Biography - Lt. Adnan Saidi
1915 - 1942
Infantry Officer, War Hero

By Liza Sahid, 1999.


Introduction

Between 13 and 14 February 1942, Singapore witnessed one of its fiercest battles ever known in her history. Amongst those who fought valiantly in that Battle for Pasir Panjang and lost their lives was a 27 year-old infantry officer, Lt. Adnan Saidi. Adnan Saidi and his 42-man contingent from the 1st and 2nd Battalion of the Malay Regiment fought fearlessly to defend Pasir Panjang Ridge. The ferocious fight put up by the Malay Regiment came for special mention in Lt.Gen. A.E. Percival's Despatch on the Operations of Malaya Command from 8 Dec 1941 to 15 Feb 1942:

"After two hours of heavy shelling and mortaring, the Japanese attacked the Malay Regiment which was holding Pasir Panjang Ridge. The latter fought magnificently, but suffered heavy casualties, and by afternoon the enemy had reached the Gap (Pasir Panjang Ridge)"

At this historic site, Singapore's last stand for defence was made in an epic 48-hour battle, culminating in the only (recorded) fiery hand-to-hand combat against the Japanese Army.

Early Life

Born 1915 at Kampung Sungei Ramal, Kajang, Selangor, Lt. Adnan Saidi was the eldest in his family. His younger siblings, Ahmad Saidi and Amarullah Saidi were soldiers too. Ahmad Saidi was killed in action after he joined the navy in 1939. The Japanese sank his ship, the HMS Pelanduk, enroute to Australia. The younger Mr. Amarullah Saidi survived the war and is now retired and resides in Kajang, Selangor.

Lt. Adnan Saidi received his education in Pekan Sungei Ramal in the English medium. He was a diligent student and excelled in his studies. Upon graduation, Adnan was chosen to be a trainee teacher and taught at his alma mater for over a year. Fate however had other plans for him. A firm man who took discipline seriously, Adnan Saidi chose instead to pursue the military vocation.

In 1933, when he was 18 years old, Adnan Saidi joined the Malay Regiment. A year later, he was chosen as best recruit. In 1936, Adnan was promoted to the rank of Sergeant - a promotion that came fast for a bright young soldier. In 1937, he was chosen to represent his platoon in a military ceremonial parade in London to honour the ascension of King George VI to the throne. Shortly thereafter, Adnan Saidi was promoted yet again to Company-Sergeant-Major and headed for Singapore for an officers' conversion course. Upon graduation as 2nd Lieutenant, Adnan Saidi became the leader of the 7th Platoon, 'C' Coy.

A Family Man

Upon his return from London, Lt. Adnan Saidi married a school teacher from his village. Madam Sophia Pakih Muda bore him three children: two sons, Mokhtar and Zainudin (now living in Seremban and Johore respectively), and a daughter. Youngest of the three siblings, the baby girl died in her early infancy shortly after Singapore fell.

Despite his hectic schedule as a career soldier, Lt. Adnan Saidi settled down quickly as a family man. He loved his boys and would always try to find time for his kids. He brought them for walks or played games with them. The games that he played with his boys were rough and rugged. Adnan wanted his sons to grow up tough. In an interview with Berita Harian (9 Sept `95), Mokhtar Adnan described his father as thus:

"My father did not talk a lot. He was a firm man and believed in discipline. He was always serious and fierce yet had a good heart. There seemed to be a 'light' illuminating his face."

In late 1941, Lt. Adnan Saidi was posted to Singapore and brought with him his family. They lived in a big house off Pasir Panjang, in an area reserved for the families of the Malay Regiment. When the rumblings of the war grew nearer and the Japanese began preparations to invade Singapore, Lt. Adnan sent his family back to their hometown in Kajang. It was a trying day for Lt. Adnan - his wife, Sophia was carrying their third child. The young boys kissed their father's hand and he reminded them to be good. It was to be their last time together.

Fire and Death on Opium Hill

The battle of Pasir Panjang is better known as the "Battle of Opium Hill". Opium Hill or Bukit Chandu in Malay, was named after an opium-processing factory which used to be at the foot of the hill. Fierce fighting had preceded days earlier. The battle-hardened Japanese soldiers of the famed 25th Army had rapidly overwhelmed strategic defensive positions in Singapore. Opium Hill demarcated the final defence perimeter. It was a key defence position in Singapore for two strategic reasons: it overlooked the island of Singapore to the north and second, if the Japanese gained control of the ridge, it gave them direct passage to Alexandra area. The British Army had its main ammunition and supply depots, military hospital and other key installations situated there. The stout defence of the ridge was therefore critical at any costs.

The defence of the ridge had been entrusted to the 'C' Coy. 'C' Coy was part of the 1st and 2nd Malay regiment which made up the 1st Malay Infantry Brigade, the British 2nd Loyals Regiment and the 44th Indian Brigade. On February 13 1942, the crack Chrysanthemum Division of the Japanese Imperial Army under Lt.Gen. Renya Mutaguchi turned their attention to the southern coastal part of Singapore - Pasir Panjang Ridge. On that morning, the ridge was heavily bombarded with aerial support, heavy mortar and artillery fire. 'C' Coy and Lt. Adnan Saidi were stationed at Pasir Panjang Village. The Japanese forces were forced to retreat in the face of stiff resistance from 'C' Coy. Adnan and his men had built a wall of defence for the Regiment in an area of highland, known as the Gap. Though greatly outnumbered, the Japanese troops under Major Kimura could not breach the Gap's defence perimeter.

