A walk along the ridge: Commemorating the Battle of Pasir Panjang

14 02 2011

I took a walk with a group of about 50 yesterday morning, along a part of Singapore that I frequent only because of visits I make from time-to-time to the National University of Singapore (NUS) in the course of my work, and in doing so, I learnt quite a lot about the area where one of the fiercest battles took place as the impregnable fortress that the colonial masters of Singapore had thought the island was, capitulated to the invading Japanese Imperial Army in the dark days of the February of 1942. The walk had in fact been one that takes place on an annual basis to commemorate the battle, the Battle of Pasir Panjang, with took place over the 13th and 14th of February, in the final hours before General Percival did the unthinkable, being made to take a march of shame up the hill on which General Yamashita had set up shop at the Ford Factory, in an act of surrender that took place on the 15th of February. The walk was organised by a volunteer group, the Raffles Museum Toddycats of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, NUS and was led by the Siva whose intimate knowledge of the history as well as the flora and fauna of the area was supplemented by Dr Lai Chee Kien, of the Architecture Department who shared his insights on the architectural aspects of the NUS and in a few other areas as well.

Walking up Kent Ridge as the rising sun made an appearance. A solemn reminder of the occasion of the 13th of February 1942 when the when the 18th Division of Imperial Forces of the Land of the Rising Sun mounted their attack on what was then known as Pasir Panjang Ridge.

The walk which started at the University Cultural Centre, close to a corner of the rectangular area where the battle was enacted, at what is now the intersection of Clementi Road and the Ayer Rajah Expressway, began with a short introduction and a walk eastwards up Kent Ridge Crescent to the sight of the rising sun, perhaps as a solemn reminder of the battle during which the forces of the Land of the Rising Sun overran the determined but outnumbered defenders of the Malay Regiment that set out to defend the geographical feature that is now known to us as Kent Ridge, and continued along the length of the ridge eastwards towards what is now known as Bukit Chandu. Along the way, our guide Siva was not only able to share his knowledge of the battle as it played out, but also on some history of the area, the etymology of Kent Ridge and Marina Hill, as well as on the flora and fauna of the area.

Along the way, our expert guide Siva, was able to share many different facets of Kent Ridge, including on its flora and fauna.

The Simpoh Air and Resam Fern are fast growing plants commonly found on Kent Ridge as well as much of Singapore taking over much of the land that is cleared. The leaves of the Simpoh Air are used to wrap Tempeh.

The Battle of Pasir Panjang, sometimes referred to as the battle of Pasir Panjang Ridge, involved an invasion force of some 13,000 troops of the first wave of invading Japanese forces of the 18th Division sweeping down from the west towards the city. The ridge was defended by the remnants of the Malay Regiment, in which the origins of today’s Malaysian Armed Forces lie in, a poorly trained and ill prepared group of men who had been tasked to defend the approach to the ridge, the Gap but instead bore the brunt of the thrust of the invasion force. The accounts of this battle are well documented on the wonderful resource page that the Toddycats have put up, which can be found at this link, as well as in a newspaper report in the Straits Times of 13 February 1967 entitled “Fire and Death on Opium Hill” (on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Battle).

Kent Ridge features many wonderful bungalows that would once have housed military personnel on a featured that gave a commanding view of the western coastline and area around the ridge.

Much of the land around was used for plantations of among other plants, included rubber trees and nutmeg, and has since been taken over by Secondary Forest.

One of the interesting reminders of the military past of the ridge is an outpost, a collection of four flat roofed buildings that served as a lookout point over the southward facing slopes of the ridge. The roofs made the cluster of buildings, which are set on three levels, easily camouflaged. Much of the area is inaccessible to the public as the buildings are in dilapidated state and it was a treat for me to see the buildings. Peeking into some of the rooms of the buildings, it was easy to identify the functions of the rooms as well as to recognise that the lookout would have been self-sufficient. There was one room that was obviously used as a kitchen and another with the remains of an old bathtub – but other than that, very little evidence of anything else remains.

One of the interesting remnants of the military past is the Outpost, a collection of four buildings that served as a lookout point, set up on three levels on the southward facing slopes of the ridge at Prince Edward Point.

The buildings of the Outpost feature flat roofs that can be easily be camouflaged.

A stairway providing communication between two of the three levels.

