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"When war broke out in the Far East, the (Malay) Regiment was in process of expansionlike many other units of our Imperial Force, (it) was not fully prepared for the ordeal which it was to face. Nevertheless, these young and untried soldiers acquitted themselves in a way which bore comparison with the very best troops in Malaya. In particular, by their stubborn defence of the Pasir Panjang Ridge at the height of the Battle of Singapore, they set an example of steadfastness and endurance which will become a great tradition in the Regiment and an inspiration for the future generations."

General A. E. Percival, the Commander-in-Chief of the Malayan Command

 

 

 

The Malay Regiment: "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."

General A. E. Percival, the Commander-in-Chief of the Malayan Command

 

 

 

 

“Lt. Adnan came to my stockade through the communication trench. He asked me to help him. He wanted to fire the machine gun, so he needed me to change the magazines while he was firing. Incidentally, the Japanese were coming from the front of the stockade positions. They were wearing disguises. So Adnan opened fire. The Japanese soldiers scattered when they were fired on, and many died. Then Adnan said to me, ‘Mr. Abbas, if I should die today, I am quite willing as long as someone can look after my family.’ Those were his last words and that was the last time I saw him alive.”

Datuk Abbas Manan recalling the last time he spoke with 2nd Lt. Adnan Saidi

Far Left: Japanese soldiers assaulting 'Opium Hill'

 

Left: 2nd Lt.Adnan Saidi

National Archives

 

 

 

 

Left & Below: Malay Regiment mortar units

National Archives

The Royal Malay Regiment

The Royal Malay Regiment or Askar Melayu was formed on 1st March 1933 with an “experimental” unit of 25 Malay recruits under a British officer. It was termed ‘experimental’ because at this stage, it was only an atttempt according to Maj.Gen. G.Bruce, OBE, MC (ret) to “find out how the Malays will react to military discipline.”

The British colonial administrators were reluctant and cautious about arming and training Malays for regular units, partly due to the belief that the Malays, with their laid-back, leisurely temperament and lack of military traditions were unsuitable for strict military discipline. But more importantly, the British were worried that the well-trained and well-armed Malays might be involved in rivalries among Malay chiefs for power and control of the lucrative tin-mining areas which were widespread in the Malay states. It was only in 1933 that the British finally changed their minds mainly because of the high costs of hiring the Burma Rifles from India.

Maj. G. Bruce, a liberal and a wise officer, was appointed by the British to be the first Commanding Officer. Although all military commands were in English, Malay was used widely for instructions. Bruce realised that this arrangement would assist many non-English educated Malays in their learning and it could thus train as many non-commissioned Malay officers to staff the new regiment as possible. British officers from the Commanding Officer downwards were expected to learn Malay and subsequently to know something about Malay customs and the Muslim religion. Maj. Bruce, for instance, took a short Malay language course. In addition, there was also the appointment of a regimental religious teacher in the unit.

Competitions were frequently held to get the best out of the men on parade and in the field. The instructors also aimed at developing in the Malay soldiers a sense of patriotism, a love for their country and loyalty to their rulers. Special attention was paid to food, social recreation and the general welfare of the soldiers.

In keeping the name "Malay Regiment", efforts were made to retain the distinctive Malay character. Maj. Bruce conceived the idea of a Regimental mufti embodying the Malay national dress. He argued that for esprit de corps, British personnel serving in the regiment had to wear the Malay Regiment uniform which would identify them from the onset with the Malay Regiment rather than with their own British units. A regimental badge was created containing the motto: "Ta'at dan Setia" (loyal and true). Three regimental colours were chosen for the regiment - green representing Islam, yellow for Malay royalty, and red for the British army. These unique uniform, motto and regimental colours were well accepted by members of the unit. As expected, the Malay soldiers responded "extremely well" and serious breaches of discipline were rare, according to its Commanding Officer. The high standard of training, sensitive and matured management must have contributed greatly to its special quality.

