Remembering a fallen hero

This article has photo gallery Published on FLTLT Bel Scott (author), LSIS Ronnie Baltoft (photographer)

Location(s): Trincomalee War Cemetery, Sri Lanka

Topic(s): Indo-Pacific Endeavour

Commander Joint Task Force 661, Air Commodore Richard Owen, AM, (right) and Chaplain Simote Finau, RAN, (left) with groundskeeper Vasantharaja at the grave site of Royal Australian Air Force Sergeant William Pearce after a memorial service at the Trincomalee Commonwealth War Cemetery, Sri Lanka, as part of INDO-PACIFIC ENDEAVOUR 2019. (photo: LSIS Ronnie Baltoft)
Commander Joint Task Force 661, Air Commodore Richard Owen, AM, (right) and Chaplain Simote Finau, RAN, (left) with groundskeeper Vasantharaja at the grave site of Royal Australian Air Force Sergeant William Pearce after a memorial service at the Trincomalee Commonwealth War Cemetery, Sri Lanka, as part of INDO-PACIFIC ENDEAVOUR 2019.

The Sri Lankan groundkeeper who cared for the grave of a fallen Australian pilot has been personally thanked by Australian Defence Force personnel as part of INDO-PACIFIC ENDEAVOUR 2019 (IPE19).

Royal Australian Air Force Hurricane pilot Sergeant William Pearce, buried at the Trincomalee War Cemetery, will be remembered for years to come thanks to local groundskeeper Mr Vasantharaja.

A solemn service, performed by the padre on HMAS Success, Chaplain Simote Finau, resonated in the hearts and minds of all who attended.

It was watched by the Acting Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Jon Philp, the IPE19 Joint Task Force Commander, Air Commodore Rick Owen, and the Commanding Officers and Ships’ Companies of HMA Ships Success and Parramatta.

Air Commodore Owen was humbled by the service and the visit to Sergeant Pearce’s grave.

“He was flying air defence missions trying to protect HMAS Vampire and HMS Hermes,” Air Commodore Owen said.

“Mr Vasantharaja has looked after the graves for many years and he is training his son to take over this important role when he soon retires.

“We are grateful to Mr Vasantharaja for preserving a fallen hero’s resting place. He is a very gracious gentleman and I was honoured to be able to thank him in person.”

The cemetery was taken over by the British Admiralty in April 1948 for use as a permanent naval cemetery. Today, there are 314 casualties of WWII buried there.

Following the fall of Singapore to the advancing Imperial Japanese Army in 1942, Trincomalee, a seaport on the coast of Sri Lanka (formally Ceylon), became an important naval base for allied command’s shipping in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.

Additional imagery is available on the Defence Image Gallery: 
http://images.defence.gov.au/S20190736.