Miscellaneous News Items:

By Sears Eldredge

Reorganization and Consolidation

As the last drafts of British, Dutch, and Volunteer Force POWs departed for Thailand, those remaining in Changi were informed that due to the huge decrease in the number of POWs in the camp, “all units would be closed up in smaller areas.”[i] Thus began a reorganization and consolidation of Changi into a smaller, more manageable perimeter.        

Then, on 9 November, due to another alarming spike in diphtheria cases, The New Windmill Theatre was ordered closed again. Horner decided that if the men couldn’t come to them, their theatre would go to them, and he proceeded to produce The New Windmill Road Show which played to the British and Dutch troops in the 18th Div. Area on alternate nights.[ii] 

When the threat of the diphtheria epidemic had passed, the New Windmill Theatre was not returned to “The New Windmill Players” as had been expected. Instead, the Japanese commandeered the NAAFI building for their new HQ in Changi, throwing out and burning all the sets, costumes, and props.[iii] As no other indoor space was available, the Windmill producers decided to build a new open-air theatre.

Death of Major-General Beckwith-Smith

On 20 November, the men in the 18th Division received word that their beloved G.O.C., Major-General Beckwith-Smith, had died of diphtheria on Taiwan. “We wonder whether to cancel this evening’s show,” Horner wrote, “but as it will disappoint so many and ‘Becky’ would be the last man to want any cancellation, we’ve decided to carry on.”[iv]


[i] Wilkinson. Diary. 26 December’42.

[ii] Horner, 64.

[iii] Bamber, IWM Interview, Reel #6.

[iv] Horner, 64-65.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

First Massive Troop Departures

By Sears Eldredge

In the last week of October, all of the British POWs from Fortress Signals in the Southern Area, as well as many from the 18th Division, started to be sent to Thailand to work on the railway. Huxtable . . .

. . . was glad to hear from [Denis] East that the theatrical and concert group to which he belongs are not to be moved with the rest of the 18th Division. By some means or other, exemption for them had been obtained from the Japanese, so the Windmill Theatre will be able to carry on although it expects to be moved inside our wire.[i]

But this wasn’t exactly true. Foster-Haig lost half of his choir and Fergus Anckorn and other entertainers from “The Optimists” were included on these drafts. Who wasn’t included was East’s own group, “The Changi Celebrity Artists.” By the first week in November, all the 18th Division drafts and all of the Singapore Fortress troops, including their concert party, “The Mumming Bees,” had been sent Up Country (see Chapter 1 of my online book for more details).

Playbill for November ‘42.

On November 3rd, the “A.I.F. Concert Party” mounted their first original revue with a book: a piece called, Hotel Swindellem. The plot follows two characters through various misadventures at the Hotel (which lived up to its name).

Although the Australians had been spared from sending any troops in these recent drafts, their concert party’s’ Variety Show two weeks later contained another Slim De Grey original song, “They’ve Taken My Old Pal Away,” which verbalized what many of the POWs in Changi felt about being separated from mates they had served with for a long time (only the first and final verses are given here):

They’ve taken my old pal away,

Somewhere over the sea.

Now [sic. Then?] we were so happy and gay,

But now life seems empty to me.

Now everything seems to have changed.

Like sunshine that turns into rain.

We were together in trouble,

In fun a good double,

But they’ve taken my old pal away.[ii]


[i] Huxtable, 89-90.

[ii] De Grey, “Changi Souvenir Song Album,” n.p.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

FEPOW Projects in the Works

By Charlie Inglefield

I am currently working on two FEPOW projects which may be of interest to this community.

The first is a documentary concept to mark the 80th anniversary of the completion of the Thai-Burma Railway in October 2023. We had the honour of interviewing a UK FEPOW in February and we hope to have more news on that in the coming weeks and months.

The second project is a book to also mark the 80th anniversary next year and would be primarily based on a final voices theme. If approved, this book would be based on the voices of FEPOWs that have not been previously heard (i.e. not been published outside of family and friends). I have had the privilege of interviewing families of POWs around the world over these last 18 months and reading extracts and accounts about this remarkable generation. 

My grandfather was a FEPOW, Captain Gilbert Inglefield, who I did not know that well and subsequently as I got older I wanted to learn more about – so there is a personal attachment to this. It is an obvious point to be made but one which I feel is important to the point of this book and that is there are so few FEPOWs still with us and that number is sadly diminishing week in, week out. Whilst all but a few are still with us, they remain the last human link to these extraordinary set of events that took place in Asia-Pacific between 1941-45. 

I am looking to speak with families/descendants of FEPOWs who may have written summaries and accounts from their fathers/grandfathers – which have not been previously published outside of family and friends. The point of this is to potentially allow families who through their fathers/grandfathers can perhaps teach future generations about this specific piece of WWII history.

I am based in Boston but can happily chat to suit UK hours, if there is anyone who may be interested. 


To contact Charlie please email researchingfepowhistory@gmail.com with details, and include permission for your email and contact details to be forwarded on to him.

Lights Up!

By Sears Eldredge

By 10 October, the A.I.F. concert party was ready to open their new garage theatre with a long Variety Show. When they first moved into the theatre, electricity had not yet been restored, so the resourceful Australians found alternative methods of lighting their stage using pressure lamps filled with petrol that had been siphoned off from parked Japanese vehicles when I.J.A. officials came for meetings with the POW Administration. “Risky work,” conceded Jack Boardman, “and some day we would not know until the afternoon whether there would be lighting for the show that evening.”[i] 

But it wasn’t long before their theatre had electricity. Boardman again: “Needless to say, each week saw better lighting in the theatre. Progressively footlights, overheads, a switchboard with dimmer and a spotlight were introduced.”[ii] Taking advantage of this new lighting, “Happy” Harry Smith inserted a new routine into his “tit and bum” act. Strolling onstage dressed as a “lady getting on in years” with “an enormous bust,” Smith start singing in a contralto voice while “ogling officers sitting in front seats by using a mirror to reflect a spotlight [on them] while he sang, ‘The Sunshine of Your Smile’. At the end, during the applause, he would lift up his skirt and remove the socks forming his bosom with the words, ‘There’s gold in them thar hills!’”[iii]

“203.” Fred Brightfield. AWM. Courtesy of Jack Boardman.

The drummer, Fred Brightfield, drew a colored pencil sketch of the stage in their new theatre. A row of footlights can be seen along the front of the stage. The black box intruding into the middle top left of the sketch is a floodlight suspended from a pipe batten. Another light, this time a clip-on flood, is attached to center of the orchestra railing.

On stage, the comedy sketch “203” is in progress.[1] The title refers to the number of the harem girl who has found favor with the Maharajah. John Wood is the blonde dancing girl performing the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” “Happy” Harry, the punkawallah, and Jacky Smith, the Maharajah.[2][iv]

On the audience right proscenium wall is a large placard printed with the words to the Australian National Anthem, “Advance Australia Fair.” On Audience Left, under a clock, was another placard which read, “SILENCE during the overture PLEASE.”[v] 

Once established in their new indoor theatre, the concert party made two important changes in their programming: instead of producing a different show every week, which had become difficult to sustain, they would now present a new show once a fortnight; and, except for their weekly tour to Roberts Hospital, their audiences would come to them. 

On 20 October, their variety show contained a new song by Slim De Grey: “Waiting for Something to Happen” which gave voice to the POWs’ boredom (only the opening and closing verses are given below).  

Waiting for something to happen,

Turns all our laughter to tears.

There’s no use a-worrying,

No use a-hurrying,

We may be waiting for years.

Waiting for something to happen,

Might even drive you insane.

So we’d all be happier,

Feel a lot snappier,

If something would happen again.[vi]

They didn’t have long to wait.                                                          


[1] This is a revised version of their pre-war concert party sketch.

[2] Seated in the orchestra are Ray Tullipan (bass), Erv Banks (banjo), Jack Geoghegan (guitar), Roy Arnel (alto sax and clarinet), Dave Goodwin (tenor Sax), Eric Beattie (violin), Jack Boardman (sitting center with his back to us at the upright piano), Jack Garrett (squeezebox & guitar), Fred Stringer, Les Jacques, Tom Hoffman & Erv Warne (brass), and Fred Brightfield (drums). Bill Middleton, their Conductor, does not seem to be present.


