Saturday, 31 July 2010

Cenotaph at George Town's Esplanade

It's easy to forget that Penang has its fair share of war memorials. As far as I know, there are two.

The first is actually an "anti-war" obelisk erected at the Ayer Itam roundabout by the Chinese residents in Penang to commemorate the atrocities suffered by Malayans at the hands of the Japanese invaders during the Second World War.

The second memorial is by the waterfront in George Town. One cannot miss this latter memorial, also known as the Cenotaph here. It lies directly ahead if one walks down Esplanade Road from the direction of Light Street.

The foundation stone of the memorial was laid by the then Resident Councillor of Penang, Captain Meadows Frost, on 11 Nov 1928 which coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Armistice. A Penang War Memorial Fund was started prior to the memorial's construction and $7,000 was collected initially. By the time of its completion, the cost had ballooned to $12,000 - a substantial amount of money in those days - owing to ornamental parts being ordered from England. The unveiling of the memorial was supposed to be made on 4 Aug 1929, the 15th anniversary of the declaration of the First World War, but because of delays it was only unveiled ceremoniously with a lot of sombre pomp on 11 Nov 1929.

The memorial, designed by architect David McLeod Craik, was built entirely of Penang granite. It consisted of an oblong Cenotaph of seven feet by nine feet by 20 feet high rising from a peristyle 20 feet by 16 feet approached by five granite steps three feet high flanked at the corners by four plain pedestals, the total height of the monument being 24 feet and the base being 35 feet by 30 feet. A striking feature of the memorial were the bronze ornaments consisting of a sword and laurel wreath that were set in a niche. At the four cornerstones were the badges of the British Navy, Army, Air Force and Mercantile Marine.

War memorials are common sights in many old British Empire cities and towns as they were built to commemorate British losses during the wars. The Cenotaph in George Town was meant to remember those who had died during the First World War, thus can be seen engraved in the granite "Our Glorious Dead 1914-1918".


That's almost a century ago. No one living today in Penang can possibly remember anything about this old "Great War" and the purpose of the Cenotaph risks being consigned to a pocket of local history and subsequently forgotten. To keep the memory alive and relevant to today's Malaysians, there is now a smaller accompanying memorial to commemorate those unnamed people from Malaya and Malaysia who fell in World War Two 1939-1945, the Siam-Burma Death Railway 1942-1945, the Malayan Emergency 1948-1960, Indonesian Confrontation 1963-1966 and the Reinsurgency 1968-1990.


stephen said...

The official unveiling of the monument coincided with the demise of the world economy and subsequent crash of commodity prices chiefly rubber which brought much hardship to locals and british planters alike and this on the back of a brief rally a year back.Those were trying times which drove many to suicide and millionaires to paupers overnight.

becca said...

Do you have a list of the names on the war memorial

SS Quah said...

As far as I can see, there aren't any names on the Cenotaph.