Funeral in Bidadari. #FWW #WWI #WW1

Mr and Mrs Gordon Woolcombe were newlyweds. They had only been married a few days when the Singapore Mutiny broke out. Unaware of events as they were unfolding Mr and Mrs Woolcombe were driving along the Pasir Panjang road. Stopped by sepoys they were likely asked if they were “Inglees” and answered “Yes”. The sepoys then fired at Gordon. It is thought that Mrs Woolcombe died trying to protect her husband as her body was found lying across the body of her husband.(1)  A brave lady trying to protect the man she loved and dying a heroine’s death in the process.

Mrs Woolcombe is buried along with her husband and the others killed on the 15th. On the 17th 16 are named in the newspapers. C.F. Anscombe (2) name was added to the list Mr A Drysdale, J. Love Montgomerie, Dr E.D. Whittle, Mr C.V. Dyson, Dr P.N. Gerrard, Mr George Wald, Mr J.B. Dunn, Mr D. McGilvray, Mr J. Harper, Mr C Smith, Mr Marshall (of Sun Insurance), Mr A. J. G. Holt (Paterson Simons), Mr Lawson, Mr B.C. Cameron, Mr Clarke (Warder) and Mr D. Legg.  The caskets containing the bodies were brought to Bidadari cemetery by two lorries and a hearse.(3)  The Bishop of Singapore and other clergy officiated.(4) The Strait Times published the names and more details about which section of Bidadari cemetery victims were buried in on the 18th. Included in the additional names was Senftleben, the German killed at the prison compound in Tanglin Barracks.

For the regular (as opposed to the local volunteer) military dead things were a little different. They were not named until their next of kin had been notified. It was decided to hold a graveside service for them on the 3rd April.(5) Starting at 5 p.m.  This is to be followed by a thanksgiving service at St Andrew’s Cathedral just for the military on the 11th. More details on the timing and order of service for the 3rd April were given in the Straits Times on the 1st April.

The graveside service for the military was an impressive event. People arrived in cars, carriages, gharries, rikishas as well as on foot.  The firing party was formed by men from the Navy, Royal Garrison Artillery, Royal Engineers, and the Singapore Volunteer Corps. At five o’clock, the Governor, Brigadier General Ridout, and Admiral Sir Martyn Jerram arrived accompanied by their entourages. The Colonial Chaplin, Clergy from the Cathedral, choir, and hundreds of relatives, mourners and members of the public were also there. The choir sang the first verse of “Rock of Ages”

 Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee
Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee
While the procession including the firing party made its way to the graveside. On the other three sides were sailors troops from the Garrison, men from the Singapore Volunteer Corps, Wardens from the prison and Special Constables. The firing party split into two, one-half going to each side of the graves and standing in front of the men already there. Over each grave lay a Union Jack each covered in flowers.  Readings were read, John chapter 9 verse 25, 26 and Job, 14 verse 25, 26, and 27. A prayer was said for the fallen, one for the relatives and mourners, and one for everyone else who was there.. a lesson was then read, followed by the apostle’s creed and the hymn “On the resurrection morning was sung.
On the resurrection morning
Soul and body meet again;
No more sorrow, no more weeping,
No more pain …
After the blessing, the names of the soldiers the service was held for were read out.
Major R.H. Galwey, Royal Garrison Artillery.                                                                             Captain F.V. Izard, Royal Garrison Artillery.Died 16/02/1915                                                             Captain M.F.A Maclean, Royal Garrison Artillery attached Malay States Guides.             Captain P. Boyce, 5th Light Infantry,                                                                                             Captain P.N. Gerrard,  Malay States Volunteer Rifles.*                                                             Captain H. Cullimore, Johore Military Forces.                                                               Lieutenant H.S Eillot, 5th light Infantry.                                                                               Lieutenant A.F. Legge, Singapore Volunteer Medical Corps. Died 16/02/1915                               2nd Lieutenant J.H Love Montgomerie, Singapore Volunteer Rifles.*                                 Sergeant G. Wald, Singapore Royal Engineers Volunteer (Reserve).*                                               Corporal R.V. Beagley, Royal Garrison Artillery.                                                                         Corporal D MacGilvray, Singapore Volunteer Rifles.*                                                             Corporal G.O. Lawson Cyclist Scouts.*                                                                                             Lance Corporal J.C. Harper Singapore Volunteer Rifles.*                                                                 Stoker CF Anscombe Royal Navy.*                                                                                                               Gunner Barry, Royal Garrison Artillery.                                                                                       Gunner P. Walton Singapore Volunteer Artillery, di                                                                               Private A Drysdale**, Singapore Volunteer Rifles.* died 16/02/1915                                               Private A.J.G.Holt, Singapore Volunteer Rifles.                                                                                     Private W.H. Leigh Malay States Volunteer Rifles,                                                                                 Armed Civilian F. Geddes
*Known to have been buried at the same time as Mrs G. Woolcombe.
**CWGC records Private Drysdale’s  initials as F.S.
After the service, the firing party fired a volley over the graves and the last post was played.  The firing party fixed bayonets and presented arms. The last post was again played and the graveside service was concluded.(6) The Straits Times for the 5th April on page 10. records that three Volleys were fired and the volleys fired over the Roman Catholic graves which were in another portion of the cemetery at Bidadari sounded like an echo. (There was another report in the Straits Times the following day, 6 April, page 8. which emphasises the spiritual aspect of the service)
Officialdom had not yet finished with the dead. While the Government were quite happy to pay for the military funerals. They did not feel any obligation to pay for the funerals of the civilians killed in the mutiny and individual bills for the cost of the burials were sent to the employers or the executors of each of the civilian dead. The Government took no responsibility for civilians killed. Their attitude was that the military and volunteers were killed while on active service during the mutiny. The deaths of civilians in the same mutiny were regarded as being no different to deaths caused accidentally or old age. Officer’s relatives were also expected to pay for their funerals too. This caused more than a little resentment. (The Mutiny Victims, The Straits Times, 16 June 1916, page 9) The Singapore Free Press reported on the 17th June, page 4 that they were told that the “Government is afraid of creating precedents that may lead to invisible lengths.” The Government did just that without knowing it and not in the way they expected.  The paper replied, ” Does the Government expect an annual Mutiny as a reasonable contingency?” The argument was put forward in the same article, “that the 5th Light Infantry were the sworn servants of the Imperial Government.” The response was “The mutineers, it is granted were Government servants-but they were not carrying out their function as such when they took to lawless murder on the roads.” The Singapore Free press also asked in the same article if the mutineers were no longer Government servants in the military why were they tried by Courts Martial and executed in public as though they were?  The debate continued if not in public, at least in the papers. The Malaya Tribune on  26 June, page 4, carried an article criticising the Government for its lack of responsibility for the payment of compensation due because of the mutiny.
The cost of the burials was again raised in the Legislative Council on the 26th June.  The reply was “On the 16th February owing to the confusion caused by the mutiny it was feared that some of the dead might be left unburied, and an officer was told off to see that this did not occur. That officer arranged with an undertaker for the various funerals, and accepted liability on behalf of the Government for the expenses incurred. When these expenses had been settled, letters were sent to five firms in the following terms…”  The letters were telling the firms that Mr X…worked for them and would they pay the bill for their funeral. The Council also said that if the relatives were unwilling to pay for the funerals what the dead civilians would end up with is a pauper’s burial.
Both the Imperial Government’s and the attitude of the council would haunt the dead in the years to come. The military graves would come under the care of the Imperial War Graves Commission, now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
After WW2 it was decided to move the remains of the servicemen killed in the First World War to the Kranji War Cemetery as maintenance of the graves at Bidadari could not be guaranteed. Included with the servicemen was Senftleben the German was killed at Tanglin. The graves of the civilians including Mrs G Woolcombe were left undisturbed. In 2001 the next of kin were asked to claim the remains. Most were not claimed. The UK Government having negated its responsibility in 1915.  Following this until 2006 the majority of the remaining graves, including the mutiny victims at Bidadari, were exhumed and then cremated. The ashes were then committed to the sea.(7) Mrs Gordon Woolcombe’s, who died a heroine’s death, ashes are thought to be amongst them.
  1. Singapore Mutiny, Harper and Miller. page 78
  2. Anscombe was added to the list on the 18th, Straits Times 18 February 1915, page 6
  3. Singapore Free press and Mercantile Advertiser, 17th February 1915, page 4. and the Straits Times page 10.
  4. Malaya Tribune, 17 February 1916, page 4
  5. Special Military Service, Malaya Tribune, 25 March 1915, page 8
  6. In Memoriam, The Singapore Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 5 April 1915, page 12.

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