Adnan & Comrades, Bukit Chandu

Bukit Chandu (Malay for “Opium Hill”) was named after an opium-processing factory at the foot of the hill. On it was fought one of the last and fiercest battles before the British surrendered Singapore to Japan on 15 February 1942. Second Lieutenant Adnan bin Saidi and his Malay platoon of 42 men held part of the defenses of Bukit Chandu. When the Japanese broke through the defense line, both sides engaged in hand-to-hand combat. So signal was Adnan’s leadership that when the Japanese captured him, they did not take him prisoner but kicked and punched him, before tying him to a cherry tree and stabbing him to death with their bayonets (Wikipedia).

The battle is commemorated on-site at a World War II interpretative center managed by the National Heritage Board. Housed in a bungalow built at the turn of the twentieth century for senior British officers, the center exhibits photographs, maps and artifacts from the war in Malaya. A stone stele stands in front of the bungalow. A poem on the stele remembers the Battle of Bukit Chandu. In its humaneness and courage, sounded in the call for “the fellowship of life,” the poem is deeply characteristic of the work of Edwin Thumboo, Singapore’s foremost poet of memory.


Adnan & Comrades, Bukit Chandu

Deep rumbling guns; sharp whistle in the air,
Their shells rip up and churn our earth.
Then attacks propelled by fury. Yet no despair,
No crack in our resolve. Freedom’s worth

Is blood we shed. Our cause is just:
Our sacrifice will never, ever, be in vain.
Ta’at Setia: we hold our hill, we must.
Come comrades, duty stirs our souls again.

The enemy are many; we are few
At one strategic point they boldly came,
Across a stream, up ravines wet with dew.
We bayonet-drove, we slew; left some lame.
From that time their hatred grew.

Days and nights are sad with mourning:
Broken houses, those four children we can’t find;
And for the dead, the dying and the groaning.
War has no glory, only what’s bitterly unkind.

We may yield the moment, not our inner self:
A soldier’s oath, made solemnly, we keep.
Cherish duty, honour, the fellowship of life itself.
These are, as you who visit are,
Companions of our memory; guardians of our sleep.

by Edwin Thumboo, from The Best of Edwin Thumboo, Epigram Books

Reprinted with the author’s permission



Photo taken by Kelvin Ang.
Used with permission.

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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