KL Cenotaph: A memorial to the fallen of World War I

The granite monument was unveiled in 1924.

All over the Commonwealth, ceremonies have been held to mark 100 years since the end of World War I. In Malaysia, the commemoration took place on Remembrance Day at the Kuala Lumpur cenotaph.

This simple granite monument was unveiled in 1924 to pay tribute to those with connections to Malaya who lost their lives in the Great War.

It was designed by the architectural firm Stark & McNeill with offices in Penang, Ipoh and Johor.

It first stood in Cenotaph Road (Jalan Tugu), off Victory Avenue (Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin), outside the Kuala Lumpur railway station.

It was moved to Tugu Negara, near the botanical gardens, in 1961 to make way for a flyover.

Each of the four sides of the monument displays a bronze tablet engraved with the names of the fallen, mostly British and Indians fighting for the British.

Representatives of various Commonwealth countries and other organisations leave wreaths of poppies on Remembrance Sunday.

Compared with World War II, which severely affected Malaya, it was not greatly impacted by World War I. Apart from a German naval attack on Penang, there was no fighting in the country.

Indeed the economy experienced a boom as Malaya’s main exports, rubber and tin, were in great demand.

The British working in Malaya at the time played an important role in the war effort by supplying the home country with vital commodities and there was no obligation for young British men to go home and fight.

Even so, many felt the need to volunteer and play their part, and a good number paid the ultimate price.

Every year on Remembrance Sunday, the British High Commission hosts a service of remembrance at Tugu Negara for those who served in both world wars, the Malayan Emergency and other conflicts.

Representatives of various Commonwealth countries and other organisations leave wreaths of poppies.

It was said at the time, and indeed today, that “We will remember” and everyone does remember the terrible price paid by that generation, but as the years have passed people are inevitably losing their collective memory of the individuals. There is probably nobody left alive today who personally knew anyone who died in that war.

Representatives of various Commonwealth countries and other organisations leave wreaths of poppies on Remembrance Sunday.

Those who made the ultimate sacrifice

Information on those commemorated on the cenotaph is hard to come by, but the Commonwealth War Graves Commission does have some details. Here is one name from each of the four plaques:

Major Tom Lewis Bourdillon MC, 8th Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps 14th Division. Killed in action at Ypres Aug 24, 1917, aged 29. Son of Sir James and Lady Bourdillon of Liphook, Hampshire. He is buried at Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium.

Lieutenant Frederick St John Ford North Echlin died of wounds on Sept 27, 1916, aged 27. He was from Echlinville in Northern Ireland, which today is home to a whiskey distillery of the same name. Prior to the outbreak of the Great War Echlin had been working in the Federated Malay States.

He volunteered for service and was commissioned on March 6, 1915, to the 5th Battalion Royal Fusiliers.

He joined the Royal Flying Corps on Oct 27, 1915, and became a pilot. He is buried in Achiet-Le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension, France.

Eric Herbert Justus Maule-Ffinch was a Second Lieutenant killed in action near Bray, France on Aug 27, 2018, aged 18.

He served with the 7th (Res.) Battalion of the London Regiment. He is buried at Bray Military Cemetery. He joined the Malay State Volunteer Rifles at 17.

Uttam Singh. The only Uttam Singh with a Malayan connection listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website is Sepoy Uttam Singh of the Malay States Guides, who was killed on Dec 9, 1915.

Son of Sher Singh of Tangri, Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Punjab. His name is also on the Heliopolis (Aden) Memorial in Cairo. The Malay States Guides saw action in Aden in 1915, against Turkish soldiers threatening the British-controlled city.

This article first appeared on Thrifty Traveller.