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Watching that Malay Regiment special on Life Story…

12/09/06

… the first thing that went through my head was:

Who was that babe playing LTA Adnan’s wife? She’s got that oh-so-rare mixture of hot and sweet.

Me like. Lub her long time. Hubba hubba.

The next thing that went to my head was how much of my kind of officer LTA Adnan was. He worked his way up from a lowly private to a CSM before being commissioned. He knew what being a man feels like and wasn’t just posted in from SAFTI (or the 1930’s equivalent), thinking he knows everything there is to know and expecting the rest of the men to bow down to his uberness.

However, there is no denying LTA Adnan’s and/or the Malay Regiment’s uberness. 18000 Japs, including the elite 18th Crysanthemum Division of the Japanese Imperial Guards, against the 1400 men (no, I didn’t forget a zero) of the 1st and 2nd Battalion, Malay Regiment supported by various Aussie, British and Indian brigades. They held the line for 48 hours, short on ammo and without any artillery or air cover until they were completely overrun.

Noel Barber said of the regiment in his book, Sinister Twilight:

“A regular, locally raised unit, commanded by Malay-speaking British officers, it was a living and dying illustration of the folly of not having raised more such local forces before the war in which men could defend what was their homeland, for, as Percival noted, the Malay Brigade ‘showed what esprit de corps and discipline can achieve. Garrisons of posts held their ground and many of them were wiped out almost to a man.’

The story of LTA Adnan and the Malay Regiment fascinates me, partly because it’s a heroic tale so close to home and also partly because so much of the story is lost. We don’t know the history of any of the other men. The only one having a human face seems to be LTA Adnan himself, making a comprehensive on-the-ground look of the unit in the vein of Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers impossible. An even then, details and accounts of his early life and death are disputed. A lot of details lost in obscurity because of the poor, and often non-existent, record-keeping in the Federated Malay States at the time.

What we do know is the actual Battle of Pasir Panjang itself, mostly because that battle was part of the larger Battle of Singapore and it was the last line of defence for the Alexandra Military Hospital. The Malay Regiment is just a footnote in that larger story, which really makes their sacrifice even more tragic.

I’m not sure but I think in our secondary school history texts, the Battle of Pasir Panjang didn’t even take up a paragraph. It was just sorta mentioned in passing. I don’t know why they had space for Mongkut and Chulalongkorn and even several chapters on Indonesian history but they didn’t have any for the Malay Regiment. Maybe it’s because these were Malaysian men who died for Singapore and we don’t want Singaporeans thinking well of Malaysians, do we? Better to think of them as the barbarians to the north, I guess.

It saddens me to think that their story will be completely forgotten someday. I have friends who know everything about Easy and the 101st and Bastogne, glorifying their victorious march from Normandy to Berchtesgaden but know nothing about these heroes closer to home. In a way, Pasir Panjang was our Bastogne, or maybe more accurately put, Bastogne was their Pasir Panjang. They commemorate D-Day but know nothing about Remembrance Day. Where are our poppies at Kranji Memorial?

But hey, can’t really blame them. I was like that too till I had the privilege of attending an Anzac Day memorial service last year. Was for an assignment but I had no regrets going. It was such a touching and moving service, especially when you hear “For the Fallen” being solemnly read out. And the thing that gets me most was that there were plenty of young people at the ceremony, honouring the Aussie diggers that fell at Gallipoli, Nazi Europe, Vietnam and every war that Australia was involved in. It wasn’t just for the older folks. Where is our Anzac Day, I asked. SAF Day’s a joke and no one seems to care about Remembrance Day. Felt really guilty and ashamed at that point. I am Singaporean and yet I don’t really know much about my own home. There I was holding up American GIs as heroes but know nothing about our own fallen.

The story of the Malay Regiment is important to the Malay community here, I think. We sorely lack our own heroes. And no one mention Hang Tuah, please. To stay loyal to the man that betrayed you and tried to get you killed because of his own insecurities is beyond moronic. I’m with Jebat on that one. It’s not a story I want to tell people. But LTA Adnan’s a man to look up to. He defines Malay manhood, I think. He is, if you think about it, the first modern Malay male. Taat Setia. Loyal and true, not to mention courageous and humble as well, traits we should emulate. I only score 1 out of 4 there. If I had known about him when I was younger, then maybe there would have been none of that aping of the West, looking for heroes and role models.

