ato' Ronald McCoy remembers the evening
of Thursday, March 17 1949 well. As the School Captain, he
stood at the school entrance with the Headmaster Mr. Frederick
Daniel and Mr. M. N. Cumarasami, the President of the VIOBA,
awaiting the arrival of a very distinguished guest. There had
been a heavy downpour in the late afternoon and the school porch
and steps were very wet.
The previous day, Mr. Daniel had called a
school assembly and briefed the V.I. boys on the special
occasion on the morrow – the opening of their new library
and the unveiling of the V.I. War memorial. It would however
be witnessed only by invited guests, a few masters, the prefects
and some Post-senior boys.
The new School Library had been remodeled
from the prewar science store room. It replaced the old library
which had been located in the staff room under the clock tower
next to the school office. The Japanese occupation of the V.I.
premises had resulted in the wholesale looting of the old library
and other school property. The largest room in the School, it
had now comfortable seating accommodation for eighty boys at
a time. Its new book-cases were sufficient to hold more than
ten thousand books. A generous friend of the School, the father
of some Old Boys, had installed twelve fluorescent lighting tubes
so that readers could use the Library after dusk.
An urgent call for donations of books for the
library had been answered by the Old Boys and friends of the
school. A month earlier, in a special assembly, Mr. Chan Hung
Chin a distinguished Old Boy and Old Teacher had donated his
near-complete set of the school magazine. In addition twenty-five
volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica were donated by Messrs. Shaw
Bros. Ltd. The Library was also planned as the school sanctuary
where school trophies, memorials and honour boards would be on
display. A team of Post-Senior boys - Yau Meng Choy, Fong Ying Hong,
Hamzah bin H. M. Saman, Chai Fook See, Lim Hock Han, Tan Kim Bee
and George Lee Yau Lung did the gold lettering on the Honour
Boards while Loh Weng, the School Carpenter, made all the furniture.
And more importantly, it would be the home for the school’s memorial
to its war dead of two global conflagrations.
The events of that evening would be the
last of a remarkable list of achievements by Mr. Daniel who had
been associated with the school since 1930. As the V.I.’s first
Senior Science Master, he had pioneered the teaching of science
in the VI and, indeed, the Federated Malay States. Modifying the
syllabus for tropical schools and turning his notes into secondary
textbooks, Mr. Daniel ensured that his name became a byword for
science education in Malaya and other parts of the British Empire.
This scientist also wore the hat of Commanding Officer of the prewar
V.I. Cadet Corps. In that role he molded the Corps into a proud
body famed for its smart turnout and annual Empire Day parades.
Incarcerated by the Japanese in Changi Prison
during the war, Mr. Daniel had passed the time teaching his own
science courses to his fellow POWs. In 1946 after a short period
of recuperation in England he was promoted V.I. Headmaster. Mr.
Daniel worked tirelessly to rebuild a school shattered by four
and a half years of occupation. Forsaking his handsome two-storey
headmaster’s bungalow – his wife had cruelly died in captivity a
mere two weeks before the Japanese capitulation – he eked out a
spartan life in the upper stairs corner room adjoining the science
wing. After Changi, the freedom to sleep and cook literally on
the school premises must have seemed heavenly.
He had also lost six colleagues from the
prewar V.I. staff, members, like him, of the F.M.S. Volunteer
units. They all had died from the rigours of incarceration. Mr.
Daniel would certainly also have known E. R. de Jong who was the V.I.
School Captain when he first joined the school who now lay
in an unknown grave somewhere in the Pacific. His was a generation
that had seen two terrible wars engulf the globe. As a young man
he would have remembered the afflictions of the Great War on his
generation and his father's. Daniel himself served in the
Honourable Artillery and was a member of the garrison of the
Tower of London in 1917. The traditional military notions of
honour, glory, discipline, loyalty, sacrifice, pageant and ceremony
were what he carried with him when he assumed the V.I. Headmastership.
With raw memories of a recent conflict that took the lives of V.I.
Old Boys and Old Masters, a shrine to their memory seemed a natural
and inescapable fixture for the new V.I. library. Perhaps he was
spurred by the poignant plea from John McCrae's In Flanders
Fields: "If ye break faith with us who die/ We shall not
sleep". (Mr. Daniel arranged to inscribe above the war memorial
these lines and two others from that famous poem.)
Hitting the ground running, he orchestrated a
formal reopening of the school in October 1946 officiated by the
Governor of the Malayan Union. The following year, Mr. Daniel
launched the tradition of daily cleaning of classrooms by the boys
introducing the award for the Cleanest Classroom of the Week. He
next somehow found a replacement for the royal coat of arms above
the school porch lost during the Japanese occupation. He also
recovered 1927 school foundation stone by chipping off the coat
of cement that the Japanese had plastered over it. And, looking
for a replacement for the missing school bell, he cut through
red tape and lobbied successfully for the watch bell of battleship
HMS Malaya to be housed in the V.I. in September 1947. He resurrected
the annual athletic sports in 1947 and extended sporting ties
to the Old Boys by initiating in November 1948 an annual series
of games between Present Boys and Old Boys. The Daniel Shield games
commemorate his efforts to the day. In that same year he also
inaugurated the Science and Mathematics Society which, with the
Photographic Society, is the oldest Society in the school. In his
final hectic months in early 1949, the V.I. Headmaster introduced
the infamous Detention Classes for errant boys and launched a
newly designed school uniform As if that was not enough already,
he commissioned teacher Mr. G. F. Jackson to compose the long
overdue school song. Mr. Jackson’s composition is now immortal
and is sung not only at present day school assemblies but at
reunion gatherings in any corner of the globe where Old Victorians
Now as he stood at the porch, Frederick Daniel’s
final legacies were about to fall in place. One can only imagine
the diplomacy, tact and wrangling involved behind the scenes and debts
Mr. Daniel had to call in to pull off such an event for the V.I.
At 6 p.m. a Rolls Royce drew in from the rain. From it alighted some
of the highest ranking people in Malaya at that time: the High Commissioner,
Sir Henry Gurney and Lady Gurney, Commander Noble, a British Member
of Parliament and Mr. Anthony Eden, the Deputy Leader of the
Conservative Party. The latter has been the British Foreign Minister
during the war years facing off against the likes of Hitler and
Mussolini. At the end of the war he had been relegated to the
opposition benches, his party having been displaced from power by
Mr. Clement Attlee’s Labour Party. In less than two years, however,
Mr. Eden’s Conservatives would bounce back and he would reclaim
his old portfolio once more under Sir Winston Churchill. And, by
1955, as Sir Anthony Eden, he himself would be British Prime Minister.
All that of course lay in the unknowable future that wet March
evening in a Malaya under Emergency rule that Mr. Eden was visiting.
Mr. Eden was met by the Headmaster and the
President of the V.I.O.B.A. and escorted to the Library, outside
of which were gathered relatives and personal friends of the fallen,
a few masters, prefects and post-Senior boys. Mr. Daniel then addressed
"Before I ask Mr. Eden to cut this and declare
open the new School Library, let me explain that when we recovered
the use of this building in 1946, it was just an empty shell.
