Chinese New Year always a bittersweet time. The occasion brings me back to 1942 – it’s World War II and Singapore is under siege. Out of the flames and scars of battle, loyalty and courage is demonstrated in many instances, and the Battle of Pasir Panjang is certainly an extraordinary story.
I only learnt about this battle in my backyard in the late 90’s.
General A. E. Percival, the Commander-in-Chief of the Malayan Command wrote in The War in Malaya (1949),
The main Japanese offensive during the thirteenth developed along the Pasir Panjang Ridge to the west of Singapore Town. It was a key position on that part of the front, for it not only over-looked the country to the north but also gave direct access to the vitally important Alexandra area where our main ammunition magazine, the main ordnance depot, the military hospital, and other installations were grouped. The attack was made by the Japanese 18th Division and was preceded by a two hours’ artillery, air, and mortar bombardment.
The attack fell chiefly on the Malay Regiment which was holding this feature and which fought magnificently. On this and the following day the regiment fully justified the confidence which had been placed in it and 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. It was only when it was weakened by heavy losses that the regiment was forced to give ground. Those who have described the resistance on Singapore Island as half-hearted do scant justice to resistance such as this.”
My fellow Pasir Panjang heritage guides and I will share this story and more during the Battle of Pasir Panjang Anniversary Walk. This annual walk has been conducted since February 2002 to recall the battle and share stories of heritage, biology and the environment with rather interesting members of the public – they wake up early to join us at 7.00am for a five-hour walk!
Read Jerome Lim’s comprehensive account from 2011 in The Long and Winding Road.
This year we walk on Sat 15 Feb 2014 (registration here), which my students correctly guessed to be Total Defense Day but struggled to recall that it commemorates the Fall of Singapore on 15 Feb 1942. Well, I’ll remind them to listen out for the island-wide sounding of sirens at midday.
Photos by Kenneth Pinto.