Burying loved ones… after 61 years
KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — Dennis Carpenter, 82, still remembers the day his family received news that his only brother Geoffrey had been killed in far-flung Malaya.
They had received a telegram that Royal Air Force Navigator Geoffrey Carpenter, 23, was missing. His mother took the news badly and always thought Geoffrey would return home even after 10 years.
“He was a fun-loving young man, always wanting to go into the Air Force. His legs weren’t long enough so he couldn’t be a pilot. He joined the Air Cadets when he was still at school and when he left school, he went into RAF,” reminisced Dennis.
He still has in his possession two letters from his brother: one addressed to him and the other to his parents. One of the letters was dated August 21, 1950 and the plane Geoffrey was in crashed on August 25, 1950. His family received the letter a day after Geoffrey’s death so it was very surreal.
And tomorrow, 61 years after he received news of his brother’s death, Dennis will finally be able to attend Geoffrey’s funeral.
On August 25, 1950, the Royal Air Force Dakota KN630 from 52 Squadron went on a target-marking mission but the aircraft failed to return. Nine days later, a rescue party reached the crash site on foot to discover that all 12 crewmembers and passengers had died in the crash.
Their remains were buried near the crash site because the terrain was dangerous and there was a risk of attack from the communist insurgents as Malaysia, then Malaya, was under the Emergency.
To put things in perspective, the deceased RAF members of that fateful flight were serving under King George VI. The present queen of England, Elizabeth, who is celebrating her diamond jubilee this year, only ascended the throne in 1952.
The 12 crash victims will finally be reburied with full military honours at the Cheras Road Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery tomorrow morning.
The journey to find and rebury the 12 began when Dennis sent a letter to the Tourist Office in the UK to find out the location of the actual crash site and the letter landed on the desk of the Defence Advisor of the High Commissioner.
In November 2008, a team of 150 Malaysian military, police and specialist forensic archaeologists embarked on an expedition to recover the remains of the 12.
“Sixty-one years after the crash and nearly three-and-a-half years after the remains were recovered, I’m glad for the families to finally lay to rest the fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins who so tragically lost their lives during the Malayan Emergency on board flight Dakota KN630.
“And I sincerely hope that the families can take pride and satisfaction from the appropriate military order that will be paid to the relatives at their burial service tomorrow. I hope in some small way, this helps to soothe your loss,” said Simon Featherstone, British High Commissioner for Malaysia at a press conference this afternoon.
Among the family members who had made the special trip to Malaysia are Vickie Betsworth and Sheila Tabbett, sisters of Royal Army Service Corps Dispatcher Corporal Philip Bryant. Vickie was 15 and Sheila 13 when Philip died in the crash at the age of 25.
“We had a friend who said they (the UK Ministry of Defence) were looking for Mr F. Bryant and we knew it was not right, it was Mr P, they got the spelling wrong — P for Philip. So then we got in touch with Sue Raftree from the UK Ministry of Defence and it started from there,” said Vickie whose eyes started to well up with tears at one point during the interview.
“This is the way forward and this is definitely closure for us. And the nicest part about this is back in England where we live, they have put his name on a war memorial... it wasn’t on before. So now we have this (the reburial) and we would say it is a double bonus,” added Vickie.
The sisters are very proud of their brother and Sheila opened her wallet to show us a photograph of a handsome man.
“It is the only picture we have of him. We don’t have a lot of photos of him because he was a private person. He was the sweetest man on earth but we are biased because we are his sisters,” laughed Vickie.
“He went to join the army because he had to but when he came back he didn’t have any work so he re-joined the Royal Army Services. I thought he was crazy! That was what you did when you are a young man and liked the action I suppose,” she added.
Glenwyn Davies was only four years old when her father RAF Signaller Thomas O’Toole DFM died in the crash.
“I can remember my mother telling me that he had been killed and I was just a child so I just accepted these things and went on with life. But later on in life, I was curious and wanted to find out exactly what happened and I started the search. I found out about the expedition from the ministry in 2008,” said Glenwyn.
As an only child, she looked to relatives to share their memories of her father. They have since passed on and she hopes to find out more about her father so that she can recount his life to the next generation.
“The people who were involved in the expedition were fantastic with their jobs. It was a very long process, about four years. Tomorrow is going to be very emotional,” she said.