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Monument dedicated in Malaysia to the Prince of Wales and Repulse tragedy

Monument dedicated in Malaysia to the Prince of Wales and Repulse tragedy
11 December 2023
An anchor recovered from those who desecrated one of the Navy’s most hallowed sites was unveiled at the heart of a new memorial.

dedicated in Kuantan, the state capital of the province of Pahang – and the city closest to their wrecks.

The battleship and battle-cruiser were sunk by Japanese bombers on December 10 1941 some 61 nautical miles east of Kuantan.

Some 840 souls were lost – 513 from battle-cruiser HMS Repulse, 327 from HMS Prince of Wales -  while the tragedy ushered in a series of defeats for Commonwealth forces at hands of Tokyo, culminating in the fall of Singapore.

Eight decades after the tragedy the Agong (King) of Malaysia, Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, commissioned a memorial to the sailors and marines who tried to prevent the invasion of their land.

Paid for by private donations and installed at Teluk Cempedak beach, it features a kedge (or secondary) anchor from Repulse, which was seized by the Malaysian authorities following illegal salvage from the wrecks.

Aside from the Malay King and Queen, the dedication service – 82 years to the day of the disaster – was attended by British and Malay civilian and military VIPs, including Rear Admiral Andrew Betton, Director Joint Warfare, who represented the First Sea Lord, and Henrietta Wood, whose grandfather Captain John Leach was one of those lost and whose father, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, who was First Sea Lord during the Falklands conflict.

Mrs Wood told guests of the impact of the tragedy on her father, aged just 18 in December 1941; serving in Singapore at the time, he had been itching to “have a crack” at the enemy, while his father feared the naval force was probably doomed.

A few days later Capt Leach was proved correct; his distraught son searched desperately for him among the survivors returned to Singapore until one of HMS Prince of Wales’ gently told him that his father had been lost.

“The memorial is, I hope, not just a grateful remembrance of the 840 men whose grave is the deep waters of the South China Sea but also a reminder to us to learn the lessons of history and look to a future of trust, understanding and respect between nations. The current terrible conflicts just cry out for humanity,” Mrs Wood said.

“This memorial is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made in war but also it’s a symbol of the bond between our countries and, I hope, will serve as an encouragement to others to accept their differences and work peacefully together.

Ailsa Terry, the British High Commissioner to Malaysia, recited an extract from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon.
“This memorial will provide an opportunity for visitors to reflect on the enormity of the loss and the cost of war,” she said.

“It is a fitting tribute to the personnel who perished along with the ships, and also serves as a reminder that important naval heritage like this must be protected as well as of the strength of the UK-Malaysia relationship.” 

Seven sailors from HMS Spey provided a small Guard of Honour for proceedings, less than a month after the patrol ship held a service of remembrance over the wrecks. The Portsmouth-based vessel is currently in Singapore after a short visit to Port Klang, the port city of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

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