Friday, January 11, 2013

Searching for an unmarked grave.

When I started this blog, it was to recollect and record memories of the past. It was to help old friends, old neighbours, new friends and readers to remember and connect with those days we spent in our small estate.

Some articles stretched a bit further back than most of us can remember, like the piece about  the Tragedy at Sleepy Valley.  Here it was more to let others know of the places near where we lived and how it related to the past.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I received a note from Paul Cameron of Perth, Australia.
Paul had read my blog on the events that happened at Sleepy Valley during the war in Feb 1942.
Paul could relate to the story personally because his grandfather, William Cameron, had fought and was killed in action at Sleepy Valley.

This was what he wrote, "... it is of great importance to me, as my late Grandfather William Cameron, of the Special Reserve battalion, E Coy, 2/4th Machine Gunners, died in battle here.
He died approx. 10am on the morning 11th Feb 1942 , whilst retreating from the Battle , and to this day our family do not know where he was buried."

I was very touched by what he wrote and emailed to him. What he knew of the events on that fateful day came from the recorded history of his grandfather's military unit, the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion of the 2nd Australian Imperial Forces. The E Coy, 2/4th MG Bn was part of the Special Reserve Battalion which I wrote about in my earlier blog. This battalion met their demise at Bukit Batok during the Japanese invasion when they were ambushed.

From details found in a book called "Colour Patch" by author Murray Ewen, it said that the Commanding Officer of the unit, Major A.E. Saggers, obtained permission from their Japanese captors to return to Sleepy Valley to recover and bury the remains of the soldiers killed there. This was after 10 months had past since the British forces surrendered to the Japanese Army.

Major Saggers and his burial party managed to recover about 62 bodies of their fallen comrades which they buried in an unmarked mass grave somewhere in the vicinity. The only record was that it was marked on a map with grid reference 753147.

I consulted my friend Peter Chan, who is a WW2 history enthusiast, and he managed to translate the grid reference into a GPS coordinate for me. So with this stroke of luck, we managed to determine that the unmarked grave was located at what is now Eng Kong Gardens / Cheng Soon Gardens housing development at Toh Tuck Road.

The 1961 map of the battle site that was used to identify the location of the unmarked grave.

Google Earth screen capture of the location today.
The unmarked grave site is at Upper Toh Tuck Terrace/Lorong Kismis. (green arrow)

It is fortuitous that the site is today a small park in the midst of a sprawling housing estate.
How fortunate can that be! 
Below is a picture of the Eng Kong Gardens Playground where the unmarked grave was located.

From the shape of the land, it can be seen that the park was levelled out from the hill slope. 
There is the possibility that during the construction of the park, they could have found and exhumed the grave. However, I searched the newspapers archives but couldn't find any record of such a find. 

I then came across an article that said that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had, between 1947 to 1950, gone around Singapore to recover and rebury the remains of Commonwealth soldiers killed during WW2. The remains were reinterred at the Kranji War Memorial. It is also very possible that the CWGC had recovered the bodies there for reburial as Sleepy Valley was a known major battle site during WWII. 

I went to the Kranji War Memorial and checked the burial register. There is no record of a William Cameron from 2/4th MG battalion buried there. However, I found that his name is engraved on the wall at the Singapore Memorial of the Kranji War Memorial. That would indicate that his remains was unidentified and could possibly be buried together with all the unidentified remains in the un-named mass grave at Kranji.

On my suggestion, Paul has written to the CWGC and as well as to NParks, who built the Eng Kong Garden Playground, for some further leads. Paul Cameron will be visiting Singapore in March and a visit to his grandfather's epitaph is on top of his list. I am happy that Paul will be able to reconnect with his grandfather.

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  1. How very interesting that I stumbled upon your blog.I take my morning walk almost every week passing Eng Kong and Lorong kismis lodge and some strange feeling pull and tug at me and I feel a very pleasant sensation passing this area that I decided to research this place.Im not a Singaporean.
    Thank You

  2. Thank you for sharing this rich history. Exiting PIE from bukit batok ave 3 will never be the same again.