Final destination: The tombstone of Srikantaraj Urs of the Mysore Infantry at the Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
A chance discovery ends 72-year search to locate the final resting place of a soldier who died in a Japanese PoW camp
Last Sunday, when 22-year-old Nagashree Devyani spoke before her close family members about her great-grand uncle, the late Naik Srikantaraj Urs, it marked the end of an incredibly long wait. She recollected the family’s sustained efforts to trace Naik Urs’ grave for 72 years and how they had finally found it, quite by chance, at the Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.
The family received official confirmation that it was indeed Naik Urs’ grave only last week. Ms. Devyani narrated the story at the ‘Punya Shanthi’ ceremony the family conducted in the memory of her great-grand uncle.
In 1940, young Srikantaraj Urs was recruited to the 1st Battalion Mysore Infantry and stationed at Munireddy Palya in the Bangalore Cantonment. Two years later, the Battalion was deployed in Singapore on the Eastern front to fight the Japanese. A bachelor, Naik Urs left Bengaluru in August 1942. But soon after, he was taken prisoner by the Japanese, who overran Singapore.
R.S. Veeraraj Urs, nephew of Naik Urs, takes a look at the postcards sent by his uncle (portrait) from the PoW camp, at his home in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: Sudhakara Jain
“We came to know of it only after he wrote a postcard from the Singapore Prisoner of War [PoW] camp. We would receive one postcard every month,” Ms. Devyani’s grandfather R.S. Veeraraj Urs told The Hindu.
For nearly two years, Naik Urs’ monthly postcards reached his family, who were then living on the Lalith Mahal Palace Road in Mysore. And then, in 1944, they stopped.
“His last postcard came to us during the Dasara festivities in 1944, after which we did not hear from him at all,” said Mr. Veeraraj Urs, who, as a nine-year-old, had seen off his paternal uncle when he left for the war. “Some postcards were addressed to me. Written in Kannada, my uncle would ask me to study well. He never wrote about the hardship in the camp since the letters were being censored.”
It was not until the end of World War II in September 1945 that the family heard any news of him. Another relative, Subedar Major Subramanya Raje Urs, broke the news of his death on his return from Singapore where he was also held as a PoW.
Srikantaraja Urs had died on February 27, 1945, at the age of 27.
In November 1946, the family received an official communication from Buckingham Palace, in which King George VI and his wife offered condolences to the family. Naik Urs’ mother Devaja Ammani also received four acres of land in Nanjangud and cash compensation, which she spent on providing water and electricity connection to the Ramalingeshwara Temple in the Vidyaranyapura area of Mysore.
“In all, 11 officers and soldiers from the Ursu community took part in the war on the Eastern front. Unfortunately, only my uncle did not return alive,” said Mr. Veeraraja Urs.
With no one to guide them, the family, despite being related to the Mysore Royals, had little hope of finding the soldier’s grave. Meanwhile, Devaja Ammani died in 1952.
In the late 1970s, the family renewed its efforts to trace Naik Urs’ final resting place. In 1980, Mr. Veeraraja Urs, a former chief security Officer at BEL Bangalore, wrote to the Union Government. Over the next two decades, he wrote to various agencies and governments to locate the cemetery, if at all it existed. “War memorials are there in Burma, Singapore and Phillipines. We did not know where to find his grave,” he said.
In the early 1990s, he approached the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Commission, which holds exhaustive information on the martyrs of the two World Wars, however, was not of much help.
After an extensive search, the Commission informed him that it did not find any records with the Indian section of the British Library and the Indian Army Association in England. The Adjutant General’s office in New Delhi also informed the Commission that they had no knowledge, while the Army Records Branch said neither their records nor the battalion’s history had any reference to Naik Urs.
Independently, Mr. Veeraraja Urs’ younger brother, the late Naik Subedar Subbakrishne Urs also tried to trace the grave using his network in the Army, and visited the Second World War memorial in Myanmar, but to no avail.
After over two decades of following leads and correspondence with various agencies, a disappointed Mr. Veeraraja Urs gave up.
“I had lost hopes of finding the grave. If the British Army, which is known for its meticulous documentation, could not help me, I had no other avenues,” he said, recalling his disappointment.
A serendipitous sighting
When Naik Urs’ grave was finally found, it was quite by chance. Sometime last year, Mr. Veeraraja Urs got a call from Raja Chandra, the son-in-law of the last ruler of Mysore, Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar. One of Mr. Raja Chandra’s friends, who was visiting the Kranji War Memorial, was surprised to see an ‘Urs’ on a tombstone.
He took photographs and showed it to Mr Raja Chandra who, in turn, called the family, ending a 72-year quest. “I had tears in my eyes and could not speak. It was a great achievement because I had not expected to see it in my lifetime,” said Mr. Veeraraja Urs, who is now 84.
In February this year, Mr. Veeraraja Urs’ son, Dr. Vinod Urs, and his wife, Dr. Naga Jyothi Urs, travelled to Singapore to reconfirm that the grave was indeed that of his grand uncle. “Even with specific information, it was difficult to find his grave among the 24,000 graves of soldiers and airmen in the Kranji War Memorial as the graves are numbered,” Dr. Vinod Urs recalled.
“After a search of nearly three hours, some Tamil-speaking workers helped us locate the grave,” he said.
“We believe that he must have died due to malaria or beri beri [a disease caused by Vitamin B1 deficiency affecting heart and circulatory system] as most PoWs died due to similar causes,” Dr. Urs said.
source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> National / by Sharath S. Srivatsa / Bengaluru – March 04th, 2017