The Malay soldiers did not take long to prove themselves to be highly disciplined and credible fighting men. On 1st January, 1935, the “experimental” company became The Malay Regiment with a compliment of 150 men. Recruitment speeded up with another 232 recruits, 2 rifle companies were started and a HQ Wing that included a Vickers platoon, a signalling section and a corps of drums. Trained in Port Dickson, Malaya, the regiment also went through a 3-month attachment with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Singapore. In 1936, advanced training for the regiment was carried out in Singapore from 1937 and again in January and February 1938 for drills in battalion and other military exercises. The performance of the Malay Regiment was so impressive that there was a call by the locals to establish a similar regular regiment in Singapore. As the shadow of war loomed larger, training was intensified. Long route marches - No.3 platoon of A company covered a record 104 miles in 4 days, 4 hours and 15 minutes, and exercises at battalion and brigade levels became frequent. The soldiers also began training with mortars and anti-tank weapons. They were also well know for their marksmanship.

The unit remained small until 1939, when it was expanded into the 1st Battalion of the Royal Malay Regiment (Rejimin Askar Melayu DiRaja). On 1st December 1941, some of the trained officers of the 1st Battalion were drafted to form the 2nd Battalion under the command of Lt.Col.F.Y.Young. The Japanese attacked Malaya just one week later. The two battalions formed the 1st Malaya Brigade, and fought on the mainland alongside 44th Indian Brigade.

2nd Lieutenant Adnan Saidi

Among the Royal Malay Regiment’s early recruits was Adnan Saidi, a well-educated young man from Kajang when he enlisted in 1933 at the age of 18. Selected as the unit’s best soldier, he became the first Malay NCO in 1936 when he was promoted to sergeant. In the following year, he was chosen to represent his platoon in a military parade in London to honour the ascension of King George VI to the throne. Shortly thereafter, Adnan Saidi was promoted yet again to coy-sergeant-major and headed for Singapore for an officer conversion course. Upon graduation as a 2nd lieutenant, he became the commander of 7th Platoon, C Coy of the1st Malay Regiment.

Adnan had married schoolteacher Sofiah Fakir after winning his commission, and now moved his family to the safety of Singapore. They took up residence among the British officers’ families in the Pasir Panjang area. But there was no safety to be had - within weeks, the Japanese had forced their way ashore.

Alarmed, Adnan sent his pregnant wife and two small children back to Kajang. “I was only four,” his oldest son, Mokhtar, recalled later. “I did not realize that it would be the last time I would see my father. My brother and I kissed our father's hand before he left us. He did not say much. He merely told us to take care of ourselves and not be naughty. I could see that my mother was very sad. She did not say anything.”

On 11 February, Japanese troops advancing with tanks down Jurong Road, Ulu Pandan Road and Reformatory Road expected to sweep everything before them. Australian troops fighting nearby looked on with horror at what happened next. “The Malays started to fight the Japanese on Reformatory Road,” said Lt. Penrod V. Dean of the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion. “They had dug slit trenches but they didn't have a lot of weapons. They started fighting the Japanese just with rifles virtually. And when the Japanese broke through them, the Malays took to them with bayonets, they put bayonets on the rifles and with a bayonet charge they drove the Japanese back across Reformatory Road. They were very brave people. They fought very hard, but for every Malay soldier there was about 10 or 12 Japanese soldiers. So it was inevitable what was going to happen.”

On 13 February 1942, with the British-led defense of Singapore collapsing, the remnants of 1st Battalion, about 300 men, took up positions on Bukit Chandu, or Opium Hill, site of an opium processing plant in the early 1900s that later became a trendy housing area for senior British officials - the very spot where Adnan had sent his family. Over the next 48 hours, wave after wave of Japanese from the elite 18th “Chrysanthemum” Division broke on the hill. The Malays fought them all back in savage hand-to-hand combat.

At the front of the defense stood C Company. Capt. H.R. Rix told his men they would retreat no further, and that he would die with them where they stood. In a bungalow at 31K Pepys Road, Rix stationed 42 men led by Adnan. Repeatedly the Japanese fought their way into the buildings under a shower of grenades, and just as often the Malays threw them back out. At the Alexandra Brickworks, D Company also stood fanatically, mowing down hundreds of Japanese who came forward in human-wave assaults.