Everything else had gone, including the pre-War Library which was
housed in another smaller room. By redesigning the Science Wing,
it became possible to set free this fine room, the largest in this
spacious building. We started work creating this Library only a
few months ago, and although it is not yet completed, we have done
enough to let you judge its future possibilities for yourselves.
Besides housing the school collection of books, this Library, situated
in the quietest comer of the School, is also intended to provide
a quiet retreat which is badly needed by boys belonging to large
families living under crowded and noisy home conditions. It is
also to be the School sanctuary, where all School trophies and
Honour Boards will be housed. This Library, therefore, is the most
suitable home for the School War Memorial, which I shall ask Mr.
Eden to unveil later.
"When you get inside, please do not be unduly
depressed by the large number of empty shelves. Donations to
purchase books are literally pouring in from Old Boys and friends
of the School - their generosity to the V.I. has long been proverbial,
but none the less amazing. So our Old Boys and friends of the School
are providing the books, but some of the present boys are also
making an essential contribution. The School Prefects and the handful
of post-School Certificate boys present here with us take turns
in keeping the Library open from 7.30 a.m. until 9.30 p.m. from
Monday to Saturday and also on Sunday morning. They are doing all
the labelling, varnishing, indexing and cataloguing of the books
that are pouring in. They are also doing all the gold lettering
on the Honours Boards and the restoration of some of these boards
involves the inscription of over fifty names. So the most encouraging
thing about this Library is that it is largely our own creation.
And the individual who has played the greatest part in creating
this Library is my old friend Loh Weng, our School Carpenter since
1930. So now when I ask Mr. Eden to declare open this new Library,
I shall do what the Headmaster and 900 other people of the V.I.
are always doing, almost instinctively: call for Ah Weng to bring
the necessary tools. But, on this unprecedented occasion, Ah Weng
will hand over the tools and look on while Mr. Eden does the job."
Mr. Eden then formally declared the Library
open by cutting the dark blue and light blue ribbon. The Headmaster
then led the guest round the Library, followed by the rest of the
High Commissioner's entourage, the relatives and friends of the
fallen Masters and Old Boys, the President of the V.I.O.B.A. and
the Victoria Institution representatives. Finally the Headmaster
and Mr. Eden reached the narrow dais in front of the Memorial,
which was veiled by a Union Jack.
The Headmaster then addressed the gathering:
"We are gathered here this evening to honour
the memory of those connected with this School that lie in Services'
graves or who would lie in Services' graves if their remains could
be recovered. There may be others we have missed. If so, I regret
the omission and would ask to be given their names, which will be
added to the Memorial. Provision has been made to allow for such
additions. One further name reached me too late for inscription in
readiness for to-day's ceremony, H. Leembruggen. This name will be
remembered to-day and inscribed later.
"To many of us, this simple ceremony has special
significance for this is the first concrete spot that enshrines
the memory of some of those that once served this School
with youthful enthusiasm and afterwards gave their lives in the
service of this country. Some of them have no known graves, while
most of the other graves are inaccessible. For this reason we are
laying wreaths at this Memorial as belonging jointly to you and
to the School. And that whenever you wish to visit this spot, to
lay an annual wreath, for example, you will always be welcome and
honoured visitors. But if you cannot come in person on your own
individual anniversaries, the School Captain will lay a wreath so
that the V.I. at any rate shall not forget those who died in order
that the School might live again. So please be assured that in this
land of short memories, the V.I. will not forget.
"I am not going to attempt to put into words
what every one knows about Mr. Eden's great work and his rare qualities
or what we all feel about his kindness in coming here this evening.
I will simply ask him to unveil our School Memorial; there is no one
better fitted to do so."
Before he unveiled the Memorial, Mr. Eden
made a short speech in which he expressed his pride in being
invited to conduct that simple but moving ceremony. He felt sure
that the boys of this School, with a tradition for the last fifty
years, when looking at the Memorial would always strive to be worthy
It was a solemn moment when Mr. Eden unveiled
the Memorial and the names of the fallen were revealed. While the
Headmaster conducted Mr. Eden and Commander Noble on a brief tour
of the rest of the School, the others remained to lay their wreaths
and to be introduced to Sir Henry and Lady Gurney.
The School Prefects, who were lined in the
porch, were then introduced by the School Captain to Mr. Eden
and Sir Henry Gurney. Dato' Ronald McCoy also took the opportunity of
asking Mr. Eden for an autographed photograph for the School,
and at the same time handed him copies of the School's post-war
magazines. The High Commissioner's party lingered for a few
minutes to chat with the bereaved relatives, before leaving for
their next engagement.
To commemorate that historic occasion it had
intended that Mr. Eden and Commander Noble would plant trees
near the row of Peltophorum (Yellow Flame) trees that had been
planted earlier along the front of the School in memory of the
fallen Masters and Old Boys of the School. However, that could
not be arranged owing to the inclement weather.
The following day, Mr. Eden's plane took off
from the Kuala Lumpur Airport. At that moment, 900 Victoria
Institution boys and their masters, who had just turned out for
their daily 20 minutes physical training, formed a huge 'V.I.'
monogram right across the padang in 100-yard letters facing East.
Mr. Eden’s plane circled the School as it gained height and the
whole School waved handkerchiefs to say Selamat Jalan. As
the plane headed away to the south, a dispatch rider arrived at
the School from King's House, the High Commissioner's residence,
to deliver to Mr. Daniel a fine portrait of the previous evening’s
guest on which was written: With best wishes from Anthony
Eden, March 17 1949.
A total of eleven yellow flame trees were
officially planted in memory of the fallen. Most had been
planted as early as the previous November (by the headmaster,
the School Captain and various school games captains). The following
is the order in which trees were planted as recorded in the
1. G. Barber
2. G. Burgess
3. H. D. Grundy
4. E. W. Reeve
5. A. C. Strahan
6. T. L. White
7. M. Daniel, the headmaster’s wife
8. E. R. de Jong
9. H. C. B. Talalla
10. R. C. Seimund
11. H. Leembruggen
Evidently more than eleven trees were planted
in total in that period, for two days after the unveiling of the
War Memorial, two other trees were planted by Old Teacher Mr. R.
Thampipillay and the Selangor Mentri Besar Dato Hamzah (both
Old Boys as well) in memory of former Headmasters Messrs B. E.
Shaw and G. C. Davies who had died of non-war related causes. A
few weeks later, on April 6th, Mrs. Stratton Brown, the first
headmistress of the MGS, planted another yellow flame in memory
of her son, Henry Stratton Brown, who had died in May 1941 in
an air crash in Johore. Though this incident was a good six months
before hostilities began in Malaya, Henry's name was included as
he had been a member of the FMS Volunteer Air Force.
True to Mr. Daniel’s promise to remember
the school’s fallen, a wreath was placed on the first of May
at the War Memorial to commemorate the approximate anniversary of
the death of the 1930 School Captain and Cricket Captain, Eric de
Jong. Three days later, a wreath was laid for fallen V.I. master
of the Great War, Mr. J H V Thornley, and two weeks later, on the
16th, for Old Boy Henry Stratton-Brown.
