In 1933, when he was 18 years old, Adnan bin Saidi joined the Malay Regiment. In 1936, Adnan was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. In 1937, he was chosen to represent his platoon in a military ceremonial parade in London to honour the ascension of King George VI to the throne. Shortly thereafter, Adnan bin Saidi was promoted yet again to Company-Sergeant-Major and headed for Singapore for an officers’ conversion course. Upon graduation as 2nd Lieutenant, Adnan bin Saidi became the leader of the 7th Platoon, ‘C’ Coy.
Adnan bin Saidi now a Malayan military officer of the 1st Infantry Brigade fought the Japanese at the Battle of Pasir Panjang in Singapore during World War II. He is considered a national hero in Singapore and Malaysia for his actions during the battle.
His younger brothers, Ahmad and Amarullah, were also soldiers. Ahmad was killed in action after his ship, HMS Pelanduk, was sunk by the Japanese en route to Australia.
Adnan married Sophia Pakir an Islamic religious teacher. They had a daughter who died soon after birth, and two sons: Mokhtar, who lives in Seremban, and Zainudin, who lives in Johor. Mokhtar recalled that his father “did not talk a lot”, was “a strict man and believed in discipline”, and was “always serious and fierce … yet had a good heart. There seemed to be a ‘light’ illuminating his face.”
Battle of Pasir Panjang
In 1942, Adnan led a 42-strong platoon from the Malay Regiment to defend Singapore from the invading Japanese Imperial Army. They fought at Pasir Panjang Ridge in the Bukit Chandu (“Opium Hill”) area between 12 and 14 February.
Despite being heavily outnumbered, Adnan refused to surrender and urged his men to fight to the end. They held off the Japanese for two days amid heavy enemy shelling from artillery and tanks, as well as chronic shortages of food, medical supplies and ammunition. On the last day of the battle, Adnan and his men were left with only a few grenades and had to fight the Japanese with their bayonets in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Adnan was shot but he continued fighting.
One detail regarding the battle was how Adnan identified Japanese soldiers who were attempting to infiltrate the Malay Regiment’s base in disguise as “Punjabi soldiers”, who were marching four abreast (Japanese style) instead of three (British style).
Capture and death
Although it is widely understood that Adnan was killed during the Battle of Pasir Panjang, the exact details surrounding his death differed between accounts from both sides of the war. The actual mode of execution was never officially recorded.
The Imperial Japanese Army’s official account indicated that Adnan was executed and then hung upside down from a cherry tree after two days of stubborn retaliation and refusal to surrender (Other accounts suggest that he might have been tied to the tree and repeatedly bayoneted to death.) British accounts confirmed that his corpse was found hung upside down after the surrender and this has been repeated in a number of authoritative texts on the Malayan Campaign.
Adnan is considered a national hero in Singapore and Malaysia due to his courageous and valiant actions at the Battle of Pasir Panjang.
A war memorial plaque honouring Adnan and the Malay Brigade was erected by Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, in 1995 at Vigilante Drive, Kent Ridge Park, Singapore.
A colonial-era bungalow at Bukit Chandu was converted into Reflections at Bukit Chandu, an interpretative centre about the Battle of Pasir Panjang.
The Art in Transit programme of Pasir Panjang MRT Station, titled Lieutenant Adnan, by Ho Tzu Nyen, features mock posters all around the station and lift shaft for a fictional movie about Adnan, who is portrayed by Singaporean actor Aaron Aziz.
Portrayal in film
Adnan was portrayed by Malaysian actor Hairie Othman in the 1999 film Leftenan Adnan. He was also portrayed by an unknown Malay actor in the 2001 Singaporean television series A War Diary. Aaron Aziz also portrayed Adnan in an episode of the 2004 historical series Life Story from Mediacorp Channel 5, which also covers his personal life.