I had a headache.
It’s not as mild as a migraine. It is in a class of its own.
Let me tell you why I have a headache; why me ears are bleeding torrents.
The first reason…
Smoke billows everywhere – an acidic fog. The stench of Sulphur from the explosions smells like mountains of rotten eggs.
The explosions get close and personal with shells falling all around me. They are deafening! – In the literal sense.
The smoke is just as dangerous as the dancing flames that are consuming fallen trees…and my fallen men. Burns send stabbing pain through my legs each step I take. The smoke has my lungs on fire; I am gasping for oxygen…
I race through the dead, smouldering forest of trees. Bombs from zero fighters thunder all around me. A blinding flash – a shell, lands to my left. I throw myself to the ground as the first shock waves arrive.
Then I hear something new – the rattling of machine gun fire as the forest floor erupts into a myriad of colourful leaves.
That can only mean one thing. The Japanese are closing in.
I curse as I stumble. Damn! Another bomb blast – another wave of intense crushing pain on my skull. I double back, leaping over fallen logs and fallen soldiers as I crash through the undergrowth, signaling and directing my surviving soldiers towards the next hill where we will make our final stand. “Let’s move! Move! Move!” I step in pools of muddy water that are a sickly red colour.
Now…the second reason;
At least half my men left are inured – only twenty left. Twenty fresh recruits– against hardened fighters.
No…against cold-blooded criminals.
My hands, torn and bloody, scrape across the slick, wet gravel as I clamber up the hill. I help hoist up my men, my comrades.
It is more than likely we will die today.
We shift over a couple of fallen logs to form a triangular barrier, to provide cover from bullets. From up here, I can see pockets of dead soldiers, many of which we mine. Under-equipped, weak form hunger, and taken by surprise – we stood no chance. Especially after being left behind. We were the first & last line of defense, a ploy to give others time to regroup.
I feel more responsible for their deaths than their merciless Japanese killers, or their controlling British masters. I was their leader… I still am.
If it is time they want to buy, time they will get. We will to our best to see to that – but the price would be paid in blood…
I make eye contact with each and everyone of them as we reload the last of our ammunition. “This is our home, and that of your families,” I say, capturing their attention. “Defend it with your lives.”
A hear a chorus of assent. It is amazing how injured, battle-weary soldiers can find strength from the camaraderie of friends, brothers in blood – bonded on the battlefield. They have a common enemy, and a common aim.
To save our home.
I think back on every soldier that died since the start of the war in South-east Asia – every smile, every laugh, and every word they spoke comes to light. Would they be remembered?
In volunteering to fight, we left everything behind – our families, our jobs, and our normal lives. Why? Why the sacrifice?
I see movement in the undergrowth 80 meters away. I signal to the others. Japanese infantry are crawling on their bellies like the snakes they are.
I see each of my men slowly position different targets in their sights. Even the badly injured. Then comes the agonizing wait. They do not know where we are, so our first volley must have maximum effectiveness. At this moment, I feel a surge of pride for my troops. “Patience.” The enemy gets closer…
Bullets rip through the undergrowth, silencing the cries of alarm form the Japanese. High on the hill, we are safe from return fire – for the moment.
The next two hours are hell on earth. We have no time to rest, each of us had to keep up to ten attackers in check at any point in time. They are trying to overwhelm us as quickly as possible with numbers.
Suddenly, sky lights up as their artillery tries to pick us off from afar. Shells explode close-by, shattering apart our defenses and killing half. our number. Terrible pain in my left arm
Here is the third reason: Life is full of hard choices.
I hope I make the right one as I order the survivors to retreat up the hill. Just in time too, as the place is awash with flames as a shell scored a direct hit. But we are now vulnerable. We are quickly cut down by a hundred of advancing soldiers. I feel a bullet tear through my side as I collapse against a tree.
The battle is over.
Slipping in and out of consciousness, I am constantly jerked back to reality with shafts of agonizing pain as I am beaten, kicked, and dragged up and tied against the tree. Their commander walks over with a bayonet, and an inhuman smile.
I stare him straight in the eye.
I want future Singaporeans to remember this day – when a small regiment held off an army for as long as we could. I staring defiantly at my killer as the cold blade am thrust into my now convulsing stomach. I do this to honour our Malay regiment, and all who gave their lives.
Then I realize why.
It is because we fought, not for ourselves, but for other things. For our families, our children, for peace, and for our dream of a better world, and of a Singapore where we would be our own masters.
Singapore – Our country.
Then I slip away from life, and my headache…is finally gone.
P.s. This about Adnan Saidi (b. 1915, Selangor, Malaysia – d. 1942, Singapore), a lieutenant of the Malay Regiment’s 1st Battalion, died fighting the Japanese in one of the fiercest battles in Singapore during WW II.
A war hero, he led his men in the Battle of Opium Hill (Bukit Chandu), off Pasir Panjang, giving the Japanese a bitter taste of real combat so much so that when they captured him, they tortured him as revenge before killing him and burning his body.
Adnan was entrusted with the defence of Pasir Panjang Ridge, the last British bastion before Alexandra, where their main ammunition and supplies, military hospital and other key installations were located. In an epic battle, the Battle for Pasir Panjang (13 to 14 February 1942) or the “Battle of Opium Hill” as it is better known.
Adnan’s leadership qualities – patriotism, bravery, courage, incisiveness – took his troop’s fighting spirit to its highest fervour, fending off the Japanese though the Malay Regiment’s troops were grossly outnumbered and undersupplied.
They frustrated the Japanese efforts to take over the ridge and had to yield the ridge only in the late evening of 13 February because the fighting by then had strained Adnan’s troops.
As they retreated to Opium Hill, they rose to the occasion again against the persistent and heightened assault of the Japanese, even taking up hand-to-hand combat with the enemy when their ammunition ran out. But the sheer force of Japanese attack on the second and final afternoon of fighting overpowered Adnan and his men, leading them to their grisly death.
Adnan received medals posthumously for his courage while a memorial plaque was erected at Kent Ridge to commemorate the bravery of Adnan and his men.
The memory of this brave soldier also lives on at Kranji War Memorial where his name is etched on the main memorial column wall of the Kranji War Cemetery.