Bukit Chandan Military Cemetery, Kuala Kangsar

Bukit Chandan Cemetery, Kuala Kangsar
Entrance to the cemetery

In the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, on a rise overlooking the mighty Perak River, lies a small Christian cemetery. It contains 16 British military graves dating from the Perak War of 1875-77 together with some civilian graves, including more recent ones from the town’s tiny Anglican population (mostly Tamils). As a war cemetery, it comes under the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and on their website it is shown as Bukit Chandran Cemetery (should be spelt Chandan).

View from Bukit Chandan cemetery
View from the cemetery overlooking the Perak River at Kuala Kangsar.

The Perak War was one of those small wars that Britain was rather good at. It followed the murder of James Wheeler Woodford Birch who had recently taken up the position of Resident as advisor to the Sultan of Perak. Britain had discovered during its time running India that the practice of appointing Residents to assume all the real power, while leaving nominal control in the hands of the local chief, was a very effective way of acquiring an empire ‘on the cheap’. But poor Birch rubbed the locals up the wrong way and paid for it with his life. You can read more about his assassination on my Malaysia Traveller website.

Inscription on the memorial at Bukit Chandan cemetery
The inscription on the memorial at Bukit Chandan gives an overview of the Perak War.

Britain could not allow its officials to be murdered so a military expedition force was rapidly put together to punish the perpetrators and stamp out any smouldering rebellion in its newest protectorate. The force comprised sepoys from India, Gurkhas, some Sikh police and a Naval Brigade. The Malays put up a fight but eventually were overwhelmed and the assassins, including Maharaja Lela, were captured and hanged. The Sultan was exiled to Seychelles and replaced by a more amenable relative.

List of casualties at Bukit Chandan cemetery
The reverse side of the memorial lists 15 British names who died in the Perak War and who are buried in this cemetery. One other casualty, a Capt. Walters, is not on the inscription but is included on CWGC’s database.

Casualties on both sides were light and, from the British point of view, were a small price to pay for securing Malaya as one of Britain’s most remunerative colonies. Of course, for these poor 16 individuals who perished it was not a small price at all, to say nothing of the many sepoys killed in action who have no known grave (unlike in later wars where Indian soldiers received the same burial honours as other British war dead).

Major Henry Lumsden Hawkins, killed at Kota Lama.
Major Henry Lumsden Hawkins, killed at Kota Lama.
Memorial at Bukit Chandan cemetery.
Memorial at Bukit Chandan cemetery.
Kota Lama (2 miles from Kuala Kangsar) was a hotbed of insurrection and was burnt down by British forces.
Kota Lama (2 miles from Kuala Kangsar) was a hotbed of insurrection and was burnt down by British forces.
William C Sone
Bad handwriting probably caused the name on this headstone to be wrongly transcribed as William C. Sone. I believe this should read William J. Soul. According to The London Gazette article dated 23 February 1876, the list of killed from the Naval Brigade, Her Majesty’s Ship Philomel, during the assault on Kota Lama were as follows:
William J. Soul, Leading Seaman and Seaman Gunner, spear wound on the right side of the spine, transfixing the chest, the aperture of exit being about 5 inches below the right nipple.Killed.
Jasper Ball
Jasper Ball, Private Royal Marine Light Infantry, two spear wounds in the epigastrium. Spear wound of left fore-arm, and several of right hand through grasping the spear. Death in about 18 hours.

It is a credit to the CWGC that this far-off and largely forgotten cemetery continues to be beautifully maintained 140 years after their burial, even though most of the descendants of the deceased are probably not even aware of their existence.

Well maintained cemetery at Bukit Chandan.

Kuala Lumpur’s Lesser Known Cemeteries

I was looking at an old, pre-war map of Kuala Lumpur the other day and noticed a number of cemeteries that I was not familiar with. I searched for them on Google Maps and found that some are still in existence so I went along to have a look.

Since today is Remembrance Sunday it seems appropriate to share a few photos.

Loke Yew Road Buddhist Burial Ground

The names of those buried in this small cemetery would appear to be mainly of Sri Lankan origin.

There are two military graves in this cemetery – Private H.M. Karunaratne and Private T.B. Somadasa, both of the Royal Pioneer Corps (Ceylon).

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These graves are known to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but since they are considered as ‘non-war service burials’ they do not receive the same treatment and are probably seldom visited, unlike those in the immaculately maintained Cheras Road Cemetery.

These soldiers died on 3rd July 1948 and 21st June 1948 respectively. The Malayan Emergency commenced on 16th June 1948 so it seems likely that they were among the early casualties.

There is another possibility. A newspaper article from earlier that year reported how all 800 men from the Ceylonese Royal Pioneer Corps were confined to barracks under an armed guard of Gurkhas following serious rioting in Kuala Lumpur. It seems they were recruited under British Army pay scales but after Ceylon became independent on 4th February 1948 they were switched to new terms with lower pay, which would have been enough to provoke the riot. Another newspaper article in early June 1948 tells how 10 soldiers from this unit were to appear on a court martial charged with mutiny, a serious offence with potentially fatal consequences. Of course these articles may not be connected with the two graves but the timing is about right.

Christian Cemetery, Loke Yew Road

Simon Christian Marbeck

Simon Christian Marbeck

Next to the Buddhist graves are some Christian headstones. The old map named this the Roman Catholic cemetery. After checking a few names on the internet, and judging by the faded photos on some of the headstones, my guess is that this cemetery was used mainly for people of mixed race, or Eurasians as they were called under the racially segregated colonial system.

This cemetery is also the resting place of hundreds of unknown victims of World War Two whose small headstones are marked only with a number.

Unmarked Grave at Loke Yew CemeteryUnknown WWII Graves

Kuala Lumpur Japanese Cemetery

Directly opposite the unknown war graves is the Kuala Lumpur Japanese Cemetery which has been in existence for more than 100 years on a plot of land granted to them by the British colonial administration. It is a gated and well tended cemetery with a notice board listing the graves and their locations (in Japanese only). The caretaker, Billy, very kindly showed me around.

Old Gates to the Japanese Cemetery, Kuala LumpurJapanese Cemetery Kuala Lumpur

Flight JA8051 Crash Victims GraveJapanese War Dead Memorial, Kuala Lumpur

He pointed out the grave (bottom left) of the 34 victims of Japan Airlines Flight JA8051 which crashed into a hillside in 1977 while trying to land at KL airport during a thunderstorm. The stone on the right commemorates Japanese servicemen who died during the War. Since some of them might be responsible for the unknown graves in the field opposite, the less said about them on Remembrance Day the better!

Protestant Cemetery Venning Road

The old map shows a Protestant Cemetery just behind the Railway Administration Building on what was Venning Road (now Jalan Perdana). An Islamic Centre (Komplex Pusat Islam Malaysia) now stands on this site. Presumably the graves were relocated long ago, perhaps to Cheras Road Civil Cemetery.

Kuala Lumpur (Ampang Road) Mohammedan Cemetery

Hidden from view behind the Maya Hotel and just a short distance from KLCC is a surprisingly large Muslim cemetery, which on my old map, and on the Commonwealth War Graves website, goes by the archaic name ‘Mohammedan’. There is another British non-war serviceman from the Malayan Emergency buried here, a Corporal Ajetumbaya Mlumbe of the 1st Battalion King’s African Rifles who was killed on 12th March 1953. Unfortunately I was unable to find his grave but his sacrifice is not forgotten.

Ampang Road Muslim Cemetery

Kuala Lumpur Civil Cemetery, Cheras Road

Commonwealth War Graves at Kuala Lumpur Cheras Road Civil Cemetery

I’ve been spending a lot of time in cemeteries lately.

