Does moving headstones move a graveyard? In Singapore, apparently so.
While the headstones and monuments at Singapore’s popular tourist spot, wedding and concert venue Fort Canning Park have been moved, the graves themselves remain. But you wouldn’t know they were there and no-one seems too concerned. Sprawling lawns now cover the one-time cemetery, with just a few monuments clumped together in a corner and some headstones incorporated into a wall that runs down the sloping hill.
The official line from the authorites is that most of the graveyard’s monuments and headstones were so delapidated they were removed in the mid 1970s.
Six hundred people were laid to rest in the cemetery between 1822 and when it closed in 1865. Can’t you tell? Um… Well… No.
The headstones that have been incorporated into a beautiful brick wall reveal the diverse range of people buried at Fort Canning. A third of them were Chinese Christians and languages on some of the reamining tombstones include German, Thai and Dutch.
I can’t help but wonder what Australians would think of a lawn replacing an old cemetery. Do you think there’s a period of time than passes before it’s OK to transform a cemetery into a recreation area?
ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$9 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.
I’d never heard of Kranji War Cemetery, but I’m glad I stumbled on it during a visit to Singapore.
One of the first graves I noticed was that of Aboriginal soldier Private J Knox. Private Knox died of illness as a Prisoner of War in Changi in August 1942. He served in the 2/26th Battalion, a Queensland unit that contained several Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. They fought in Malaya and Singapore but were captured when the British Empire garrison surrendered. The prisoners endured shocking slave labour conditions, and several Indigenous men were among the many Australians who died in captivity.
More than 20,000 Australians served, with around 1,800 lives lost in battle during the fall of Singapore. Around 15,000 were captured as Prisoners of War.
The Kranji War Cemetery is on the outskirts of Singapore. The Japanese landed just a few kilometres from the cemetery’s site on 8 February 1942, at the mouth of the Kranji River. The following night they launched an attack. Fighting continued for a few days, much of it hand-to-hand combat. Japanese troops had the numbers and lots of support from the air. Allied forces never stood a chance.
Names with no graves, and graves with no names.
The Kranji War Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 4,400 casualties of World War II. Among those graves are 850 without a name, only “known unto God”.
And then there are walls and walls and walls of names – names of land troops and airmen who don’t have graves. I can only assume many of those 24,000 casualties were left where they fell as they attempted to stop the Japanese during their surprise invasion through 200km of Malayan rainforest. Many would have been Prisoners of War who died in captivity, most notably during the construction of the Burma-Thailand railway. There is a memorial at the Kranji War Cemetery to the twenty-four THOUSAND people who have no known grave. (I needed to spell that out as I am still trying to come to terms with that number. Each of those men had families. Can’t. even. fathom).
Mass hospital grave
There’s another memorial at Kranji War Cemetery which really put my heart into my throat. It relates to a mass grave that is located on hospital grounds in Singapore.
You see, during the last hours of the Battle of Singapore, hundreds of wounded civilians and servicemen taken prisoner by the Japanese were taken to the hospital. The number of subsequent fatalities was too great for the hospital and authorities to handle. The deceased were put into an emergency water tank that had been dug on the hospital grounds prior to the war. This mass grave holds more than 400 people.
After the war it was determined that identifying those within was an impossible task. So the grave was left undisturbed and enclosed, consecrated by the Bishop of Singapore. The site is marked by a cross, put there by military authorities.
The Kranji War Cemetery isn’t far from the Kranji train station so I can highly recommend you pay it and our fallen soldiers a visit the next time you’re in Singapore.
ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage. Lisa’s passion is telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.