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Richard Elkin Cumberbatch

Richard son of Dr Elkin Percy Cumberbatch joined the 137th Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery and was killed whilst a Prisoner of War at Nong Pladuk Camp Siam on 3rd December 1944.

Here is a letter written to Richard's Mother by Charles Douglas his friend with an account of Richard's death:

23, Lake Road,

Chandler's Ford,

Hants

December 1st, 1945

Dear Mrs Cumberbatch,

Ever since this time last year I have felt that it was my duty towards you, as a friend of Richard's, to communicate with you concerning him. And I sincerely hope that I shall not cause you too much pain and grief in writing this letter to you. However, I know that you would far better have the true details from a friend of his than be content with a mere formal communication from the War Office. When we were first liberated, we were warned against communicating with bereaved relations before they had been formally notified as it was liable to cause confusion and unnecessary grief, so I have complied with this order, and allowed some time to elapse before writing.

As you probably know, I was at Keble with Richard and met up with him again in the O.C.T.U. then 501 Battery, 137th Regiment.

We went overseas together, had a day together ashore at Capetown. When we went into action in N. Malaya, we left Richard with a Rear Baggage Party and later on with the retreat I returned after many adventures to Singapore, meanwhile Richard was attached to 350 Battery, the sole surviving Battery of the Regiment.

We were taken Prisoner on Singapore Island, and were together again at Changi P.O.W. camp till the middle of June 1942, when we proceeded with Regiment to Siam (Nong Pladuk No.1) to help in the construction of the Siam - Burma Railway [also known also as the Death Railway - Here for a Map].

Owing to sickness, I did not go up until March 1943 and saw him for a few minutes at that place on the way further north.

Later in October, we were both drafted by the Japanese to the same Jungle Working Camp near the Burma Border (Konkwita).

We both had slight malaria, but he was starting to show signs of deafness which grew worse as time went on.

However, he was evacuated to a Base Camp (Nong P[laduk] No. 2) in November 1943 and I followed him in February 1944. Then he went to the Main Base Hospital Camp at Nakom-Paton (40 m. from Bangkok) in March 1944, and remained there till September when he returned to Nong Pladuk, where I met him again. However, I was drafted to another P.O.W. Group IV Base Camp, Jamoang. From there I did another stretch of work in the Siamese Jungle only to be evacuated sick again after 1 month, returning finally to Jamoang on Dec 4th 1944 during a very period of bombing by the Allied Air Force. On Christmas Day 1944, there was a reunion of the few men of the Regiment left in that camp, held by the officers. It was then that the death of your son was announced by Capt. Atkinson (501 Battery), but the news was unconfirmed as it had happened as the result of an Allied Air Raid at Nong Pladuk and communications were practically non-existent on account of the strict surveillance of the Japanese. This was to be treated as uncertain news. However, 1 month later I passed Nong Pladuk Camp spending 2 days there and learned to my great chagrin that the news had been correct.

The Raid took place on Dec 3rd 1944 in fact the 3rd  of a succession of raids in the latter half of that year. Owing to his deafness, Richard failed to hear the approach of  the 'Planes and the two medical orderlies detailed to look after him happened to be on duty elsewhere at the time. A bomb fell on his hut as he entered it and it may be some consolation to you to know, that he could never have known anything about it at all. As was the case with all P.O.W.s the Japanese allowed the proper and decent Christian Burial. Bearers were, as far as I can remember Captain Hilton (501), Lt Baum (501), Lt Huntriss (501), Capt Coombs (350) all 137 officers, relieved by 4 Gunners of our battery (501). He was therefore buried at Nong Pladuk Graveyard not far from the main Siam Railway line which has been kept in good state of preservation, being a Base Camp Cemetary. The Siamese natives will probably assist in the preservation of the ground also.

I think that these are all the details I myself can supply you with. Should you required further information, the following, I am sure, would be only too pleased to give it to you. Gunner Arthur Slater. 50 Reservoir Road, South Gate N.14 who were present at that time. Also:- Captain W Hilton, T.D. c/o Hon. Col. William Parkinson, 137th Blackpool Regiment. R.A., 'Kingsmede' 157 Whitegate Drive, Blackpool, Lancs.