[i] Boardman, J. 21 August 03.

[ii] Boardman, J. 21 August 03.

[iii] Boardman, J. “Notes”; Sprod, Bamboo, 63.

[iv] Boardman, J. Handwritten Notes on Brightfield’s sketch.

[v] Boardman, J. “Notes.”

[vi] De Grey, “Changi Souvenir Song Album,” n.p.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

New Book: “Captured at Singapore”

“Captured at Singapore” by Jill Robertson and Janice Slimming, is a formal record of their father’s experience in one of the UK’s longest periods of war in the last 200 years. The small diary account recorded by a Royal Army Service Corps Driver, while residing under the hospitality of the Japanese in WWII, is another opportunity for future generations to understand and learn from history about the horrific atrocities of the Far Eastern years of POW captivity, from 1942 – 1945.

Book Cover of Captured at Singapore


Many war stories have been written for posterity. Captured at Singapore is structured through our father’s experiences of plight and fear in terrible, adverse conditions while being incarcerated by another culture. The diarised words may only be a small account and not a particularly heroic one, but it is our family’s account of a time that should never be repeated, if we are to be living and believing in a peaceful World. — Jill Robertson & Jan Slimming.



Stanley Albert William Moore a young man from Tooting, South London is gratefully, the only family who had to endure such wartime hardship. He is their unsung hero.

Sisters, Jill and Janice, through their research, have found it humbling to now understand this increasingly forgotten period of history, which may slowly fade away as those who experienced this episode reach old age and memories dwindle. Stan was part of the secret convoy from Liverpool, to Canada, then onward destined for desert warfare, fighting for King and Country, or so they thought. Instead, this book reveals the delights and insights into their experience at sea and ultimately the terrible plight during three and half years of captivity, by aggressors in WWII. It was so different to what could have happened: a toss of a dice and change in world affairs, meant their lives were spun in an entirely different direction. Stan’s direction was altered on 7 December 1942. Or was the die cast before?


While the European fascist dictatorship tried starving the British People into submission in 1940-1943, in another part of the World, thousands were already being starved to death, let alone submission, in the Far East. [This refers to the Hitler regime, and the Chinese/Hong Kong/ Vichy France atrocities. These last two invasions already carried out by the Japanese in their endeavours to claim parts of the Far East as their own Empire, dominate the entire coastal area of the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.] From the miniscule diary that Stanley kept, he
re-wrote – in simplistic form, notes to ‘show and tell’ for his grand-childrens’ primary school history lessons. Eventually, his own spoken, extremely understated account was recorded on a Philips cassette tape recorder for posterity, in the early ‘90s. Delving into old photo albums, discovering delicate newspaper cuttings, documents, reference books, etc., compiling this book has been rewarding, cathartic and informative. Through the sisters’ research they overturned a few stones that have answered many of the questions, since his passing in October 2001, there are still some pieces to fit into the puzzle, as with most Prisoners of War, they did not want to, or they were ordered not to, reveal their own specific experience. Many horrific episodes were discovered. Could these have happened to Stan? Perhaps the family will never know. The story unfolds entwined with other small connecting episodes by a handful of other PoWs, where their paths meet and experiences are corroborated.


The authors’ aim is to provide an important reference work for future generations so they too can understand the ordeals their 1940s predecessors went through. It will be another source of referral in the hope the family names mentioned in the diary-cum-address book which Stanley had also written on the reverse, will come forward, or perhaps their ancestors will to reconcile these soldiers’ memories and discover more about their own family hero, before this part of history becomes just another fading sentence about being Captured at Singapore.


Captured at Singapore is due to be published 30th June 2022. For more details please visit the Pen and Sword website.

The New A.I.F. Indoor Theatre

By Sears Eldredge

Neither the sudden reversal regarding their gymnasium playing space, or the “Selarang Incident,” stopped the Aussie concert party from performing the show that had been in its final rehearsals. On Sept. 30th, Keep Singing—their first original revue written by Slim De Grey and Ray Tullipan—opened at a hastily arranged venue somewhere in the Selarang Area. This was also the first appearance of the troupe under their new leadership and name, “The A.I.F. Concert Party.”

