The Battle along the Kheam Hock Road
by Jon Cooper
Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper uncovers important clues in the battle along Bukit Timah that ended in Bukit Brown in February 1942. Having written about the fallen British soldiers in an earlier post, he has since discovered more. Read on….
Recent communications I had with Louise Cordingly on the memoirs and works of Reverend Eric Cordingly has brought to light the location of more men who are listed as missing at Bukit Brown and whose last known location may lie in the line of the new road.
Reverend Cordingly was one of the regimental clergy who were tasked with leading burial parties across the battlefield in the days immediately after the surrender of the island. The process of burial included the completion of form W3314 Burial Returns. This in turn was used to annotate the entries in the battalion rolls kept by the Bureau of Record and Enquiries in Changi. Fortunately Cordingly kept hold of his Burial returns book and I have been given a copy of this document.
Cordingly’s record of the battle
On the 14 February 1942, the Japanese launched an assault on the 4th Suffolk positions across Bukit Brown. Infantry of the 11th regiment 3rd Battalion dashed across the Adam Road and Lornie Road supported by tanks. The Suffolk companies were slowly driven back from their positions along the reservoir shoreline and took up ‘strong defensive positions’ (Suffolks War Diary) along the western edge of the cemetery with some elements of C Company still sitting it out on Hill 95 west of Adam Road.
This pullback meant that a new line of positions had to be prepared in quick time amongst the headstones. The Suffolk’s carriers, some of their mortar platoon and elements of the reinforcement company congregated in the small kampong south of Hill 130 on the Kheam Hock Road. They were met there by a sole Indian Pattern Vickers tank and two universal carriers of the late Major Jack Alford’s 100th Light Tank Squadron.
The enemy infantry attack along the Sime Road seemed to be the catalyst from a hail of bullets from snipers and machine gunners who had apparently infiltrated the lines and set themselves up on the slopes of Hill 60 (823146). As the fusillade increased to their front the Suffolks, at least those with time to look behind them, saw their chow wagons approaching up the road.
The Suffolk carriers and tanks of the 100th Light Tank Squadron were just in the process of dishing out their meals from their B Echelon rations run when the first Chi Ha tanks rolled into view along the Kheam Hock Road. According to the Suffolk Regimental diary, all hell then broke lose as men scrambled to their positions, tossing mess tins and cups away in their haste. There followed a vicious close quarters struggle as the Suffolks engaged the tanks with anti-tank rifles, grenades and machine guns. Amongst the casualties were Lt D A Wise and 2nd Lt PHT Bennett who were wounded. Lt Harry Archer went missing and Sgt John Colborn was killed. Capt Wyscock-Crundall and C/Sgt Bowell were last seen with a group of others being carted off into captivity roped together. Cpl Goldsmith pulled together the surviving members of the garrison and led them on a fighting retreat through Japanese lines back to the safety of allied positions along the Bukit Timah road leaving the burnt out wrecks of the armoured vehicles smouldering in the darkness.
Cordingly visited the scene after the surrender and recalled in his diary the carnage he found at the kampong.
‘The following morning I set out again, this time going several miles into enemy lines and up the Kheam Hock Road, where I heard there had been an ambush. Here we came upon the most awful carnage I have yet seen. On a bend in the road were two burnt out Bren Carriers with four or five bodies sprawled across the road – bodies quite naked. Leaning from the carriers were more – parts of men – burnt stumps of men – and this after two days of tropical sun – the stench of this will be with me always. Along the ditches were others – fifty or more – an officer spread –eagled in the middle of the road – quite unrecognisable. I went from body to body trying to remove Identity Discs and personal effects. It was impossible to tell whether they were English, Jap or Indian – swollen, sizzling, bursting corpses. We buried each one – some who could not be moved we covered with earth others we buried in a large bomb crater.’
Cordingly goes on to note that the Japanese escorting the burial party behaved with kindness and respect. However he adds that there was one incident that marred their copy book:
‘In the morning a Nippon soldier took me through a native village past some Jap tanks (which I suppose were responsible for the chaos and death on the road) into a garden. There he pointed at a mat, which I raised and saw five Indian soldiers dead, shot through the chest and head but with their hands tied together. When I came back later in the day to bury them, they had been buried by the Japanese, perhaps there was some reason for this.’
Cordingly diligently completed the Burial Record for all the men he found along the Kheam Hock Road that day and notably he reports on the burial of other Indian troops of the Deccan Horse (9th Horse) who were most likely attached to the 100th Lt Tank Regiment.
Table 1 – Details of Indian troops found and buried by Cordingly
|Surname||Forename||Number||Regt||Grid ref||Kranji Ref|
|Jat||Ram||Sobha||A/9336||Royal Deccan Horse||815141||Column 146 Singapore Memorial|
|Jat||Singh||Tej||7938||Royal Deccan Horse||815141||Column 146 Singapore Memorial|
|SR||Singh||Badan||9544||Royal Deccan Horse||815141||Column 145 Singapore Memorial|
When the details are cross referred to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database, it is clear that like many of the Suffolks lost in the area, these men have no known grave at Kranji and therefore it is possible they were not recovered from their resting place along the Kheam Hock Road.
The fact that the men were from the Royal Deccan Horse as they would appear to be casualties from the only tank on tank engagement in the capture of Singapore.
Fig 3 (a – c) The entries in Cordingly’s Burial Return noting the identity and location of Indian troops buried along the Kheam Hock Road.
Lt Harry Archer of the 4th Suffolks was also reported missing during that engagement. The entry in the Suffolk roll states that he was last seen between Thomson Village and the Chinese Cemetery South to the MacRitchie reservoir. But the reference in the regimental diary suggests he was lost at sometime during the battle along Kheam Hock and maybe found in the area. He may of course be the ‘unrecognisable officer’ noted in Cordingly’s description.
Fig 4 a – b – The Suffolk Rolls (top) showing Archer’s entry. Also note Brown’s entry stating Cordingly carried out the burial. The location details are almost identical to the details in Cordingly’s Burial Return (below) showing how the roll was updated directly from the form.
It was noted in the initial report that we only had details for missing Suffolk men and that most likely there are many more of other units who could have gone missing on Bukit Brown. This addendum to the report is a great case in point. Here we have independent reports which tie in nicely with the existing documents and shed light on more missing soldiers.
The fact that they were Indian troops reminds us of the global heritage that is encompassed in this battlefield site.
Also the suggestion that men were rounded up bound together and then shot is a vivid reminder that the Kheam Hock road was a scene of one of the horrific atrocities that were taking place across the island at the time.
I hope this note inspires further research into the battle along the Kheam Hock and the details of the action can be fully established. I also would implore that the road contractors are made aware of the WW2 history of this area and make every effort to recover the bodies of these men should their final resting place be in the line of the new development.
Jon Cooper is an expat amateur archaeologist and a graduate from the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University. He has spent the last three years working as the project manager alongside his partners in the Singapore Heritage Society and the National University of Singapore, for The Adam Park Project; a study into the archaeological record of the battle for the estate and the subsequent POW camp that was established there in 1942. The project’s findings have recently gone on show at the National Library in an exhibition entitled ‘Four Days in February’. He works on The Adam Park Project.
Jon Cooper’s original post: Missing Amongst the Dead
 Major Jack Alford had been killed on the 12th February. He was the son of John and Helen Alford of Bodmin in Cornwall and husband of Dorothy Alford
 Notably B Echelon’s C/Sgt Marler and the officer’s mess sergeant, Sgt Francis John Squires were both killed in the ensuing action.
 Lt Harry Archer was never found. He was the son of Edward William and Dorothy Archer, of 50 Church Crescent Finchley, Middlesex. His name appears on the Singapore War Memorial Column 53.
 Sgt John Rice Colburn was found after the fighting by a burial party led by Rev E Cordingley. He was laid to rest in a shell hole on the 16th April 1942 alongside 8 other Suffolk casualties. After the war the men were found and reburied at Kranji. John now lies alongside his comrades in Coll Grave 12. B-5-13. His next of kin is listed as Mrs J R Colborn The New Road Fritton Gt Yarmouth Norfolk .
Buried with him were Pte Ronald John Trace, Pte Charles Frederick Thompson, Pte Ernest Charles Templey, L/Sgt Francis John Squires, Pte Frank Sinkins, Pte William Arthur Lucas, Pte Edward Hoy, Pte Reginald Girling
The following is a template for making a representation on Bukit Brown in the draft master plan 2013. It outlines the applicable statues, presents the case for preserving Bukit Brown and provides an option for you to pen in your own words, why Bukit Brown is important to you and Singapore.
The closing date is 19 December, 2013. Please do not delay and send it directly to the email of Benny Lim: MND_benny_lim@mnd.gov.sg.
Please bcc your submissions to email@example.com if you are agreeable to allow bukitbrown.com to extract personal anecdotes for a separate blog post
More on the master plan and feedback process here
The URA draft master plan website here
Mr. Benny Lim
Ministry of National Development
Dear Mr. Lim,
I, the undersigned, am writing to make a submission about the recently released URA Draft Master Plan 2013 under rules 5 and 6, Part II of the Planning Act (Chapter 232, Section 10), “Planning (Master Plan) Rules”, “Objections and Representations” and “Approval of Proposal”, which state the following:
Objections and representations
5. Any objection to or representation concerning a proposal for an amendment to the Master Plan shall be in writing and shall be —
(a) submitted to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of National Development within the period specified under rule 4(a); and
(b) accompanied by a statement of the reasons or explanations therefor.
Approval of proposal
—(1) Except where the Minister is of the opinion that an objection or representation is of a frivolous nature, the Minister shall afford to any person whose objection or representation was received by him within the period specified under rule 4(a) and has not been withdrawn, an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by a person or persons appointed by the Minister for the purpose, or cause a public inquiry to be held in accordance with Part III.
(2) The Minister, after considering —
(a) the proposal for an amendment to the Master Plan;
(b) the Master Plan;
(c) any objection or representation which has been received by him within the period specified under rule 4(a) and which has not been withdrawn; and
(d) in a case where a hearing or public inquiry has been held in accordance with Part III, the findings and conclusions submitted to him in accordance with rule 14, may approve, with such modifications as he may consider necessary, or reject the proposal for the amendment to the Master Plan in whole or in part.
(3) Notwithstanding rule 4, the Minister, if satisfied that a proposal for an amendment to the Master Plan is not material in nature, may approve the proposal without any notice of the proposal being published.
Specifically, I submit my representation concerning the preservation of the Bukit Brown area (which includes Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery, Lao Sua, Kopi Sua, Seh Ong) for the conservation of Singapore heritage and nature. The Draft Master Plan 2013 indicates that much of Bukit Brown will become a built-up residential area with a dual four-lane carriageway (hereafter, “highway”) passing through. The area marked for residential use in the Draft Master Plan 2013 is different from the previous 2008 Master Plan, and significantly reduces the size of Bukit Brown Cemetery. The highway cutting across Bukit Brown was not in the 2008 Master Plan. The Environmental Impact Assessment for the bridge component of the highway has not been made public for the public to understand the situation and if applicable, take any necessary mitigating actions to their own properties on lower ground than Bukit Brown.
I would like the Ministry of National Development and relevant state agencies to conserve Bukit Brown, given its multi-layered historical significance for our young city-state.
First, it is the final resting place for many of Singapore’s pioneers going back to the nineteenth century. While the cemetery was in operation between 1922 and 1973, the period it covers extends beyond that, as tombs as early as the 1830s have been found there, indicating the earliest pioneers from the time of Sir Stamford Raffles. Therefore, Bukit Brown is an important time capsule of the historical story arc of Singapore as an important maritime node of Southeast Asia to its present day incarnation. The links to other Straits Settlements sites and thriving regional towns make Bukit Brown important not just for Singapore history but underscores the links to our neighbours, all the more important in today’s globalized economic system. It is a story arc that covers practices under imperial China and colonial Southeast Asia right up to independence and recent history. There are tombs with Chinese imperial, Chinese agrarian, Japanese imperial, Roman, Confucian and inventive calendars, and inscriptions in Dutch, Thai, English, Hokkien, Mandarin and Japanese.
A battle was fought there in World War II and according to the second generation tomb keepers, their parents spoke of mass civilian graves. The battle felled English, Australian, Indian and Japanese soldiers as well as local civilians. There are still soldiers missing in action in this battle. Battlefield archaeologist Jon Copper has described Bukit Brown as one of the rare battlefields that remain intact from World War II, as demonstrated by the British and Japanese wartime maps, during the Battle of Adam Park. This is all the more poignant as we soon approach the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore in 2015.
Malays used to live in the kampungs along Kheam Hock Road and the greater Bukit Brown area on the Police Academy side near Lao Sua. Jon Cooper has uncovered evidence Indian soldiers were massacred along Kheam Hock Road, abutting Bukit Brown and Lao Sua.
Bukit Brown therefore presents itself as a destination for education for local schools and great potential for education tourism for schools overseas keen to study history, society and culture, as well as war histories. (This is already happening.) The artifacts there are unique and not found anywhere else in the world. The potential for tourism is great, including war site tourism, making Bukit Brown unique.
In essence, Bukit Brown has clearly demonstrated multi-cultural, multi-ethnic histories and wartime history intertwined into its seemingly mundane role as a mere cemetery. This gives it unique value that deserves re-consideration under the Masterplan.
Beyond its historical significance, the Bukit Brown area serves as an urban heat sink and refuge for endangered bird species. As a heavily vegetated area, Bukit Brown also mitigates against surface run-off and consequent flooding. Bukit Brown’s flood mitigation function may be especially important given that the 2013 Commission on Drainage Design and Flood Prevention Measures Final Report states that Singapore may be facing increasingly heavy rainfall. I also note that the recently concluded Our Singapore Conversation notes that 62% and 53% of Singaporeans respectively support the protection of green spaces and heritage sites over infrastructure construction. This is a majority of Singaporeans.
Conserving Bukit Brown is also consistent with the current effort to inscribe the Singapore Botanic Garden as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, since the former is listed on the 2014 World Monument Fund Watch List for endangered heritage sites. Many World Monument Fund Watch List sites like Georgetown in Malaysia later became inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Protecting Bukit Brown in our Nation’s development plans demonstrates Singapore’s consistency on heritage protection and commitment to the UNESCO Convention, to which Singapore is a signatory. Obvious damage to and destruction of Bukit Brown may stand at odds with efforts to inscribe the Singapore Botanic Gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bukit Brown’s proximity to the Singapore Botanic Gardens allows visitors to easily combine their experience of Singapore’s colonial history with a rich understanding of Singapore’s immigrant history.
Notably, Bukit Brown is one of Singapore’s top visitor sites and a Traveler’s Choice Award Winner for 2013 according to TripAdvisor, a respected online tourism portal, despite limited public transportation access and amenities. This is potential that should be looked into seriously.
<Insert any personal anecdotes here on why Bukit Brown should be conserved, or how it has moved you to a deeper understanding of Singapore and your own identity>
I hope you will protect Bukit Brown and Singapore’s historical, cultural, wartime and natural heritage for future generations, and will have an open discussion on how best to protect Bukit Brown and other heritage and nature sites affected by the proposals in the URA Draft Master Plan 2013. National development includes supporting our Nation’s sense of identity and belonging across generations in addition to infrastructure. I look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to contact me at:
<email; contact number>
How you can give feedback on Bukit Brown in the Draft Master Plan 2013
by Ian Chong
I would like to encourage readers who have an interest in protecting Bukit Brown and other parts of Singapore’s natural and cultural heritage to send in your thoughts about the recent draft Land Use Plan to the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Apart from the regular feedback channel on the Land Use Plan site, you can send your feedback directly to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of National Development, MND_benny_lim@mnd.gov.sg. Under Singapore’s statutes on the matter, such non-frivolous feedback should receive a due response from the Ministry of National Development.
Basically, when the URA seeks approval of the Minister for National Development to amend the Master Plan, as is the case presently (the previous Master Plan was 2008) it must:
“publish a notice by advertisement of the submission specifying —
(a) a period of not less than 2 weeks within which objections to and representations concerning the proposed amendment may be made; and (b)the place where a certified copy of the proposal is deposited for public inspection during such period”: rule 4.
Anyone who wishes to object to or make representations concerning a proposal to amend the Master Plan may then make a written submission “accompanied by a statement of the reasons or explanations therefor” to the Permanent Secretary of MND within the specified period: rule 5.
Unless the objection or representation “is of a frivolous nature”, the Minister “shall afford to any person whose objection or representation was received by him within the period specified… an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by a person or persons appointed by the Minister for the purpose, or cause a public inquiry to be held…”: rule 6(1).
Even though people making representations cannot insist on a public inquiry – whether an inquiry takes place depends on the Minister. However, given the use of the word “shall”, the language suggests that the Minister cannot refuse the opportunity of being heard. The Minister then has to decide whether the Master Plan should be amended given the objections or representations from a public inquiry: rule 6(2). (Part III of the Rules — rules 10 to 14 — sets out the procedure if there is a public inquiry.
As many know, the URA recently released a draft Land Use Plan and is inviting members of the public to provide feedback until December 19 this year. After that time, proposals in the plan will become gazetted and part of policy. Included in the draft Land Use Plan are proposals to zone much of Bukit Brown as a residential area, even though there are no further details at present.
Large areas of Bukit Brown are “reserve land” for future development, even if areas of “cemetery” remain on the Land Use Plan. The eight-lane highway that cuts across Bukit Brown is also part of the current plans. Maps released along with the draft Land Use Plan detail these developments.
We experienced how development can affect our daily lives – from flooding and crowding on public transport to the destruction of heritage and nature. This makes it imperative that we, as citizens, let the government agencies that are supposed to represent our interests understand our legitimate concerns. Your response matters and concerns matter whether they are about protecting heritage like Bukit Brown and Jalan Kubor, which is also slated for construction, or redevelopment in your neighbourhood.
(Note: This is a lay person’s perspective, I welcome someone with legal knowledge to correct me.)
Read more by Ian Chong on Bukit Brown, Development and Possibilities for Singapore
By Ishvinder Singh
In search of a shared heritage – how a once-forgotten Chinese cemetery re-connected me with my Singapore heritage.
In 2011, when the government announced that a part of Bukit Brown was to be re-claimed for a highway, I was not too concerned. Bukit Brown did not matter to me because the material culture was foreign and I had no intentions of messing with the supernatural. Growing up in a conservative Indian family I was often warned not to venture into unknown territories or investigate matters that did not concern me. Hence, I initially thought that I did not have any business being in Bukit Brown. As a result this non-Chinese Singaporean did not care about Bukit Brown until one fine Saturday morning spent on Facebook.
As I was scrolling through my news feeds on Facebook, a whole bunch of turbaned and bearded statues appeared on my screen that look so much like me!
They were the Sikh statues of Bukit Brown and more than 24 pairs of them have been re-discovered by Peter Pak who has carefully documented them on his blog, Rojak Librarian.
I was struck by the careful detail of the turban and every handcrafted curl of the beard. Simply, I fell in love with Bukit Brown. I was sold and soon I found myself rallying around the “Save Bukit Brown” campaign, now feeling that this place mattered to me. Bukit Brown preserved this identity and this ideal of what it meant to be a Sikh, which made me and my turban feel at home at the cemetery. There is a pair of Sikh statues which I adore very much, given the fine workmanship and attention to detail. They stand guard at the tomb of Wong Chin Yoke who received the King’s Police medal for his efforts in suppressing subversive organizations as a police Intelligence officer in 1938:
The statue is seen with an ammunition belt, is accompanied by a little dog and even the folds of his shirt are so realistically captured. It also has a riffle in his hands. It was a standard issue riffle known as the Lee-Enfield Riffle which is still used by the Singapore Armed Forces’ Military Police for ceremonial purposes. I also like this other statue very much that is much smaller in height and has a small dagger by its side:
This is known as Kirpan, one of the five Sikh articles of faith and symbolic of a Sikh’s commitment to defending his community. It is just so amazing how much attention is given to make these statues as life-like and accurate as possible.
Over time as my curiosity grew, I began studying Bukit Brown deeper and did things I never imagined doing such as understanding tomb architecture, appreciating grave art and its symbology. The schematic of a tomb resembles a compound, consisting a few layers before you reach the tombstone. Typically in the front section, there would be a pair of Warrior Gods, Sikh Guards or some similar representation protecting the overall property. This is followed by the celestial servants, a pair of Golden Boy and Jade Maiden statues. The earth deity comes next and followed by a pair of lions or lion-dogs to ward off evil spirits. It is fascinating to see that every element had its place in creating an auspicious aura.
The Sikh guards are not just security guards here. Instead they are elevated to guardians of the afterlife and I find that truly remarkable as it shows the degree of respect and reverence the Sikhs have received.
Ong Sam Leong’s life and death exemplifies this. He was Peranakan and the coolie labour contractor on Christmas Island, a former asset of the British known for its phosphate deposits. Besides labour he also operated a Kongsi, a society on Christmas Island which supplied food, opium and entertainment for the labourers. The Sikh guard statues at his tomb were probably inspired by Sikh police force posted on Christmas Island. British colonialist had capitalized on the commanding appearance by stationing Sikhs to protect British assets and even to squash riots by the Chinese coolies.
Sikhs were therefore seen as protectors of property and guards in the eyes of prominent Chinese merchants and traders, both on Christmas Island and in Singapore. My research took me from Bukit Brown all the way to Christmas Island and in this excitement I asked myself if there were other forms of Sikh imagery in Singapore? I was not left disappointed. There are two instances in which Sikh and Indian guards are captured on motives imbedded into the walls of shophouse entrances at Geylang Road and Balestier Road. The shophouse at Balestier road was owned by Madam Sim Cheng Neo in 1928. The Sikh guards here seem to be a stand in for the Chinese Warrior Door Gods typically used in Chinese Temples to ward off evil spirits.
This is remarkable evidence of how Singapore’s unique ethnic diversity inspires local architecture.
There is also a pair of Sikh statues at Katong Park presented in a more contemporary form:
And if you think that these statues could not get any bigger, wait till you see these guards which were placed in front of a Chinese residence in Singapore in bygone times:
In fact, Singapore is not the only country which has such Sikh imagery. Penang, Malaysia has one too. This is the Sikh statue standing guard over the prayer hall of the Khoo Kongsi Temple in Penang:
As all these re-discoveries grew over time, I felt that this information had to be shared, so the idea of the Singapore Sikh Heritage Trail was born and will include other sites of interests. I hope that through this trail, Sikhs and Singaporeans will be better able to re-connect with their Singapore heritage. This trail is still in its conceptualization stages and should be ready by 2014. It should be pretty evident that I grew up with the idea that Sikhs are a martial race, that we are fierce fighters and defenders of the community. Most Sikhs come from Punjab, India, that sits right at the gateway of invasion into India. From 9th century till the formation of Sikh empire in 18th century, India was routinely invaded via the Khyber pass by central Asian armies and empires. Sikhism, a peaceful community of believers in the concept of unity and social improvement had to adapt to becoming defenders of their land. The saint-soldier concept evolved when the repeated invasions made it tough to live peacefully. There is a small community of Sikhs known as the Nihangs:
They are the guardians of the Sikh martial spirit and still maintain the traditional styles of an early 17th century Sikh army, much like the Samurai warriors. When the Sikh Empire fell to the British, the British decided to harness the martial spirit of Sikhs by deploying them as arms of British dominance over the colonies. As instructed in British recruitment handbooks: “the Sikhs displayed masculinity, [were] fairly uncorruptable and made good policemen.”
In policing the colony, the British further reinforced adherence to the Khalsa Sikh identity through their recruitment policies. Only turbaned and bearded men of a certain height and weight and from specific clans were accepted into the ranks. As such, military service became a domain that could produce and police the British vision of a coherent Sikh identity.
The import of this particular image eventually led to many prominent figures in the Chinese community employing Sikh guards as well, which I see it as a reproduction of that Sikh image masculinity and martiality.
In that space of Bukit Brown, I saw an intermingling of histories, between the Chinese pioneers and the Sikh guards. It was an era frozen in time. Then it dawned upon me that this was not just about “my” people or “my heritage”, but rather was about “our” heritage.
I asked myself, if it was possible to conceive the notion of a “shared heritage”? I surprised myself for having discovered a commonality amongst that bewildering array of personal and collective identities. That was how I reconnected with the Singapore story where Bukit Brown reminded me what it is to be a Singaporean; that we are willing to invite, embrace and accept differences, even taking them to our graves.
If a nobody like me can have the audacity to put myself in an uncomfortable position by learning about another culture, by being in a cemetery, by questioning my own faith, than so can you. Get out there, search and you too might just find a crazy relatable connection that binds us all together.
This article has been adapted from Ishvinder Singh’s speech at TedxYouth@SG on the 17th December 2013. Acknowledgments: Ms. Vithya Subramaniam and Mr. Amardeep Singh in researching and documenting the Sikh statues of Bukit Brown Cemetery, along with the development of the Singapore Sikh Heritage Trail. Vithya is a recent South Asian Studies and Political Science graduate from NUS interested in the intersections of these fields with the visual. Amardeep is a creative photographer: www.amardeepphotography.com
With a passion for history, Ishvinder Singh has set out to document the history of the Sikh community in Singapore. His goal is to create a heritage trail in Singapore that traces places of historical significance to the Sikhs. This idea was first conceived in Bukit Brown cemetery, where numerous Sikh statues stand guard at the tombs of Chinese merchants. Intrigued by this curious sight, he wanted to learn more about the motivations behind those statues. What began as a personal endeavor to reconnect with his past, has evolved into a project to share the collective history of the Sikhs in Singapore.
Ishvinder is a fresh graduate from the National University of Singapore and is currently a supply chain professional for an American Oil and Gas company. He has also spent a significant amount of time in the United States pursuing his other passions of entrepreneurship and business management. At any other time, Ishvinder may be found in Bukit Brown documenting the statues, or in the archives reading up on Sikhs in Singapore.
What are you waiting for? Join us on our tours at Bukit Brown. You may well run into a Sikh guard statue, or even Ish himself.
Claire Leow’s TEDx talk on how Bukit Brown helped her come home from abroad. Ish’s talk has not been uploaded yet. Stay tuned!
Pre- exhumation rituals for the nearly 4,000 pioneers who will have to be exhumed to make way for the highway, took place on the morning of Thursday, 28th November. A short and simple ceremony, it was organised by the Land Transport Authority and Swee Hong construction company for descendants. More than 500 descendants together with well wishers and brownies were in attendance.
The rituals were conducted by 7 members of the Inter Religious Organisation.
Prayers were offered for the peaceful move of the soon to be exhumed pioneers to their new homes and for the safety of the people who will be working on the site.
The descendants who arrived were confronted by a new almost “fortress-like” Bukit Brown where barriers had been put up in preparation for exhumations, scheduled to begin in December 2013
The area for the ritual prayers was under a marquee enclosed by a metal barrier and restricted to descendants. Registration was required.
The area within was quickly filled to capacity
It quickly became standing room only
The scheduled time to begin the prayers was 10am. It was delayed because of the unexpected crowds and started about 15 minutes later.
The religious leaders took their turns to pray starting with Jain leader in pink, followed by Buddhist leader. (photo below)
The Taoist leader (in black robes) was followed by the Hindu religious leader
The prayers took about 10 minutes and the ceremony was over. A few descendants took the opportunity to also pay their last respects personally to their ancestors and came bearing offerings.
Victor Lim, a brownie offered his own prayers of remembrance and respect to the earth deity at the Lorong Halwa gates. Bukit Brown to him is a place to remember his ancestors and affectionately as he is always wont to say “my playground”
Victor Lim : “I don’t know when we can meet again. Since the past 1 1/2 years, we have been meeting with those lonely souls every week. This morning we are departing from this endless, from a party that needs to be dispersed. Alas, we would still need to leave and this brings me good memory. I wish you all the best, bless you peace when you leave, and may this good luck come forth to your new home. We will think of you now and then, and we will be together , not forgetting the milestones of our social memories and roots.”
And finally, all the way from London, Sugen Ramiah remembers Bukit Brown in his prayers at the Westminster Cathedral. His message : While Rev Fr Paul Staes said a prayer for the dead in Bukit Brown, I too lit up a candle and said a prayer for the dead in the Chapel of Holy Souls.
grant unto them O Lord,
may perpetual light
shine upon them;
May they rest in peace. Amen
Amen, indeed amen. A ceremony that seem all to short, commemorates a farewell to those for whom Bukit Brown has been home for decades. We wish you all a safe and peaceful passage to your new homes.
Read Walter Lim’s blog on the rituals in Chinese here
A postscript. Thursday, 28 November 2013, was also the day the Roundabout became a Road.
Follow the path of destruction here
Dateline Sunday 10 November, Kranji War Memorial.
Remembrance Day was commemorated at the Kranji War Memorial in a ceremony dedicated to those who died fighting for Singapore during World War II. Brownies Khoo Ee Hoon and Mok Ly Yng who attended the memorial service had another mission when they were there, to seek out the names of 5 soldiers who had been listed as missing in the Battle at Cemetery Hill (Seh Ong and Bukit Brown Cemeteries).
Based on war records, Ly Yng had already mapped out the dead and missing soldiers from the 4th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, whose last known positions are right in the middle of the proposed 8-lane highway cutting across Seh Ong and Bukit Brown Cemeteries.
The 5 soldiers, named are not the only ones fallen in the battle.
“4x in yellow to the left of the green box represents 4 individuals known to be buried at that position. At the top of the bo along Lornie Road are know to be 5 soldiers (5x), as with the 1x (in green) at the Lornie Road houses. As these soldiers were located outside of the immediate threatened area, I did not include their names, so as to reduce map clutter.But I decided to keep them in the map to provide some context and indicate that there are in fact more soldiers around the area within the Greater BB area.” Mok Ly Yng.
At the Kranji War Memorial, the soldiers’ names on the memorial wall :
Corporal Davis Angus Adcock
Singapore Memorial Column 53, Kranji War Memorial
Missing: 12 Feb 1942
Lance Corporal Cecil George Meadows
Singapore Memorial Column 53, Kranji War Memorial
Killed: 14 Feb 1942
Private Harry Thomas Cattermole
Singapore Memorial Column 54, Kranji War Memorial
Missing: 14 Feb 1942
Missing. Last seen on Hill 95, badly wounded on 14 Feb 1942.
Mok Ly Yng clarification of Cattermole’s position: “Due to the large map coordinate error, Cattermole could be buried within 50 m of the map coordinate’s position. in other words, he could be very, very to Oon Chim Neo’s grave too. In fact the uncertainty area overlaps her grave. “
Private Ivan Jonathan Warne
Singapore Memorial Column 56, Kranji War Memorial
Killed: 14 Feb 1942
Buried top of Highest hill Chinese Cemetery East of Adam Road in Adam Road – Lornie Road Area by padre Polain 2/26 Bn AIF 14.2.42 (crossed out May 1942) Effects 2 Identity Discs, 1 cross.
Private Ivan Jonathan Warne’s position is not affected by the road construction. He is listed as the only known unrecovered casualty to be buried in Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery proper (Hill 1).
Mok Ly Yng on the case of Private P Sawyer in the map:
“The 5 named individuals on the map were known to have been killed or last seen at those map coordinates just before or after the surrender. But after the war, those who were recorded as’ buried’ could *not* be found again and their remains are still missing. Private P Sawyer is the most difficult to find. His records showed that he had ‘Died in Singapore’ on 14 Feb 1942 and that he was buried on 17 Feb 1942 but this burial record was crossed out at a later unknown date. This leaves him with no records and hence he does not appear on the Singapore Memorial at Kranji nor the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) database or nominal roll, unlike the other 4 named soldiers presented here.”
In battle, the Cambridgeshire Regiment and the Suffolk Regiment fought in adjacent sectors. The Cambridgeshire Regiment held the Adam Park area while the Suffolk Regiment the Bukit Brown Cemetery area. In death, casualties of the two regiments are buried in adjacent sections at Kranji. This photo shows the boundary between the Cambridgeshire Regiment and the Suffolk Regiment in Kranji.
‘The fate of the missing Suffolks on Bukit Brown is just part of the rich WW2 heritage that can be found on the hills. There were many other units fighting in the area, constantly passing over the cemetery during the ebb and flow of warfare. It is most likely that there are more missing men to be found amongst the headstones.
There will also undoubtedly be spent ammunition and equipment to be found across the site, the remnants of fieldworks and bomb craters and the general detritus of war. Each item will be the part of a big jigsaw of artifacts and by plotting the locations in the landscape it will be possible to gather invaluable information about fighting that took place there.
The impending work on the hills will peel back the top layers and will undoubtedly expose these traces of the past.Hopefully the construction teams, with proper instruction will identify these clues and call in the experts to catalog and retrieve the material before the concrete is poured over it. There is a chance; just one chance to collect this invaluable evidence.
But most of all there is the possibility that we may come across the remains of our missing men. A chance to identify them and lay them to peaceful rest amongst their own. The fact that we go to great lengths to retrieve these men says as much perhaps about the attitude of Singaporeans today as it does about their generation of sacrifice.’
Mok Ly Yng is part of the documentation team tasked by the government to record and document graves affected by the impending highway
The Kranji War Memorial is dedicated to the men and women from United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, India, Malaya, the Netherlands and New Zealand who died defending Singapore and Malaya against the invading Japanese forces during World War II, it comprises the War Graves, the Memorial Walls, the State Cemetery, and the Military Graves.
Ubique Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt
Everywhere – Where Right and Glory Lead
This is a blog post that will be updated as the destruction continues……
Thursday 28 November ( Pre Exhumation Rituals) : The Roundabout has become a road
A reminder of what it once was, almost exactly a year back in December 2012 :
Friday 22 November
Wednesday 13 November , roundabout paved
Saturday, 9 November. Morning 9am, no works within the grounds.
Guided walks proceeded from the ‘ole rain tree. Respite!
Thursday, 7th November. The road works in progress
Paving the roundabout, and putting up hoardings along Adam Road.
Photos on Flicker on 7th November, 6pm here
Wednesday 6th November, other areas barricaded by concrete blocks
Wednesday 6th November, 2013 clearing continues at the roundabout
Tuesday 5th November, 2013. The roundabout is destroyed.
Friday, 11 October, 2013. The roundabout is barricaded and sealed
Before Oct 11, 2013. The Roundabout
Kwong Tong Cemetery Kuala Lumpur
by Simone Lee
4 November, 2013
The Kwong Tong Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Kuala Lumpur, covering 343 acres of land. It is the final resting place of many prominent city pioneers including Yap Ah Loy, the founder of Kuala Lumpur. In 2007, the 112-year-old cemetery – a green lung in the city – was named a Heritage Park.
My great grandparents are buried in Kwong Tong Cemetery and in October this year I visited them for the second time in 20 years. I can barely remember my first visit as a child. The visit was a result of a confluence of events, the catalyst : Bukit Brown. I first visited Bukit Brown in July, a week after the death of my father. In the weeks that followed I joined the Brownies regularly on their guided walks. I was moved by the stories they told of the pioneers buried there and their contributions. On October 5th, after I conducted my first guided walk “Stories of Ladies in the Straits Settlements”, I felt I was ready to trace the path of my roots.
Even as I embarked on the journey , I was helped by a fellow Brownie, Jonathan Siew who introduced me to his friend Boon Hin who knew Kwong Tong Cemetery well. He drove my mother and I around the cemetery. Naturally, our first stop was at my great grandparents’ tomb .
My Great grandparents Graves
Just like many other sinkehs (new comers, fresh from the boat from China) at that time, my great grandfather, 利曉春(1888-1962) and his wife arrived from Meixian, Guangdong in the 1930′s. He was a tailor but soon went into tin mining, a thriving commodity in Kuala Lumpur at that time. He was successful and brought my grandfather over to help him in the tin-mining business. The entire family (3 generations; great grandparents, grandparents’ siblings and their children) lived in a large British colonial villa at Bukit Bintang (which was later torn down to build shopping malls).
Mah Kan Poh
My great grandparent’s neighbour is Mah Kan Poh
The epitaph on the late Mah Kan Poh’s tombstone erected by his descendants.
“Born on the 14th day of the 12th Moon of Thung Chee Yam Shutt Year, or the 1st of February 1863; and Died on the 29th of May, 1938, or the 1st of 5th Moon, Mo Yen Year – at the age of 77 years. The late Mr.Mah Kan Poh was a native of Yong Kow village, Soon Tuck District – in the province of Canton. He was very thrifty and hardworking, and took to silk trading as his first walk of life. At the age of 26 years, he came over to Malaya. He was first interested in tin-mining and then – revenue farms. Later on he took to rubber planting and he could walk for miles daily in his estate and mines. One of his favourite hobbies was hunting. On many occasions, we advised him to give this up, but he turned a deaf ear to our counsel. In summing up, we might say that the deceased was a man of great courage and determination, and that we and our descendants should follow his footsteps as best we could.”
The Nanyang Volunteers Memorial erected in 1947
When the Sino Japanese War erupted on 7 July 1937, the Chinese government’s logistic concern was security of supply routes importing war materials into China. This led to the construction of the Burma Road linking Kunming with Yangon port in British Burma. The Chinese government also realized the lack of skilled drivers and mechanics in China. To solve this problem, they turned to China Relief Fund headed by Mr Tan Kah Kee to recruit drivers and mechanics from all over Nanyang, today’s South East Asia. These drivers and mechanics are known as the Nanyang Volunteers, 南侨机工. From February to September 1939, 3200 Nanyang Volunteers left in 15 batches and most eventually served on the Burma Road. Most of the Nanyang Volunteers were Chinese man but there were also some Malay and Indian men and four Chinese women. Source
The Japanese War Memorial
This site marks a 10,000 square feet mass grave of the casualties during the Japanese occupation. Remains of close to a thousand victims were relocated from the original site, “Tomb of War Victims of the Compatriots of the Republic of China” which was in a dilapidated state.
The Butcher’s Guild Graves
Built in 1931, from the back, it’s a walk through concrete grids towards the front yard.
The Lim Lian Geok Memorial
Lim Lian Geok (1901-1985) was former Chairman of The United Chinese School Teachers’ Association Of Malaysia (popularly known as Jiao Zong), was a great educationalist as well as a famous social activist.
People from all over the country, put aside their works and came all the way to pay their last respects to him, including high-ranking leaders of political parties. A fund in memory of him was set up, which was later registered as LLG Cultural Development Centre, a non-profit organization. Source
Chua Cheng Tuan : The Cycle & Carriage Family
The Cycle & Carriage family: All except for the 2 tombs at extreme left and right (forefront) are in the Chua family gated plot. You can even see the fence surrounding the cluster behind the trees on the left of photo. At the centre of the plot is Mr.Chua Cheng Tuan, the founder of Cycle & Carriage. His brother Chua Cheng Hock is buried in Bukit Brown.
A pavilion was built by Chua Cheng Tuan’s family, in front of the family plot, in his memory. Today many other graves surround the pavilion.
Other interesting tombs at Kwong Tong Cemetery
This collective teochew tomb has a large mound and a tortoise supporting the tomb stone. Engravings of the Confucian story; 24 filial exemplars lines the arms of this large tomb.
by Walter Lim
(Published in Zaobao on 1 November, 2013, translated by Fabian Tee )
Taking a Closer Look at Singaporeans’ “Interest in the Wild (side)”
I refer to the commentary by Mr Goh Choon Kang ( a media professional and a former MP) entitled “Looking from the sidelines at Singaporeans’ interest in the wild side” dated Oct 23, 2o13. In it he posed the question : “why did the dialogue between civilian and government not take place before unilateral action was taken by one party with the expressed hope of opening more channels of communication? Just reflect for a moment, how the official in charge of heritage affairs must be feeling right now.”
This article has created considerable public misconception. The Prime Minister, after all, had on the occasion of the opening of the Heritage Festival 2013 said that:
“The government does not own the Singapore heritage. It does not define the Singapore heritage. Our heritage is a collection of individual memories, woven together into a national story. It is something that belongs to every Singaporean, and which each one of us can contribute to and help to preserve, individually and collectively”. PM Lee.
Therefore, it stands to reason that any civilian initiative to help Singapore preserve its heritage should be a source of comfort for the authorities. Besides, the National Heritage Board’s Alvin Tan is a broad-minded and enlightened official, and not a petty/small-minded individual as implied by Goh.
In Goh’s article entitled “The basis and limits of dialogue”, he stated that “perhaps I lacked culture or cultural depth, but I feel that most Singaporeans are unlikely to bring their old or young to a desolate place in the middle of nowhere during their free time”.
(I agree) Most people are of this (Goh’s ) same mindset – civilians and officials alike, think that way. It was under such dire circumstances that the application to World Monuments Fund was made. Can anyone imagine holding a dialogue under such circumstances? It would have been laughable. Fortunately the unrelenting efforts (of many) have paid off and many parents do bring their children and elderly parents to Bukit Brown. For his sake and society at large, I sincerely hope that Goh will deepen his cultural depth so that more young and old will come to Bukit Brown for leisurely walks.
On the government’s heavy burden of providing for the basic necessities for millions, Goh said that the volunteers are of the opinion that “you (government) can resolve to solve the existing traffic problems, just leave our Bukit Brown alone. For the record, many alternative plans/suggestions were submitted to the government once the road announcements were made. Subsequently there were suggestions to leave the tombstones by the roadside, blending the past with the modern. Recently, we also took part in the exercise to incorporate Biddari’s history into the planning of the new town. These efforts collectively demonstrate that the volunteers are trying to strike a balance between preserving the past and developing the future. Unfortunately, none of our suggestions/feedback for Bukit Brown found fertile ground and they have since fallen by the wayside.
On the other hand, the plan for Lornie Road reflects a lack of foresight and planning. Three years after expanding the number of lanes on Lornie/Adam Roads in 2009, the government now anticipates a reduction in the (Lornie) lanes after the Bukit Brown highway is built. Instead of expending money on the expansion and subsequent shrinking of Lornie Road, why not just build the Bukit Brown highway in the first place? The excitement that followed the government’s undertaking to quicken the pace of housing and transport infrastructural development after the last General Election quickly morphed into a hidden worry. Plans for building Bukit Brown highway were carried out without the benefit of any impact assessment particularly that of a heritage impact assessment in face of a large scale destruction of historic artifacts. In the final analysis, is the Bukit Brown highway really meant for development or is it an unmitigated disaster?
When the plans were announced last year, an estimated 5000 gravestones were to be affected and LTA then reduced that to 3746 due to a change in road plans. Now the official number has been re-estimated at 4153. What is really going on here? Even more worrisome for us is the sense of how heritage preservation is considered in this country. Minister Tan Chuan Jin said in parliament that (the preservation of) material culture including gravestone, carvings and tiles etc are very important. Yet after discussions at the higher level, there has been no concrete plans for a proposed memorial garden for the preservation of gravestones of important personalities. The imminent threat of destruction to thousands of graves has not provoke the local museums or Chinese clan associations to show any interest in preservation whatsoever. Dare I ask , is any government body or department truly satisfied with this (state of affairs) or process?
Leaving aside Goh’s portrayal of the Bukit Brown volunteers as a bunch of “wild enthusiasts”, this unlikely group of individuals who busy themselves over all things related to Bukit Brown, stands in stark contrast with the total lack of interest displayed by the leaders of the Chinese Clan Associations. This lackadaisical attitude even extends to the discovery of the tombstones of founding fathers of their clans.
At a time when the Gan Eng Seng alumni paid their respects to his grave during Qing Ming, the Chinese High and Nanyang Girls High and Industry Commerce Schools etc have instead chosen to forget their history.
When a country’s polity has no regard for our collective history and the hallowed grounds of our Chinese pioneers and civilisation, evoke nothing but disdain, are policies to blame and have the people all forgotten (the past)?
As Bukit Brown is doomed to its fate, a group of volunteers -whose ranks comprises Indian, Dutch and Japanese and others who know not a single Chinese character – are picking up the Chinese language to decipher tomb inscriptions, studying the various pioneers’ connections with old temples, clan associations, schools and some even extending their research into local history and the Chinese civilization. This abiding interest of the so called “wild enthusiast” calls for a deeper sense of reflection. Surely, this phenomenon is hardly one that can be understood by anyone looking from the sidelines.
More on the road expansion at Lornie Road here.
The full report in Chinese:
官民就不能先磋商好才行动，而必须等到单边行动过后，才希望展开 更多的对话呢？试想，如果你是官方负责文化遗产事宜的单位，你会 有什么感受？”这番话已经造成公众的错误解读。
来定义，人们都可做出贡献和协助保留。”因此对民间自发性的协助 新加坡保留文化遗产，官方理应欣慰，而文物局陈子宇先生是位胸襟 阔达的开明主管，并非吴先生所形容的小家子气。
应有的文化与人文素养，但总觉得，一般国人不太可能在闲暇时间， 扶老携幼到这么一个四野荒冢的地方逛。”这是当时一般人的观感， 民间如此，官方亦然。
说磋商，恐怕告诉别人也会让人笑掉大牙。所幸在不间歇的努力下， 今天可以看到父母带着小孩或是长者到武吉布朗，祈望吴先生为自己 、为社会增添多一份文化与人文素养，一家大小也来武吉布朗逛逛。
法解决交通问题，只要别动到坟山分毫。”这已将志愿者描绘成一味 坚持保留而罔顾发展所需。事实上，政府宣布征用坟场之后就提出代 替方案，过后又建议保留墓碑在路旁，将过去融入未来，也讨论名人 墓园之建议；近期更参与将历史遗迹融入比达达里新镇，这一切都有 目共睹，说明志愿者是在旧事物和新发展之间谋求平衡，但各项建议 都进不了当局的视野之内，结果不了了之。
得开辟新道路缓和交通；而今开辟武吉布朗新道路完成后，又要减少 罗尼路的车道，请问当年为何不直接开辟武吉布朗新道路，却大费周 章的扩建又再收缩罗尼路呢？上届大选之后，政府在房屋与交通方面 加快建设脚本，这喜讯反而成为隐忧，道路未全面评估就匆匆建造， 尤其不曾评估对文化遗迹所带来的破坏。开辟武吉布朗新道路，究竟 是发展所需或许是无妄之灾？
3746座；今年8月却飙升到4153座，请问发生了什么事？令 人担忧的是文物保留意识，陈川仁代部长在国会上说，实质文物，包 括墓碑、雕塑、瓷砖等也很重要，过后召开名人墓园事项的会议，现 已沦为一记空炮；而本地展览馆华社并不热衷保留先贤墓碑，公路工 程即将展开，大批墓碑已陷绝境；敢问政府各部门主管诸位部长，对 整个流程是否满意？
夜为武吉布朗奔波的是一介平民，华社领袖对华人坟场，甚至创办人 或先贤的坟墓却无动于衷；在颜永成学校清明节到武吉布朗献花之际 ，华侨中学、南洋女中和工商等学校却选择遗忘过去。
或是人民已经遗忘？武吉布朗遭人遗弃之际，却有印籍、日籍、荷籍 与认识汉字不多的志愿者，为了理解碑铭而学起中文，更进一步探讨 古迹庙宇、社团、学校，甚至钻研本地历史与中华文化，新加坡人的 “野趣”，有太多值得令人深思之处，岂是斜眼侧观之士所能理会？
The Hindu Day of Remembrance
by Sugen Ramiah
1 November 2013
Like the Chinese who observe the annual “qing ming” or tomb sweeping festival in April, the Indians also honour their ancestors with a visit to their ancestors tombs on the Hindu day of remembrance. It takes place the Sunday before Deepavali, the festival of lights which falls on 2nd of November, Saturday.
On Sunday 27th November, I visited the Hindu cemetery located in Lim Chu Kang to pay respects and place offerings on my ancestors’ tombs.
My grandparents to date have a total of 125 descendants but sadly only 4 turned up, two cousins, my brother and myself.
The trip usually lasts for about two hours, as we’ll clean up five tombs, four in the Hindu Cluster and one in the Catholic cluster. Simple offerings including fruits and sweetmeats were placed on a banana leaf. With the lighting of an oil lamp and incense, the Indians remember their dearly departed.
In the evening at home, the entire family would gather. A feast that consists of eight dishes – chicken, mutton, eggs, fish, prawns, squid, crabs and vegetable, together with fruits, sweetmeats and Indian Peranakan delicacies such as the “kueh wajek”, will be laid before portraits of the ancestors. New cloths would be placed beneath the portrait, incense lit and finally the family members would eat the food that were offered.
Traditionally our forefathers from India were cremated , so there was never a need for tomb stones like the Chinese, Muslims and the Christians. The deceased were usually cremated within the day of death. But if they were wealthy, they would be given a burial. In the Hindu custom, the dead is also remembered on their death anniversary, known as a “theethi’”where a “mocham” lamp (light of liberation) is lit as a sign of remembrance.
Hindus have more than one festival to remember and honour their ancestors. On the full moon of the sixth lunar month of ‘Puratasi’ which falls in September/October, there is the ‘Mahalaya Amavasay’ also known as the fortnight of the ancestors. Hindus pay homage to their ancestors and offer prayers for the repose of their dearly departed at temples.
Some Hindus commemorate the dead during the Matu Pongal, on the second day of the “Pongol” Harvest Festival. The Indian Peranakans, known as the Chitty, celebrate the eve of Pongal with Bhogi Parachu – the ancestral worship festival. Since there were a few festivals to remember the dead, the local community here and in Malaysia decided that the Sunday before Deepavali will be the day of remembrance.
My grandfather, a wealthy merchant born in 1884, came to Singapore and contributed greatly to the Indian community of Singapore in the 1900s. He started the first dairy business here and contributed to the Sri Mariaman Temple in South Bridge Road He married my grandmother who was a Chitty- Indian Peranakan – from Melaka(Malacca) and she was the matriarch of the family. The honorary title is currently held by my aunt who is 85 this year.
As a Brownie, I have been moved by the descendants who return every year to Bukit Brown during “qing ming” to clean the tombs and pay their respects. I am also sadden by the tombs that lay neglected, which have been forgotten, and I hope more descendants will come forward and reconnect with their ancestors.
I am blessed and grateful to the friends/volunteers of Bukit Brown, who have kindly showed me how to appreciate and understand my own heritage and to be proud of who I am. This was the first time, my brother marked the remembrance day for our grandparents and it was for him an eye opening and moving experience.
Sugen Ramiah is a teacher by training and his interest includes observing and documenting Chinese festivals and rituals conducted by temples.