By the time the next wreath was laid exactly
a month later on June 16th - to honour the memory of teacher Mr
G. C. Tacchi - a new Headmaster, Mr. E. M. F. Payne, was at the
helm of the S.S. Victoria Institution. Frederick Daniel was
at that moment somewhere at sea on a different vessel, the
Selandia, bound for Britain to a well-earned retirement.
His 30-month reign at the V.I. had been an incredible whirlwind of
activity, rebuilding, reburnishing the school's traditions and
striking out in bold new directions. It would be up to his successors
to continue his traditions. But would they have an equally long
"...To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high...."
N O T E S
STRAHAN A.C. [Arthur Conan] MA b. 11.1.1905 Co.
Dublin. Educated St Andrew's College, Dublin and Trinity College, Dublin.
To Malaya 1928 as European Master FMS: Assistant Master, Victoria Institution KL.
In 1933 Headmaster, English School, Segamat, Johore. Returned to VI? Sapper
JVE to Cpl 5638 1FMSVF POW Singapore to Borneo with E Force 28. 3.43. Wife
Phyllis née Wilson, aged 35, evacuated on the Empress of
Japan. Arrived Liverpool 19.3.42. To Kingstown, Co. Dublin then
Langley Lodge, Canterbury. He died in captivity 10.8.45 Kuching.
REEVE E.W. [Eric Wilfred] BA b. 24.5.1907.
Educated Ipswich Municipal Secondary School and Bristol University.
European Master FMS 1929. European Master, High School, Malacca 1933;
Raffles Institution 1934-1937 then Victoria Institution KL. Headmaster,
Bandar Hilir English School, Malacca. Wife Kathleen [Colonial Nursing
Service; married 1938] and daughter Rosemary evacuated on the Aoranji.
16.1.42, arriving Fremantle WA 21.1.42. Returned to UK via USA but Ulysses
torpedoed en route. Rescued by US Navy. To Eastham, Middlesex. Sgt then Lt 4SSVF
POW Singapore to Thailand 28.10.42. Died in captivity 23.12.43  Chungkai.
Thailand. Grave at Chungkai. Kathleen returned to Malaya: State Health Matron,
GRUNDY H.D. [Hugh Desmond] MA b. 23.1.1908.
Educated Queen's College, Cambridge. European Master, FMS Education Dept
including Victoria Institution, KL. Wife Edith Eileen, aged 38 in 1942,
evacuated on the Empress of Japan with children Audrey and Mark,
aged 7 and 4. Arrived Liverpool 19.3.42. To Stanmore, Middlesex. CQMS
2FMSVF POW Singapore to Thailand. Died in captivity 25.10.43  Grave at
TACCHI G.C. [George Clifford] b. 1.2.1913. Teacher
Victoria Institution KL then Anderson School, Ipoh. Inspector of Schools,
Education Dept. Perak. Wife Helen Teresa worked postwar for UNICEF in Thailand.
2nd Lt 1FMSVF POW Singapore to Thailand with H Force. Died in captivity 16.6.43
Kanyu. Grave at Kanchanaburi.
[Photograph courtesy of Michael Chew Weng Kong,
VI School Captain 1974]
WHITE T.L. [Thomas Leslie] b. 23.4.1910 Ladybank,
Fife, Scotland. Education Dept. Teacher Victoria Institution KL. Wife Margaret
Jean H. Mackenzie MBE, also a teacher, interned Changi Gaol then Sime Rd. He
was CQMS 7558 2FMSVF POW Singapore to Thailand with H Force 13.5.43. Died in
captivity 20.1.44  Sime Rd Camp, Singapore shortly after return from
LEEMBRUGGEN H.A. [Harold Augustus]
b. 24.11.1907. Educated Victoria Institution. Clerk. Wife Lilian m. 1940.
Daughters Colleen & Audrey. Pte 13577 ISSVF POW Singapore to Thailand with
D Battalion 12.10.42. Died in captivity 21.1.44  Tarsao, Thailand of
malnutrition. He was the uncle of Geoffrey Leembruggen, 1946 VI School
[Photograph courtesy of Mr George Hesse who
fought in the Malayan campaign and later joined Force
136. He is now retired in Perth.]
SEIMUND R.C. [Ronald Claude] b. 12.12.1922 KL.
V.I. Student. Gunner 13833 FMSVF Light Battery POW Singapore to Thailand
with D Battalion 12.10.42. Lost at sea 12.9.44 on the Rakuyo Maru
[en route to Japan] which was sunk by mistake by US submarines.
DANIEL, Sarah Emilia (May) Teleprinter Operator
Malaya Command Signals. Daughter of Harry and Flora A. Bamford. Wife of
Frederick Daniel of Roveries, Bishop's Castle, Shropshire. Sumatra internee.
Died in captivity 25.8.45  Sumatra. Grave at Jakarta War Cemetery.
DE JONG, E.R. [Eric] VI School Captain 1930. Pte
25301 2SSVF 'G' MG Company.
[The above biographical notes of the deceased are
courtesy of Mr Jonathan Moffatt, co-author Moon over Malaya: a Tale of
Argylls & Marines; also a founder member of the Malayan Volunteers Group
and Chairman of the Researching FEPOW History Group/Conference.]
FRANK, G. N. [Geoffrey] b. 1924 KL. V.I. Student.
Capt., 17th Dogras, then Force 136. Killed in freak vehicle accident, Singapore,
January 7, 1946.
Talalla Family Group Photo
(c. late 1940). Henry Talalla and his brother Cyril (later Jimmy)
are in RAF uniform with their parents (Mr and Mrs H B Talalla)
and their brothers. Guest of honour and visitor to their Golf
View Road house is Air Chief Marshall Sir Robert Brooke-Popham,
Commander-in-Chief of the British Far East Command.
DANIEL F. [Frederick] BSc b.15.4.1899. Educated
Lady Manners School, Bakewell and Manchester University.
Colonial Education Service: General Science Teacher, British Guiana
1922 then to Malaya 1930. Science Master, Victoria Institution KL
from 1930. In Australia 7.12.41. Returned to Singapore 23.12.41 and
reported to MAS HQ, Singapore Aged 43 in 1942. Changi and Sime Rd
internee. Wife died in Sumatra. He wrote and conducted Science
classes in Changi. Science Inspector post-war then Principal, Victoria
Institution 1946. Retired 1949 Lived and gardened in Aberystwyth.
Died 29.7.71 Ivybridge.
Hera Singh Bul
Hera Singh was the V.I. Cricket Captain of 1938,
a School Prefect and an outstanding sportsman. After leaving the
school he joined the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore.
On February 14, 1942, as Japanese forces were besieging Singapore,
a colleague of his, Yoong Tatt Sin, died of wounds received from
a Japanese bombardment. That same afternoon as a group of medical
students, including Hera, gathered in the College grounds for
Yoong's burial, some Japanese artillery rounds exploded near the
group killing Hera and nine students. Other students who survived
included Hera's V.I. classmate, David Tan Chee Khoon (later Tan Sri)
who narrowly escaped the flying shrapnel from the blast by jumping
into a trench. A bronze memorial plaque for Hera Singh and the
ten other medical students was installed after the war at the site
where the incident occurred. Hera's brother, Gorbex Singh, was a
pre-war and post-war V.I. teacher, who engaged in anti-Japanese
activities during the war.
