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Desmond Verdon Murphy was the

son of John Murphy (born 1866,

baptised at St. John’s in Limerick,

died in Bath 1933) and Frances

Amelia, nee Spearman (died 1948).

His parents were married at North

Strand Church, St. Thomas, Dublin

on 22 June 1893. Desmond was the

only boy, with sisters Moya, Nina

and Erris. At the time of Desmond’s

birth, in Dublin, 1894, his father was

a Colour Sergeant/staff clerk, who

was probably serving in the Army

Ordnance Corps. In 1906 John was

promoted from the ranks to become

an Assistant Commissary/Hon

Lieutenant in the Army Ordnance

Department. Despite seeing home

service during the Great War his

personnel record does not appear

to have survived, but an Army List

confirms that he ended his career

on 29 March 1920, retiring with the

honorary rank of Major. Desmond

was educated at Hutton Grammar

School in Preston. He went on

to study electrical engineering.

Following in his father’s footsteps,

Desmond answered the call of

the nation in 1914, joining the

Officer Training Corps, and was

commissioned in December. He had

requested a commission in the Army

Ordnance Department, but ultimately

embarked for France with the

Scottish Rifles on 20 April 1916.

His time at the Front was limited,

for he soon returned home due to

sickness and remained there. His

exact movements after that are a bit

sketchy. There was talk that he went

out to join the police in South Africa,

and then Rhodesia, but this rumour

has not been substantiated. What

can be confirmed is that he arrived

in Sarawak in the mid-1920s, and

was employed by the constabulary

under the government of the

Brooke family - the White Rajahs of

Sarawak. He was swiftly promoted;

firstly to Superintendent of Police

in 1929, then to Commissioner and

Superintendent of Prisons in 1933,

and eventually Superintendent of

Police at Sibu, the Third Division

of Sarawak. He was acknowledged

by the locals as a ‘Tuan’ (respected

person), and he took Siti Sulastry

binti Sulaiman - a local girl born

in Java - as a wife. She bore him

three sons. Two died as infants, but

the middle child, born in 1937, was

my father Michael Murphy. They

lived well and were happy, but their

conjugal bliss was cut short when the

war broke out. Desmond’s wife Siti

and my father, having been advised

that it was safest for them to blend in

with the locals, never heard from him

again. Desmond was officially listed

as ‘missing in action’ after the war,

with his fate unknown.

By 2006 I had managed to piece

a few things together, but living

in Kuching, Sarawak, meant that I

could not easily access overseas

records. I employed London-based

researcher Roger Nixon to help me,

and among other things he located

two important documents. One

was the death entry for Desmond,

included with several others in a

Colonial Office register, and the other

was Desmond’s WW1 officer file. The

Colonial Office register (TNA RG

31/132 Malaya, Borneo & Sarawak

deaths from enemy action) provided

the proof that my family had waited

so long for. It showed that Desmond

had been killed by the Japanese in

September 1942 in Long Nawang.

Sadly, the news came too late for Siti,

my grandmother, who passed away

in 2001 and never did know what had

happened to her husband. My father

had no memory of his father, but at

last we now knew of his resting place.

Or did we?

Later research showed that all the

casualties were originally buried at

Long Nawang in two mass graves,

but were re-interred in 1950 and

laid to rest on Tarakan Island in

east Borneo in a cemetery called

‘Field of Honour’. I later discovered

that this cemetery had fallen into

disuse, and that the remains had

been yet again reinterred in 1967

and transferred to ‘Kembang Kuning

War Cemetery’ in Surabaya, Java.

This is maintained by the Netherland

War Graves Foundation www.ogs. nl . Sadly, my father Michael died in

February 2012. He had dreamed of

making a trip to Surabaya to visit his

father’s gravesite. He never made

it, but I am glad that he had found

out everything about Desmond from

my investigations before he passed.

I imagine that they are now finally

reunited in the afterlife.

YOUR STORY

The Long Nawang Massacre

by Melissa Murphy

SPOTLIGHT ON...

