Private Hannay Son of Malaya

So reads the rain spattered headstone.  We stood by the grave of Harry Hannay and a tropical storm brewed.

The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is the  main prisoner of  war cemetery associated with victims of the infamous Burma Railway. It is located in the eponymous town and province west of Bangkok and maintained, beautifully, by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). There are some 6,982 former POWs buried here, mostly Australian, British and Dutch.

Lest we forget let us recall how many worked and died on this railway:

Workers on the Burma Railways


Asian Laborers 200,000 c. 80,000
British POW’s 30,000 6,540
Dutch POW’s 18,000 2,830
Australian POW’s 13,000 2,710
American POW’s 700 c. 356
Korean & Japanese soldiers 15,000 1,000

When we are in Kanchanaburi province we usually try to visit at least one of the two CWGC cemeteries. The Burma Railway has touched our family in a number of ways. A cousin who survived the travails of the railway (and Changi POW Camp) but spoke sparingly of the experience. The Galloway postman, similarly forced to work on the railway, who delivered my letters, postmarked Thailand, to my father, when I was posted to Bangkok in the early 80s.

Visiting these cemeteries usually makes for a reflective and atmospheric occasion but this time there was added poignancy. One of my sons, like many teenagers “a master of the internet”, came across Private Harry in the CWGC “Debt of Honour Register” (try it with your own family name you may be surprised) buried at position 4.F.77  in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.  Not long after our family were standing by his grave.

Who was Harry Hannay? A relative? Certainly I was surprised to see the Hannay clan motto “Per Ardua ad Alta” (shared incidentally by the University of Birmingham) on the head stone. I decided to do some more research. My father, the family genealogist, had not heard of him and drew a blank when he made further inquiries with other family members in Galloway. So not related then. Nonetheless I felt it a kind of duty to try to piece together a history.

The graves of most of those who died during the construction and maintenance of the Burma Railway (except for the Americans, whose remains were repatriated) were transferred from camp burial grounds and isolated sites along the railway into three cemeteries at Chungkai and Kanchanaburi in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Burma. The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is only a short distance from the site of the former ‘Kanburi’, the prisoner of war base camp through which most of the prisoners passed on their way to other camps. The Kanchanaburi and Chungkai war cemeteries comprise a consolidation of graves found on the southern half (effectively the Thai side) of the Burma Railway from Ban Pong to the Three Pagoda Pass.

So what of Private Harry’s regiment, the Penang and Province Wellesley Volunteer Corps? First the area. Penang of course is well known. Province Wellesley? The province was originally named after Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, Governor of Madras and Governor-General of Bengal (1797–1805). It is now known as Seberang Perai and comprises a narrow hinterland opposite Penang island on the Malay Peninsular, which together with the island today forms the Malaysian state of Penang. Its principal town is Butterworth. Penang and Province Wellesley were once part of the Straits Settlements. Originally established in 1826 as part of the territories controlled by the British East India Company, the Straits Settlements came under direct British control as a crown colony on 1st April 1867. The colony was dissolved as part of the British reorganization of its South-East Asian dependencies following the end of WWII. The Straits Settlements consisted of the individual settlements of Malacca, Penang and Province Wellesley, Singapore and Labuan.

I think actually that Harry Hannay probably came from the adjacent Perak State but more on that later.

Malaya in 1922. The unfederated Malay states in blue, the federated Malay States in yellow and the British Straits Settlements in red

Back to his regiment. The Penang and Province Wellesley Volunteer Corps were part of the larger Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (SSVF) which was a military reserve force similar in concept to the British Territorial Army, but were organised within 3 separate groups according to which administrative area of Malaya they came from. While the majority of the personnel were from Singapore, some lived in the other aforementioned parts of the Settlements. The SSVF had its origins in the Singapore Volunteer Artillery Corps formed in 1888. In 1915 it helped suppress the mutiny of Sepoys in Singapore. The SSVF was officially formed in 1922, following the amalgamation of the Singapore Volunteer Artillery Corps, Penang and Province Wellesley Volunteer Corps, Malacca Volunteer Corps, and Labuan Volunteer Defence Detachment. In 1928, the SSVF infantry was re-organised into 4 battalions. The 1st and 2nd battalions consisted of members of the Singapore Volunteer Corps, the 3rd battalion consisted of the Penang & Province Wellesley Volunteer Corps and the 4th Battalion consisted of the Malacca Volunteer Corps.