At midnight, 14 February 1942, 'C' Coy received instructions to move to a new defence position - Pt. 226, Opium Hill. More soldiers were added to Adnan's regiment - 42 in all. After a careful area survey, Lt. Adnan Saidi ordered his men to further strengthen their wall of defence with sandbags. The hill was surrounded with sandbags.

In the early afternoon of 14 February, the Japanese launched a sneak attack. From Pepys Road leading uphill to Pt.226, Adnan Saidi observed a contingent of "Sikh soldiers" from the British-Indian Army approaching. Distinguishing himself yet again, Lt. Adnan's sharp eyes and quick mind noticed that something was amiss when he observed the troops in turbans, advancing in groups of fours instead the usual threes of the British Army. Seeing through the ruse, Lt. Adnan Saidi and his troops opened fire and mortally wounded about 20 soldiers at close range. The Japanese troops retreated.

Two hours later, the Japanese launched an all-out assault in great numbers. The attack overwhelmed Lt. Adnan Saidi and his troops. Greatly outnumbered and short on ammunition and supplies, the Malay Regiment fought its grisly battle to death.

Death of a Patriot

Fierce fighting followed on Opium Hill. All kinds of weapons was used, including grenades and automatic weapons. Lt. Adnan himself handled a Lewis gun. In many instances, the soldiers engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat using their bayonets. Yet, they stood their ground frustrating their enemy. In the ensuing battle, men and officers fell. Adnan was mortally wounded yet refused to retreat and instead emboldened his men to fight to the last. It was this disregard of danger that inspired the company to stand up gallantly.

Tan Sri Dato' Mubin Sheppard, 86, an ex-officer and former POW, says of his friend the late Lt. 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 dedicated. 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 Gallant subsequently, was one of the few who survived Opium Hill. In the chaos of the battle, he fell and landed on top of the bodies of the dead soldiers. He escaped death by laying motionless amongst the pile of the dead bodies and witnessed the gruesome death of Adnan Saidi. The triumphant enemies captured Lt. Adnan. Angered by his fierce battle resistance, the platoon leader was dragged and pushed into a gunnysack. The Japanese soldiers then hung him by his legs on a cherry tree. Angered by the death of their fellow comrades, the Japanese bayoneted him again and again. In some instances, his throat was slit repeatedly. In Corporal Yaakob's state of 'death', he witnessed these gruesome deeds. In the aftermath of the battle, no one was allowed to bring down his body for burial. No one dared. Some sources claimed that Lt. Adnan Saidi's mutilated body was burnt to ashes.

Years later, Haji Burhan Muslim, who had lived along Bukit Chandu, recalled going up the hill with his cousin few days after the battle. In one of the white bungalows that stood on the hill at Pepys Lane, he witnessed 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, Haji Burhan believed that he was a high-ranking officer. He felt that the body could have been that of Lt. Adnan Saidi.

Nightmare Continued

Adnan's family was informed of his death through a telegram. A few days earlier, Madam Sophia had delivered their third child. Shortly thereafter, the baby girl died.

The nightmare did not end there for Lt. Adnan's family. The Japanese began hunting down his family. A neighbour had warned that the Japanese were looking for Adnan Saidi's family. They were to be killed too. Worried that the Japanese would be able to track down his family, Mr. Amarullah Saidi had to give away his brother's photographs and belongings. No one dared to keep Lt. Adnan's belongings. Today, the only things of his father which Mokhtar Saidi has are three medals which were awarded to Adnan by the British.

In 1949, Madam Sophia became ill and passed away. Her sons were fostered out.

Kent Ridge Park

In 1995, a war memorial plaque at Vigilante Drive, Kent Ridge Park, was erected to honour the fighting spirit and patriotism of Lt. Adnan Saidi and his Malay Brigade.

Some however felt that the site of the plaque was not the exact spot of the battle. Haji Burhan Muslim, a former resident of Bukit Chandu, believes that the actual battle took place a kilometre away from Kent Ridge Park.

The heroic patriotism of Lt. Adnan Saidi will be hard to forget: etched on the main memorial column wall of the Kranji War Cemetery is No. 385 - "Lt. Adnan Saidi".


- By Liza Sahid

1999 Liza Sahid


Bibliography:

The Malay Regiment 1933-1947, Mubin Shephard, Malaysia 1955.

History of the Malay Regiment, 1933-1942, Ramli Dol, Journal of The Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society, 38.1.1965, pages 199-243.

Berita Harian, 20 Sept 1991, 9 & 12 Sept 1995.

"Adnan Saidi: Infantry Officer, War Hero." By Liza Sahid. Knowledgenet, The Singapore Social History Source, 1999. Retrieved from The Internet Archive Wayback Machine, 17 Feb 2007. Photos accompanying the original article (Adnan Saidi,1930s; Malay Regiment, 1942; Mortar Regiment; Lt.Gen.Renya Mutaguchi; 31K Pepys Lane (Opium Hill Bungalow) are absent and scripts to accomodate those were removed for faster page loading. Thanks to Timothy Pwee for the web archive suggestion via Singapore Heritage Mailing List!