- Ramsay Silver, Lynette, FAIHI
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1994 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
It was not until 1989, when Hall and I travelled to Indonesia to undertake further research, that the fate of Riggs was revealed. While questioning local Indonesians at Merapas Island, Hall was stunned to learn that Gregor Riggs, who was still officially listed as “missing in action” was actually buried on the island.
Mr Abdul Rachman Achap, taken to Merapas with the original Japanese search party as a human shield, had witnessed the death of the foreign “soldier”. Alerted by the sound of gunfire the following morning, when the Japanese decided to resume their search of the island without waiting for reinforcements, the 24-year-old Indonesian had watched, transfixed, as a young white man had run literally for his life.
Flushed from one of two small stone forts which he and Colin Cameron had built from rocks on the other side of the island, Sub Lieutenant Riggs had not stood a chance. After running almost the full length of the island, he had turned to face his pursuers at the end of a small spur. Shot three times in the chest, he had been propelled backwards down the steep slope before coming to rest against a large rock. Although fatally wounded, he had managed to make the sign of the cross before dying in the arms of Achap, who had run forward to help him.
When Achap indicated to the Japanese that the victim, being Christian, should be buried properly he inherited the job. While the shallow grave, dug in the soft sand beneath a large fig tree at bayonet point, was later described by the Japanese who claimed credit for the burial as “very fine”, there was no such refinement for Cameron. Shot through the chest and head, his body lay where it fell, on the rocks alongside his small stone fort.
When The Heroes of Rimau was published, the dramatic story of Rigg’s death and a map of the island showing the burial site was included in the book. This map and Hall’s information finally came to the attention of the Royal Naval Funeral Society which, in May last year, asked Colonel Brian Nicholson, Defence Attache at the British Embassy in Jakarta, to investigate the matter, Nicholson immediately began to liaise with the Indonesian government to locate the grave and recover the remains – something for which Hall and the family of Riggs had been lobbying for some time.
While Nicholson’s lengthy negotiations, which involved several governments, were still under way there was a new development. Another eyewitness, who had arrived on the scene shortly after Riggs had been killed, contacted me after learning from a newspaper article that I had an interest in Operation Rimau. Unaware that a book had been written which detailed Rigg’s death and burial, his sole concern was to let someone in authority know that an Allied serviceman had been killed and buried on Merapas. A tape recording, followed by written answers to specific questions, revealed that not only was he able to corroborate Achap’s evidence, he also possessed additional information which he could only have obtained at first hand.
My surprise informant was a Malayan-born engineer, Mr Aloysius Hayes Weller, now aged 64. On the afternoon of 4th November, 1944 the 14-year-old Weller, whose fluency in Malay and English, as well as “camp” Japanese, had made him so useful he had survived the Japanese occupation, was loitering outside the Japanese radio shack at Kidjang. On hearing that there had been a fight at Merapas and that the local commander had been shot dead, Weller decided to tag along with the reinforcements the next morning.
Walking slightly inland from the beach through a coconut grove, Weller had been startled to see a freshly made Christian grave – its neat earthen mound marked with small coraline rocks and surmounted by a cross cut from two saplings. Buried there, he was told by the Japanese, was a very brave enemy soldier.
Just how brave was a revelation! Although we knew that there had been an heroic last stand by Cameron and Riggs and that subsequently the other six men had managed to flee in native canoes, we had no idea that the two incidents were inextricably linked.