Forgotten Names Recalled: The Singapore Cenotaph Project

08/08/14

The book launch of Forgotten Names Recalled: Stories from the Singapore Cenotaph went like clockwork. A small turnout but considering the Singapore media completely ignored the centenary of Singapore's entry into the First World War (despite our efforts to raise its profile) we did rather well with the numbers. None of the European or Australian organisations sent a representative, which was not unexpected as they are mostly made up of short-term expatriates who know little about their host country and nothing much about their home country's history with their host country.

However, we were very happy that interested individuals came along having found out through the Singapore Heritage Society, the British Council, ANZA and the St George's Society who tweeted the event, put it on their Facebook page, on their forum or in their e-newsletter. The National Heritage Board was also absent, save for the liaison who deals with the project. The Irish embassy representative was the only official from an embassy or high commission, so well done Ireland! But then, the cenotaph was designed by an Irishman.

Below is my speech for the launch. It is in three parts as Rosanne Woodmansee and Pierre Lee, two of my three guest writers, spoke in between. Dr Julian Davison, great-nephew of Robert Morris, accepted a book on behalf of his family and all families of the men on the cenotaph. The best part of the whole day was when Louise Clarke arrived and introduced herself as the great-niece of Cecil Clarke. It was wonderful to meet her! She had a photograph of Cecil (see website banners) and we talked and talked about her family and the research that has been done so far. It made my day, meeting Louise.

Speech
Part 1
Good afternoon I’m Rosemary Lim and welcome to the book launch of Forgotten Names Recalled: Stories from the Singapore Cenotaph in this wonderful setting of the Chamber. I’d like to thank the Arts House for providing this stunning venue for our event.

An Irishman, George Coleman, designed and built the core of the Arts House in 1827. It’s been much altered and added to since then, of course. 95 years later, in 1922, another Irish architect, Denis Santry, designed and built the Straits Settlements War Memorial, better known as the Singapore Cenotaph, a National Monument. 91 years after that, last year in fact, I decided, I wanted to know more about the names listed on the cenotaph and so began this project. And I happen to be Irish too.

I began my research in February 2013 and within days realized I had held several misconceptions. First, I thought only men who’d been resident in Singapore were listed. As I said earlier, the cenotaph was the war memorial to men from the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore. So that was lesson one.

Second, I thought only British men were listed. I need to clarify ‘British’ as England, Scotland and Wales and then add on the Irish – it’s complicated for the Irish. Again, I was wrong. There are seven Frenchmen named on the plaques. As soon as I found this out I knew I’d be asking Pierre Lee to take part in the project, although he didn’t know that for some time.

Then as research continued I found out about Michael Foley, from Penang, a Eurasian who’d been a Queen’s Scholar & had stayed in England after his law degree. Two other Eurasians, Cecil Clarke and Bertie Dennison, were Singaporean. Bertie was an old-boy of Raffles Institution, as were Osmond Wright and William Newton. Although I haven’t confirmed it yet, I think Osmond and William were also Eurasians. Newton Road, by the way, was named after William Newton’s father, Howard Newton.

And then of course, there are the Australians. How could I have imagined Singapore without Australians! They were here, of course. My thought then was, ‘I must find some Aussies to join the project.’
Well as it turned out, the Aussie, Rosanne Woodmansee sitting over there, found me. After I’d received confirmation that the National Heritage Board of Singapore would support the Singapore Cenotaph Project with a grant, -- for which I thank them -- I posted the news on the Heritage Society Forum. Rosie & I knew each other through the Friends of the Museums. She emailed to tell me, ‘You know that I’m a volunteer guide with the Monuments Board?’ words to that effect, ‘And I’ve just guided the monuments on the Esplanade including the cenotaph?’
Well! Here is Rosie. [Roseanne’s speech]
 
Part 2
So how do you go about researching 124 names? The internet is the starting point and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. If you can find a date, chances are you can find an obituary in the newspapers, so the next stop through the National Library’s online newspapers search. From there you might get parents’ names & a place name, so on to the genealogy sites, ancestry.co.uk, Find My Past and others. Ancestry has digitized medal cards from the First World War, so a name, a regiment, a rank will usually find what you need. Some records for enlisted men, other ranks as they were called, are also digitised on Ancestry but many of those records were destroyed during bombing in WW2, so it’s not a given that you’ll find what you need.

As for officers, there’s nothing for it but a trip to the UK National Archives at Kew, Greater London. Fortunately I have a daughter in London so I was able to spend a lot of time at Kew, with my little pink hand-me-down camera. I need to explain that. There were very serious academics a Kew with serious photographic equipment linked up to laptops so they could click and turn, click and turn. But the War Office records I was photographing are bits of paper of every shape, size and texture, curled up at the edges, folded up into creases and many of them quite fragile … so I had to set down the camera and rotate the file to get the shot then turn the pages with both hands so as not to rip them. That little camera may not have produced the best quality pictures, but it was good enough to read and transcribe the documents later on.

But of course that was the British Army records. What about the Australians? The Australian War Memorial site and the Australian Archives and the Australian libraries Trove site for newspapers were brilliant. So much information.

But how do we find out about the Frenchmen? Well, a long time ago I did a degree in French so I had some chance of finding records on the Morts Pour la France site of the French Ministry of Defence. But that was as far as I got and I knew I needed help.

So enter Pierre Lee, who was one of my mentees for the Ministry of Education’s Creative Arts Programme a few years ago. He and his mother Anne-Lise took over all of the research and the writing for the Frenchmen.

But he’ll tell you about that himself, Pierre. [Pierre’s speech]

Part 3
Thank you Pierre. It’s good to know that someone in the next generation will remember. We have a third guest writer, Elaine Young, who wrote some of Scotsmen the stories. She on holiday so can’t be here today.

Rosie and I were talking about war memorials. How we grew up knowing where they were and what they meant. Nowadays this is not always the case. Remembrance is one of the reasons why the First World War Centenary has become a catalyst for a storm of activity, not a flurry, an absolute storm of events taking place all over the world, big and small. Like many of these, The Singapore Cenotaph Project, is a member of the First World Centenary Partnership led by the Imperial War Museum in London. Some of the pictures you saw in the slide show earlier are from the IWM. Their website is 1914.org. The IWM is also spearheading Lives of the First World War, to gather and archive information about the men and women who were involved with the war.

So although this book launch may seem to be the culmination of the project, it is only the end of Stage One. The book is not so much an end to be met, as a means to an end.

Irvine Thornton, who is listed on the cenotaph, wrote letters to his father. After his death, his father collected them into a book. I was able to visit the British Library in London and read that book. This is the purpose of the printed word: to be held safely in as many libraries and archives as possible for future reference. (There’ll be an ebook too). Already I have requests for books to be donated. Stanley Henson, who was in the Straits Settlements Police was from the Isle of Wedmore. Stanley Henson was the first man from Wedmore to be killed in the war. A book will be sent to Tim Moreman, Wedmore’s local historian, in time for their exhibition. That’s just one example. The research files will also go to Wedmore.

The point is to spread the information as widely as possible. So Stage Two of the project is the uploading of pdf files on the project’s website. As far as copyright permits, all the information we have found on each of the 112 men will be available for download.

There were 72 officers, 38 other ranks and two civilians. 58 were English, more or less, 28 Scottish, 1 English/Scots, 5 Irish, 2 Welsh, 3 Australian-born and 2 Australian/Scots, 1 English/Australian, 1 Canadian, 1English/Canadian and 3 Eurasians, with possibly two more English-Eurasians. Some of the English were London Irish, Tyneside Scots.

But what about their families? Through Ancestry I was able to contact some families, though not many could contribute information. A web search brought me to Guy Martin’s family history site which included the story of his uncle, also Guy Martin, and he gave permission to use Guy’s photographs.
And today we have with us the great-nephew of one of the men on the cenotaph. Robert William Morris was the eldest of five children and he was the only one of them not born in Singapore. His sister was the grandmother of Dr Julian Davison.

I’d like to invite Julian to accept a book on behalf of his family and the other families of the men of the Singapore Cenotaph. The families did not forget who they were.

 
 
 Photos will be uploaded soon.

 
Rosemary Lim