Memorial for French Catholic Sailors
26 April 2015
By Lucia Lai
The 229 year old Church of the Assumption, second oldest in Malaysia and a UNESCO World Heritage Icon, added another historic milestone on April 9, 2015, when the Bishop of Penang consecrated a Memorial for French Catholic sailors who had perished during World War I.
Two days prior to this commemoration, the Penang Diocesan Pastoral Institute organised a talk by Dr John Robertson, the author of The Battle of Penang. In the talk, he spoke on the history of the French warship, Le Mousquet.
The destroyer Le Mousquet was sunk by a German cruiser in October 1914, off Muka Head in the Battle of Penang. Forty French Catholics perished. Subsequently, a requiem Mass for them was held at the Church of the Assumption by Fr Louis Duvelle on 18 November 1914.
To commemorate this historic event, Bishop Sebastian decided to consecrate a memorial in honour of the 40 dead sailors, some of whom were Vietnamese nationals, and also in honour of Fr Duvelle.
About 50 people turned up to witness the historic occasion. Apart from the parish priest, Fr Nelson Chitty, Msgr Michael Cheah and Fr. Joachim Robert were present.
Fr Joseph de Dinechin, MEP who is based in Singapore, was specially invited to witness the occasion.
A representative from the French Embassy, Captain (Navy) Pierre Mesnier, the Defence Attache, was present, together with some members from the Alliance Franchise.
The Russian, German and French counsels attended, as well as parishioners from churches in Penang.
Capt Mesnier thanked those who had turned up to witness the occasion and those who had helped in organizing the event. He particularly mentioned Dr John Robertson, to whom he was grateful, for working hard to ensure that due honour was given to the French sailors who had perished. Finally, he thanked the Bishop for providing a space in front of the church, where the memorial is located.
Bishop Sebastian said that the battle took place during WWI during a time when the major nations of Europe were fighting for power and land in the region.
“Now that time is over. It is important for us to work together for peace in the world,” he said. “I would also like to highlight the importance of the Catholic missionaries — the French, the Germans and others, in setting up educational and medical services in our country.”
After the speeches, Captain Mesnier laid a wreath at the memorial and gave a salute to honour those who had died. Bishop Sebastian then said a prayer and blessed the memorial.
(You can also read about this at the France Embassy page)