And it’s important in the larger context of Singapore too. These heroic stories of struggles against all odds, of the bloody and gruesome last stand, adds to the rhetoric of nation-building. Aussies see Gallipoli as their coming-of-age, as the time when they shook of their colonial shackles and come into their own in the world community. Pasir Panjang should have been Singapore’s coming-of-age story. It was the day when we realised that our colonial masters are not invincible, that they’re only human. The idea of a nation, of a homeland, of independence, of a Malaysia, of a Singapore, was born on that day.

If you’re ever at the Kranji Memorial, look for columns 385 to 404. This is the list of all those in service who died for Singapore in WW2. This list includes the Malay Regiment, Dalforce, Singapore Volunteer Corps (now serving as the PDF formation within the SAF, possibly the only unit in the SAF ORBAT to have seen combat) and many more.

Parting words from Professor Edwin Thumboo’s Adnan & Comrades At Bukit Chandu:

Deep rumbling guns; sharp whistle in the air,
Their shells rip in to churn our earth.
Then attacks propelled by fury. Yet no despair,
No crack in our resolve. Freedom’s worth

Is the blood we shed. Our cause is just;
Our sacrifice will never, ever, be in vain.
Ta’at Setia: we hold our hill, we must.
Come comrades, duty stirs our souls again.

The enemy are many; we are few
At one strategic point they boldly came,
Across a stream, up ravines wet with dew.
We bayonet-drove, we slew; left many lame.
From that clash their hatred grew.

Days and nights are sad with mourning:
Broken houses, those children we can’t find;
And for the dead, the dying and the groaning.
War has no glory, only what’s bitterly unkind.

We may yield the moment, not our inner self:
A soldier’s oath, solemn made is deep
with duty, honour, the fellowship of life itself.
These we cherish and keep,
As companions of our memory;
as guardians of our sleep.

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6 comments

  1. That was an interesting reflection. I had the honour of experiencing an Anzac Day dawn memorial service, so I can connect with what you wrote.

    I won’t get into a “what if” discussion about what possibly might happen – in terms of Singaporeans’ response – if we have a public holiday in commemoration (particularly) of our local war dead.

    But I will say that a small group of us commemorate the Battle of Pasir Panjang with a commemorative walk each year. If you haven’t done so, check out Pasir Panjang Heritage.

    The Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk is usually held on the nearest Sunday to the anniversary of the battle. Join us for the walk if you can.


  2. Dear Blokeman,

    They were an elite bunch, trained by a very insightful British commander, superfit and the cream of the crop. At Pasir Panjang they watched other soldiers stream past them retreating from Jurong, had ammunition give out, lost communitcations and air cover, and were a combination of battle-experienced and replacements.

    And espirit de corps sustained them through their battle, something George Yeo was well aware of as he once said men would die for their senior NCOs, not the flag.

    Lee Kip Lee called for a commemoration of some sort in a letter to the papers, just about the time that the remaining bungalow at Pepys Road was converted into the Reflections At Bukit Chandu. Their story is not forgotten and one present day Singaporean even named his baby after Lt. Adnan – http://tinyurl.com/2yloh

    More and more aspects of the war are remembered these days – friends at The Changi Museum led the 60th Anniversary of the Paciffic War (Sept) commemoration and historians at NTU organised a public seminar and an academic forum.

    A commemoration is also conducted each year at the Civillian War Memorial on Total Defense Day (fall off Singapore).

    Join us on Sunday, 11th February 2006 for the Battle of Pasir Panjang Anniversary Walk led by volunteer guides from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

    We share the sentiments you expressed and do draw parallels to the Easy Company and Bastogne as we were struck by the similarities. The walk begins at NUS’ University Cultural Centre where the first engagement began and ends at Reflections at Bukit Chandu.


  3. Sorry, that should be Sunday, 11th February 2007!


  4. Thanks for the info, guys. It’s nice to know that there’s a bunch of people trying to keep the history alive. I might just go for that commemorative walk next year.


  5. Interesting post. Thank you for posting


  6. It will be the 70th anniversary of the battle this year.



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