Last stand of Malay Regiment retold at reopened museum

Reflections at Bukit Chandu tells the heroic WWII story through an immersive multimedia show

The story of the valiant Malay Regiment that defended Singapore against 13,000 Japanese troops during World War II has been given a fresh retelling, with the reopening of Reflections at Bukit Chandu.

After three years of closure for upgrading, the bungalow museum in Kent Ridge Park, sited not far from where the soldiers made their last stand, reopened with a ceremony yesterday.

Local poet Aqmal N. paid tribute to the 1,400 soldiers - whose regiment was created and trained by the British - in a poem, Tanah Sang Perwira, or A Hero's Land, during the 15-minute virtual event.

"In the end, in the end, heroism exists. Peace blooms. The moment fear dissolves - even if the body lies buried," he recited in Malay.

More than 100 soldiers of the Malay Regiment died in the heated battle at their last stand in Pasir Panjang over three days in February 1942. The battle, at times, involved hand-to-hand combat.

Fighting against enemy troops nine times their number, the Malay Regiment always faced an uphill battle. But the men refused to surrender, using their motto, Ta'at Setia, or Loyal and True, as a rallying cry.

Commander Adnan Saidi, who has, over the course of history, become the face of the regiment for his willingness to fight to the death, is said to have shouted "biar putih tulang, jangan putih mata", or "better to die than to live in shame".

He was captured, shot and bayoneted by the Japanese troops.

Mr Yatiman Yusof, a former senior parliamentary secretary for information, communications and the arts who was key in founding the museum in 2002, said Lieutenant Adnan's ethos should be imparted to young Singaporeans today.

Mr Yatiman was interviewed during the online ceremony.

"When we first thought (of founding the museum), underlying the thinking was that Singapore lacked historical memorials that can be shared generation after generation," he said.

"Reflections at Bukit Chandu can... show that there were occasions when our very survival was being threatened."

Each soldier should learn to love the country and be prepared to sacrifice his life if necessary, Mr Yatiman added.

"At one time in our history, we fought with our blood, with our tears, with our lives. This is the essence we want to drive home to young Singaporeans."

The revamped Reflections at Bukit Chandu, run by the National Museum, features fresh elements, including footage of Lt Adnan drilling his troops that is believed to be the only surviving clip of the national hero.

A multimedia show has been created to tell the story in a more immersive way, while the pre-war history of the site, including its significance as an opium packing plant, has been added to interest those less keen on war history.

In the past, those who were at the bungalow would have been able to look out to Keppel Harbour, without having their view obscured by the vegetation that now grows between the building and the harbour.

And before the British in 1848 blew up Longyamen, or Dragon's Teeth Gate, the landmark of imposing rocks that marked the entrance to the harbour would have been visible from the site.

Orang Selat communities, arguably the first indigenous people of Singapore, would also, in the early days, have populated the harbour area in their dwellings in thatched boats.

The curators have included installations to remind visitors of these longer histories of the area, although much of the treatment of the space remains focused on the Malay Regiment's battle against the Japanese.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Maliki Osman said in his speech at the opening that the Battle of Pasir Panjang should remind people that all communities played a role in defending Singapore.

Future generations must continue to learn about this history. "As we continue to plug into a fast-changing and globalised world, we must also remain anchored in our common identity and values as a nation," he said.

Entry to the museum is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents. The National Museum is holding activities during this opening weekend. Visitors are advised to pre-book their time slots.

More information can be found on the Reflections at Bukit Chandu Facebook page.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2021, with the headline 'Last stand of Malay Regiment retold at reopened museum'. Subscribe