Kathleen Reeve's Recollections
My story begins with my decision to train as
a nurse. On reflection, it was what I had always wanted to do,
but my mind was finally made up when I was 23, after I had worked
for several years as a children’s nurse.
I discussed my decision with my parents, and
after making various enquiries about Hospital Training Schools
in London and the provinces, I eventually decided that the East
Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital (as it was then called) served my
purposes best, as it had an excellent Training School for nurses,
with good opportunities for practical experience.
My application was accepted, and I started my
training in 1930. It was hard work, with long hours and little
time off-duty, during which lectures had to be attended. But they
were happy days, despite the hard work, and I made many friends.
During my training, I was doing a period of
Night Duty, and on my nights off, I usually visited friends. On
this occasion, I visited some friends who owned a farm just outside
Ipswich. Their son, John, was a school-master at the local Grammar
School. He was a shy, quiet, precise young man, who had been taking
dancing lessons and he asked me if I would like to go to a Supper
Dance at The Great White Horse Hotel with him. As I was on leave
I was able to stay overnight with his parents, instead of having
to return to the Nurses' Home by 10.00 p.m. John and I met up
with some other young friends at the dance. During an interval,
I happened to glance at the Ballroom door, and there stood a tall,
bronzed, handsome young man, dressed in an immaculate dinner jacket.
I was immediately attracted to him. I asked who he was, and John,
who had been at school with him replied, "That is Eric Reeve just
back on leave from Malaya". We called him over, and invited him to
join our party. I'm sure it was love at first sight. We danced
together, and I asked him to have supper with us. During supper,
John mentioned that he would like me to see the School Play the
next day, but as he was in the play himself, he couldn't pick me
up from the farm. So Eric offered to call for me, and after that,
we met on several occasions during my off-duty times and we became
Six months later, Eric returned to Malaya, and
eventually we lost touch with one another. I took my Nursing Finals,
and then a course in Midwifery, Children's Nursing and Public Health
Nursing. One day, I noticed an advertisement in a Nursing journal
for a Nursing Sister in Malaya. It stated that only London trained
Nurses need apply. However, I decided to apply, and during the
interview I was asked what I was doing at the time. On telling
them, I was told to finish my Public Health Training, as I was just
the type of person they required. I thought that it was just a good
excuse and a kind way of telling me that I was an unsuccessful
applicant. However, just as I had sat my final exams, I received a
pre-paid telegram offering me the post of Nursing Sister in Malaya.
Within a month, I was sailing on the P & O liner Kalser-i-Hind
I was appointed to the General Hospital in
Singapore, as Sister on the Children's Ward. At first I was not
very happy because I was worried at the number of tiny babies of
which I was in charge. Although there was quite a big staff of excellent
Chinese nurses, I felt that many babies weren't receiving the attention
they should. Also, there were many deaths among the children.
One evening, after writing up the day's report,
I idly thumbed through the telephone directory, and came across the
name E.W. Reeve. I dialled the number, and asked to speak to Mr.
Reeve. It was Eric, and he immediately knew my voice. He asked when
I had arrived, as he had been down to meet every ship, except the
Kaiser-i-Hind, which was on her last voyage before being
scrapped. In view of this, he thought it most unlikely that the
Government would send me out on it. Apparently he had read about my
appointment as Nursing Sister in the London Gazette. Eric could have
been working anywhere in the Peninsula, but fate stationed him in
Singapore. We dined together that night, and spent as much time
together as possible.
I had many other male friends, but Eric remained
constant, and eventually asked me to marry him. I was having a
wonderful time, going to dances, dinners, night clubs, Swimming Club
events and to the Raffles Hotel for Saturday morning Pimms, etc. I
didn't want to get married just then, but he asked me again and
again, and eventually I gave in. As I hadn't finished my three
year tour, Eric had to buy me out of my contract, and we were married
at St. Andrew's Cathedral. Singapore, on 12th July, 1938. Three days
later, we sailed for England on furlough on the P & O liner
After six months leave we returned to Malaya
early in 1939 and Eric was appointed Headmaster of the Government
English School in Malacca. We had a small old Dutch-Portuguese House
overlooking the Malacca Club. It had marble floors, and pillars in
the dining room, but a rickety wooden upstairs, consisting of a lounge,
a balcony which ran the whole length of the house, two bedrooms and
a shaky built-on bathroom at the back, containing a large earthenware
jar (Ali Baba) and an elsan.
A large modern house was under construction at
the foot of Pringgit Hill, with stippled walls (the very latest idea),
and everyone wondered to whom it would be allocated. To our amazement
and delight, it was offered to us, as Eric was the most Senior
Government Official in Malacca at the time. We were thrilled,
especially after the house in Fort Terrace.
We gave many parties, and led a hectic social
life. We attended tea-parties and dinner-parties at the Residency.
We played golf and tennis. Eric played hockey and cricket for Malacca.
We joined the Swimming Club and the Malacca Club, and went to all the
social events there, we played Bridge and Mah Jong, and Eric played
Chess. The very latest films were shown at the one picture house and
after the show we usually had a stengah and a dance round the floor
at the Dance Hall next door, before going home.
We had been married for 18 months when Rosemary
was born in Singapore on 21.1.40 and we were deliriously happy, but
even at that time I had a nagging premonition that something dreadful
was going to happen.
Some months later, while Rosemary was playing on
her drugget in the lounge, and the Boy had brought us our usual evening
Stengah, I blurted out my nagging premonition. "We are far too happy,
we have a beautiful baby, positions, a lovely home, servants and money,
but I feel something dreadful is going to happen". I remember to
this day the quizzical look my husband gave me.
The War had been raging in England for about
two years by this time, but we still felt quite safe in the Far East.
It was decided, however, to start a Blood Bank in Malacca, and to
practise attending bomb casualties. I volunteered, and helped at the
Blood Bank by identifying Blood Groups. I was also given an old
Ambulance, which I had to equip with dressings, splints etc. I had
to scrounge these when and where I could. Black-outs were started
now and again for practice, and when the siren sounded. I had to go
to the hospital nearby to get my ambulance. Then I was sent out to
a certain location, where I would find someone groaning and screaming
with a realistic wound plaque attached to him. The show would often
attract quite a crowd of on-lookers. I had to dress the "wound" and
bundle the person into the ambulance and race back to the Hospital.
Once I had to apply a splint to a "broken" leg. The casualty was
rather a big man, and he insisted that the driver and I should carry
him back to the Ambulance. After carrying him a few steps we couldn't
manage any more, so we dropped him, and made him hop the rest of the
way, despite his protests.
Then came the bomb-shell with the sinking of the
two battleships, the Repulse and the Prince of Wales on 10th December
1941 in the Straits of Johore. We were all dumb founded. It couldn't
be true. It must be a rumour; it wasn't possible, but alas, it was
true. Eric ordered the kebun (gardener) to dig a large trench at
the end of the garden, under some rubber trees, and told the servants
that in the event of an air-raid, they were to get into the trench
with their families, together with Amah, Rosemary and me. Our white
house, alone at the foot of the hill, stood out like a sore thumb
and would have been an easy target, especially on a moonlight night.
At the beginning of January 1942, Eric was called
up with the 4th Battalion Malacca Volunteer Force, and was sent to
Singapore. He rang me most nights, but eventually decided that I
should travel down to Johore to stay with friends as the Japanese
were infiltrating into the northern part of Malaya through the rubber
plantations on bicycles, and landing in small groups by boat along
the coast. I was most reluctant to leave my beautiful home and my
faithful servants. Amah was upset and tearful at the thought of leaving
Rosemary, but we eventually left sometime towards the middle of January,
with only a suitcase each. I pleaded with the syce to drive us to
Johore and even offered him the car as a reward. We drove down country
by the inland road between rubber trees and isolated Malay kampongs
as the main road was unsafe. Near to Johore a lone plane flew overhead
and we hurriedly scrambled into the nearest storm drain. We heard the
rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire, but all was well, and the car was
not hit, and we were safe. Eric came over to Johore the same evening
to see us. He seemed worried. The syce stayed overnight, but refused
to take the car, afraid that the Japanese would know that he had worked
for Europeans. By this time, the Navy, Army and Air Force had evacuated
their women and children from Singapore by ship, but the Government
did nothing for us.
The next day, I left Rosemary with our friend's
Amah and went shopping in Singapore. While there the air-raid
siren went and the Japanese dropped bombs on the city. I was in the
Restaurant on the top floor of one of the big stores in Raffles place.
The staff all disappeared, so the European customers who were left,
went into the kitchens, helped ourselves to lunch and left the money
at the pay-desk. On leaving the store I was shocked to see the damage
done by the bombing and realized how stupid I had been and how lucky
to have escaped unscathed. I hastily returned to Johore Bahru.
Eric managed to see us as often as his duties allowed.
Then one evening towards the end of January 1942, he told me he had bought
tickets for us to leave Malaya on the next available ship. He returned
the next day, and took us to the Docks. He was not allowed beyond the
Dock Gates, and his last words to me were: "Make for home - I will wire
you money". We were only allowed one suitcase and 100 Malayan Dollars
each, but I had extra dollars 1n case of emergency and Rosemary's dolls
While we were on board the ship waiting to sail bombs
were being dropped on the docks and other ships there but luckily we
escaped unscathed. I wasn't sure where the ship was supposed to be heading,
but eventually we docked at Freemantle, Western Australia. On disembarking,
my luggage was nowhere to be found, only the dolls pram. The Red Cross took
over, and we went to Perth by bus, where we were housed in the University
while the students were away on vacation. The Red Cross gave me a change
of underwear and some sun-suits for Rosemary, and we were then allocated
to various families in and around Perth. A Mrs. Jean McIntyre, an Army
Major's wife, took us in. She was most kind and we stayed with her for
nearly six weeks. During that time I went to several banks, but failed
to find any money wired to me from Singapore. I felt I should try to make
arrangements to get back to England, so after six weeks we bade goodbye to
Jean and thanked her for her kind hospitality. We still remain good friends
today, although we only stayed for a short while.
We flew from Perth to Sydney in a small plane. This
had to make frequent refuelling stops in the scrub and desert, and it
took us 1½ days to fly across the continent. We had to spend the night at
one refuelling depot, and I was so sick I couldn't go into the town with the
other passengers, but had to stay at the airport for the night. On reaching
Sydney, we were taken by bus and dumped in the middle of the town. Not knowing
where to go, and with very little money left, I hailed a taxi and asked the
driver to take us to the Wentworth Hotel. I had heard someone mention this
hotel, but had no idea how grand it was. They gave me a very strange look
at the reception desk, as I had no luggage, only a brown paper parcel and
Rosemary's dolls pram. Children were not allowed in the dining room, so I
had to get a chamber-maid to look after Rosemary while I had a meal and I
had to take food secretly out of the dining room foyer.
Again, I went to a bank to find out if I had been
wired any money and this time I saw the Manager. He was very sympathetic
and I just sat and cried and poured out my whole story - lost luggage,
little money, difficulty with meals at the Hotel. He was shocked when he
heard that I was staying at the Wentworth and immediately found me alternative
accommodation in a Boarding House just outside Sydney. He also rang round,
and discovered that our luggage had been sent to Adelaide, and that money
was waiting for me in another bank.
On arriving at our new accommodation, I discovered that
they didn't take children either, but I suppose I looked so dejected, they
offered to put us up in a flat a few doors away to sleep. For meals Rosemary
and I were placed behind screens in one corner of the dining room. We didn't
stay there for long because I had heard of a cargo ship leaving for England.
We left Sydney eventually, towards the end of March 1942 on the Ulysses,
but although I had tickets, we were not on the passenger list and, as all the
cabins were taken, we were given a cabin in the crew's quarters. The passengers
were mostly refugees from Hong Kong and Malaya, mainly women and children,
with a few elderly men. We had life-boat drill three times a day and everyone
had to be present. If anyone failed to answer the roll-call, an Officer was
sent to find the missing person and the whole ship's complement had to wait
until they were found.
My life-boat station was on the top boat-deck, and it
was difficult to climb up carrying a small child. The cork life-jacket was
far too big and heavy for Rosemary who fell down with the weight of it and I
had to bribe one of the crew to cut one down for her.
From Sydney, we sailed to Wellington, New Zealand,
where the boat docked for a couple of days. Then we sailed across the
Pacific and through the Panama Canal into the Caribbean Sea. One afternoon,
I was in our cabin while Rosemary was having her afternoon sleep, when
there was a terrific thud and bang and the alarm bells rang. I gathered
Rosemary up, grabbed a small blanked, my "panic bag" containing our marriage
certificate, and birth certificates; my husband's will and some Horlicks Malted
Milk Tablets and left with our life-jackets for our life-boat stations. On
the way upstairs, I met people coming down to their cabins to collect their
life-jackets. There was no panic, but I learned that a torpedo had hit the
bows of the ship. Life-boats were lowered and we got into them and although
the sea was quite rough, we all managed to get way from the ill-fated ship.
Living in the crew's quarters, I was the only woman with
a child in our life-boat. The rest were mostly Chinese crew with one or two
European Officers. We saw another torpedo streaking through the water and
hit the Ulysses mid-ships, and the ship sank very majestically beneath the
waves. The Captain and Chief Engineers sailed by us on a raft, and we took
them into our life-boat. I remember seeing boxes of cheese and other debris
floating around us.
The sea was rough and I was very sick and I suppose I
must have had one arm hanging over the side of the boat because the Captain
shouted at me, to warn me that there may be sharks around. The boats seemed
to drift apart, and twilight came. It began to get cold, and I became
increasingly afraid that we would never be rescued. The Chinese crewmen
were restless and the Officers had to strike some of them with the oars to
restore order. Then, out of the twilight, loomed a big ship. It was an
American Destroyer, which had apparently picked up our May Day call. They
threw a net over the side of the ship, which stood high out of the water.