I can now only end up by offering you my condolences and further offering you my sincerest sympathy in your bereavement, and hope that you have recovered sufficiently from your shock to be able to read this letter without too much pain.

I should be grateful, if you would acknowledge this letter, so that I know that my duty has been accomplished.

Please write to me care of Major F.B.W. Bee. Heather Hills, West End, Woking whence it will be forwarded to wherever I happen to be.

I hope to leaving for Gibraltar, my home, after Dec 6th when I am being released from the Army. But as usual, army organisation is very slow indeed.

My best regards to you,

Yours sincerely,

Charles Douglas, 939369

Ex-Keble College, Gunner R.A.

The Original Letter:

Name: CUMBERBATCH, RICHARD ELKIN
Initials: R E
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Lance Bombardier
Regiment/Service: Royal Artillery
Unit Text: 137 Field Regt.
Age: 25
Date of Death: 03/12/1944
Service No: 931467
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference:

8. H. 8.

Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

 

Cemetery:

CHUNGKAI WAR CEMETERY

Country: Thailand

Location Information: Chungkai War Cemetery is located just outside the town of Kanchanaburi, which is 129 kilometres north-west of Bangkok, at the point where the river Kwai divides into two separate rivers; the Mae Khlong River and Kwai Noi River. The town is best reached by road along the National Highway which runs north from Bangkok. There is a bus and train service from Bangkok. Chungkai War Cemetery is approximately 5 kilometres west of Kanchanaburi and can be reached by road over the narrow Sudjai Bridge, by ferry crossing at the junction of the two rivers, or by any of the many river boats. The war cemetery can be located on city maps available at the tourist office or at larger hotels and is also signposted from Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, which is within the town of Kanchanaburi. There is a Head Gardener resident on site, his bungalow being located between the cemetery and the river. The Manager responsible for the cemetery can be contacted at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

Historical Information: The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma (Myanmar). Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma, worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre. The Japanese aimed at completing the railway in 14 months and work began in October 1942. The line, 424 kilometres long, was completed by December 1943. The graves of those who died during the construction and maintenance of the Burma-Siam railway (except for the Americans, whose remains were repatriated) were transferred from camp burial grounds and isolated sites along the railway into three cemeteries at Chungkai and Kanchanaburi in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar. Chungkai was one of the base camps on the railway and contained a hospital and church built by Allied prisoners of war. The war cemetery is the original burial ground started by the prisoners themselves, and the burials are mostly of men who died at the hospital. There are now 1,427 Commonwealth and 314 Dutch burials of the Second World War in this cemetery. The cemetery was designed by Colin St Clair Oakes.

Number of Identified Casualties: 1691

Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Alice Beatrice Martha C Cumberbatch was particularly fond of her nephew Richard and was heartbroken to learn of his death. Alice was probably responsible for the many "In Memoriam" messages to be found in The Times:

In Memoriam - CUMBERBATCH - In honoured and loving memory of Richard Elkin Cumberbatch 137th Field regiment R.A. [Royal Artillery]. Killed while a Prisoner of War at Nong Pladuk Camp Siam on 3 December 1944. Dear and only son of the late Dr. E.P. Cumberbatch and Mrs Cumberbatch.

This memorial was placed in The Times 3 Dec 1947 p1 Col A and was repeated on 3 Dec 1948, 4 Dec 1950, 3 Dec 1951, 3 Dec 1955, 3 Dec 1958, 3 Dec 1962, 3 Dec 1963 and 3 Dec 1966.

There is a handwritten Roll of Honour for World War Two.

PARISH OF ST JAMES [Pulloxhill, Bedfordshire]
ROLL OF HONOUR
1939 - 1945

FALLEN
RIP

CUMBERBATCH R
Probably Richard Elkin Cumberbatch. Lance Bombardier 931467. 137 Field Regt., Royal Artillery. Died Sunday 3 December 1944 . Age 25. Buried: CHUNGKAI WAR CEMETERY, Thailand. Ref. 8. H. 8.

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