Centenaries in March

Six out of the seven men listed below died, went missing or were captured and later died during the German Spring Offensive begun on 21 March 1918. This is the second-highest casualty rate of men listed on the Singapore Cenotaph for a single month, with July 1916, the Battle of the Somme, having the greatest number of deaths.

R. C. Sherriff's, play Journey's End, is set in the three days leading up to the the offensive and ends on the morning of 21 March. The play was performed in Singapore in the 1930s when the role of Stanhope played by John Mills and, for one night only, Noel Coward. First performed in 1928 with Laurence Olivier in the lead role, the play was received with great acclaim. Now a major film, the play reflects the sentiments of many of the men who fought in the Great War.

21 March 1918 John Alexander Anderson aged 30. Son of Mr John Peter and Mrs Elizabeth Anderson née Holdom of Lochbank, Forfar, Scotland. John went to Demerara, Guyana (British Guiana), where he was manager of a sugar plantation. In 1911 he went to Penang where he worked as a divisional manager at Bertam Estate, Province Wellesley. During his time in the East, John became a member of the Penang Cricket Club and was commemorated on its memorial. In 1917 he returned to the UK and joined the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots, and was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in 2nd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment in October 1917. He was attached to the 4th Battalion when he went missing during the German Spring Offensive, presumed dead. John has no known grave and is remembered on Panels 42 & 43 Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France.

21 March 1918 Alexander (Alec) Duncan aged 34. Son of Mr and Mrs James Duncan of Keith, Banffshire, Scotland. Alec worked as a planter for the Malakoff Estate, Penang. He was also a member of the Penang Cricket Club and was named on its memorial. In 1916 he enlisted in the Scottish Horse and was attached to the 1/6th Battalion the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) with the rank of corporal. The Straits Echo described him as ‘of a quiet and retiring disposition, but very popular among his planting friends’. Alec was missing in action during the German Spring Offensive has no known grave and is remembered on Bay 6, Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France. https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/1714706

21 March 1918 John Eliot Hancock aged 32. Son of Rev Henry Charles Hancock and Mrs Clara Martha Hancock née Dowdell. John was born in Australia and was brought up by his maternal grandmother after his mother died. He was a merchant with Sime Darby in Malacca, where his name is listed on the memorial in Christ Church. He was a captain in the 9th Battalion the Norfolk Regiment and was awarded the DSO the month before he went missing during the German Spring Offensive. John has no known grave and is remembered on Bay 3, Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.

22 March 1918 John Sharpey Schafer aged 36. Son of Sir Edward Sharpey Schafer and Maud Lady Schafer of North Berwick; husband of Ruth Bateman-Champain (formerly Schafer née Hutchinson) and father of Edward Peter Sharpey Schafer (b 1908) and John Michael Sharpey Schafer (b 1911). John was a lieutenant commander on the Retired List of the Royal Navy when he became a planter on the Devon Estate in Malacca in 1912. His name is on the memorial in Christ Church, Malacca. While in the Royal Navy he had served on the China Station and was recalled to the service on the outbreak of the war. He served on HMS King George during the Battle of Jutland. Because of John’s specialist skills as a surveyor, he was selected as commander of HMS Gaillardia to establish the Great Northern Barrage Mind Field between Scotland and Norway. The ship hit a mine and sank with the loss of 93 men. He is remembered on Panel 27 of the Chatham Naval Memorial. https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/6900346

23 March 1918 Charles Thomas Andrews Robertson aged 32. Son of Mr Robert Robertson and Mrs Penelope Lucy Leslie Robertson née Johnston Walker of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. In Singapore Charles worked for the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank. He was a member of the Singapore Cricket Club, where he is named on the war memorial. Charles was a major in the 1st/5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders was wounded on 21 March 1918 when Fresnoy Redoubt fell to the Germans in the Spring Offensive. He was taken prisoner and died of his wounds. Charles’ grave is at Grand-Seraucourt British Cemetery, Aisne, France. https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/3775529

24 March 1918 Bernard Cutbill aged 26. Son of Mr Frederick Cutbill and Mrs Mary A. Cutbill of Southsea, Portsmouth. Bernard was an accountant with Malacca Rubber Plantations and is remembered on the war memorial in Christ Church, Malacca. He was a captain in the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, attached to the 9th Battalion when he went missing in action on the first day of the German Spring Offensive of March 1918. In June that year information received from the Germans via the Red Cross confirmed that Bernard had been taken prisoner and had died of wounds. He was buried at Ontario Cemetery, Sains-les-Marquin, Pas de Calais, France. https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/1068816

24 March 1918 John Frederick Hornsey aged 37. Son of Mr John Hornsey and Mrs Mary Elisabeth Hornsey or Summertown, Oxfordshire; husband of Florence Hornsey née Hunt, father of Peter Walsingham Hornsey (b 1913, Birmingham) and John Wilfred Hornsey (b 1915, Singapore). John had been a medical practitioner in Singapore. He joined up for one year as a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to the 6th Battalion, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. John has no known grave and is remembered at Pozieres, Somme France and on the Singapore Cricket Club’s war memorial.

Anniversaries in March

10 March 1919 George Hawthorn Minot Robertson aged 33. Son of Rev Philip Robertson and Mrs Martha Hawthorn Robertson née Urquhart. George worked for the Colonial Civil Service of the Straits Settlements, first in Singapore and latterly in Malacca. He was a 2nd lieutenant in the 13th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry and transferred as a lieutenant to the Nigeria Regiment West Africa Frontier Force, Marte Corps Regiment. When the war ended he was recalled to the Straits Settlements but contracted influenza, complicated with malaria. He died where he was born, Sandhead, Wigtownshire (Dumfries & Galloway), Scotland, having returned home on leave to visit his family and was buried at Portpatrick. His epitaph reads: ‘Home after much travelling.’

28 March 1917 Alfred Whatmore aged 33. Son of Mr William and Mrs Ann Whatmore, 13 West India Dock Rd, London. Alfred was a chief engineer for the Straits Steamship Company. During the Singapore Mutiny he assisted in getting women and children to safety. This experience was instrumental in his volunteering for service with the Merchant Navy on the hazardous Atlantic crossings. He was a second engineer on the SS Gafsa when it was sunk as a result of an attack by an enemy submarine off Kinsale Head, Ireland. His name and those of other of the merchant and fishing fleets is listed on the Tower Memorial in London which commemorates men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets.