Saturday, July 26, 2014

Volunteer Soldiers buried in Bukit Brown - a journey of rediscovery

It started with a simple mission for me: find some of the tombs of volunteer soldiers of World War II that died and buried in Bukit Brown. I already found two and wrote about them sometime ago. They were: Corporal Tan Huck Wan (exhumed as it was affected by highway) and 2nd Lietenant Chua Boon Hin .My intent of this article is to share my journey to rediscover some of the war veterans with a common anchor theme of volunteer soldiers that are buried or used to be buried in Bukit Brown. With the possibility of the rest of Bukit Brown eventually making way for development, documenting this would hopefully help save some of this soldiers from been disposed to sea if unclaimed by descendants. 
Lest We Forget - Remembrance Sunday, Kranji War Memorial
In memory of the Volunteer Soldiers
When Singapore capitulated in February 15, 1942, the Japanese military command ordered the British and Eurasian soldiers to group at Changi, the Australian soldiers to Selarang, Indian soldiers to Nee Soon Camp and Malay soldiers to Farrer Park. No orders were given to the Chinese volunteers of the 2nd Battalion, Straits Settlement Volunteer Force (S.S.V.F) and the Malayan Field Ambulance (also known as the Singapore Volunteer Field Ambulance) to surrender. Many of them dispersed by returning to their homes in civilian clothing.
Newspaper SG

From the accounts of Dr. C. J. Poh a Captain of Straits Settlement Voluntary Force, who was taken away to Siam (Thailand) as a Prisoner of War (P.O.W) and served as Medical Officer in the Siam- Burma Railway, many of this volunteers were killed and tortured by the Japanese. Unfortunately, the stand of the Japanese Occupation administration was that any Chinese volunteers caught were either treated as deserters or spies and usually executed. A number of this volunteers were killed during the Sook Ching massacre and bodies found among the rest of the civilian Chinese population rounded up and shot in Changi Beach. If they were allowed to surrender properly as POW and not order to disperse into civilian clothing, some of them would not have been murdered in cold blood, postulated Dr. C. J. Poh.

The Volunteer soldiers buried in Bukit Brown is not meant to be a comprehensive list but one which will continue to hopefully grow as i get insights or discover more stories of the soldiers who died and were buried in Bukit Brown. If you have information of family members who were soldiers, who died during the war years and are buried in Bukit Brown, do email me.
Chinese Volunteer Soldiers

Private Lee Cheng Poh (Service No: 7524429 )
Lee Cheng Poh was a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, 4 Malayan Field Ambulance. Lee Cheng Poh (son of Lee Cheak Kiat ) tomb is located at Blk 3 Division D P 12. According to his headstone, he died on April 20, 1944, but on the army records it was April 22, 1944. His name is mentioned on Panel Reference Column 6. Singapore (Unmaintainable Graves) Memorial.

Private Lee Cheng Poh (Bukit Brown)
Volunteers from Field Ambulance training
(source: NewspaperSG) 
Private Chua Cheng Tuan 
Chua Cheng Tuan was a Private with the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force 2nd (Singapore Volunteer Corps) Bn.  Chua Cheng Tuan , husband of Mary Poh is buried in Block 4, Section B , P82
Private Chua Cheng Tuan  (Bukit Brown)
On his headstone, the death date is listed as 30th June 1945, his age 31 and survived by one son: Chua Siew Hock. His army records listed the date of death has 29/06/1945. His name is mentioned on Panel Reference Column 14. Singapore (Unmaintainable Graves) Memorial.

Lieutenant Chua Boon Hin
Chua Boon Hin was a Lieutenant of the 2nd Singapore Volunteer Corps Bn, Straits Settlements Volunteer Force. Chua Boon Hin died in 20th January 1946 at the age of 36 at the Alexandra Military Hospital. He left behind his wife Madam Queenie Ho, 2 sons (Chua Kong Yen, Chua Kong Lim) and a daughter (Chua Kong Leng). He died likely of war wounds or his status as a soldier who fought the Japanese to warrant him to be the Alexandra Military Hospital, but i am unable to verify further. What is for sure, he is remembered in Kranji War Memorial. He is buried close to his parent's grave in Bukit Brown at Hill 3 Division D.  His name is mentioned on Panel Reference Column 14. Singapore (Unmaintainable Graves) Memorial.
Chua Boon Hin (Bukit Brown)

Mr and Mrs Chua Boon Hin 
Corporal Tan Huck Wan ( service number 38243 )
Tan Huck Wan was a Corporal with the Singapore Voluntary Field Ambulance, Straits Settlements Volunteer Force. No details of how he eventually died, but he died on May 31, 1944 at the age of 28.
Former tomb of Tan Huck Wan and his daughter Ruby Tan in Bukit Brown
On his tomb, it was inscribed that he is survived by his young widow, two sons Allan Tan Cheng Eng, Duke Tan Cheng Yew and a baby girl, Ruby Tan Suan Bee. Ruby Tan died on the 26th Oct 1944 and is buried beside her father. She was only 6 months old. Both were exhumed as their graves are affected. Tan Huck Wan's name is mentioned on Panel Reference Column 14. Singapore (Unmaintainable Graves) Memorial. 
Tan Huck Wan and Ruby Tan's niche

Field Ambulance Corps
(source: NewspaperSG)

Role: ?   Ng Swee Koh (Service No: ? )
Ng Swee Koh, 65 years old passed away  on 26. 3.1944. I am unable to find his name listed in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database so far, but he is buried in Block 3 Section D, plot 25 and recently the Commonwealth War Graves Commission nailed to the shoulder of the stone, it's emblem. I have written to them and still waiting for a reply to shed further light on who this person and what role he played during the War. 


Aircraftman 2nd Class Lim Kim Ann ( Service No: 786099 )
Lim Kim San was a Aircraftman 2nd Class, Royal Air Force. Lim Kim Ann , son of Teo Ah Wan,  died on December 19, 1943 and was buried in Block 3 Section B plot 165. A check with the grave registrar of Kranji War Cemetery indicates that there is a tombstone of Lim Kim Ann located at  Grave Reference 45. B. 2.KRANJI WAR CEMETERY.

One possibility was that he was originally buried in Bukit Brown before being reburied in Kranji post war. However i am not able to confirm this at the moment.

Lim Kim Ann at Kranji War Memorial

Private Wee Thiam Chye  ( Service No: A/8638 )
Wee Thiam Chye was a Private with the Royal Army Service Corps. Wee Thiam Chye  husband of Lim Micy, of Singapore died on May 22, 1945 at the age of 27 and was buried in Block 4 Section A Plot 116A. His gravestone is located at Grave Reference 45. B. 3. Kranji War Cemetery

Wee Thiam Chye 

Private Chiang Chye Loon ( Service No: A/690 )
Chiang Chye Loon was a Private with the Royal Army Service Corps. Chiang Chye Loon son of Chua Kuan Neo died at the age of 26 on December 7, 1941 and was buried Blk 4 Division 6 , 328. His gravestone is located Grave Reference 45. C. 1. Kranji War Cemetery

Chiang Chye Loon 

Dr C.J. Poh's link to Bukit Brown
Dr. C.J. Poh or Dr. Poh Chee Joey was a Municipal Commissioner and had the distinction of being the only Chinese Qualified Medical Officer to have served in the Siam-Burma Railway or Death Railway. He was the son of the late Mr Cheong Choon Peng but was adopted by Poh Cheng Tee (uncle) and took the Poh surname. (Mr Cheong Choon Peng was from a family that settled in Singapore for over a hundred years and in 1910, Mr Cheong was part of a Malayan Volunteer Contingent for the coronation of King George V. He received an inscribed gold watch from the London Chamber of Commerce for his work in developing British trade in Malaya).Dr Poh did his medical degree in Edinburgh and when he return to practice in 1930 was also the honorary secretary of the Chinese Recreation Club for 5 years and President of the Badminton Association. Dr. Poh Chee Joey served with the Singapore Volunteer Field Ambulance and was made a prisoner of war after the fall of Singapore. Survivors of the Death Railway, remembered Dr. Poh for his efforts in helping them. His adopted parents, Mr and Mrs Poh Cheng Tee and adopted grandmother are affected by the 8 lane highway and already exhumed.

Stories waiting to be retold
On the walls of the Kranji memorial and the tombs around it are the names of many people who gave their lives defending Singapore. Among these are many Singapore residents as well. I visited Kranji War memorial sometime ago and am now revisiting it again hoping to piece some of its stories from the angle of Bukit Brown. The Japanese military surrendered on 12 September 1945 at 11:10 am with a ceremony held at the Municipal Building of Singapore (formerly known as City Hall), ending an occupation that started on February 15, 1942. Many civilians and soldiers died during the Japanese military occupation period and the evidence can be heard if you listen hard enough to the voices that emanate from the hills of our heritage park, Bukit Brown.
A reflection of the multi-ethnic soldiers that died
Two members of the Straits Settlement Volunteer Force
While going through some of this photos i discovered a photo of the memorial headstone of Cheong Chee Koon. Cheong Chee Koon (the son of Mr and Mrs Cheong Choon Kim ) passed way in May 1917 while he was being mobilised and doing his duty as a Lance Corporal for the Singapore Voluntary Infantry. He was given a military funeral on May 18, 1917 and from the headstone below buried in Alexandra Road Cemetery. It seemed like after the development of Alexandra township, the tomb was forgotten and lost. He is only remembered in a empty tomb in Kranji.

Cheong Chee Koon 

Ho Siong Tiong
I also hope that by sharing this discoveries, our war heroes in Bukit Brown will not suffer the same fate of Mr. Cheong Chee Koon and Mr. Ho Siong Tong whose graves ended up being lost in Singapore's growing demand for land. 


References 
Busy day for Volunteers. (1935, July 25). The Straits Times
Volunteer Field Ambulance. (1941, February 24). The Straits Times
Volunteers who were not made POW. (1947, January 12). The Straits Times
BillionGraves [website]


[research on-going: last updated: 26 July 2014]

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Insightful review about the volunteer soldiers of WWII! Thank you for making the connection between the WWI and WWII memorial headstones at Kranji Memorial.

Lance Corporal Cheong Chee Koon and Dr Poh are cousins, who defended Singapore through two wars.