Flags evoke bittersweet memories

  • Singapore
  • Saturday, 04 Jan 2020

(From left) Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman and the family of the late Lt-Col Geoffrey Sherman, son Nicholas Sherman and daughter-in-law Rosemary Sherman, viewing two flags in the Old Tanglin Officer's Mess at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Jan 3, 2020. - The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE: For the Sherman family, it was a painful but necessary act of remembrance of father and daughter; for Singapore, it was a reunion with two important artefacts of its wartime heritage.

An informal but touching ceremony held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday saw a British couple in their 70s – Nicholas Sherman and his wife Rosemary – set their eyes for the first time on two colonial flags since they returned them to Singapore in 2012.

The Union flag and the flag of the Federated Malay states were previously in the possession of Nicholas’ father Lt Col Geoffrey Sherman, who had been entrusted with them by a British prisoner of war during the Japanese invasion.

The flags had been taken down from their masts at Tanglin Barracks when Japanese forces attacked Singapore in 1942 and hidden in defiance of the occupier.

But the flags went missing for 20 years after World War II when crates of the lieutenant’s belongings disappeared en route to London in the post-war confusion.

In the 1960s, the British Royal Marine returned them to Lt Col Geoffrey when his trunks were found in its depository.

Following his father’s death, Nicholas decided to return them to Singapore.

“It’s very hard to put into words, ” he said when asked how he was feeling. “The whole visit to Singapore this week... has been very emotional. Most of all, I think of my father. This is his occasion.”

Lt Col Geoffrey organised the Japanese surrender ceremony at City Hall in 1945, and the flags were raised at his funeral in 2009 to mark his involvement in this episode of the region’s history.

In a letter he sent to the High Commissioner of Singapore in London in 2012, Nicholas wrote: “I know my father would have been pleased... that he had done his duty to his colleagues in Singapore who entrusted the flags to him in 1945.”

Today, the two flags are on display in glass casings, witnesses to the vagaries of colonialism and war.Rosemary said the flags also had a private meaning as they prompted reflections of the couple’s deaf-blind daughter, who died 11 years ago.“One of the ladies conducting

the training for my daughter in a London hospital had been herself a prisoner in Changi Jail (during the war). She too had a daughter who was deaf, ” she said.

“I felt, as did the rest of my family, that it was important that the flags be returned to Singapore.

“We have not donated them, we have returned them to where they originally belong, ” Nicholas said.

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Mohmad Maliki Osman said the flags were a reminder of “a difficult past”.“It allows Singaporeans to continue to reflect and appreciate the independence that we have today.

“We can learn more from the past to see where we can head into the future, ” he added. — The Straits Times/ANN

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