This is the copy of my appeal to the war graves commission around 1945
Telephone 0161-477-2681 & 0161-480-0114
Author Writer Researcher Fax 0161-477-2681
61 Charles Street
Previously when writing to the War Graves Commission I have addressed my letters to Ms Beverley Webb who I understand has now retired. Would it be possible therefore for someone else in your department to assist me.
I am a former service man 1936-49 vintage, also the organiser of the National Ex-Services Association. I write and publish books about the second world war, mainly the Far East theatre. Among my other sins and accomplishments, I try wherever possible to assist all former service men and the families of those who are no longer with us. Some of my work has taken me back to Malaysia and Thailand trying to locate the last resting place of certain men who went missing. and who are recorded as having no known grave. Some are successful, while others due to Government apathy remain unsolved.
One intriguing case which has been on going for some twenty years concerns the loss of the warship HMS Thanet on the morning of the 28th January 1942. The Thanet along with the Australian war ship Vampire was ordered to go to Endau on the east coast of Malaya where it had been reported that Japanese forces were landing. What was not reported was that there was a very large contingent of Japanese war ships assisting in the landing. Thanet and Vampire went in, but within minutes Thanet had been hit by torpedoes and gun fire and she sank. a number of men escaped and made their way overland to Singapore. A number of the crew were taken prisoner by the Japanese navy and handed over to Japanese military.
After the war the families of those missing were informed by the war department that their next of kin had been taken prisoner on the 28th January 1942 and that they had died in a prisoner of war camp on the 31st January 1942. also that they had no known grave.
It was not until four years ago that the significance of the letter from the Government to the families of each missing man became obvious, in that each of the thirty or so men had been taken prisoner on the same day and that each had each died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp on the same day. Being a former prisoner of the Japanese myself, and knowing how they think and act, it became obvious that these men had been executed immediately after being taken prisoner of war.
While in Malaya three years ago, an associate called at Endau mainland and made enquiries relating to the fate of these men and was told by one or two local elderly persons, that on the morning of the 29th January the prisoners had been assembled in the jungle and executed by machine gun fire. They could not show exactly where the men had been killed but implied that men had come along and removed the remains of men killed during the war.
I am now of the opinion that I could with assistance from the War Graves Commission identify at least forty of those graves in Taiping cemetery which currently have no identity.
After the war between the years 1945 to 1948, a group from the Commonwealth War Graves recovery unit began the job of recovering the remains of soldiers who were buried in shallow graves or otherwise. The system they employed was to make a record of where the remains had been found. If the remains were those of a single body or group. Did they have identification and had they any personal effects. here what if any personal items were with the remains, they would be recorded. The remains were then placed in body bags and taken to where the nearest military cemetery was being prepared for burial. Each grave was then numbered and listed, as shown in the graves registry.
In the instance of the men from the Thanet, they would have been buried in a mass grave. The people working on the recovery team would have no knowledge if the remains were those of a soldier or sailor, because before any execution of this kind, the Japanese make sure that all possible means of identification had been removed..
All this time we have been looking for a burial plot, when in fact there is a ninety nine percent possibility that the remains were recovered and taken to the nearest cemetery, where they would be buried under a marker which states Unknown soldier of the second world war, known only unto God.
The nearest cemetery to Endau where the remains were found, is at Taiping. There are just 866 burials here, and of these 332 are identified, the remaining 534 have no identification. I can also identify a further ten men from the 137 Field Regiment, who went missing on the 10th January 1942.whose remains were also recovered but now lie beneath an unidentified marker.
It is my opinion that the men from the Thanet are among the no known graves. If we can have access to the paper work and documents which still remain in the cellars of the Commonwealth War Graves offices in Reading. I feel one hundred percent sure that we would be able to notify the relatives of those men of the Thanet, and others that we have found where their sons, fathers brothers, and in some instances, husbands are buried.
The above applies to a number of those men who are recorded as having no known grave elsewhere. We who were there know where we last saw men fall, we know where we buried them hurriedly, but no one has ever bothered to ask us, or put two and two together.Added to this I was one of those who immediately after the surrender, was compelled by our captors to work with others in burying the dead of all nationalities.
We have received some assistance from the Japanese Naval History Department concerning our search for information on the Thanet which confirms that at least thirty men were taken prisoner and then handed over to a Japanese airborne unit.
As you are no doubt aware there are more than 22,000 men and women listed as having no known grave. Of these at least 12,000 died on Japanese transports or at sea. at least a further 1000 were part of mass executions on various islands in the Pacific. The record shows 5000 were Chinese or Indian, many of these deserted to avoid capture by the Japanese and were listed as having died.
Roughly 18,000 can be accounted for By checking through the lists which were prepared by the recovery unit, it would be possible to link at least fifty percent of those recorded.
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