“Lt. Adnan came to my stockade through the communication trench,” Datuk Abbas Manan, one of the 42 heroes, remembered. “He asked me to help him. He wanted to fire the machine gun, so he needed me to change the magazines while he was firing. Incidentally, the Japanese were coming from the front of the stockade positions. They were wearing disguises. So Adnan opened fire. The Japanese soldiers scattered when they were fired on, and many died. Then Adnan said to me, ‘Mr. Abbas, if I should die today, I am quite willing as long as someone can look after my family.’ Those were his last words and that was the last time I saw him alive.”

Adnan, suffering from several bullet and shrapnel wounds and a broken arm, refused to leave his men and fought alongside them with pistol, and finally as ammunition ran out, his bare hands. Grievously wounded, Adnan was instantly recognized as the short berserker who had personally killed dozens of Japanese. His captors beat him savagely, then slowly killed him with bayonet thrusts.

The next day, the British surrendered. The Japanese separated officers and men among their prisoners, sending the Malay rank and file to join Indian enlisted men in an enclosure at Farrer Park. All the battalion’s British officers had died fighting.

Two days later, Sofiah gave birth to a daughter, who died soon afterwards. Sofiah survived the war but died in 1949, leaving her two young boys in foster care.

Five other Malay officers were captured by the Japanese. “My husband Ibrahim Sidek and his friends were told by the Japanese to take off their Malay Regiment uniforms and accept release,” Sharifah Khadijah Hamid recounted years later. “They refused. They didn't even want to remove their badges of rank. A week later, the Japanese executed them. My children were still very young, too young to know their father. His body was never found. We cannot even remember him with a grave.”

 


References:

Reflections at Bukit Chandu, National Heritage Board, Singapore

Lim Choo Hoon, The Battle of Pasir Panjang Revisited
http://www.mindef.gov.sg/SAFTI/pointer/back/journals/2002/Vol28_1/1.htm

Lim Choo Hoon, a lecturer in Military History Branch, SAFTI Military Institute recounts in his article, The Battle of Pasir Panjang Revisited:

"The first battle between the Malay Regiment and Japanese soldiers occured on 13 February at around 1400 hrs.16 The Japanese 18th Division started to attack the south-western coast along the Pasir Panjang ridge and astride of Raja Road. The Japanese 56th Infantry Regiment, supported by a considerable force of artillery, attacked the ridge during the morning. One of the units defending the line was the B Coy of the Malay Regiment. Under the heavy fire of the Japanese troops supported by artillery and tanks, the B Coy was forced to retreat to the rear. But before all of them could retreat, the Japanese army succeeded in breaking through B Coy's position. In the battle, B Coy troops fought hand-to-hand combat using bayonets against the Japanese. A few from B Coy managed to save themselves while others were caught as prisoners-of-war. This penetration led to the withdrawal after dark of both 44th Indian and 1st Malay Bde to the general line Mount Echo (junction of Raja and Depot Road) Buona Vista.

Battle of Opium Hill

On 14th February, the Japanese again launched a heavy attack at 0830 hours, supported by intense mortar and artillery fire, on the front held by the 1st Malay Bde. The defenders beat off this and a number of other attacks. The fighting included bitter hand-to-hand combat, and losses from both sides were heavy. At 1600 hours an attack supported by tanks eventually succeeded in penetrating the left, and the defenders on this flank were forced back to a line from the junction of the Ayer Rajar and Depot Road through the Brick Works and along the canal to Bukit Chermin. Owing to the failure of units on both its flanks to hold their ground, the 1st Malay Bde withdrew at 1430 hours. It was at this point that C Coy of the Malay Regiment received instructions to move to a new defence positionPt. 226, Opium Hill.

Opium Hill or Bukit Chandu in Malay was named after an opium-processing factory located at the foot of the hill. This was also where C Coy of the Malay Regiment made their final stand against the Japanese attack. Opium Hill was a key defence position for two important reasons. It was situated on high ground overlooking the island to the north; and secondly, if the Japanese gained control of the ridge, it gave them direct passage to the Alexandra area. The British army had its main ammunition and supply depots, military hospital and other key installations located in the Alexandra area.

