Malay Regiment

Singapore Infopedia


The Malay Regiment was an all-Malay military force formed at Port Dickson, Malaya, on 1 March 1933 under the command of British officers.1 Also known as Askar Melayu in Malay, the regiment is best remembered for its soldiers’ display of bravery and loyalty in the Battle of Pasir Panjang during the Japanese invasion of Singapore in February 1942.2

Early history
The Malay rulers of the Federated Malay States first proposed to the British government the idea of forming the Malay Regiment during the Federal Council meetings in 1913.3 The Malay Regiment Bill was tabled on a Certificate of Urgency and passed by the Federal Council on 23 January 1933. Recruitment commenced shortly after. On 1 March 1933, the Experimental Company, the Malay Regiment was formed with 25 men in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia.4 It was based at an old volunteer camp 8 km from the town of Port Dickson. Major George McIllree Stanton Bruce of the Lincolnshire Regiment was the first commanding officer, and Captain K. G. Exham from the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment was his adjutant.5

In order to instil pride and loyalty among the soldiers in the regiment and recruit more men from the villages, Bruce came up with the idea of a regimental mufti that embodied elements of the Malay national dress.6 Together with Exham, he designed the regimental badge and insignia, which consisted of two tigers supporting a crown that rested atop a circle enclosing a crossed kris and scabbard and bearing the regimental motto Ta’at Setia (“Loyal and true” in Malay).Three colours were selected for the regiment: green, the colour of Islam; yellow, to represent Malay royalty; and red, to represent the influence of the British army.8 The colours were incorporated into the regiment’s walking-out dress, which consisted of a green velvet songkok (a type of traditional Malay headgear), white top and trousers, and a green and red silk sarong. During training, the men donned an outfit comprising the Gurkha hat, khaki shirt with matching shorts, green putties and black boots.
The Malay Regiment was originally conceived as an experiment to observe how the Malays would respond to military discipline. The success of the first batch of soldiers after five months of training prompted the recruitment of 30 more men. In December 1933, another batch of 30 men was added. By June 1934, two more squads of 30 men each had been formed.10 On 1 January 1935, the Experimental Company, the Malay Regiment became officially known as simply the Malay Regiment.11

In March 1937, the Malay Regiment played an important role in maintaining order during a labour dispute at the Batu Arang Coal Mine in Selangor, Malaya, where 6,000 workers went on strike. This later earned the regiment a special commendation from the Malayan governor and general officer commanding.12 The regiment had a reputation for marksmanship; four of its Malay cadet officers won the top four places in a Bren-gun course held in Singapore in October 1938. The regiment also participated in various training exercises in Singapore in 1937 and 1938.13

Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45)
The continued increase in the number of recruits brought the Malay Regiment to battalion strength by October 1938, with three rifle companies, one Support Company equipped with Vickers machine guns, and a Headquarters Wing.14 Upon the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the Malay Regiment was mobilised and its training programme intensified. In 1940, the regiment was deployed to Singapore, where it later set up its headquarters at Normanton Camp in Pasir Panjang.15

On 1 December 1941, amid the threat of the Japanese invasion of Malaya, the regiment’s 2nd Battalion was officially formed, although it did not become a complete unit until later in the military campaign.16 During the Battle of Malaya, the A and D companies of the 2nd Battalion were deployed in various operations in Malaya, such as a reconnaissance operation in Kelantan, before they withdrew to Singapore by the end of January 1942 to rejoin the rest of the troops at Normanton Camp. In the ensuing fight for Singapore, the Malay Regiment, together with the British 2nd Loyal Regiment and other attached troops,  formed the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade, which was tasked to defend the southwestern part the main island, where it fought its most famous battle, known as the Battle of Pasir Panjang.17

The Battle of Pasir Panjang, also known as the Battle of Opium Hill or the Battle at Bukit Chandu, lasted from 13 to 14 February 1942. It was during this battle that the Malay Regiment gained its reputation for courage, heroism and loyalty, as many of its men were killed in their defence of the Pasir Panjang Ridge.18 After Singapore was surrendered to the Japanese, the survivors of the regiment, numbering some 600 men, were reassembled in the Keppel Golf Links area on 15 and 16 February. They were later separated from the British officers, and made to join Indian prisoners-of-war at Farrer Park.19

During the Malayan Campaign and the Battle of Singapore, the Malay Regiment lost a total of 159 men, including 6 British officers, 7 Malay officers and 146 soldiers of other ranks, mainly in the fighting that took place from 12 to 14 February 1942.20 Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, commander of Platoon No. 7 of C Company, 1st Battalion, was one of those who perished during the Battle of Pasir Panjang. Although he was seriously wounded during the attack, Adnan and his troops refused to surrender and fought the Japanese to the very end. When he was captured by the Japanese, Adnan was shot and bayoneted, and his body was hung by his legs from a tree.21

In March 1942, the Japanese released most of the men from the Malay Regiment and sent them back to Malaya, except seven Malay officers who were executed for refusing to choose between serving under the Japanese or donning civilian clothing and accepting release.22

Postwar history and commemoration
On 5 September 1945, a month after the British reoccupation of Malaya, the Malay Regiment was revived, with its members consisting of veterans from the 1941/1942 military campaign. The regiment continued to expand and played a major role in fighting against the communists during the Malayan Emergency. By 1955 the Malay Regiment comprised seven battalions.23 On 9 April 1958, it became officially known as the Royal Malay Regiment.24 Today, the Royal Malay Regiment is an infantry regiment in the Malaysian Army.25

