IN SEARCH OF DOCTOR VAL STOOKES - MEMORIAL AND GRAVE
Doctor Valentine Stookes was born in Liverpool England. During World War 1 he became a pilot and won the Military Cross. In 1923 he worked as a doctor at Miri and later bought a private medical practice at Sandakan. In 1935 he purchased a farm 100 kilometres up the Kinabatangan River where his family lived. Stookes was an accomplished flyer and conducted a Flying Doctor Service around Sandakan and inland areas using a seaplane.
Stookes assisted to get medical supplies to the POWs at Sandakan and was involved in the Underground Movement with the Funk brothers, Doctor Taylor and others. Doctor Stookes became the Sandakan Gaol Medical Officer and helped where possible those servicemen and civilians with medicines and food, who had been imprisoned by the Japanese for their escape attempts.
In April 1943, the Japanese arrested Doctor Stooke's wife, Dora (a Japanese-Filipino), for allegedly helping to spread news obtained from her husband. After undergoing interrogation and torture, she was released as they could find no evidence against her. During 1943 the Stookes family moved into the interior but later the doctor was arrested and sent to Kuching with other civilians.
In 1945, nine civilian men from Kuching POW camp were brought to Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), to be tried by a court martial—the consul of China (Cho Huan Lai), Doctor Val Stookes, the Chief Secretary of Sarawak (Le Gros Clark), an estate manager from Sarawak (Donald McDonald), an American engineer (H W Webber), two members of North Borneo Civil Service (S G Hill and R S Abbott) and two Dutchmen from Pontianak (Bunte and Kribbe). The nine were given prison sentences ranging from six months to six years. All died before the end of the war—the first five mentioned above were shot by machine gun at Keningau on the 6 th July 1945 and the other four died from illnesses in Jesselton Gaol. The five men murdered at Keningau were later commemorated by a monument at the place where they were killed.
Visit to Keningau 1995
My brother, Gerald, and I plus a friend from our 1995 tour of Borneo, broke off and took a taxi inland to pay our respects at the request of Mrs Stookes. She gave me $50 to purchase flowers for this memorial.
So I thought it appropriate to select five roses, one for each of their children and a bunch from her.
As we drove all the way down from Kota Kinabalu – it was wonderful to see this gardener mowing the lawn 50 years later!!!
We went into the town of Keningau and sought out the District Officer to relate the purpose of our visit.
After presenting him with the remainder of Mrs Stookes $50 (for the continued maintenance), he assured us that the upkeep was and always has been an honoured part of Keningau policy.
Some passing school children to whom my brother Gerald and I related the story of these war heroes.
I first met Mrs Stookes around 1990. This quiet, lovely, educated and determined lady was a nurse in the Sandakan Hospital. She was married to Doctor Stookes and evacuated up river with all the children. She was tortured by the Kempi Tai in Sandakan.
Mrs Dora Mildred Brewer (formerly Stookes) of Cloverdale Western Australia passed away on the 14th May 1997 and is memorialised at Karrakatta Cemetery. But what of her husband, Doctor Val Stookes? His name is on the memorial at Keningau but what became of his remains and that of the other murdered civilians? By a strange co-incidence I became aware of the story below by Stanley Chee of Kota Kinabalu the same week that Murray Moore forwarded the story and photographs on Mrs Stookes and Keningau to me. The story by Stanley appeared in the Sabah Society Newsletter number 73 in August 2003. The abridged story from Stanley……………
First, I went to check the exact location of the cemetery with our company’s land surveyor, Mr Loh. He also had never heard of Jesselton Cemetery before. However, he knew there was an old cemetery just behind Sri Gaya at Jalan Istana. I wrote down all the names of the nine men on a piece of paper and prepared to go to the cemetery the following day.
Next morning at 10:30 am, I arrived at the cemetery and immediately started my mission. For the first fifteen minutes, most of the gravestones I found were quite new and in Chinese styles. Those weren’t the old gravestones that I had in mind (a traditional English style or a simple cross), so I changed my searching strategy. I walked down to the other side of the cemetery, which is just beside Wisma Fook Lu Siew. Surprisingly, on my right-hand side, there were some old gravestones. I ran down and checked the names on each gravestone carefully. In the fifth row, the name on a gravestone looked very close to one of the names on my list. He was Mr Donald McDonald. The list said only Mr McDonald. Immediately, I checked the next gravestone. Bingo!!! The name was Mr H W Webber. His name was on the list. This had to be the place where they were buried. The rest of the gravestones that I discovered later were those of Mr V A Stookes, Mr Le Gros Clark, Mr S G Hill and lastly Mr R S Abbott. But where were the gravestones of Mr Cho Huan Lai, Mr Bunte and Mr Kribbe? On the spot, I called Grace Tsang to check whether any information had been left out. According to Grace, the gravestone of Mr Cho Huan Lai had been moved back to China right after the war. As a result, the number of names on the list was cut down to eight.
