Taipei, April 10 (CNA) A nearly 80-year old headstone with an inscription in English recently discovered in Taipei, which experts speculate could be the final resting place of a World War II foreign Prisoner of War (POW) imprisoned by Japan in Taiwan, was stolen before it could be properly analyzed.
The headstone was discovered after Taipei City Government ordered a burial site relocation project on Jan. 28 as part of a road expansion plan in the hills by Lane 137, Fude Street in the city’s Xinyi District.
After the city government ordered 30 graves in the area to be relocated by April 30, visitors to the area recently discovered a headstone written in English, pictures of which were posted on the Taiwan Ancient Tomb Detectives (台灣古墓偵探社) Facebook on March 31.
According to photos taken by visitors, as well as military historian Chang Wei-bin (張維斌), the name on the headstone could be made out to be either “Clack, Eric Arthur,” or “Clack, Erec Arthur,” who passed away on Aug. 25, 1945.
According to Chang, the individual in the grave could be a British soldier who was captured and sent to Japan-occupied Taiwan as a prisoner of war during WWII.
Chang added that there are two other headstones with what appear to be English inscriptions, but they are too badly weathered to make out the names or date of death.
Cultural heritage conservationist Hsiao Wen-chieh (蕭文杰) further explained that as cement was a valuable material during WWII, it is unlikely it would have been used to make headstones for POWs, unless they were deceased allied servicemen at the end of the war.
The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs had planned to send experts from its Cultural Heritage Division to conduct an on-site analysis to determine the historic background and cultural value of the legible headstone on Monday.
However, the Ancient Tomb Detectives reported Saturday that the headstone had been stolen.
Lai Yu-wen (賴郁雯), chief of the Cultural Heritage Division, told CNA on Sunday that the cultural value of headstones can only be determined on-location. However, information and data provided by the general public will still be submitted to experts for analysis.
If it is determined that the headstone belonged to a WWII POW, it would be the first such finding in the city, she said.
Lai added that the theft has been reported to the police and the city’s Mortuary Services Office, which is in charge of relocating the graves by the April 30 deadline, has been instructed to suspend all grave relocation work.
Democratic Progressive Party Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chia-pei (許家蓓) cited Article 15 of the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act, suggesting that the city’s cultural affairs department should have conducted cultural heritage evaluation of the site much earlier.
Taipei’s New Construction Office, Mortuary Services Office and Department of Cultural Affairs will be held accountable if the theft is found to have been caused by a failure to follow proper protocol or poor communication between the departments, she said.