The last stand
The enemy shelled relentlessly. "Tuan! Peluru dah habis tuan!", shouted a private. Charlie company had ran out of ammo. Lieutenant Adnan knew the inevitable. They were outnumbered 10 to 1. The 1st and 2nd Regiment gave everything they had, frustrating the Japs, pushing them back to Reformatory Road. But the moment of no return had come. Lieutenant Adnan had a choice to make. It would be untruthful to say that he was glad to make that choice. It would be untruthful to say that he was fearless. His courage was not the absence of fear. Rather it was fear, blinded by honour.
Where were the British? Most of them have left for England months before the war entered Malaya. All who are left were a few British officers, the ANZ regiments and the Indian Brigades. The Brits had never considered to use the Chinese as soldiers. They gave the Communist Resistance old rifles and sent them into the forests of the peninsula in the hope to slow down the Japanese onslaught. Ill-trained, with only their shirts on their back, the Japs had easy pickings against the helmet-less Chinese. The Japs had landed only 7 days ago, and now they try to break past Pt. 226.
We fought with honour. They surrendered.
Lieutenant Adnan could probably hear his heart thumping loudly masking the sounds of grenades and bullets around him. His was a choice shared by many commanders. It's never a choice between good and bad. Only bad and worse. Between surrendering and dying in action, it wasn't a no-brainer for a valiant soldier like him. All he could think of was his family; his wife, sons, and a newborn he has yet to see.
His last words
"Company! Pasang bayonet!!" he commanded. "Askar-askar Melayu! Inilah saat yang kami nantikan! Biar putih tulang... Jangan putih mata!", he bellowed. "Ta'at Setia!" came the echo. His men expended whatever rounds they had left. Lieutenant Adnan scuttled through the communications line to Abbas Manan who manned the machine gun. "Tuan Abbas, jika hari ini ajal saya, saya rela menemuinya. Asalkan ada seorang yang menjaga keluarga saya," sighed the lieutenant.
"Tuan Adnan!" gasped a shocked Abbas. "Pulang ke markas sekarang! Ini amanah awak!" barked Lieutenant Adnan. Abbas hastened back to base, knowing those would be the last words he would hear of his lieutenant.
These 42 men weren't fighting for land. They were fighting for love. Fighting to return home safely to the love of a wife, and a son or a daughter. But they died for the love of their country. Ta'at Setia. Ta'at to who? Setia to who? The Sultan? The British?
No. None of these things. If this country were void of a sultan, like Malacca or Penang, Ta'at Setia would still be echoed. Were they loyal servants to his royal highness? These men couldn't care less about the British crown. Regardless of where these men came from, they voiced the same pledge. Certainly those soldiers that were raised in Malacca wouldn't be pledging their loyalty to the Governor.
2 archaic words, that possess so much complex meaning. Ta'at. All they would ta'at are the wishes of their brothers in arms. Abbas was a survivor of the famous 42 men who battled the Japanese. He lived long enough to tell us his rendition of events on the 15th of Februrary 1942. To tell us that those were Lieutenant Adnan's last words. All they were setia to are to each other. They fought together and they would die together. Abbas was ta'at to Adnan, which prevented him from dying loyally with his brothers.
These were ordinary men, who performed extraordinary duties. Duties, not for country, for theirs was a colony on their father's land which they did not own. But duties to each other. They defended each other, so that their comrades could return safely to someone they love. And if they were to return alive in the face of defeat, how could they explain to a widow, an orphan, a father, or a mother, that their son died in battle. Certainly, only honour could save them from that shame.
It begins with a pledge. A pledge taken seriously. It was a pledge they'd bring to their graves.
"Ta'at Setia!" Hairul commanded from the school podium as he brought his clenched fist to his heart. My friend, the prefect, would lead the pledge taking every sleepy morning in primary school.
"We, the citizens of Singapore. Pledge ourselves as One United People...".
I recollect my time in primary school... and I ask myself. Would I bring this pledge to my grave? Do I have the honour to perform that duty?
(End of Part 2)
The first recruits to the Malay Regiment