- Ramsay Silver, Lynette, FAIHI
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1994 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Riggs and Cameron had not simply made a last stand. They had laid down their lives for their friends. By providing a diversion this gallant pair had allowed their six comrades, in hiding at the other end of the island, to grab three canoes lying on the beach and escape.
It was fitting therefore that in May 1994, fifty years after Rigg’s selfless sacrifice, Colonel Nicholson was ready to lead an expedition to locate and exhume his body – permission for which had been granted by no less a person than the Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Armed Forces, General Mantiri. When Nicholson learned by sheer chance that I was about to embark upon a research trip to Singapore and the Far East in preparation for another book, he invited my husband and myself to join him – an invitation which was then extended to Tom Hall. During the last week of May, while the colonel finalised details and my husband learned how to operate a highly sophisticated metal detector, in case Riggs had been buried wearing or carrying something metallic. I occupied my time receiving advice from two forensic experts, Dr Oettle and his chief, Professor John Hilton, on how best to carry out the search.
So it was, on the last day of May 1994, that we found ourselves on Merapas Island – a place of stunning tranquility and peace. Apart from Nicholson, my husband and me, the main party consisted of Aloysius Weller, Julian Manning, head of British/American Tobacco in Singapore, whose motor cruiser provided our transportation, Colonel Antonius Suwarno, Head of the Indonesian Armed Forces Foreign Liaison Staff and Abdul Achap who, along with Tom Hall, had joined us at Tanjung Pinang. On board a small naval escort vessel, which had been provided by the Indonesian government since we were sailing in waters frequented by pirates, were eight Indonesian labourers and several Indonesian officials.
It took little time for Achap and Weller to identify (independently) the site, which was marked by two readily recognisable features – the fig tree and the rock against which Riggs had died. As soon as a rectangle, measuring approximately 10 metres by 6 metres, had been cleared of the thick, ribbon-like grass which carpeted the ground around the coconut palms, the work commenced.
As the fine sandy soil made it impossible to dig a series of narrow test trenches as advised by Hilton and Oettle, the only option was to remove all the soil to a depth of one metre within the designated search area. Although a labour force had been provided, Julian Manning and my husband, inspired by the nature of the mission and determined to get a result, added their muscle power to that of the Indonesians. However, despite the exertions of the diggers in oppressively high temperatures and humidity, from which there was no respite other than that provided by the occasional tropical downpour sweeping in from the South China Sea, night approached with nothing to show for their efforts.
In an attempt to escape the heat, work recommenced early next morning. With the workers making slow but steady progress and with no indications at this stage of an imminent discovery, Tom Hall offered to escort me to the opposite side of the island so that I could see the remains of the small forts built by Cameron and Riggs – the only tangible evidence that the Rimau men were ever on Merapas.
Forced to negotiate a swamp which was overgrown with vines and to scramble over slippery black volcanic rocks, already heated to an almost unbearable level by the morning sun, the excursion took much longer than expected. Consequently, we returned to the news that in our absence the burial site had been located. After spending hours never taking our eyes off the work, we had missed the crucial moment!
After a further two hours’ digging, Colonel Nicholson declared himself satisfied with the outcome and called a halt to the work. At 11 a.m. on 1st June, 1994, watched by those of the Muslim faith who stood reverently to one side, the remainder of the party conducted a short but moving graveside service before the remains of Sub Lieutenant Gregor Riggs were taken by sea to Tanjung Pinang to begin the journey to their final resting place.