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Headstone of wartime doctor preserved at Garden of Remembrance

‘The Garden of Remembrance fulfilled all my hopes as a beautiful and dignified home for my father’s memorial site.’

— Dr Nigel Stanley in an e-mail to Methodist Message.

THE headstone of a well-known English doctor who joined a Singapore medical practice in 1929 and the Malayan Medical Service three years later and was killed by the Japanese in 1943, is now standing at the Garden of Remembrance in Old Choa Chu Kang Road.

Dr Cuthbert Arthur Stanley, who worked in hospitals in Singapore, Muar and Penang, specialising in eye diseases, was accused by the Japanese of being a “master spy” during the war years and brutally tortured to death although there was no evidence to incriminate him.

His body was then taken under guard to the mortuary at the Kandang Kerbau Hospital. One brief security lapse allowed a doctor there to glimpse his battered face and recognise him as a previous colleague. This doctor, a key prosecution witness at the “Double Tenth War Crimes Trial” (Oct 10) in 1946, was Benjamin Sheares, later to become the President of Singapore.

Dr Stanley’s body was furtively buried by the dreaded Kempei Tai secret police in an unmarked grave at Bidadari Christian Cemetery, but they were observed by a funeral director, Walter Neubronner. He identified the site later so that Dr Stanley’s wife and friends could provide it with a headstone at Bidadari Christian Cemetery.

One of the three hospital blocks at Singapore General Hospital – Stanley Block – was named after him. It has been demolished.

One of Dr Stanley’s two surviving children, Dr Nigel Stanley, 68, told Methodist Message in an e-mail from England that he and his relatives wish to preserve a permanent memorial in Singapore for the late Dr Stanley because of the tragic circumstances of his death and because South-east Asia had provided his home for all his working life.

New arrangements had to be made when they were notified about the recent plans to redevelop Bidadari Christian Cemetery where his father was buried in 1943.

Dr Nigel Stanley said in his e-mail: “His remains were exhumed and cremated on Oct 4, 2002. A family graveside ceremony was held at the time. Those present included myself, my father’s eldest grandson and his two great grand-children, as well as one of his nephews and other relatives who travelled from England for the occasion.

“During this visit we had the pleasure of meeting Ms Elizabeth Choy, who shared the terrible experiences that had led to my father’s death.

“It was also my good fortune then to meet Mr Wong Pock Yeen, General Manager of the Christian Columbarium Pte Ltd, and hear from him about the development of the Garden of Remembrance. I was attracted by the opportunity of relocating the grave’s headstone to this site as the centrepiece for a permanent memorial. The headstone alludes to the tragic circumstances leading to my father’s death and is in a good state of preservation.”

When Dr Nigel Stanley returned to Singapore in September 2005 to attend a conference commemorating the 60th anniversary of Singapore’s liberation from the Japanese Occupation, he also visited the Garden of Remembrance.

“It fulfilled all my hopes as a beautiful and dignified home for my father’s memorial site,” he said in his e-mail.

“The headstone from his Bidadari grave now stands there together with an adjacent plaque. All my family members are delighted with the outcome.

“I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the staff at the Garden of Remembrance, who spent much time advising me about possible arrangements for the memorial and guiding me through all the complexities of completing these arrangements from 7,000 miles away,” he added.

Bidadari Christian Cemetery was one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Singapore. This century-old cemetery was a part of Singapore’s history. It was the sacred resting place for many local and expatriate Christians who were buried from 1908 to 1972. The lush garden was adorned with many artistic, ornate marble headstones, many of which had interesting stories.

Bidadari Christian Cemetery was demolished for better land use, and all unclaimed headstones were consequently destroyed.

The Garden of Remembrance, designed to treasure fond memories of departed loved ones, managed to save some of the historical headstones, including that of the late Dr Cuthbert Arthur Stanley.