When my turn came I had to wait my time until the life-boat was near enough
so that I could jump and grab the net. I climbed up with Rosemary clinging
on to me. Near the top a sailor grabbed Rosemary by one arm, and I screamed
at him, "Don't drop my baby". He told me to throw my bag up on deck, but I
had seen others doing the same and their bags had landed in the sea, so I
ignored him and kept it with me. We had to be quick getting up the net,
because the submarine might still have been lurking.
We were taken to the Officer's Ward Room and I noticed
a Teddy Bear sitting on a shelf. It looked exactly like the one Rosemary
had, but I had left hers in our cabin on the Ulysses. I remarked about it
to the Stewardess, who confirmed that it was Rosemary's and that she had picked
it up when she was checking our cabin. Rosemary still has the Teddy Bear to
We were given the Officer's Quarters to sleep in. I
had a top bunk and as the sea became increasingly rough, the Destroyer
dipped and tossed from side to side, and I had the greatest difficulty
in holding on to Rosemary and the bunk-rail throughout the night, to avoid
being pitched on to the deck.
Later the next day, on 13th April 1942, we were
landed at Charleston, South Carolina. We were greeted by an enthusiastic
crowd, and a band, as we were the first women and children survivors to
be landed there. A coach took us to a hotel, and we were given a hot meal.
We were also allowed to send one cable to a relative. I didn't want to frighten
or upset my parents, so I sent mine to my brother in New York. He immediately
wired to the British Consul to detain me, and he would come to meet me.
However, I never received the message from the Consul, and I left for New
York by train with the other survivors. On reaching New York, we were
taken to another hotel and the ladies who made up "Bundles for Britain"
gave out clothing. I felt that my brother and his wife - a paediatrician
- would see that Rosemary and I had sufficient warm clothing for crossing
the Atlantic, so I didn't accept any clothing. The British Consul also
loaned us all £20.
My brother finally caught up with us, and took us to
his home but my sister-in-law and I had differences about whether I should
stay and work in America, which would mean leaving Rosemary in a creche,
or go home. So I decided to return to England, as I had promised Eric.
No mention was made about clothing, and I was far too proud to ask them,
so I had to go humbly back to the "Bundles for Britain" depot, and ask
for warm clothing, at least for Rosemary. That very day, some kind person
had donated 100 dollars for the survivors of the torpedoed ship, as we
were called, and they decided to take me out shopping. First they bought
me a suitcase and then some beautiful clothes for Rosemary, and a blouse
suit and overcoat for me.
The American Red Cross organised our passage back
to England, and we sailed from New York to Nova Scotia where we waited
for nearly two weeks until a convoy of nearly 100 ships had assembled.
In the meantime our ship had filled up with survivors from other torpedoed
ships. To start with Canadian corvettes sailed with us, rounding up any
stragglers as it was essential that we all kept together. Halfway across
the Atlantic, British corvettes took over from the Canadians. It was
then the wolf packs of German submarines became a menace and many times
during the voyage depth charges were dropped. Thanks to the brave sailors
manning the corvettes, all the ships in the convoy arrived safely at
Although we were all refugee-survivors, we had to
be questioned by the Military Authorities. I was questioned at great
length as I had more money than the others. Nearly everyone else had
spent their money, plus the £20 loaned by the British Consul, but I had
saved all mine. I angrily told the authorities that my husband was a
Japanese Prisoner of War and that they should mind their own business,
so they let me go.
We were just in time with the help of a lady from
the women's Voluntary Service to catch the one train leaving for
London and home, nearly 3½ months after leaving Singapore.
My husband died working on the Burma-Siam Railway,
in December 1943 after various illnesses including having a leg
amputated. His death was caused by jungle ulcers, dysentery and
Kathleen Reeve, 100, with daughter Rosemary
In 1946 I returned to Malaya and worked first as
a Hospital Sister. Then I was transferred to the Preventive Medicine
side. I started clinics and trained nurses to look after mothers
and babies in Kuala Kangsar, Alor Star and Johore Bahru. Eventually
I was appointed Health Matron for the state of Johore until Malaya
became independent in 1957, when I retired, and returned to England
Eric Reeve's Captivity (1)
St Gerard’s Monastery
April 8th 1946
Dear Mrs. Reeve,
I cannot tell you how glad I was to receive
your letter, which was forwarded from Singapore after I had left
there last month. I had tried many channels to try and find your
address, but R.A.P.W.I. & S.S.V.F H.Q could not assist. I particularly
wanted to write to you because Eric was one of the closest and most
valued friends I had as a P.O.W.
My first contact with him was on joining the
Malacca Volunteers about 5 weeks before Singapore capitulated. He
was Signals Officer and also Burials Officer. At that time we were
in a camp out at Jalan Eunos - the continuation of Still Road, Katong.
Some of our Eurasian boys were killed out at Changi when cleaning
mangroves, and Eric and I went out with a party to bury them. I
remember how many little incidents on that occasion impressed me with
his extraordinary thoroughness and sense of responsibility. I saw him
on and off in the days that followed but (as I used to joke him afterwards)
he seemed to have a lurking suspicion that I had a tail and cloven hooves,
or was a Father Holt on Thackeray lines!
Then our unit was sent into action not so far
from Ford’s Works on the Bukit Timah Road and we kept retreating till
we ended up on Malcolm Road (between Thompson Road and Bukit Timah
Road in the vicinity of Newton Circus). Eric had his signals in very
efficient order despite the constant changing of place. His men in
the Signal Section were very attached to him - they were all Eurasians
and Eric was one of the few who they felt was really sympathetic towards
them. There was no patronage or condescension in his handling of them.
And as most of my flock were Eurasians I had a better opportunity of
realizing how they liked and trusted him. We went out to Changi Barracks
two days after capitulation and all the Volunteers were occupying the
floor of one of the big barracks there - Officers and men together.
I don't recall very much about Eric during that
fortnight beyond a rather wordy battle on Communism and the Catholic
Church's attitude towards it. I do recall how cheerful Eric kept, and
how readily he hopped into any fatigues that were called for in that rather
chaotic period of our existence. Many found it very difficult to settle
down to realities and tried to wriggle out of doing what might quite
reasonably be asked of them – Eric, as you might expect - more than pulled
his weight. He was always so practical and resourceful in emergencies,
and co-operated with complete self-effacement with anyone else’s honest
efforts to get things done. Then about the first week in March the Officers
were made to live separately from the men in what was known as the married
quarters - rows of flats. Erie and I found ourselves together on a small
verandah, and that was where we really got to know each other.
I remember each week, generally on a Sunday morning,
he would write down an account of current events, and of his thoughts
and reactions to things, in the form of a letter to you and Rosemary.
