A Scottish veteran has been honoured with a memorial service and headstone almost 40 years after he was buried in an unmarked communal grave.

Piper James McLean served in the Far East with the Second Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the Second World War.

He was one of two pipers who marched the famous regiment over the Johor–Singapore Causeway before it was blown up by retreating British forces in January 1942 to stall the Japanese advancement into Singapore. 

Following his return to Scotland after the war, he relocated to Sussex and sadly passed away ‘in obscurity’ at his home in 1984, before being buried in a communal grave in a local cemetery.

Piper McLean’s final resting place was uncovered by his granddaughter after she began researching her family history following the death of his daughter in 2021. She petitioned the local council, MPs, and military associations to have a headstone placed on his grave.

READ MORE: Honour at last for Scots POW buried in unmarked grave nearly 40 years ago

A service at Snell Hatch Cemetery was attended by veterans from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, some of whom made a 900-mile round trip to be there including members of the regiment’s Grangemouth Branch. 

They were joined by members of the Royal British Legion, veterans in Crawley, Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, the Mayor of Crawley, members from Crawley Borough Council and the First Secretary of the Embassy of Japan in the UK, alongside the family of Piper James McLean. 

Additionally, two Standard Bearers, a Piper and a Bugler were also attendance at the service, which saw a military Padre bless the headstone.

The service was also led and followed by the piping of the same music played by Piper McLean as he and Piper Stewart crossed the Johore - Singapore Causeway.

Ms Serena Gear, Piper McLean’s granddaughter, told The Herald the headstone would allow him to be laid to rest in a grave which recognised her grandfather’s exceptional service and honour his extraordinary story.

The Herald: James McLean, known as John, front right, with his mates in the armyJames McLean, known as John, front right, with his mates in the army (Image: Serena Gear)

She said: “My daughter went with my brother and my niece and nephew. It was an extremely emotional day. I think what hit me was that before the service I was sent a photo of the piper stood behind the headstone.

"All I could see was my grandfather stood there. It was like looking at my grandfather in uniform by his headstone. That made me very tearful. The whole family are just beyond grateful. It was more than we ever expected the service to be.

“I think we had 20-odd from Grangemouth that came down, as well as members of the London Argylls Regimental Association.  The First Secretary of the Embassy of Japan in the UK also attended and he was so respectful.

"It must have been difficult for him to attend a service like this but everyone made him feel welcome. When he walked away from the headstone he stood and bowed, which was really lovely, and he laid some beautiful flowers as well. I was extremely shocked that he attended.”

As well as the service in Crawley, Michael Hurst MBE, the Founder and Director of the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society, laid a wreath in honour of Piper McLean in Taiwan.

A wreath was also laid at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore, the final resting place for Allied soldiers who perished during the Battle of Singapore and the subsequent Japanese occupation of the island from 1942 to 1945 and in other parts of Southeast Asia during World War II.

The Herald: The wreath at Kranji War Cemetery in SingaporeThe wreath at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore (Image: Serena Gear)

Ms Gear added: “We sent a wreath over to Kranji Cemetery, that’s where a lot of Argylls are also buried. I wanted to have a wreath there obviously for my grandfather’s time in Singapore but also to remember the other Argylls that lay there. 

“I was also recently contacted by Michael Hurst MBE, who runs the POW Camps Memorial Society in Taiwan. He told me that my grandfather was held in Taiwan for a short period of time and worked in the coal mines there, so my grandfather’s name is inscribed in their memorial wall out there. On the same day of the service he placed a wreath for my grandfather as well.”

Following the service, Ms Gear has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £5,000 for the Grangemouth Branch of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to “give something back”. 

She added: “They don’t have any funding whatsoever and they donated money towards my grandfather’s headstone. They also travelled down and gave so many gifts to my family, and I just wanted to be able to give something back to them and to be able to help their veterans in their area as well to say thank you for what they done. Because without their help this wouldn’t have happened. It was Grangemouth Branch that were the standard bearers, the piper and everything.”