Lest We Forget
    Category: Column By : Steve Crewe Read : 870 Date : Friday, January 16, 2015 - 18:16:19

    Eleven o’clock on November 11 marks 96 years since the guns fell silent following World War I.  Although there’s no accurate figure, it is estimated that over 16 million gave their lives, the vast majority on the battlefields, whose disturbed earth was barren except for the bright red poppy that thrives there.

    They are all gone now, those veterans I remember from my youth proudly displaying their campaign ribbons, replaced by equally proud veterans from World War II. That conflict, however, was a global one in which over 60 million people or around 2.5% of the world’s population lost their lives. As such, the war graves and memorials are to be found worldwide, many tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which cares for over 23,000 locations in 153 countries.

    A notable one is at Kranji in Singapore, which the Japanese invaded in 1942. After the fall of Singapore in February, the Japanese organized a POW camp at Kranji and later a hospital at Woodlands. Changi Prison had been the site of the main POW camp. In 1946, the decision was made to extend the smaller Kranji cemetery and move the graves from the Changi and Buona Vista POW camps. Simultaneously, other graves were moved from all over the island, together with those from Saigon in Vietnam, as these too could not be assured permanent maintenance.

    Today there are 4,461 WWII Commonwealth casualties buried or commemorated at Kranji, with over 850 being unidentified. Tribute is also paid to 64 Chinese of the Commonwealth forces who died during the Japanese occupation as comrades in arms. Burials and commemorations too were made for 64 WWI casualties.

    Within the Kranji War Cemetery stands the Singapore Memorial with the names of more than 24,000 casualties of the Commonwealth forces who have no known grave. Many have no known date of death either, but are recorded as of the date they went missing or were captured—including those who participated in the land campaigns in Malaya and Indonesia, as well as those who died building the Burma-Thailand railway, or were lost at sea. Also commemorated are Commonwealth airmen.

    Although not expansive, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Jakarta’s Menteng Pulo is also full of history. Here are commemorated 715 British, 304 Indian and Nepalese, and 96 Australian casualties, as well as other nationalities, though not the Dutch who have their own cemetery.

    Some died fighting the rapid Japanese advance. Others died as part of the Anglo-Dutch resistance at Palembang, and then there were those perished in the POW camps. Also buried within the cemetery are those who died after Japan’s formal surrender in September 1945, as the returning Commonwealth forces were to get sucked into the Indonesian National Revolution.

    Today they lie here, irrespective of rank, religion and gender, each with their own tale to tell. They made the ultimate sacrifice, and we have reaped the benefit. Yet as the veterans fade in numbers the torch is passed to us. Lest we forget, it is our duty not just to remember but also to ensure that our children, grandchildren and their grandchildren will never forget the debt of gratitude they owe to those who lay down their lives so that other can be free.