He spoke constantly about you both about Malacca, your home there, the
garden you made, the friends you had there etc. Also he spoke a lot about
Suffolk, his school days at Ipswich, his University days at Bristol. What
most impressed me in everything he ever said about his home life with you
and he spoke much of it because obviously it was the supreme thing in life
that mattered to him - was the remarkable peace and completeness he derived
from it. He gave me the impression that all he had hoped for in marriage
had been realized in you. It must be a great source of consolation to you
that you did mean everything to Eric, that you had given him everything
he could have desired. I suppose the notes he wrote in the exercise book
in letter form to you must have been lost in Thailand - so little had a
chance of surviving even in the case of those who survived – any written
document was ordered to be destroyed.
His main form of recreation at this time was chess. Poor
David Waters (R.I.P.), Bob and Pat McGarry, Ted Barker, Bill Horne and many
others had a current competition. Eric, I think, was runner-up. He loved
discussion and arguments and as our back-grounds were so divergent and
our whole philosophy of life so at variance, you can imagine what battles
royal we had. By temperament I am excitable and quick, Erie was the complete
contrary, and the wonder of it was that no matter how hectic the controversy
it never made the slightest difference to our complete amiability.
Conditions were very primitive indeed, but Eric got
the idea that we should try and observe what niceties we could to keep up
our own self-respect. Hence he manufactured a small tablecloth for the
diminutive box that served as a table for meals on our verandah and other
similar things, I used to say Mass each morning which meant I was late for
breakfast, and having to visit the hospital and attend to other professional
jobs, I am afraid I was very irregular in comings and goings. Always I would
find on return not only that my food had been drawn for me but that special
precaution had been taken to keep it warm etc. Whatever each of us acquired
in the way of food or anything else was common property - Eric had a knack
of somehow giving the other party a larger share than he was entitled to.
At Changi he became a member of the Male Choir which John McNeish conducted.
He was very enthusiastic on this. He had a big oversense of humour and the
trials and inequalities of life never succeeded in getting him down - his
appreciation of the humour of even the grimmest situation came to his rescue.
In October 1942 we were draughted up to Thailand - five
days by train to Bang Pong. I was not in the same carriage (cattle truck)
as Eric, but at the far end, we were together again on the march up to Tarsao.
It was a pretty dreadful journey – we had to carry all we had on one’s person
through the jungle tracks, through padi fields etc. for four days. I had my
Church paraphernalia and my Mass Kit. As this was vital I dumped a good deal
of personal gear. Even with this I found myself at the end of my tether. I
began to fall back in the march. Eric kept with me and encouraged me to
keep going. Then when he saw I was getting knocked out he took my Mass Kit
himself and carried it. It was something I can never be sufficiently grateful
to him for - without it I should have been at a complete loss to do the
essential thing for my Catholic men. May God bless him for it.
The first camp we were in in Thailand was Kinsaioke.
Food was very scarce. I remember a Catholic Nip guard gave me a little
McClean bottle full of salt - it was gold in worth to Eric and me. Then
we were shifted down to Kann. Things were quite endurable for two months
or so and then the "speeds" on the railway began. We were together for a
few weeks and than Eric went to a satellite camp four kilometres away under
Major Roland Lyne (Y.M.C.A. S’pore). The two McGarrys were also there.
It was indeed a testing time and Eric’s characteristic tenacity and determination
enabled him to hang on and go through with it. The other men who were
with him at the time often spoke afterwards with special admiration for
his heroic tenacity that refused to be depressed.
Then came the last chapter in the up river period.
A party of 100 men and 2 Officers were detailed to go to another camp.
The Officer appointed made representations which prevailed and he was
relieved from the job. Eric was then named. It was a mercy for the 100
men that he was. They had the greatest difficulties from the Nips in charge
with regard to security rations, cooking utensils and much besides. Eric
fought tooth and nail to get all he could. They had been forbidden to
contact a British Camp close by which was under a different Nip Administration
- but he and some others slipped into the camp at night and successfully
begged for food and utensils. It was a very grim ten days. Then they returned
to the main camp at Lower Kann. I met him down there. We had a long talk
about his experiences. I spoke to his men. They were full of admiration
and gratitude for what he had saved them from. There was a F.M.S. Volunteer
officer called Fitzgerald, a young Irishman, who had been with Eric during
this period. He was thought to have contracted cholera so the whole party
was isolated. Never did I see Eric shoulder a disagreeable responsibility
with greater determination. His own foot had a bad ulcer, and he was put
into the hospital. Orderlies were short and anyone who could assist was
called upon. His uncomplaining fortitude was something I shall always admire
during those particular days.
I saw him quite frequently at that time. He was quite
suddenly put on a ‘down river’ party and the barges left at very short
notice. I was away for a short time that day and he had gone when I returned.
He left a battered book with beautiful illustrations in it - The Beauty of
England (or some similar title). Unfortunately I lost it later. I did
not see him again. He went on to Chungkai, and when our turn came for
evacuation we only got as far as Tarsao. It was Ted Barker who told me of
his death in December. Pat McGarry (c/o Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh, I think
his address is) whom I met months afterwards saw a good deal of him in Chungkai.
There was so much that made Eric a unique and admirable
character that I find it hard to specify what I admired most in him. I think
it was the extraordinary rectitude of his intention and will. He was chary
and tinged with a certain skepticism - difficult to persuade or convince, but
few men I have met have excelled him in sheer honesty of mind and sincerity,
and I find it difficult to recall anyone who regulated his conduct by the
very definite and high principle of moral conduct that he believed in, with
greater integrity and determination. Eric by no means (at least as long as
I knew him) shared my own religious beliefs, but I tell you in all simplicity
that I pray each morning at Mass for the happy repose of his great soul and
in doing so I feel the greatest confidence that his sheer sincerity of mind
and heart have won him an everlasting reward of happiness. I count it a great
privilege to have known and to have enjoyed the friendship of so noble and
genuine a character.
You asked did he receive letters from you. I distinctly
remember him mentioning that you and Rosemary had been torpedoed en route
which implies he did hear from you.
We have this belief in common dear Mrs Reeve that the
upright and sincere are eternally rewarded by God and the thought of the great
reunion that shall never end, which await you, does give a ray of consolation.
I fear to suggest ideas I would recall to one of my own people lest I obtrude
our own beliefs upon you. But if the ache of loss is keen, there is yet so
much to thank God for whilst He gave Eric to you, and there is so much to
look forward to - beckoning to you and reminding where your true home and
happiness lie. May God strengthen and console you and Rosemary.
Eric Reeve's Captivity (2)
Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore
“A” Orchard Road
10th March 1967
Dear Mrs. Reeve,
I am taking a liberty in writing to you because you
do not know me. I am prompted to take the liberty as a result of a letter I
received a few days ago from Father Gerard Bourke in which he mentioned
you and your daughter Rosemary.
During the bad days of the Japanese Occupation I
spent a year or so in fairly close association with Eric. We were in
the same party to leave Singapore for Thailand in late October 1942 and
we were together in the same camps until mid-July 1943. In April 1943 a
party of us were moved from Kanu Riverside Camp, up the hill to construct
Kanu No. l. I was then put in charge of an Officers Working Party which
included both Eric and Father Bourke and we spent a period cutting and hauling
bamboo for hut construction. After three weeks of this type of occupation
I was sent in charge of a party to Kanu Ko.2 which was about four miles
south of Kanu No. 1, and Eric was in the party.
