Forgotten Names Recalled: The Singapore Cenotaph Project

01/09/14
As I'd hoped when I began this project, a Singapore family has stepped forward and introduced themselves. I've written about the wonderful hospitality of Louise Clarke and her 95-year-old father, Gerry Clarke, the nephew of Cecil Clarke, on my personal blog. That evening I also met John and Ann Oehlers, great-niece and great-nephew of Cecil.

During dinner that evening we talked about Eurasian soldiers in the First World War, how little is known about them, how many there were, whether all of those who died were indeed commemorated on memorials in the places of their birth. John later sent me some information he came across on the National Library's newspaper archive site. I've transcribed it below. I hope there are people who can shed light on the history of the Eurasians in the British Army. The late Barry Pereira, with whom I had the good fortune to exchange information on the Bahau Catholic Settlement during the Japanese Occupation, had begun researching Eurasians in the armed forces before he passed away. This work should continue and we will do what we can to help.

I was also told that evening of the Eurasians in the Singapore Volunteers who fought the Japanese. Friends saw them being taken away, marching along the road, and called out to ask them where they were going. They made the twisting-hand sign we use here in Singapore for 'Don't know'. That was the last anyone saw of them who knew them. The nature of their executions is not known. Strange, isn't it, that we should have better knowledge of the fate of men who died nearly 100 years ago while those who are still remembered by people alive today will forever have a blank next to their names.

The Straits Times, 26 January 1937, Page 16
WHY NOT A EURASIAN REGIMENT?
Example of the Malays
To the Editor of the Straits Times.
Sir,--It did good to the hearts of many to see the Malay Regiment march yesterday from the Victoria Theatre to their mosque.
As a Eurasian, and one whose family have been British subjects for generations, I have wondered why Eurasians, many of whom proved their worth during the Great War and on other occasions, have never yet been invited to form a regiment. Surely here is food for thought for both H.E. and the Governor and the G.O.C.
Has there been a more loyal community here than the Eurasian which has only one nationality--the British?
---Yours etc.
        OBSERVER


 The Straits Times, 30 January 1937, Page 10
NOTES OF THE DAY.
Eurasians in the War
How many people in Singapore today know that over three hundred Eurasians from Malaya enlisted in His Majesty's Forces for service overseas during the Great War?
This honourable record is in danger of being forgotten and I was glad to see that 'Observer' recalled it the other day in his letter to the Straits Times in which he urged the formation of a Eurasian regiment on the lines of the Malay Regiment.
The response of the Eurasian community to the Empire's need during the War was especially creditable when it is remembered that the community was almost without military traditions or training in 1914, there being only one Eurasian volunteer company in the Straits at that time, and that at Penang.
It is a great pity that no Eurasian war memorial was erected years ago by the Colony, if not for the whole of Malaya, for it has already become impossible to complete the list of those who made the supreme sacrifice. Their number was not small, and many more came back with wounds and gas injuries.
MAJOR VAN SOMEREN
The most distinguished of those who joined up from the Malayan Eurasian community was the late Major van Someren, son of the well-known Penang lawyer, who was an acting colonel at 21 or 22 and was demobilised with the rank of major. After the War he commanded the Eurasian company of the Penang and Province Wellesley Volunteer Corps until his untimely death about ten years ago.
Of those who were killed I may mention Captain Michael Foley, who won a Queen's Scholarship in 1899 when a pupil of St. Xavier's Institution, Penang. He was killed at Gallipoli in August, 1915, when serving with the 10th Middlesex.
Captain Stanley Miles was killed on the Western Front, having risen from the ranks, and Cecil Clarke, elder brother of Dr. Noel Clarke, of Singapore, also made the supreme sacrifice.
Mr. John de Souza served as a lieutenant on H. M. S. Thermol in the North sea, while his brother Stephen (who has since died) was with the Sappers on the Western Front.
Then there were the Pennefathers--R.H. is still an active volunteer serving with the Machine-Gun Company, Singapore--E. Reutens, E. W. Howell, G. Wills, L. von Hart, and so one could go on. This is far from being a complete list, but at least it gives samples of the quality of personnel which could be recruited both for commissioned ranks and rank-and-file if a Eurasian regiment were to be raised in Malaya.


Michael Foley and Cecil Clarke are both listed on the Singapore cenotaph. Stanley Miles is not. My  early researches found a reference Lieutenant Claude Donald van Someren, killed in action on 21 March 1918, the son of Mr RG van Someren of Penang.  (Singapore Free Press, 23 April 1918 p 262). I haven't found his name on a memorial. Other Eurasian soldiers we know about are Guy Neubronner, VH van Cuylenberg, HE Miller and LR Bligh.

 
Rosemary Lim