As international tensions heightened during the 1930s, an increasing number of men, and women, of the various nationalities in the Settlements answered their country’s call in the years running up to WWII. They came from all nationalities and walks of life in British Malaya. The Volunteers were not only Europeans, but Malays, Chinese, Indians and Eurasians. They came from all branches of the Malayan Government Service, from the mines and plantations, from the business communities, from the medical profession and from the church. Whatever their background, they were all motivated by a profound sense of wanting to do everything in their power to defend the Crown Colony of Malaya and her dependents. It is a shame they were not, on the whole, well led but Malaya was probably doomed when Churchill had to make the hard strategic decision, Egypt or Malaya? Britain couldn’t adequately equip and reinforce both. Anyhow I digress. The SSVF  took part in the Battle of Singapore in 1942, and most of its men, including Harry Hannay, were captured on 15 February 1942 when their positions were overrun.

What else of Harry Hannay. Well here is the extract from the war diaries of George Wiseman similarly interned to work on the Burma Railway. This was his entry for the 11th November, 1942 whilst in the Tarsau camp hospital:


I was discharged from hospital as the space was required and my throat was nearly okay.  Near me in hospital was Hannay of the SSVF, a son of old Major Hannay of Ipoh.  Mary Hannay got a job as a stenographer on Wavell’s staff and got away to Java.  Major and Mrs were in Changi jail, but got separated.  The first the old man knew that his wife was ill was when he saw her carried away on a stretcher.  He heard through friends that she was seriously ill with dysentery.  He did everything to get Nip permission to see her, but there was nothing doing until later.  When he arrived he was too late, she’d died the day before.  He is 68 and she was 62.  Rather needless for the Nips to separate them.

End Quote.

Who was Mary Hannay? I can only conjecture that she might have been either Harry’s wife or, probably more likely, his sister. Why? Because the CWGC are usually meticulous in detail. Harry is recorded in their records as “……. son of Harry Campbell Hannay and Katherine Louise Hannay”. There is no “….husband of…..”.

Harry’s parents lived in Perak State in Malaya. Perak incidentally means silver in Malay and the name comes from the silver colour of tin.  The the global tin industry collapsed in the 1980’s resulting in the closure of many of Perak’s tin mines but during the colonial period Perak was one of Malaysia’s wealthiest states and this wealth was built on tin. Major Hannay, Harry’s father, was a mining engineer and lived in Ipoh, Perak’s capital. They all must have fled the advancing Japanese and ended up in Singapore where Katherine Hannay, a red cross nurse, died aged 62 in the Miyako Hospital (formerly the Woodbridge Hospital in Singapore’s Yio Chu Kang district) on 11th April, 1942.

Major Hannay returned to Perak after the war and died in Ipoh in 1961 (at that time I myself was a toddler in Singapore).

Not too much I’m afraid about Harry himself. I wish I knew more. Not only is he commemorated at Kanchanaburi he is also named on the Newton-Stewart war memorial in Galloway.

I do now feel an affinity with this colonial family who now  lie apart in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore – a world far removed from the Galloway hills from whence they once came.

Indeed perhaps too I am of the Galloway diaspora and destined to lie in some corner of a foreign field.


About The Weary Traveller

I like to walk up and down hills. I've been so very fortunate to have lived most of my life in the Far East (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the Middle East (Qatar, Oman and U.A.E). I now live and work in Bangkok. I'm past the half century now and can't help but feel that some of the mountains that I've climbed lately I should have done yesteryear. The mind is willing if the legs are not always so. Here are some stories and realized dreams of hills climbed and, dales and deserts crossed. With a bit of art thrown in. I hope you might enjoy.
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27 Responses to Private Hannay Son of Malaya

  1. Fascinating stuff! The Hannay tribe has deep roots in this part of the world. Presumably you are related to Harry if you go back far enough?
    I’ll see if I can find any trace of Major Hannay next time I go to Ipoh.