Private Sidney Lewis,

youngest to fight in WW1

The initial reports about this were

at first unfounded and were largely

considered speculation, but the

Imperial War Museum has since

released a selection of war papers,

which included young Private Sidney

Lewis’ birth certificate — confirming

his age. As Anthony Richards, Head

of IWM’s Documents and Sound,

put it:

“This is certainly the youngest First

World War soldier that we hold

documents for in IWM’s archives.

“His story is quite phenomenal – not

only did he enlist at the age of 12

and fight on the Somme at the age

of 13, but he returned to service at

the end of the First World War and

worked in bomb disposal during the

Second World War.

“He was obviously a very tenacious

man, and undeterred by his early

experiences.”

It was also found that Sidney Lewis

was awarded the Victory Medal and

the British War Medal. Now known

as the youngest soldier during the

Great War, Private Sidney Lewis

of Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey,

ran away to join the Army and

subsequently enlisted with the East

Surreys at Kingston in August 1915,

five months after his 12th birthday.

His life changed dramatically just

10 months later when he suddenly

got to experience life fighting with

the 106th Machine Gun Company

and saw active service including

six weeks fighting in the Battle of

Somme, all by the age of 13.

Private Sidney Lewis was sent home

in August 1916 after his mother;

Fanny Lewis contacted the War

Office in London to tell the officials

that he was too young to fight and

should be sent back. A telegram

addressed to Mrs Lewis on the 24th

August, 1916 from the officer in

charge of records at the Machine

Gun Corps read:

“Madam, your

application on behalf of your son,

and birth certificate, have been

forwarded here by the War Office

and I have to inform you that action

has been taken and the lad will be

discharged with all possible speed.”

Also a letter sent to Mrs Lewis the

day before from the War Office’s

Director of Recruiting said:

“With

reference to your letter relative to

your son, Private S.G. Lewis, Machine

Gun Corps, I am directed to inform

you that telegraphic instructions

have been issued that he is to be at

once withdrawn from the firing line

and sent home for discharge.” “On

his arrival in this country he will be

discharged from the Army forwith.”

Despite being sent home, Sidney

Lewis went on to re-enlist in 1918

and served in Austria with the army

of occupation after the Armistice.

He later joined the police force and

worked in bomb disposal during the

Second World War, he died in 1969.

Shockingly, Sidney wasn’t the only

boy who lied about his age to

enlist in the army and according

to research, thousands of young

soldiers lied so that they could

participate in the First World War.

Boys were keen to join up out of

a sense of adventure and parents

enduring grinding poverty did not

mind having one less mouth to feed.

Sidney’s brother-in-law Frank Bardell,

94, who lives in San Diego, said:

“I’m

told he more or less ran away to

enlist.”

How did such a young boy

see over the trenches? How was he

even allowed to enlist? Recruiting

officers often turned a blind eye to

underage recruits because of the

extreme shortage of soldiers - during

1914 the War Minister, Field-Marshall

Lord Kitchener declared that Britain

needed another 500,000 men to

help defeat Germany. Recruits had

to be a minimum of just five feet

three inches tall and Sidney was

also apparently tall for his age and

reached 6ft 2in by adulthood. The

Telegraph reported that Richard Van

Emden, author of ‘Boy Soldiers of the

Great War’, who found the evidence

that Sidney was awarded the medals,

said the boy was deployed to

France with the 106th Machine Gun

Company and saw active service.

Records at the National Archives

dated January 10, 1920 show Sidney

G Lewis was on the roll of individuals

entitled to the Victory Medal. It listed

his current rank as Lance Sergeant

and previous rank as Private.

Do you know enough about your WWI military ancestors? War touches many people’s lives. Is your family’s military history waiting to be discovered? Is there a war hero in your family waiting to be remembered? Did any members of your family get awarded medals for their actions in war? Perhaps they did, but you just haven’t found out about it yet. Why not search the Forces War Records site and take a look at the wealth of records and historic documents the company holds. Let us help you start, or continue, your family history quest.

Top: two young soldiers reading the

King’s proclamation calling up all

services, posted throughout

the country

The horrors of trench warfare were hard to endure for any soldier,

but for a boy of 12 they must have been purely terrifying. It’s

actually almost hard to believe, but indeed a boy of 12 has been

officially recognised as the youngest soldier to fight in World War One.

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