Forgotten Names Recalled: The Singapore Cenotaph Project


The book, Forgotten Names Recalled: Stories from the Singapore Cenotaph, is now at the printers and should be delivered on Thursday 31 July. I know from past experience that I'll open the book and spot a mistake. It always happens, whether a magazine article, short story or a book. Sod's Law, as they say. Nevertheless it is an immense relief to have reached this stage in the project, mistakes and misgivings and all.

I have a number of people to thank for the book being the way that it is. First of all the three guest writers, Pierre Lee (French-Singaporean student), Elaine Young (Editor of the Singapore St Andrew's Association Magazine), Rosanne Woodmansee (Volunteer Guide for Preservation of Sites and Monuments, National Heritage Board, Singapore). Each brought a different voice to the stories of the men they wrote about: Pierre about the Frenchmen, Elaine about the Scots and Rosie about the Australians. I enjoyed working with them and discovering new perspectives on the men whose lives I had researched.

In my introduction to the book I wrote the following:

At the beginning of the Singapore Cenotaph Project the majority of those [124] names brought forth no recollections, not a face to remember, no events to recollect, nothing save a combination of letters that spells a person’s previous existence.
I say majority because not all are forgotten. Robert William Morris, for example, still has a great-nephew living in Singapore, Dr Julian Davison.  ... Websites by individuals, such as Mr VB Guy Martin, commemorate his father’s brother after whom he is named. Carol Fletcher has kept her family records safe by digitising photographs and stories on the Ancestry genealogy site. Schools and universities have Rolls of Honour on their walls, in book form and nowadays as web pages. All these have been tremendous sources of information, for which I am immensely grateful: Catherine Smith of Charterhouse; John Hamblin of King’s School, Canterbury; Nick McCarthy of Stamford School; David Pinney of Trent College; Suzanne Foster of Winchester; Beverley Matthews, Tonbridge School; Christopher Dawkins, Felsted School. Also Tim Moreman of Wedmore Island.

It has been a great encouragement to meet others online and through emails who are also commemorating the centenary of the First World War. Here in Singapore it's more or less a non-event. Sorry to say that this also applies to the British community, although with some notable exceptions. The Royal Society of St George, the St David's Society and the Singapore St Andrew's Society have shown great community spirit and helped by spreading the word about the project among their members. An unusual response came from Christopher Jones, a member of St David's, with information about his Irish grandfather, William Newlands Gourlay.

I'm glad I met Chris, who shared his son's excellent school project on his great-grandfather's experiences in the Colonial Civil Services of the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States, and also his experiences as an internee in Changi and Sime Road Camp during the Japanese Occupation. William (Bill) Gourlay had also been an officer with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the First World War at Gallipoli and later at the Western Front, where he was captured by the Germans in the 1918 Spring Offensive. His story is included in the book as 'A Survivor's Story'.

As always, the Irish community in Singapore has been very supportive. And last but not least, my husband Boon Cheng and son Ben who have both done their volunteer bit to see the project through to this stage and beyond. It's really been a family affair in many ways and I couldn't have done it without them.

So what is the next stage? Well, an ebook will be online shortly, though that is part of stage one. Stage two proper is the sharing of the research files. Some of this has already been done with the exchange of information with the above schools and families. This will continue as contacts are built up with other schools and families. We've also been in touch with the Singapore Cricket Club and we will be giving them a copy of the files on each of the men on their war memorial who is also named on the Singapore cenotaph. The pdf files will begin to be uploaded soon. The main issue with these is that images from the UK National Archives cannot be uploaded without permission and the payment of a fee, as this is considered publishing. We've paid for roughly 200 images to be used, but this is a small number compared to those available. We're able to share records for research purposes without charge, however.

Rosemary Lim