    • pat hannay says:

      Yes if you can dig anything up that would be great. Not sure where you could go – the library?

      I’ve gone to the Royal Ipoh Club which has been around over 100 years – see what they might come up with.

  2. Anne says:

    Harry C Hannay was my uncle – I have his commemorative scroll. Mary Hannay his sister (now Mary Wilkinson) is my mother and still alive 90

  3. Anne says:

    Mary Louise Wilkinson (nee Hannay ) lives in New Zealand, as I do her eldest daughter

    • Susanne Pryde says:

      Hello Anne, I live in Prospect House in Newton Stewart and while searching about the history of this house I was directed to this page. Did your mother live in this house at some time? Do you have any more information about it? I would love to hear from you. My private email is

      • Hello Anne

        Sorry but I have long since established that we are not related to this branch of Hannays. We originated a little further north near New Galloway and my own mother never lived in Scotland herself.


        Pat Hannay

      • Kirsty Johns (nee Hannay) says:

        Hello Susanne
        How lovely to hear from someone living in Prospect House. Yes, our direct Hannay and Campbell predecessors lived at various stages in Prospect House. The grandparents and of Anne Cook (nee Wilkinson – my first cousin), and my sister Patricia Percival (nee Hannay) and myself Kirsty Johns (nee Hannay) lived at various times in Prospect House, as did Anne’s mother Mary Wilkinson (nee Hannay) and my Father Edward C Hannay. Our grandfather was Harry C. Hannay (snr) b.1874 (the Harry C Hannay whose grave ‘The Weary Traveller’ came across in Kanchanaburi, was his son, b. 1916). You have probably already found below the postings by my sister Patricia Percival on 14th Feb 2016 and others from Anne Cook – and yes, our Hannay branch seems to be a different one from that of the ‘Weary Traveller’, as he pointed out yesterday. My sister Patricia has done a lot more research into Prospect House and our family connection with it, and I am sure she will contact you in due course… thanks for providing your email address. Kirsty Johns

  4. C says:

    Found your interesting page whilst searching online for info on civilians held in Changi during the war. My great uncle, Bill Hannay was held there. He was a civilian who seems to have worked for Shell at one point in the Far East. He survived the war and ended his days back home in Galloway.

    • Anne says:

      Yes it is wonderful page As you will see Harry was my uncle whom I never met. My Mother, Mary is now 91, and only family survivor of that era. She married Alexander John Wilkinson (deceased 2008) and had three daughters, Anne, Rosemary and Jacqui (deceased 2010) . Mary was Harrys’ sister and she made her way back to Scotland via many ships and modes of transport when Singapore fell at aged 19 arriving in Liverpool May 1942 without much money, clothes or possessions and no passport. Given a ticket to Edinburgh and made her way to her Uncle Bob Martine (Dr William R Martine) turning up at the door just after dark hopeful of a bed. They were surprised to see her but welcomed her like family. All her family was still in Malaya as she did not learn of their fate until much later. Father Harry Campbell and brother Ted (Edward) survived with Charles Martine (Father of author Roddy Martine). 1945 Ted was discharged & Mary cared for him at their Mothers flat 11 Melville Place, during his recovery from chronic malaria. Such an interesting story but will save for a book maybe.

      • Kenneth Morrison says:

        I’m in the process of researching the men named on the Penninghame Parish War Memorial in Newton Stewart, Galloway. As stated on the orginal posting, Harry C. Hannay is listed. A local newspaper reported in 1944 that Miss Mary Hannay of Prospect House, Newton Stewart had been advised that her brother Gunner Edward Campbell Hannay was in hospital in No.4 Camp, Thailand. I guess this is the “Ted” that Anne mentions?
        I wonder if you can confirm the Newton Stewart connection and where Harry C Hannay was born please.

      • Ken. Good on you for researching the men on Penninghame Parish War Memorial. I can’t give detail on Harry’s birthplace but Anne Cook (, his niece, might be able to fill in the gaps. I would be interested to read your reseach when finished. My email address is Kind regards
        Pat Hannay

      • Brenda Wilkinson says:

        Hello Anne, do hope you write a book about your Mother’s life. She was such a interesting person.

