in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan. Lt Adnan was touted as a brave, loyal and smart soldier who fought to his last breath.
The Japanese disguised themselves as Indian soldiers and tried to deceive the Malay brigade as reinforcements but Lt Adnan noticed they were marching in a line of four and not the typical three. They fired at the enemy and that prevented their defense from being breached. It was also documented that the 1st Malay Regiment brought untold losses to the Japanese that when he was finally captured, his captors beat him to a pulp, tied him to a cherry tree and repeatedly stabbed him to death.
Acknowledging A Share History
It is such a humbling experience to visit an overlooked historical site that holds a piece of treasure to both Singapore and Malaysia. The men and women who fought for their people’s freedom and independence should always be held in high regard and cherished by generations to come.
Which is why it’s so refreshing to see the brave men whose life spanned both nations are given the best form of tribute here in Reflections at Bukit Chandu and I do hope the Malaysian government could emulate this simple feat. In the words of former Singapore Minister George Yeo, “If we do not remember our heroes, we will produce no heroes.”
- “Reflections at Bukit Chandu” is open Tuesdays – Sundays (closed on Mondays except public holidays) from 9:00 am – 5:30 pm. Admission is free for Singaporeans & Permanent Residents, $2.00 for tourists and foreigners and $1.00 for students and senior citizens.
- The best way to get there is by taking the MRT and alight at Pasir Panjang station (CC 26) on the Circle Line. A ride from the city center wouldn’t cost you more than $5.00 return trip.
- If you’re interested to know more on the Fall of Singapore, Discovery Channel Southeast Asia did released a documentary about it or if you’re into military strategy, do read Operation Matador on how the British failed to take into account the Japanese attack from the mainland north.