It wasn’t long before they found another location in Selarang for their permanent theatre: a bomb-damaged garage. Frazer Harvey and his construction crew went to work and quickly got the new space transformed into a theatre that would seat close to a thousand audience members. 

 The A.I.F. Theatre in Changi. Wash drawing by Murray Griffin.
AWM #38598.

In Murray Griffin’s drawing you see the new A.I.F. Theatre built into the garage. It was completely open on one side but curtains could be pulled across this opening to shut out any daylight or rain when necessary. Audience seating was in two sections: on the level main floor and in the stalls at the back. All seats were made from split palm logs, but the stalls were supported by large posts made from rubber trees. At the far end is a proscenium with a raised stage built on a foundation of solid oak rifle racks; an orchestra pit in front. Scenery would be improvised from old tenting and anything else they could scrounge or steal. Compared to their old gymnasium theatre, the acoustics in this new theatre proved to be excellent even without a microphone.[i]

Playbill for October ‘42.

The month of October found Prom Concerts still being presented every weekday evening at the Pavilion Theatre in the Southern Area; the “P.O.W. WOWS” continuing with their latest show in the 11th Div. Area and on tour; The Dream still playing at the Command Theatre, and I Killed The Count running at the New Windmill Theatre until another diphtheria outbreak temporarily closed the theatre.


[i] Boardman, J. “Notes,” n.p.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Save The Date!

10 – 11 June 2023

for the long-awaited Researching FEPOW History Conference (postponed 2020)

and hosted by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM)

Once again, this is an in-person event and places will be limited.

Registration opens

1 October and closes 30 November 2022.

Further details to follow in September – visit https://fepowhistory.com/ , or join our mailing list, for updates.

To assist planning, please email mike.parkes@talktalk.net now if you are intending to register (non-binding). Please help to spread the word.

Two Master Musicians:

By Sears Eldredge

Denis East

On Tuesday, 29 September at Roberts Hospital, Huxtable was able to see a performance by the “Changi Celebrity Artists” in the Officers’ Ward:

Dennis East and Coles played violin and accordion.[1] George Wall and Aubrey King sang. Fowler and one other masqueraded in women’s clothes, a delightful skit.

Afterwards, East told me about a concert tonight over at Selarang, so at 7 p.m. I met the Windmill Theatre troupe at our gate and marched with them to Selarang. Padre Haig led us and there were about 50 present, including the choir and a few hangers-on. The concert was held in the very pleasant hall, with platform, at the Convalescent Depot. . ..  Dennis East played a Mendelsohn concerto that lasted about 25 minutes. When I asked him on the way home how they had the music for the piano accompaniment he told me that they had written the whole arrangement from gramophone records which they had managed to obtain during their imprisonment![i]

Reginald Renison

In the 18th Div. Area., the brilliant O.R. pianist, Reginald Renison, had started to organize a Symphony Orchestra composed mainly of officers.

“I remember going with him to a rehearsal,” [wrote his friend Fergus Anckorn]. “When he walked into the room, nothing much happened. He tapped the music stand with his bamboo baton and got silence. He then addressed the officers saying, “Gentlemen, I am sure you must be aware that the protocol is that when the conductor enters, the orchestra rises to its feet”. He then walked out, and re-entered, when they rose to their feet as one.”[ii]


[1] A sketch by Ronald Searle of East playing the violin was not made available for this blog. East had lost his original violin in the Battle for Singapore. But he and a friend constructed a new one out of various pieces of wood found in Changi.


[i] Huxtable, 81.

[ii] Anckorn, F. Letter, 17 July 2000.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Transit Camp

By Sears Eldredge

In September, life in Changi was turned upside down with the arrival of a large number of British, Australian, Dutch, and American POWs from camps in The Netherlands East Indies [Indonesia]. By the end of the month there were joined by POWs who had been held in Malaya. Changi was being transformed into an enormous Transit Camp in readiness for massive troop evacuations elsewhere. 

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Return to Normal

By Sears Eldredge

After their return to regular quarters, the “P.O.W. WOWS” continued their revues, one of which featured a new song by Bob Gale, “Some Day I’ll Come Back To You, Dear”:

 Someday troubles will be over,

One day right will conquer wrong.