        Brenda Wilkinson

  5. Yes they resided in Newton Stewart but have no records of HCH junior birth details. Born 12 January as recorded in Grandmother sisters birthday book but no year dated. Upon deduction would have been 1916. Sadly he had fallen ill and was sent to Australia to convalesce but returned to Malaya and subsequently captured. Birth place is unknown as could have been Ipoh or Newton Stewart and will question my Mother (his sister) in good time.

    Private Harry Campbell Hannay 3rd (Penang & Provence Wellesley Vol. Corps) Bn., Straits Settlements Volunteer Force died aged 27 Monday 5 July 1943.

    • Kirsty Johns says:

      I have a note that my Uncle, Harry Hannay Jnr was born in London, 12 Jan 1916. His brother/my Father, Edward (Ted) Campbell Hannay was also born in London, on 24 June 1910.
      Kirsty L Johns (nee Hannay)

  6. Kenneth Morrison says:

    Anne – I sent some family details to you and to Patrick by e-mail. I know Patrick’s arrived but did yours?
    A bit more information from the 1901 census for Newton Stewart in Penninghame Parish – in Prospect House were Agnes Hannay (Head) a widow, age 63, born in Kirkmaiden, Wigtownshire,
    Campbell Hannay (her son) a widower, age 43, a Merchant, born in Ireland.
    Jessie C. Hannay (her daughter) unmarried, age 37, born Ireland.
    Harry Hannay (her grandson) age 16, born Trinidad, West Indies. [Campbell’s son]
    This aligns with the other details I had. Campbell Hannay & Co. were Merchants and Sugar Planatation owners in Trinidad.

  7. Michael Fallon says:

    Hello, I’ve been doing some family research on my grandfather in WWI. He was in the 257th Tunnelling Company in the Royal Engineers. The Company was formed in 2016 and it’s first CO was Harry Hannay sr. from June 2016 to Dec 2016. During that time they were based near to a town called Laventie on the Western front. I found his Obituary at the Geological Society and Harry travelled the world. He was a remakable man. I assume you have found the Harry snr and jr photo of 1920. Let me know if you want any more information.

    • Thanks Michael. No I didn’t know Harry’s war time record nor seen the photo referred to. I have seen a photo of him when he was older looking very relaxed in Malaysia, shirtless and enjoying a beer. Hats off to those tunelling chaps – the conditions they must have had to work under must have been utterly excrutiating with the ever present threat of tunnel collapse and asphixiation. Not that overground was necessarily any better in the trenches! Those guys probably had the worst of both worlds.

      After all my own research I discovered that I am not related despite sharing the same clan name (and crest) but it was nice that surviving relatives in New Zealand duscovered the site.

  8. To some extent the saga of my cousins, the Hannay Family in Malaysia is covered in my book Scorpion on the Ceiling – a Scottish Colonial Family in South East Asia (Librario. 2004); Harry Hannay Snr also features in Boris Hembry-Malayan Spymaster -Memoires of a Rubber Planter, Bandit Fighter and Spy (Monsoon Books, 2011)

  9. Patricia Percival nee Hannay says:

    I have just come across this blog whilst doing family history research! and thought maybe a few gaps could be filled:

    I am Patricia Eve Percival (nee Hannay) b 12.8.52
    My sister is Kirsty Lynn Johns (nee Hannay) b 11.3.1954

    My father was Edward Campbell Hannay b 24.6.1910 d 7.5.2000 having survived being POW as detailed above
    His brother was Harry Campbell Hannay (Jnr) b 12.1.16 d. 5.7.43 POW as detailed
    His sister was Mary Louisa Campbell Hannay (Wilkinson) b 7.6.21 d 24.8.2013

    My grandfather was Harry Campbell Hannay (Snr) b 6.12.1874 d 7.2.1961 Ipoh
    His wife was Katherine Louise Hannay (neeTaylor) b 29.4.1880 d 11.4.42 POW Changi (so he lost both his youngest son and his wife after Singapore fell)
    I have a photo of a gravestone to them both from my father with ‘gravestone at Kuala Lumpur Malaysia’ written on the back but cannot find it listed.
    His sister was Agnita Muriel Campbell Hannay b 1882 -1950 Port of Spain, Trinidad She married (1) Spencer Kirton d 1949 (2) Joe Seheult who d 29.12.1949 (no issue)

