Forgotten Names Recalled: The Singapore Cenotaph Project


A few weeks ago we took off for a few days and made the three-hour trip to Malacca. It's been a few years since I've been there and I'm sorry to say the place does not improve. It's not the worst example I've seen of rampant development without a thought to anything but money-making, but it's up there in the top ten. If it wasn't for the tourist dollars brought in by the old colonial area I'm sure the Stadt House and Christ Church would have been demolished long ago. Despite the UNESCO World Heritage status it now enjoys, Malacca is a depressing place to visit. There is very little left of it that would be recognisable to anyone from the 1980s, never mind the era of the First World War.

That little rant aside, our purpose in the visit was to photograph the names on the memorial in Christ Church. We gave some business to the first lady trishaw driver we've ever met and had a good old natter in Malay (me listening but understanding) along the route.
Although we'd been in Malacca in the past, this was the first time we'd entered the church. From photographs I'd seen in the past I'd expected the memorial to be large, perhaps six high and four feet wide when the doors were closed. It turned out to be small, about the size of a darts board cupboard. It has a handmade feel to it with the gold lettering painstakingly applied by a steady hand but a bit
squashed in places where names are long.

That makes it all the more poignant as Malacca was a small community and this memorial was clearly locally produced with whatever was at hand -- maybe it really was a darts board cupboard -- rather than send off to the larger towns of Kuala Lumpur or Singapore for a stone monument.

It's not hard to imagine a group of friends from the Malacca Club (left - now Independence Museum) deciding that they needed a memorial, one with meaning for their fallen friends. In my fanciful, fiction-writer mind, I can see one of them taking a darts board cupboard off the wall and declaring that this would be just the ticket, because they were all members of the club and at one time or another threw a dart or six at the wall.

When in Christ Church I took lots of close-up photographs of the little memorial. It really is endearing to see. Examining the photographs at home later showed up how aged the wood is now, how faded the letters are in places but how well-polished the bronze cross is.

It also, for the first time, brought to my attention an unfamiliar name: Campbell Drummond is the only man listed on the Malacca war memorial who is not listed on the Singapore cenotaph.  

I checked on my resources and found the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser  of 28 June 1919 had the Malacca Roll of Honour. Campbell Drummond's name was not included. A bit more research and his name turns up on a list about the memorial. So why was he not included on the Singapore cenotaph, which came later? Well it could be that the names put forward were from that 1919 newspaper article or more likely, it could be because Campbell Drummond worked on the Chimpul Estate, which was in Negri Sembilan, the adjoining state to Malacca. Perhaps he had joined in the social life at Malacca because that was nearest to him. This meant that he was not from the Straits Settlements.

  << The road to Jasin is miles of palm oil plantations.

So then we left Malacca and headed back to Singapore. Again something that was familiar to me was suddenly given a different meaning through the Singapore Cenotaph Project. We have passed the sign to Jasin as many times as we have travelled the North--South Highway but that day Jasin had a meaning for me because Lionel Coles, one of our men, had worked there. We decided on the spur of the moment to come off the road and follow the signs.

Miles and miles of palm oil plantations on either side and into the distance in front. In years gone by there would have been rubber trees on the estates where the men from Malacca were based. We came to a T-junction (right) with a sign, left to Jasin, right to Merlimau. Another familiar name as Merlimau was where Richard Bagnall worked.

We chose Jasin and we weren't disappointed. The town planning of the state of Malacca redeemed itself in Jasin. It is a lovely, typical old-style Malaysian town that has managed to keep its character while expanding with new building on the edges of what was once the main street. Most of the shophouses date from the 1920s and 1930s, so it was a place that would not have been familiar to Lionel Coles, except that perhaps the buildings might follow the old main road and instead of wood are now brick and stucco.

The gem of Jasin, though, was a lovely little museum housed in the former post office building. It is dedicated to the agriculture of the district, historical and present. There was no propaganda message, no political upmanship, no historical revisionism, just history, facts and examples of the fruit and vegetables produced and the two main plantation trees that made the area so rich: rubber and palm oil. Being able to enter the old building was also a pleasure.

It was transformed into a museum in sympathetic respect for the layout of the original rooms, the staircase to the first floor is original, the air grills above the doors are original. It is a better job of conservation than its big sister in Malacca. A worthwhile detour.
  << An example of rubber tapping work in Jasin Museum

(Far left)  Jasin Museum housed in the old post office is a little gem.    
Rosemary Lim