Another interesting set of facts that came out of the walk was the sharing by Dr Lai on the architecture of the NUS and the thinking behind some of the features which the architect behind the NUS shared with him. Among the interesting facts was one revolving around the use of over burnt bricks and the use of the primary colours for the features: yellow for the communication channels that provided the links to the various parts of the NUS laid over the ridge; red for the handrails – the orginals of which have mostly been replaced; and blue for features such as doors.

Following not so much the yellow brick road, but the yellow ceiling is a sure way around the NUS.

One of the last remaining original red iron railings ….

Another view of the ridge …

Another remnant of the past?

Moving east to the area which was known as the Gap, where South Buona Vista Road meets Kent Ridge Road, Siva provided the evidence of origins of the name Kent Ridge and Marina Hill just across the road, on which Kent Ridge Park now sits. A plaque commemorating the visit of HRH the Duchess of Kent, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, and her son the Duke of Kent, Prince Edward of Kent stands at the corner, telling us of the visit of the Duchess and the Duke on 3 October 1952 and the naming of the ridge after the visit of the royal pair as well as Marina Hill after the Duchess. The commemorative plaque is due to be shifted from its original position as there are plans to widen the road.

Siva speaking about the plaque commemorating the visit of HRH the Duchess of Kent, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, and her son the Duke of Kent, Prince Edward of Kent.

A close-up of the commemorative plaque which provides the evidence of the etymology of Kent Ridge as well as Marina Hill. It was in honour of the visit on 3 October 1952 that the plaque was laid on 23 February 1954 and that the name of Pasir Panjang Ridge was changed to Kent Ridge.

Across South Buona Vista Road, part of the ridge had to be skirted around due to it being occupied by the premises of the Defence Science Organisation – but we were able to continue further down to where a creek was behind Normanton Park where we were shown the Gelam tree, a member of the Eucalyptus family, also know as Kayu Putih – its oil is used for medicinal purposes and bark is apparently used as caulking material in traditional wooden boat building. It was from here that we made our way back up the ridge to where Kent Ridge Park sits.

Two of the participants in the walk near Marina Hill.

Part of the creek near Normanton Park.

Guide Airani showing the leaves of the Gelam Tree.

The bark of the Gelam is used as caulking material in traditional wooden boat building.

Scenes of autumn in Singapore?

The thin tree trunks of the secondary forest in the area.

Back up on the ridge at Kent Ridge Park, we were able to take in the commanding view which made the ridge an important military asset, and we made our way (some of us, muscles aching) then to our intended destination, Bukit Chandu, via a canopy walk that provides a wonderful northwards view beyond the ridge as well as of the forest below (as well as of some of the colourful inhabitants of the forest that inlcuded a Green Crested Lizard). And after what seemed like a very long walk some five hours after we set off, we arrived at midday at Bukit Chandu or Opium Hill, named after an opium processing plant that had featured at the foot of the hill – the scene of the final stand on the 14th of February 1942 of C Company of the 1st Battalion of the Malay Regiment and on which the Reflections at Bukit Chandu Museum stands as a reminder of the valiant efforts of the men of the Malay Regiment. Leaving the hill, it wasn’t the sore muscles that made the biggest impression, but the overload of information provided by the guides and the great sense of appreciation for the men who fought so gallantly in defence of freedom.

The flight of stairs back up to the ridge.

The group at the top of the ridge.

The ridge at Marina Hill provides a commanding view of the western harbour.

As well of the reclamation works that are extending Singapore’s southern shores.

A memorial plaque commemorating the Battle of Pasir Panjang at Kent Ridge Park.

The view north-east from the canopy walk from Kent Ridge Park to Bukit Chandu.

The canopy walk.

A resident of the ridge, a Green Crested Lizard, says hello.

Resources on the Battle of Pasir Panjang and on Kent Ridge:

A Pasir Panjang/Kent Ridge Heritage

Fire and Death on Opium Hill

Reflections at Bukit Chandu

The Battle of Pasir Panjang Revisted

More blog postings on the walk:

Fifty people and two dogs on the Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk, by N. Sivasothi a.k.a. Otterman, on Raffles Museum Toddycats!

The walk to commemorate The Battle of Pasir Panjang! by Leone Fabre on “my life in Singapore”.

The next Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk would take place on 12 February 2017. For more information and to signup, please click on this link.




12 responses

14 02 2011
Fifty people and two dogs on the Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk | Raffles Museum Toddycats!

[…] “A walk along the ridge: Commemorating the Battle of Pasir Panjang” by Jerome Lim. The Long and Winding Road, 14 Feb 2011. […]

14 02 2011

Wow Jerome this is interesting. I would love to join in one of theses exploration. Nature is very much my cup of tea. I didn’t know the leaf named “Simpoh Air”. When I was a child our rojak man served his rojak on these leaf. It’s fold on one side and held together with a toothpick to create a cone.

14 02 2011
The wondering wanderer

Yes, it was an interesting walk Frankie, and I learnt quite a lot from the guides. I understand that the Toddycats may be organising a shorter night time walk some time … you may want to check back at their site. There were various leaves used – do remember the rojak being served as you mentioned. 🙂

15 02 2011

Hi Jerome,

Bukit Chandu history never fails to capture my attention, to be honest what history books tells us sometimes does not tally with what that was being witnessed & told by some people. People like my late grandfather whom was an Officer with the Malaya Navy & majority of my late relatives whom are involved in the war directly or indirectly.

But sadness never failed to hit me hard when reading about The Bukit Chandu battle…besides the fallen heroes most of their bodies that inclusive of LT Adnan Saidi was never found to be given a proper burial.The last time someone saw their remains was a father & son whom went out to venture in the jungle looking for tapioca.They came across a huge white bungalow on top of the hill, inside there lies the remains of many Malay Regiment soldiers, some burnt beyond recognition some mutilated.Eventhough they plan to return back with a few villagers to bury the fallen heroes they never manage since that area was extensively patrol by the Japs troops.

LT Adnan wife passed away heartbroken cause she never ever saw her late husband’s body.LT Adnan fought for a country that he never grew up in let alone born here…but he gave all his might & heart defending it. & what do we remember him albeit his small picture,plague & museum? Nothing..not even a road or even an army regiment. But across the causeway, an armoured vehicle was named after him & a regiment was being formed in his honour.


17 02 2011
The wondering wanderer

Hi Riz, thanks for your input. The interpretation of history and of historical events often leaves the perspectives of the men on the ground out which is unfortunate (sometimes for political reasons). It is good that you bring this perspective up … would you have more information where that came from? HIDUP REGIMENT ASKAR MELAYU! 🙂

17 02 2011

Hi Jerome,

You mean my last sentence?

If I’m not mistaken I saw this in one of the Malaysian Army Camp a few years ago, its their Motto.

I think even in the movie (Acted by the late P.Ramlee-Bukit Chandu) & Leftenan Adnan (acted Hairie Othman) was being mentioned in their script.If you can get hold of this 2 movies (albeit its in Malay with English subtitles) its worth to watch.

17 02 2011
The wondering wanderer

Hi Riz, I meant the information from the men who fought … it may be worth compiling it – maybe you can put a book together on that to give their side of the story! Thanks for the tip – will see if I can get my hands on the movie you mentioned. 🙂

17 02 2011

Hi Jerome,

If you can get your hands on the Malay Papers (Berita Harian) on Monday or Tuesday the centrefold there’s a full picture base description of the Battle of PP.In there also listed the names of the fallen Malay Regiment.

Also I just recalled about the father & son whom found the remains of these soldiers in the white bunglow,that bunglow was situated near the current World War II Interpretative Centre at Pepys Road. There are actual 3 bunglows & 2 was demolished (the current open carpark is where the 2 bunglows used to stand. It was demolished in 1987)

There are possibilities that the Japs could had removed the remains & discard it somewhere or simply let it rot till nothing are left.

17 02 2011
The wondering wanderer

Hi Riz, thanks for the tip … will certainly look that up! Thanks also for all the information! 🙂

17 02 2011
Leone Fabre

Great post Jerome and well documented!!

I ‘borrowed’ one of your paragraphs in the post as you summed up the visit to the bunker beautifully ….. hope you don’t mind!


enjoy your day, Leone

17 02 2011
The wondering wanderer

Thanks Leone – and thanks for quoting and linking to my post! Certainly do not mind at all! 🙂 Enjoy your day too! Jerome …

4 02 2014
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Reblogged this on The Long and Winding Road and commented:

A walk that is well worth the 4-5 hours, offering a peek into a part of Singapore many of us would never think of exploring on our own. This year, it will take place on 15 Feb at 7 am. To sign up for it, visit this link: http://habitatnews.nus.edu.sg/index.php

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