Conditions became increasingly grim and the daily toil
heavier and more unpleasant as the wet monsoon progressed and turned the whole
country into a mud swamp. The railway track actually passed our camp in mid-July
and the pressure on us eased a little, but not for long. Eric and another officer
were chosen by the Japanese to go with a party of so-called fit men (every one
of them should have been sent down to the base hospital) further up the line
where the work was behind schedule. I was left with the remainder, many were
incapable of walking, and ordered to break camp and take the personnel and the
stores back to Riverside Camp.
I eventually found myself in charge of a camp of over 300
men, all very sick, more than half without shelter, no good tools but only
broken or discarded ones and under the command of a Japanese Sergeant commonly
referred to as "Dr Death". We were supposed to be sending sick people down to base
hospital. After three weeks of this Eric and the remainder of his party arrived
under Japanese guard and were isolated in a section of hillside higher up than
our camp and we were ordered to keep away from them as they belonged to another
Japanese group. However, I managed to see Eric and he and his people were in
very poor shape. We did what we could (goodness knows it was little enough we
were able to do) to help but they were moved off again after a few days. Some
months later when I managed to make my way down to Tarsao Base Camp and contacted
some of our S.S.V.F. colleagues, I learned that Eric was no longer with us.
It was in Tarsao that I contacted Father Bourke again and we
were in hospital together for some time until I was hauled out again to work
on the Graveyard Party.
I have twice visited Kanchinaburi; once in 1949 when I took
my wife to see her brother’s grave. Things were very rough at that time and it
was quite an experience. I was there again in August 1965 and it was all very
much more civilised and the cemetery is in good order and well cared for.
"The Bridge" over the River Meklong, not the River Kwai,
(The River Kwai never existed to my knowledge, the River Kwa Noy was the
river that we knew) is now used by the Thailand Railways and I stood at the
end of the bridge at Tamarkan and watched a train go over the bridge labelled
for "SIOK". It was at KINSIOK that our party first broke into the Thailand
jungle and started to build a camp there in December 1942.
It is all a long way behind us. The ranks of those who came
back are thinning out but those of us that remain cannot forget.
I anticipate that I shall be able to retire by the end of
this year after serving the Y.M.C.A. here for 43 years. The problem that faces
my wife and me is, to where shall we retire? How this problem is going to be
resolved constitutes a further problem.
With kind regards,
Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore
[Eric Reeve material used
courtesy of his daughter, Rosemary Fell.]
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
In Flanders Fields is one of the most
famous war poems ever written. Taught to generations of school
children in the English-speaking world, it is often recited in
Remembrance Day or Veterans Day observances. It has been quoted
wholly or in part in countless inscriptions including, of course,
the V.I. War Memorial, in a separate panel above the names. (That
panel was removed some years ago).
The author was Dr. John McCrae, a
surgeon attached to the Canadian 1st Field Artillery Brigade.
He had written poetry and short stories in his university days
at McGill. Following the burial of a friend, killed by shell
fire in the second battle of Ypres on 2 May 1915, McCrae turned
to poetry the following day to vent his grief. Dissatisfied by
his effort, McCrae had tossed it away but it was retrieved by a
fellow officer who sent it to newspapers in London. The poem was
rejected by The Spectator but accepted by Punch which
printed in its 8 December issue that same year.
In Flanders Fields became the poem of the Allied
armies with soldiers memorizing it and circulating it by word of
mouth. In the summer of 1915, McCrae was transferred to the Number
3 Canadian General Hospital in France, where he was second in
command of medical services. While still at this hospital in January
1918, McCrae became ill with pneumonia, which was soon complicated
by meningitis. He died on 28 January 1918, and was buried with
military honours at Wimereaux Cemetery in France.
In Flanders Fields
Lt Col John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Poets around the world have "replied" to McCrae.
Here are a few "answers":
In Flanders Now
Edna Jacques (1891-1978)
We have kept faith, ye Flanders' dead,
Sleep well beneath those poppies red,
That mark your place.
The torch your dying hands did throw,
We've held it high before the foe,
And answered bitter blow for blow,
In Flanders' fields.
And where your heroes' blood was spilled,
The guns are now forever stilled,
And silent grown.
There is no moaning of the slain,
There is no cry of tortured pain,
And blood will never flow again
In Flanders' fields.
Forever holy in our sight
Shall be those crosses gleaming white,
That guard your sleep.
Rest you in peace, the task is done,
The fight you left us we have won.
And "Peace on Earth" has just begun
In Flanders now.
Rest ye in peace, ye Flanders dead
The fight that you so bravely led
We've taken up. And we will keep
True faith with you who lie asleep,
With each a cross to mark his bed,
And poppies blowing overhead,
When once his own life-blood ran red
So let your rest be sweet and deep
In Flanders' Fields.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
The torch ye threw to us we caught,
Ten million hands will hold it high,
And freedom's light shall never die!
We've learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders' fields.
In Flanders Fields (An Answer)
In Flanders Fields the cannon boom,
And fitful flashes light the gloom,
While up above; like eagles, fly
The fierce destroyers in the sky;
With stains, the earth wherein you lie,
Is redder than the poppy bloom,
In Flanders Fields.
Sleep on, ye brave, the shrieking shell,
The quaking trench, the startled yell,
The fury of the battle hell,
Shall wake you not, for all is well.
Sleep peacefully, for all is well.
Your flaming torch aloft we bear,
With burning heart, an oath we swear
To keep the faith, to fight it through,
To crush the foe, or sleep with you,
In Flanders Fields.
We Shall Keep the Faith
Oh! You who sleep in Flanders' Fields
Sleep sweet - to rise anew;
We caught the torch you threw,
And holding high we kept
The faith with those who died.
We cherish, too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led.
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
But lends a lustre to the red
On the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders fields.
And now the torch and Poppy red
Wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught:
We've learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders fields.
Reply to In Flanders Fields
Oh! sleep in peace where poppies grow;
The torch your falling hands let go
Was caught by us, again held high,
A beacon light in Flanders sky
That dims the stars to those below.
You are our dead, you held the foe,
And ere the poppies cease to blow,
We'll prove our faith in you who lie
In Flanders Fields.
Oh! rest in peace, we quickly go
To you who bravely died, and know
In other fields was heard the cry,
For freedom's cause, of you who lie,
So still asleep where poppies grow,
In Flanders Fields.
As in rumbling sound, to and fro,
The lightning flashes, sky aglow,
The mighty hosts appear, and high
Above the din of battle cry,
Scarce heard amidst the guns below,
Are fearless hearts who fight the foe,
And guard the place where poppies grow.
Oh! sleep in peace, all you who lie
In Flanders Fields.
And still the poppies gently blow,
Between the crosses, row on row.
The larks, still bravely soaring high,
Are singing now their lullaby
To you who sleep where poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
The V.I. Web Page
Created: November 30, 2007.
Last update: July 4, 2016.
Contributor: Chung Chee Min