Belfast Telegraph

Lost graves of four Ulster heroes who fell in China found

By Rebecca Black

Four Ulstermen who died 76 years ago in one of the lesser known chapters of conflict leading up to the Second World War have been honoured on the other side of the world.

And it's all thanks to the persistence of one Londonderry woman who took her lobbying all the way to Downing Street.

Patrick McGowan, James Mellon, William Christopher Howard and Joseph O'Toole, of the Royal Ulster Rifles, were among the first British troops to be killed during Japan's invasion of China in 1937.

They had been sent to defend the international settlement in Shanghai. Their deaths provoked such shock that it prompted a statement in Parliament.

The families of the men had known that they had been laid to rest in the Chinese city, but had no idea where until now.

Private McGowan's niece, Sarah Moran, had hit a brick wall several times, with letters from the Chinese government claiming her uncle's grave no longer existed.

Many symbols of colonial rule – and thousands of foreign graves – were destroyed in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution under Communist leader Mao Tse-tung.

While the gravestones of the Ulstermen were among those razed, they had been re-erected, albeit with some incorrect spellings, such as 'McCowan' instead of 'McGowan', which made them harder to track down.

One letter from the Chinese government even said a multi-storey car park now stood where he had been buried in Shanghai.

In desperation, Ms Moran wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron.

Then there was a breakthrough when staff at the British consulate and Shanghai-based British historian Mark Felton got involved.

The men's gravestones were found in the Song Qing Ling cemetery in Shanghai.

Although Ms Moran has not been able to get to China, respects were paid at the gravesides by a senior Royal Navy officer from HMS Daring during a visit this week.

Rear Admiral Matthew Parr, accompanied by Capt Rupert Hollins and Consul General Brian Davidson laid flowers at the graves.

Ms Moran was delighted to hear the good news.

"It was important to honour his memory," she said.

"I'm delighted to hear that they laid a wreath and held a gun salute at the site. It would be lovely to travel out there and see the site and the stone."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph