The Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Roz Gladden, along with representatives from the Dutch Embassy in England, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Mersey Mission to Seafarers, attended a poignant ceremony held at Walton Park Cemetery. This ceremony was to re-dedicate the graves of 11 merchant seamen who had lost their lives in service to the Allies during WWII. These were Indonesian Muslims who were serving in the Dutch Navy.
The story of how these graves came to light is told by an amateur historian, Vic Raffells. He was in the process of researching his family tree and visited the cemetery to find the grave of his grandmother who died of Spanish Flu in 1917. He carried out further research into the cemetery and, in 2014, he located the graves of the seamen hidden under long grass and obscured by a hedge.
He had found a document that indicated that the graves belonged to merchant seamen, so he took the issue to Capt Peter Woods, at a Liverpool parish church. Captain Woods identified the men as Indonesians from the island of Java, which is situated between Sumatra and Bali. He found that 11 of the men had served with the Dutch Merchant Navy and one, Ali Mohamed, served with the British Merchant Navy, as a fireman and trimmer, aboard the SS Empire Howard.
The men were all sailors, undertaking engine maintenance, on convoy ships transporting food and materials to England from Russia and the United States. They all succumbed to diseases common to sailors of the day, such as tuberculosis and emphysema with one man found to be suffering from beriberi, caused by a lack of vitamin B-1. The men all passed away from these illnesses in Walton Hospital in Liverpool and were buried in the Walton Park Cemetery. The graves had lain forgotten for 75 years until, in March, a team from the Dutch army excavated them and confirmed that the bodies were of the Dutch Merchant Navy seamen.
This led to the ceremony being planned to re-dedicate the graves. The service was conducted by both Christian and Muslim Clerics; the rector of Liverpool, Rev. Dr. Crispin Pailing, and Imam Waddah Saleh conducted the service, in which new headstones were placed on all the graves, The Guardian reported.
Saleh said: “It’s amazing to see everyone coming together to honor these people. They deserve our respect because they died for their country so that we can live in peace and harmony. It’s an honor to be here.”