Forgotten Names Recalled: The Singapore Cenotaph Project


On 12 January 2014 we visited Streatham Cemetery on Garrett Lane, Wandsworth, two buses away from my daughter’s flat but only about eight stops from Balham. We thought we’d go on the off-chance of finding R. Upton’s grave. It’s listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website with the location of G227. Luckily there was a map on entering the cemetery, so it was easy to work out where to start looking.
  Sgt Richard Upton's grave in Streatham Cemetery
I imagined having to walk along rows and rows of graves in section G to find the right headstone. As it turned out each section was more or less a field with paths between them and the graves dotted within the field. At section G it became very easy to spot the war graves as the CWGC has placed headstones exactly the same as those in Kranji, Taiping and every other war cemetery at the sites of servicemen’s graves, even in Streatham Cemetery. On spotting the familiar white stone my first thought was: I’ve found him. But no, it was another serviceman’s grave. Looking around I began to notice the white CWGC headstones dotted all over the cemetery. One by one we visited each, picking our way through ankle-deep grass damp from earlier rain. Ten graves later we found Sergeant R. Upton.

This is the first time I’ve visited the grave of one of the men on the Singapore Cenotaph. He was a Master Mariner who worked for the Straits Steamship Company. He died aged 34 on 4th May 1915. One drawback with having the CWGC headstone is that only the initials of the people are listed, so no first name. I’d been hoping to find out his first name from a family gravestone. The search continued elsewhere.
Later in the day, with the background of Poirot re-runs on the TV, I settled down to search for more information on Upton, R. And I found him, together with a photograph in which he sported an even more magnificent waxed moustache than Hercule Poirot’s. Through I found not only his photo, but the entry in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour which gave his mother’s address – a mere five-minute walk from where I was staying. Quite a grand double-fronted house semi-detached, we found out when we drove past it a few days later. It seemed a bit rude to the current occupant to stop and take a photo.

That explains why he’s buried in Streatham Cemetery. I can imagine that his mum went to his grave quite often to leave flowers. Since his dad had already died, it’s possible that Richard was buried in the family plot. All evidence of the previous headstone has disappeared so without going to Lambeth Council and doing a lot more research we’ll never know. That level of research is beyond me, but at least the grave is marked now, unlike so much of that field that is empty of markers.

Rosemary Lim