I’ve volunteered to assist The War Graves Photographic Project which, in association with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), aims to photograph the graves or memorials of every military casualty since WWI. In this way, family members who are unable to visit the graves of their loved ones due to the location can at least obtain a photo.

It’s an immense task as you can imagine. So far over 1.7 million named graves and memorials have been recorded.

Here in Malaysia, there are more than 6,500 graves in over 30 locations which are under the care of, or are known to, the CWGC.  Most of these are from WWII and from the Malaya Emergency period. The list also includes police casualties and dependents of military personnel. Some are in dedicated CWGC cemeteries such as those at Taiping and Labuan while others are in civil cemeteries. My involvement is to locate and photograph those graves in Malaysia which have not already been covered.

You might consider this a rather morbid pastime (and it is unpaid) but I think it is worthwhile. As well as providing a photographic record, this work helps to correct errors or misspellings in the Ministry of Defence’s lists which might otherwise prevent genealogists from tracing their relatives.

The Kuala Lumpur cemetery at Cheras Road is a civil one but the CWGC graves are in separate section which you can see in the background of the photo below (behind the hedge).

The CWGC section is in the background.

The CWGC graves are well maintained by Bangladeshi gardeners. Mr Faisal here is seen plucking a weed from the immaculate lawn.

Mr Faisal tending the grass at KL Cheras Road Civil Cemetery

Buried here are British, Indian, Gurkha, Australian, New Zealand, East African and Malaysian soldiers, sailors, airmen, police, civilians and dependants.

Iban Tracker

The Sarawak Rangers were a small force of Iban trackers whose jungle skills were employed to seek out Communist terrorists during the Emergency. General Sir Gerald Templer, the Commander-in-Chief at the time, described the Ibans as the world’s best jungle trackers.

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Venning Road Cemetery

Since writing this post there have been a number of comments regarding the former cemetery at Venning Road. As mentioned in one of the comments below,  when the Venning Road cemetery was redeveloped, the graves there were exhumed and the remains were reburied in a single mass grave at Cheras Road. This is the mass grave site.

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The grave is marked only by a rather undignified metal sign which has faded and is almost illegible. Here is a close up of the sign:

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This unsatisfactory state of affairs has been raised with the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur and they have agreed up the matter with the concerned parties. The High Commission was sent a reminder in September 2017.

2018 Update

Since writing the above comment Isabel Woodward advised me that there is now a memorial on the mass grave site for those exhumed from Venning Road (see Isabel’s comment below). Here are Isabel’s photos of the memorial:

 

This new memorial is a big improvement on the old metal sign but it is a pity that there are no names of the individuals concerned. I suspect that no record of the graves exhumed was made, or if it was, it can no longer be found.

Taiping War Cemetery

There is a war cemetery in Taiping where 850 Allied personnel who died during World War II are buried.

Taiping War Cemetery

It is located in a very green and pleasant spot next to Taiping Lake Gardens at the foot of Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill).

Taiping War Cemetery

The cemetery is immaculately maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The cemetery is immaculately maintained.

Christians are buried on one side of the road (mostly British and Australian) while the Muslim and Hindu soldiers of the Indian Army are buried on the other side.

Muslim graves are facing in the direction on Mecca and so too is this Hindu grave. They were both killed on 9th December 1941. As the Japanese invasion of Malaya only commenced on 8th December they must have been among the early casualties.

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I was surprised to see so many unknown graves. Over 500 of the 850 remain unidentified. This is because many had been collected up from temporary burial sites and battlegrounds all over Malaya and reinterred here once the war had ended.

Unknown Soldier

There is one female civilian buried here, Marjorie Benn of the YWCA who died after the war had ended.  I wonder what her story was?

The grave of Marjorie Benn, YWCA.

I looked out for familiar names but as far as I am aware I do not have any relatives who died in Malaysia/Malaya.

Too young to die.

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