    My great grandfather Hannay was Campbell Hannay b 1844 had a business Campbell Hannay and Company in Trinidad which was taken over by Gordon. Campbell Hannay died in New York d 18.7.1892 aged 48 yrs (broke I believe!)
    His wife was Louisa Basanta whom he married in 1874 in Trinidad
    I am in the throes of trying to research them more thoroughly..
    He had a brother Edward Irwin 1848-prior 1920 who married (1) Fannie A Wells in 1878 (son Earnest A Hannay b 1879?) then (2) Rhoda Williams in 1890 I believe they have family in California
    He had a sister Jessie Campbell Hannay b 3.9.1852 d 8.2.1930 Prospect House in Newton Stewart, Galloway, Scotland (no issue)

    My great great grandfather Hannay was Hugh Halliday Hannay (Belfast) b 1806 d 8.9.1873
    His wife was Agnes Campbell b 1824 d 23.4.1904 in Newton Stewart
    He had a brother Robert Halliday d 12.7.1847 aged 4 mths
    Belfast) and sister Margaret Anne d 24.5.1856 aged 4 yrs
    (Memorial in Clifton Street Cemetary, Belfast to this family)
    And possibly an older brother George but there is some confusion about this?

    My great great great grandfather appears to be James Hannay (of Bangor) 1780 -18.6.1823 aged 43 (Clifton Street Cemetary, Belfast) who married Mary McMillan who died 24.1.1840

    That is where my ancestral trail goes cold and uncertain but I am still discovering things. This is part of a larger Hannay family tree which I have into a 5 page word document if anyone is interested!

    Hope that is a help to your researches.

    • Thank you Patricia that is very detailed information indeed. So Mary Hannay was his sister. As I said his father, Major Harry Hannay Snr, features, rather amusingly, in Boris Hembry’s – Malayan Spymaster – Memoires of a Rubber Planter. There is a photograph of him too in that book enjoying a “stengah”. You probably have read it but if not I recommend as it is well written.

      Good luck with your research and many thanks indeed. Amazing what one picks up through the internet!

    • Adam says:

      Hi Patricia,

      I believe that my great-great grandfather was a business partner with Campbell Hannay & Co. around 1881-1884. His name was Duncan Campbell. I have journals which mention Hannay a few times, and they were also both initiated into Freemasonry in 1878 at the same lodge. I can mull through the journals again and pick out parts relevant to Hannay as it may give you insight. If you know of any connection to Duncan Campbell in Trinidad, I would love to know about it!

      You can email me if you’re interested.


      • Adam

        Interesting thanks. I think possibly a different branch of the Hannays, who mainly originated from SW Scotland. Possibly from the Rainsford Hannay side? Most of my ancestors served in the British Armed Forces, Indian Civil Service and/or traded on the Indian sub-continent and the Malayan Federation (as then was). None that I am aware of were in the West Indies.



      • Mike Fallon says:

        Hello Patrick. your post today has prompted me. My Grandfather served in WW1 in the 257th Tunnelling Company RE and from June to Dec 1916 his Commanding Officer was Capt Harry Hannay MC. The War diary for that time says they were in a section of the Wetern Front near Laventie in France and gives a reasonable picture of their day to day life. Not sure when your (grandfather?) won his MC but he certainly had it in Dec 1916 when posted to the Special Works Park Wimereux. The CO’s’s of these Tunnelling Companies were extraordinary men. Regards. Mike

      • Mike

        Interesting but Harry Hannay is actually no relation of mine. My grandfather, another Patrick, coincidentally also won an MC but in Archangel in 1917.


      • Adam says:

        Hi Patrick, I was responding to Patricia’s message from February 14, 2016 at 7:54 pm, she mentions Campbell Hannay & Co in Trinidad, that’s my family connection to her. I’m not sure of any connection to your family.

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