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'Death before dishonour': Reflections at Bukit Chandu reopens to honour Malay Regiment's WWII bravery

SINGAPORE – 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.

The bungalow museum in Kent Ridge Park, sited not far from where the soldiers made their last stand, reopened after three years of closure for upgrading in a ceremony on Wednesday (Sept 8).

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

“This is not a hero’s land whose death are toys to the gods of the world,” he recited. “This is a hero’s land whose pledge of loyalty are to the name of country and nation.”

“In the end, in the end, heroism exists. Peace blooms. The moment fear dissolves – even if the body lies buried.”

More than 100 soldiers of the Malay Regiment died in the heated battle at their last stand in Pasir Panjang over three days in 1942 which, in some moments, saw 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 Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, who has become the face of the troops 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.

Mr Yatiman Yusof, former Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Information, Communications and the Arts who was key in founding the museum in 2002, said Lt Adnan’s ethos should be imparted to young Singaporeans today.

He 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. Reflections at Bukit Chandu can… show that there were occasions when our very survival was being threatened,” he said.

Each soldier should learn to love the country and be prepared to sacrifice his life if necessary, he 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 left 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 at the bungalow would have been able to look out to Keppel Harbour, unencumbered by the vegetation that now obscures the view. Before the British bombed longyamen, or Dragon’s Teeth Gate, the landmark of imposing rocks which marked the entrance to the harbour would have been visible.

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

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

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Maliki Osman said in his opening speech 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 added.

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

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

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