To complete my mission, I quickly inspected most of the gravestones around that area. Still, no trace of Mr Bunte’s and Mr Kribbe’s gravestones. Suddenly, I noticed a fallen gravestone on the right-hand side of Mr Donald McDonald’s grave. I didn’t know what to do next because it seemed like moving somebody’s gravestone wasn’t the right thing to do. But my curiosity overcame my fear; and I decided to go for it. While lifting up the gravestone, I kept thinking that I was doing this for Sabah’s History, not trying to disturb him. Finally, the lift paid off in a big way. It was Mr Knibbe’s gravestone. Refering back to the list, the name given was Kribbe. However, I thought they were the same person. Right, only Mr Bunte’s gravestone was missing. Like the case of Mr Cho Huan Lai, there was a possibility that Mr Bunte’s gravestone had been moved back to his own country or somewhere else. In conclusion, I was very excited to find those gravestones. In fact, I never thought that the discovery could be that easy. But the feeling of success was awesome. In addition, after I studied the locality plan, I noted that the name of Jesselton Cemetery has already changed to S.P.G. Cemetery.
In December 2003 a followup article appeared in the Sabah Society Newsletter number 75 relating to a visit to Keningau War Memorial by members of that society. The article is as follows:
A Visit to the Keningau War Memorial
by Menno Schilthuizen and Annadel Cabanban
As readers may remember, the Sabah Society Newsletter No. 72 (May–June 2003) published an appeal from Mr L.W. St John-Jones from the United Kingdom, who lived in Jesselton during the 1950s. Mr. St. John-Jones appealed for help from the Society in his attempts to document an episode during World War II, when nine expatriates (American, British, Chinese and Dutch) perished, both directly and indirectly at the hands of the Japanese occupying forces. He specifically asked for help in checking the state of the graves in the old Jesselton cemetery, and a monument erected at Keningau, where five of the nine were executed. A thorough and conscientious exploration of the cemetery was done earlier by Mr. Stanley Chee (see Newsletter No. 73 (July–August 2003)). On Saturday 22 November 2003, we visited Keningau to document the state of the monument.
After a brief call at the Keningau Police station, the monument was easily found. It is situated in a small but prominent park on the left hand side (coming from Tambunan) of the main Tambunan- Keningau road, opposite the airfield, a few km north of the town centre. We found both the park and the monument in very good condition. The park, with shrubs and trees on a 50 × 50 m grass field is surrounded by a fence. It is well-tended with the grass having been recently cut. Some dried-up flowers around the base of the monument suggested that a remembrance service had been held there not long ago.
The memorial stone itself consists of a four-metre column on a two-metre base, which holds two plaques. The upper, marble, carries a Chinese inscription, which reads, in translation: “Cho Huan-Lai from Nak Hou, with a French PhD in engineering, able to speak English, French & Russian, arrived in Sandakan in July 1940, to support and protect the local Chinese. He served the authorities loyally and was respected by locals & foreigners. During the war he was arrested on false accusations, but never yielded to his captors. On July 6th, 1945, aged 33, he and four European friends were cruelly executed on this spot. The responsible Japanese officer was tried and convicted in September the following year in Singapore.”
Below it is a brass plaque in English, which reads: “This memorial was erected as a result of colony-wide donations, collection of which was organised by all Chinese Chambers of Commerce in memory of those whose names appear below. They suffered imprisonment, great hardship and, ultimately, death near this spot during World War II: Cho Huan-Lai, consul for the Republic of China. C.D. Le Gros Clark, chief secretary, Sarawak. V. A. Stookes, medical practitioner, Sandakan. W. E. Webber, civil engineer, Manila. D. Macdonald, planner, Kuching, Sarawak. Donations were also received from the governments of Sarawak and North Borneo and relatives of the deceased.”
We were happy to note that the Keningau memorial is well looked after. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for the old Jesselton cemetery, which we also visited in preparation for the Keningau visit. As already noted by Mr. Chee, many of the gravestones were broken and toppled-over, and the lettering on many was no longer legible. We were also dismayed to see that rubbish had been heaped on many of the older graves. The graveyard was in a very sorry state altogether. This contrasted sharply with the historic importance of the site. On many graves, we noticed the names of influential persons, dating back to the beginning of Sabah’s recorded history, including many British colonial officers and their families. Since the descendants of these departed live far away and cannot tend the graves, we end by suggesting that the Sabah Society take the initiative to arrange for a cleanup and the maintenance of this historic graveyard.
(Translation of the Chinese text by Jacqeline P. King)
|BACK TO PILGRIMAGE INDEX PAGE|