After a three year renovation period, Reflections at Bukit Chandu (RBC) has reopened its doors to the public on 9th September. Managed by the National Museum of Singapore, under the National Heritage Board, the newly revamped RBC reopens with an enhanced retelling of the story of the Malay Regiment in the Battle of Pasir Panjang, during which the heavily outnumbered soldiers from the regiment made a heroic last stand against a 13,000-strong Japanese force.
The revamped World War Two interpretative centre takes visitors on an immersive journey to remember the brave soldiers of the Malay Regiment with an expanded narrative that includes the site-specific history of Pasir Panjang and Bukit Chandu. First opened in 2002, RBC is housed in a bungalow that was originally built in 1930 for senior British staff of an Opium Packing Plant down the hill. RBC was closed in 2018 for major redevelopment works.
“Reflections at Bukit Chandu commemorates the tenacity and heroism of the Malay Regiment in the battle of Pasir Panjang, a key moment in Singapore’s World War Two history,” says Chung May Khuen, Director of the National Museum of Singapore. “With this revamp, we also hope to share with visitors more insights into the pre-war character of Pasir Panjang and Bukit Chandu.”
“RBC complements the National Museum’s World War Two galleries and the recently revamped Changi Chapel and Museum’s story of the prisoners of war and civilians interned at Changi prison camp – together, these interlinked narratives piece together the story of World War Two in Singapore. The stories of courage and resilience shared in these three institutions remain relevant to our lives today and we hope that they will continue to inspire and resonate with visitors, especially as we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore in February next year.”– Chung May Khuen, Director of the National Museum of Singapore.
The RBC bungalow stands close to Point 226, a military position that was the site of the Malay Regiment’s last stand against the Imperial Japanese Army on 14 February 1942. Enhanced with new artefacts and displays, the galleries on the first floor of the revamped RBC charts the regiment’s beginnings, and pays homage to their courage and sacrifice during the Battle of Pasir Panjang in the exhibition Bukit Chandu: Battle Point 226.
“When we came up with the idea for this, it was in a time where we felt Singapore lacks the historical memories that can be shared for generations. RBC then, can use artefacts and storytelling to recall and retain the memories of this event,” says Mr Yatiman Yusof, Former Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Information, Communications and the Arts (2001-2006).
“Soldiers can be trained in fighting, and learning strategies in war, but learning to love one’s country and being prepared to sacrifice your life is necessary, that is something that is more difficult to inculcate. We want to drive that home to young Singaporeans, as they arrive, look at how the Malay regiment fought, observe some of the artefacts they may not have seen before, and learn of our Singapore history.”– Mr Yatiman Yusof, Former Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Information, Communications and the Arts (2001-2006)
The exhibition comprises three sections, the first of which covers the Malay regiment. This section traces the origins of the Malay Regiment, from the equipment that they used to the specially designed uniform that they wore – the green represents Islam, the yellow represents Malay royalty, and the red represents the British Army. The regiment began as the Experimental Company with 25 recruits in 1933, assembled in the Federated Malay States near Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan. In 1935, the Company was renamed the Malay Regiment, and by the time war broke out in 1941, it comprised almost 1,400 soldiers.
In the second section, Into Battle, visitors will get to trace the regiment’s story during the defence of Malaya and Singapore against the Japanese invasion, culminating in the battle of Bukit Chandu on 14th February 1942.
Finally, in Aftermath, visitors will come to learn that by the time Singapore surrendered, more than 100 men of the Malay Regiment had been killed in action. About 600 members of the Malay Regiment who were detained were ordered to remove their uniforms and join the Japanese forces or be released as civilians. A number were executed for refusing to take off their uniforms. This section pays tribute to these men who embodied the regimental motto, Ta’at Setia (“faithful and true” in Malay), to the very end.
The exhibition features familiar key artefacts such as a Malay Regiment officer’s uniform and the bronze bust of Lieutenant Adnan Saidi. Those on display for the first time include a rare archival pre-war film footage featuring Lieutenant Adnan at a ceremonial parade, bullets from the Battle of Pasir Panjang that were found around Pasir Panjang Ridge in the 1970s, and bullet cases recovered from the eastern side of the bungalow’s compound during an archaeological excavation in 2019.