In 1992, the year of the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s fall to Japan, letters were sent to The Straits Times calling on Singaporeans and the government to remember and memorialise the valour and courage of the Malay Regiment in its defence of Opium Hill (Bukit Chandu).26 A number of Malay Singaporeans asked for a colonial bungalow at the top of the hill to be turned into a museum to commemorate the men’s bravery. The bungalow at 31K Pepys Road in Pasir Panjang was subsequently refurbished and converted into a World War II interpretive centre by the National Archives of Singapore and the National Heritage Board.27

Known as Reflections at Bukit Chandu, the centre was officially opened on 15 February 2002, the 60th anniversary of Singapore’s surrender to the Japanese. Redeveloped at a cost of S$4.8 million, the centre cost S$4.8 million to redevelop, and contained multimedia exhibits that narrate the Battle of Pasir Panjang and displays artefacts such as uniforms, cast-iron helmets and even a Vickers machine gun. The artefacts were loaned from the relatives of former soldiers or sourced from private collectors.28

Reflections at Bukit Chandu was closed on 1 October 2018 for redevelopment and reopened to the public on 9 September 2021. Among the new artefacts displayed in the immersive exhibition were rare prewar footage of Lt Adnan taking part in a ceremonial parade, bullets from the Battle of Pasir Panjang that were found in the 1970s around Pasir Panjang Ridge, and bullet cases recovered during an archaeological excavation on the bungalow compound's eastern side in 2019. The history of Bukit Chandu, Pasir Panjang, and the bungalow at 31K Pepys Road is also featured in the exhibition.29

The last surviving soldier
On 9 February 2021, Private Ujang Mormin, the last surviving Malay Regiment soldier, died of Covid-19 at the Sungai Buloh Hospital in Selangor at age 100. Known affectionately as Tok Ujang, he joined the British army as a private with the First Battalion of the Royal Malay Regiment in 1939 and was deployed to the British military fort Gap Ridge in Singapore in 1941.30

1.  Lee Geok Boi, The Syonan Years: Singapore Under Japanese Rule 1942–1945 (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore and Epigram, 2005), 35 (Call no. RSING 940.53957 LEE-[WAR]); Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment, 1933–1942,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 38, no. 1 (July 1965): 199–243. (Call no. RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS-[SEA])
2. Kevin Blackburn,” Colonial Forces as Postcolonial Memories: The Commemoration and Memory of the Malay Regiment in Modern Malaysia and Singapore,” in Colonial Armies in Southeast Asia, ed. Tobias Rettig and Karl Hack (London; New York: Routledge, 2006), 307, 309. (Call no. RSING 355.0095909034 COL)
3.  Blackburn, “Colonial Forces as Postcolonial Memories,” 302, 304; Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 199.
4.  Blackburn, “Colonial Forces as Postcolonial Memories,” 304; Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 205.
5.  Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 207; Mubin Sheppard, The Malay Regiment 1933–1947 (Kuala Lumpur: Department of Public Relations, 1947), 5. (Call no. RCLOS 355.31 SHE-[RFL])
6.  Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 209.
7.  Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 6.
8.  Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 209.
9.  Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 6.
10.  Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 200; Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 5.
11. Lee, The Syonan Years, 35; Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 211.
12.  Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 214; “Batu Arang an Armed Camp,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 25 March 1937, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
13.  Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 214–15.
14.  Blackburn, “Colonial Forces as Postcolonial Memories,” 304; Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 211–12.
15.  Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 215.
16.  Blackburn, “Colonial Forces as Postcolonial Memories,” 304; Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 12.
17.  Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 12–14; Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 218–28.
18. Blackburn, “Colonial Forces as Postcolonial Memories,” 309; Lee, The Syonan Years, 51; Chan Kwee Sung, “Lt Adnan Saidi, Hero of Malay Regiment,” Straits Times, 11 July 1998, 4; Goh Chin Lian, “Stories of Duty, Honour, Courage,” Straits Times, 27 December 2001, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
19.  Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 241.
20.  Lee, The Syonan Years, 35.
21.  Blackburn, “Colonial Forces as Postcolonial Memories,” 317; Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18; Chan, “Lt Adnan Saidi, Hero of Malay Regiment.”
22.  Lee, The Syonan Years, 35.
23.  Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 242–43.
24.   “Royal Malay Regiment,” Straits Times, 9 April 1958, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
25. J. N. Mak, “The Modernization of the Malaysian Armed Forces,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 19, no. 1 (June 1997): 29–51. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
26.  Abdul Rahman B Mohd Said, “ Lessons of Patriotism We Must Never Forget,” Straits Times, 22 February 1992, 30; Derek Da Cunha, “Honour WWII Defenders of Pasir Panjang,” Straits Times, 25 February 1992, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
27.  Chan Kwee Sung, “Saluting the War Heroes,” Straits Times, 8 February 2002, 16; Goh Chin Lian, “Stories of Duty, Honour, Courage,” Straits Times, 27 December 2001, 1; Yohanna Abdullah, Make Bungalow at WWII Battleground a Museum,” Straits Times, 1 March 1992, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
28.  Chan, “Saluting the War Heroes”; Goh, “Stories of Duty, Honour, Courage”; Hamzah Muzaini and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, “War Landscapes as ‘Battlefields’ of Collective Memories: Reading the Reflections at Bukit Chandu, Singapore,” Cultural Geographies 12, no. 3 (July 2005): 345–65. (From ProQuest Central via NLB’s eResources website)
29. National Heritage Board,Revamped Reflections at Bukit Chandu Reopens with an Enhanced Retelling of the Battle of Pasir Panjang and the Malay Regiment,” press release, 2 September 2021. (From NLB’sWeb Archive Singapore)
30. “Private Ujang Mormin, Last Survivor of Battle of Pasir Panjang During WWII, Dies Due to Covid-19,” Straits Times, 10 February 2021. (From Newslink
via NLB’s eResources website)

The information in this article is valid as of July 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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