C Coy's position was separated from D Coy by a big canal. Oil was burning in the canal, which flowed from Normanton Depot. The burning oil prevented C Coy soldiers from retreating further south. C Coy was under the command of CPT Rix, a brave and daring British officer. CPT Rix encouraged the soldiers to defend Opium Hill down to the last soldier. His bravery was exemplified in the battle and he was killed together with many of his Malay Regiment soldiers in the last defence battle at Pasir Panjang.

The Japanese troops pressed their attack on Opium Hill in the afternoon but under the guise of a deception. They sent a group of soldiers, dressed in Punjabi uniforms, passing themselves off as Punjabi soldiers from the British army. C Coy saw through this trick as they knew that the Punjabi soldiers of the British army usually marched in a line of three whereas the Japanese disguised Punjabi soldiers were in a line of four. When the disguised soldiers reached the Malay Regiment's defence line, C Coy's squad opened fire on them with their Lewis machine guns. Some of the Japanese troops were killed and the rest badly wounded. Those who survived rolled and crawled downhill to save themselves.

Two hours later, the Japanese launched an all-out assault in great numbers. The attack overwhelmed the strength of the Malay Regiment. Greatly outnumbered and short of ammunition and supplies, the Malay Regiment continued to resist the Japanese troops. All kinds of arms such as grenades, small arms and bayonets were used by troops of the Malay Regiment. It was reported that 2LT Adnan handled a Lewis machine gun against the Japanese troops. Some soldiers engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat using bayonets. Yet, they stood their ground frustrating their enemy. In the ensuing battle, men and officers fell. 2LT Adnan was seriously wounded but he refused to retreat and instead encouraged his men to fight to the last. It was this disregard of danger that inspired the coy to stand up gallantly.

Mubin Sheppard, an ex-officer and former POW, had this to say about his friend, the late 2LT Adnan, "He was heavily outnumbered by the Japanese they bombed him but he fought on fiercely and inflicted heavy losses on them. Adnan would have never surrendered under any circumstances. He was absolutely dedicaded. In fact, just before fighting, he adopted a motto for his platoon, "biar putih tulang, jangan putih mata" (death before dishonour).

Corporal Yaakob, who won a Medal of Gallantry after the war, was one of the few who survived Opium Hill. During the chaos of the battle, he fell and landed on top of the bodies of the dead soldiers. He escaped death by lying motionless among the pile of bodies and witnessed the gruesome death of Adnan Saidi. He said that the resistance of the Malay Regiment angered the Japanese, and when they captured 2LT Adnan, they dragged and pushed him into a gunnysack. The Japanese soldiers then hung him by his legs on a cherry tree and then bayoneted him again and again. His throat was slit repeatedly. Even after the battle, no one was allowed to bring his body for burial. No one dared.

Another eyewitness, Burhan Muslim, who had lived along Bukit Chandu, recalled going up the hill with his cousin a few days after the battle. In one of the white bungalows that stood on the hill at Pepys Lane, he saw the dismembered bodies of Malay soldiers everywhere. In one of the rooms laid the body of a Malay soldier. His throat had been slit several times. His uniform was soaked with blood. Judging from the badges he had on his uniform, Burhan believed that he was an officer. He felt that the body could have been that of 2LT Adnan Saidi.

For the entire Malayan Campaign, but largely on 12, 13 and 14 February 1942 in Singapore, the Malay Regiment suffered a total of 159 killed (six British officers, seven Malay officers, and 146 other ranks) and a large but unspecified number wounded.

Conclusion

From a purely military operational perspective, the Battle of Pasir Panjang had little significance. The battle could not change the outcome of the fate of Singapore and it was a matter of time before the British would surrender to the Japanese 25th Army. Those who look at only the tactical significance, however, will miss a very important lesson. The Battle of Pasir Panjang, and the Battle of Opium Hill in particular, manifested the acme of the fighting spirit in battle. In the words of Noel Barber, the author of Sinister Twilight, the Malay Regiment was described thus: "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."

And as Percival noted, the Malay Regiment: "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 48-hour Battle of Pasir Panjang put up by men and officers of the Malay Regiment exemplified the highest form of "duty, honour and country" that soldiers can show in war. The courage, bravery, and sacrifice to defend Singapore island despite the foregone defeat of British forces will always remain one of the highlights in the story of the Battle of Singapore."

 

 

 

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