The bullet cases were identified as .303 rounds used by the British Army during World War Two and are thought to have come from the platoon led by Lieutenant Abbas Abdul Manan, the only surviving officer from the battle. A tin cup belonging to Lieutenant Ibrahim Sidek, who was detained after the surrender and killed by the Japanese for refusing to remove his uniform, is also featured alongside an excerpt of an interview with his widow. Visitors can also look forward to an immersive multimedia display show that tells the story of “C” Company’s defence of Point 226.
A sculpture depicting a mortar crew of the Malay Regiment has been moved to the centre of the RBC compound and welcomes visitors to the centre. It was previously installed to commemorate the soldiers’ bravery, sacrifice, and heroism in World War Two.
The history of RBC’s surroundings, which predates both the war and colonial era, has been incorporated into RBC’s revamp to provide a larger historical context beyond the World War Two period. Galleries on the second floor as well as on the grounds of RBC shed light on the history of Bukit Chandu (“Opium Hill” in Malay), Pasir Panjang (“Long Beach” or “Long Sand” in Malay) and the history of the RBC building from as early as the 14th century.
In Packing Chandu, visitors can learn more about the history of opium production in Singapore and life at the Opium Packing Plant, which used to exist at the foot of the hill. Raw opium was first processed in a factory at Telok Blangah, after which it was sent to Pasir Panjang to be packed, before being sold to opium smokers in Singapore, Malaya and other countries in the region. This section also sheds light on the harm caused by opium addiction and efforts taken by local community leaders to combat it.
At The Lounge, visitors will get to experience how former occupants of the house would have enjoyed the sea breeze and a view of the Singapore Strait, and find out more about the history of Bukit Chandu and Pasir Panjang through archival photographs.
While out On the Lawn, through two outdoor installations, visitors can learn about the local landmark Longyamen (“dragon’s teeth gate” in Mandarin) and the pineapple plantations which used to dot this area.
Other artefacts that were excavated at the site in 2019 and are presented in the revamped gallery include a Marseille roof tile, which was likely part of a ridge tile at the apex of a gabled roof, and a small medicine vial possibly used to contain a Chinese medicine, which may have belonged to a domestic helper employed by the bungalow’s residents.
As part of efforts to enhance the infrastructure and accessibility in RBC, new features such as a sheltered driveway and a lift to the second-floor galleries have been introduced. Visitors can also enhance their experience with the RBC chatbot which allows them to tune in to exclusive audio tours, access exhibit captions in Malay, Chinese, Tamil and Japanese, and even browse merchandise. Visitors can also check out suggestions for nearby World War Two-related sites to explore.
“Knowing out history is important for every citizen, in shaping out national identity, helping us understand how Singapore has evolved over time, and reminding us of the shared experiences and values that shape us as a nation,” says Member of Parliament Dr Maliki Osman, at the digital reopening of Memories at RBC. “Even as we continue into a fast changing, globalised world, we must remain anchored in our common identity and values as a nation. And through these stories, we know what we have today is worth defending and fighting for, and convict us to work towards a better world. That is why future generations must continue to learn about our history, to become wiser, better and stronger.”
“History comes alive through RBC and other such physical sites, offering a portal to the past, nurture a sense of place and connection with heritage as we chart our future together,” he continues. “RBC ensures that stories of courage and resilience continue to inspire and be relevant to our lives today, especially as we approach the 80th anniversary of the fall of Singapore in February 2022. On behalf of the National Museum of Singapore, I would like to thank all those who contributed insights that helped us ensure RBC remains relevant and relatable to Singaporeans. I hope you will reflect on the importance of values of duty, commitment and resilience in the face of adversity. In these challenging times, these values embodying the Singapore spirit will always help us stand in solidarity and pull through stronger as a nation.”
To commemorate the reopening of RBC, all visitors will enjoy free admission from 9th to 26th September 2021. Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents will continue to enjoy complimentary admission beyond this period. The opening weekend for RBC will take place from 11th to 12th September, which also coincides with the anniversary of the surrender of the Japanese on 12th September 1945. Visitors can look forward to a self-guided scavenger hunt through the RBC galleries and complimentary livestreamed tours by the curators of RBC and Changi Chapel and Museum on Facebook Live.
Image credit: Reflections at Bukit Chandu
For more information, visit www.bukitchandu.gov.sg