We came across a lad from A company. He was ripped open from his shoulder to his waist by shrapnel and lying in a pool of blood. When we got to him, he said: 'Shoot me'. He was beyond human help and, before we could draw a revolver, he was dead. It's an image that has haunted me all my life, seared into my mind.
~Harry Patch (1898 – 2009)
Not many people know it, but nestled behind Jakarta’s Park Lane Hotel (just off Jalan Casablanca) there is a British World War II Cemetery.
I only heard about it from a good friend, and with Remembrance Day coming up (9 Nov Canada, 11 Nov UK), I decided to make a visit.
The cemetery is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and it is to their immense credit - and to that of the Indonesian caretaker as well - that the cemetery is in absolutely immaculate condition.
All the dead are commemorated by a name on a headstone which are ALL exactly the same regardless of military or civil rank, race or creed.
It’s certainly a humbling experience to walk around the cemetery and read the poignant inscriptions on the headstones of the mostly very young men buried here.
Altogether there are over 1,000 graves (954 identified): those of the soldiers who died in the defence of Java and Sumatra during the Japanese advance in 1942, and also the many others who perished afterwards as Japanese prisoners of war.
The Jakarta cemetery can be reached by two main roads - Jalan Dr Saharto and Jalan Casablanca. It is open between the hours of 8.00am and 5.00 pm. Monday to Friday. Gain access to the cemetery by ringing the bell and waiting for the caretaker to let you in. He will ask you to sign a visitors’ book before you take a look around. The cemetery can’t get many visitors, so make sure to slip the guy a Rp20,000 note or something when you leave.
Also when you visit, take the opportunity to visit the equally poignant Netherlands Field of Honour which is located directly adjacent to the British World War II Cemetery.
Unlike the British, the Dutch do use crosses and the cemetery is just like those in Northern France or Belgium – with the crosses perfectly set and stretching far out into the distance…