For over 60 years their remains have lain deep inside the Malaysian jungle in a shallow grave, but thanks to the misdirection of a letter to the Malaysian Tourist Office in November 2007 the crew and passengers of Royal Air Force Dakota KN630 have finally been laid to rest in the Cheras Road Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur.
The Dakota aircraft took off from Changi Airfield in Singapore, on 25 August 1950, on a target-marking sortie for Lincoln bombers tasked to destroy Communist insurgent camps.
After one successful sweep the aircraft suffered catastrophic engine failure and crashed into a ravine killing all 12 on board, including the RAF crew of three and four Royal Army Service Corps despatchers.
Due to the prevailing security risk and the inhospitable terrain, a rescue party was forced to bury the remains in makeshift graves close to the crash site.
57 years later, Dennis Carpenter, the 82-year-old brother of the plane’s navigator, Geoffrey Carpenter, wrote to the Malaysian Tourist Office asking for a map of the area, but due to a twist of fate his letter fell into the hands of a military officer in the Malaysian High Commission in London who passed the details to colleagues in Kuala Lumpur:
All I ever wanted was a map, just a map to see where he crashed,” said Dennis, from Croydon in Surrey.
I knew he crashed somewhere in the jungle but I just wanted to see the spot for myself on a map.
In 2008, an expedition funded by the Malaysian Government was launched which involved a 150-strong team of military, police, specialist forensic archaeologists and civilian search teams, and in another stroke of luck on the last day of searching, whilst facing rising flood waters, they recovered human remains.
Following analysis, they were confirmed as belonging to the crew and passengers of the Dakota.
Following an extensive search by staff at the Ministry of Defence’s Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, the relatives of all but one on board were traced and invited to attend a commemorative and committal service at the Cheras Road Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
During a forty-minute ceremony Dennis was presented with the Union flag, which dressed the single coffin, in recognition of his determination and work to see all the crew and passengers receive the burial they deserved.
It is important to pay respect to those who died 62 years ago and, whilst we can do that by leaving their shallow graves in the jungle where they first died where the Dakota came down, to do that in the presence of the families and to give them a lasting memorial in a Commonwealth War Graves site is very special,” said the Reverend Group Captain Jonathan Chaffey, who conducted the service.
It is appropriate that those who flew together and died together should be buried together,” he added.
In a symbolic gesture, the single coffin was carried jointly by members of the Royal Air Force’s Queen’s Colour Squadron and 47 Air Despatch Squadron Royal Logistic Corps, whose former Commanding Officer, Colonel Sean English, read the exhortation:
There is something very personal to the air despatch community whenever you bury someone from that community. We hold our forebears very dear and there is a clear linkage for the soldiers of today with the soldiers of the 1950s.
Following the burial service, during which a lone bugler from the Royal Gurkha Rifles played the Last Post, the families were presented with Elizabeth Crosses by the British Defence Adviser, Captain Kenneth Taylor RN, in recognition of the loss and sacrifice of their loved ones.
An emotional Dennis Carpenter said:
This now brings closure - Geoff is settled now, in a proper grave, and where my children and grandchildren can visit.