Mystery solved over missing war veteran

Former Waimea College student and now Royal New Zealand Navy Commander Brendon Oakley speaks with his daughter Brooklyn ...
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

Former Waimea College student and now Royal New Zealand Navy Commander Brendon Oakley speaks with his daughter Brooklyn Oakley at the Richmond Anzac Day service at the Richmond War Memorial last year.

Last Anzac Day Royal New Zealand Navy Commander Brendon Oakley and his family were waiting for one name in particular to be read in Richmond in the Tasman District. 

It never came.

Oakley, his wife Lisa and children Lukas, 12 and twins Brooklyn and Ruby, 10,  were waiting for the name of Denis Scrimgeour, a Royal New Zealand Air Force warrant officer who died aged 21 in 1942 during the fall of Singapore.

The Richmond family had found Scrimgeour's grave at the Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore, where they had been living for three years.

Lukas Oakley places poppies on the grave of Royal New Zealand Air Force warrant officer Denis Scrimgeour on Singapore's ...
SUPPLIED

Lukas Oakley places poppies on the grave of Royal New Zealand Air Force warrant officer Denis Scrimgeour on Singapore's Kranji War Cemetery.

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Oakley said they would regularly visit the cemetery, where about 15 Kiwis are buried.  Kranji War Cemetery records showed Denis' was the only one from the Nelson region. 

"We obviously paid respect to all of the Kiwi graves but we'd put our personal poppies on the one from Richmond."

It was the first time in a long time Oakley, who has been in the navy for the past 24 years, and his family were in their home town for Anzac Day.

He said he remembered placing a wreath at the same Anzac Day service 20 years ago as a Waimea College student.

When Denis' name was not called during the service, Oakley had to assure Brooklyn the fallen veteran was still being looked after. 

After the Nelson Mail published the photo of Oakley and Brooklyn and their story on April 26 last year, Denis' niece and namesake Denise James (nee Scrimgeour) ​got in contact with the family.

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"Denise had seen the article I think, she told us his name was actually recorded on the cenotaph in Collingwood as he grew up in Golden Bay, not Richmond.

"It was wonderful to hear from the deceased's niece. She provided the pieces to the puzzle, so that's pretty cool."

In a story published by Royal New Zealand Navy magazine Navy Today, James said she was born in 1945 and named after her uncle, Denis was still officially missing.

Her grandmother received a letter from the Air Department five years later.

The letter, dated May 26 1950, informed them Denis died on February 4 1942 and said his grave was in Singapore.

Oakley said James sent through photos of the memorial site in Golden Bay, showing his children that the veteran was not forgotten. 

"The kids are quite excited to see that he was remembered and that it was in the Nelson Tasman region, it was his home turf."

Oakley said the Richmond RSA had also been very helpful, sending "a whole lot of photos". 

He said the story didn't stop there, because the online version of the Nelson Mail article was picked up by American military staff who were posted in Singapore.

The staff contacted the Oakley family through social media. They said they were touched by the story and had visited Scrimgeour's grave in Singapore.

"Please let Brooklyn know that WO Denis Allan Scrimgeour was well looked after this year thanks to her concerns. Dawn Barsana Szewczyk​, Nancy Maronick,​and I placed flowers and a remembrance poppy today. We shall do so again next year on ANZAC Day and will pass this tradition along."

Oakley and his family moved back to New Zealand about a year ago so the gesture by the military to put flowers on Denis' grave was moving, he said.

He would be spending this year's Anzac Day in Wellington, where the family is currently based at the defence headquarters. 

 - Stuff

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