Peace will come to stay forever,

And at last, we shall view,

All our dreams come true.[i]

On Saturday, 10 September, Australian Medical Officer Charles Huxtable, as he had done many times, accompanied two patients from Roberts Hospital to see the Variety Show in The New Windmill Theatre (the same show that had been running prior to the “Selarang Incident”).[1] There he saw Fergus Anckorn perform his “Egg Trick,” described here by Anckorn’s close friend, Norman Pritchard: 

He [Anckorn] did this show where he takes a handkerchief out of his pocket — silk handkerchief — stuffs it in his hand, opens his hand up: it’s not laying there. . . handkerchief has gone into the egg: the egg shell.  And he explains this to the audience tries to make them feel that [they’re in on it] . . .

But just in case you’re not quite sure, he breaks the egg into a tumbler . . . and the egg and yolk falls out. So – the egg trick.[ii]

A marvelous trick, but the backstory about how the egg for this trick was obtained is even more remarkable: 

[Anckorn] saw the Jap Commander, who gave him a bit of paper to go to the store to get the egg he needed for the show. But when he got to the source of supply, the Jap had asked him how many he wanted. So, he just realized there was no number on the order. 

            So he says, “Fifteen” . . . 

And I thought he was going to do this egg trick every night for two weeks — with fourteen eggs. And Lester Martin, Gus, and I got a pin — each a pin — and totally took a section of the egg out — a section of the shell out large enough to get the yolk out, put it in a saucepan, and made a lovely omelet . . . which the three of us ate.  

And the next day after the show, the General pulled him in and asked for an interpreter.

            “What happened to the other eggs?”

So Gus said ([he] had to think pretty fast), “Rehearsals!” And he got away with it.[iii]  

Back in the India Lines, I Killed The Count, opened on 17 September to tremendous applause. “Jack” Horner’s comic abilities in his Cockney character role almost stopped the show.[2][iv]Searle’s interior setting with scrounged, or POW-made furniture, was much praised. The sketch of the set design in Searle’s IWM Art folder is done in red and black on brown paper.[3] It shows a standard three-fold interior setting with a door in each wall. Notes on the sketch show how the setting could be constructed from a series of flats pinned together. And at the left of the sketch are notes listing the furniture and props required.

Toward the end of the month, another new theatre (“The Glade”) and concert party (“The Gladiators”) appeared with a production of Old King Cole performed by the S.S.V.F.[4] POWs in the Southern Area.


[1] Huxtable’s unpublished diary has been instrumental in recovering this history of entertainments in Changi..

[2] Horner was also passionate about theatre and the publication of his diary by his family has been an invaluable resource.

[3] The image was not made available for this blog.

[4] Singapore Straits Volunteer Forces.


[i] Anckorn, F. collection, n.p.

[ii] Pritchard, Interview, 28.

[iii] Pritchard, Interview, 28-29.

[iv] Horner, Diary, 48, pb.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

“The Selarang Incident”

By Sears Eldredge

With the Senior Officers now out of the way, the Japanese precipitated a crisis of their own between 2-5 September that would test the resolve of those remaining in Changi. It became known as “the Selarang Incident” when all the POWs in Changi, except those in hospital, were ordered to assemble in Selarang Barracks Square (more fully reported on in Chapter 1 of my online book). Once there, they were told that each soldier had to sign a form swearing that he would not attempt to escape. Their officers refused.

In order to keep everyone’s spirits’ up on their second day in Selarang Square, Lt. Col. Galleghan, the Australian C.O., ordered his concert party to perform. “So we built a platform,” said Piddington, “out of bits of wood and things and we put on this concert to the largest audience we ever played to, 15,400. They couldn’t get away!”[i] They opened with their standard Opening Chorus (only the beginning verse is given here):

Let us all be merry and bright.

Turn on the light,

And we’ll soon put you right.

Smiling faces,

That’s all you’ll see.

So come with us to the land of jollity.[ii]

Aussie Russell Braddon remembered that “when the concert ended Black Jack ordered the most magnificent gesture of defiance of that whole defiant incident. ‘Sing ‘The King,’ he bellowed. And at once the square, teeming with the prisoners of Japan, thundered as seventeen thousand voices sang the British National Anthem.”[iii] The singing of national anthems had been banned by the Japanese in late spring but they got away with it here.

But it wasn’t only “The King” that was sung. The POWs went on to sing “Land of Hope and Glory,” “There’ll always be an England,” “The Yanks are Coming,” and “Waltzing Matilda,” as well.[iv] 

On 5 September, the impasse was resolved and that night the Southern Area Concert Party put on a big show to celebrate.[1]


[1] See my Chapter 1 for a more detailed explanation. Were there really two shows in Selarang or only one, differently remembered?


[i] Nelson, Prisoners, quoting Piddington, 31.

[ii] Boardman, J. “Notes.”

[iii] Braddon, 86.

[iv] Nelson, 43.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Fare Well

By Sears Eldredge

The Senior Officers finally embarked by ship on 16 August accompanied by a group of O.R.s (including Jack McNaughton and Arthur Butler from “The Mumming Bees”) as administrative staff, cooks, and batmen. Tom Wade fantasized about the female impersonator, Arthur Butler’s, reaction to the undignified medical inspection carried out on all those departing to ensure that no one with dysentery was included in the draft: “Privates, sergeant majors, brigadiers and generals, even the governor of the Straits Settlements had to drop their shorts in the open square, bow to Japanese medical regulations with the rest of us and receive the sleek glass rod. (What did Gloria d’Earie, the female impersonator, say when he received the glass rod? Ah Ecstacy! [sic])”[i]

A month after their arrival in Taiwan (their first stop), McNaughton and Butler, along with a group of Officers and O.R.s, were sent on to Keijo [Seoul] POW Camp in Chosen [Korea]. By Christmas, they would begin to produce a series of shows enlisting additional performers from among the other POWs. [See forthcoming blog on POW entertainment activities in Korea.]


[i] Wade, 53.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Trouble in the Works

By Sears Eldredge

Meanwhile, problems with performer burnout and/or dissatisfaction with a particular format and content were beginning to be heard among divisional concert party entertainers, as had happened in the 18th Division’s “The Optimists.” (See Captive Performers, Chapter 1). Intense discussions about the need to change their production format and rethink their individual roles within the company had been taking place for a while in the A.I.F. Concert Party. Some in the group “wanted to branch out in new directions,” recalled Jack Boardman, “straight singers [wanted to become] comedians, musicians [wanted to become] actors and actors [wanted to become] musicians.”[i] To accomplish these changes would require, some believed, a change in their leadership.   

The reason why John Wood was drafted into responsibility for artistic/programming/etc. was that some performers thought Val [Mack’s] style was too old-fashioned and that an experienced “new broom” was required. Others disagreed and preferred the status quo. In the end Val continued as O.C. for discipline [Administration] and the John Wood style of show started. Less vaudeville/burlesque/music hall and more revue/drama/musical comedy. There was no visible animosity between them as a result of the change.[ii]

And since the orchestra had increased in size to fourteen members and had started giving musical concerts on Sunday evenings on its own in McNeilly’s Y.M.C.A Hut in the Convalescent Depot, it was decided that it should be administered separately. Sgt. Bill Middleton, their Musical Conductor, was given this responsibility.[iii]

When the Australian concert party reached full strength, it would have forty-three members: nineteen actors/singer/specialty acts, seventeen musicians, and a permanent staff of seven (see below).[1] 

The playing time of their shows in the Gordon’s Gymnasium had now stretched to eighty-five minutes, instead of the earlier fifty. Realizing the importance of this venue to their future plans, they sought permission, which was granted, to transform the gymnasium into a permanent indoor theatre space. 

Alterations to the Gordon’s Gymnasium were almost complete when their grand plans for a permanent theatre had to be scuttled. Some of the working parties that had been stationed in and around Singapore began to be transferred back into Changi, and their re-appearance, along with an influx of thousands of POWs from Java, caused an acute housing shortage making it necessary to use the gymnasium for their accommodation. The concert party was given twenty-four hours to move out all their staging and equipment.[iv]

Playbill for August ‘42.

August opened with “The P.O.W. WOWS” performing “Ringside Laughter” at their Rice Bowl Theatre and on tour. The 4th item on their bill, “Dickey-Bird” must have been a heads-up to the audience that they were about to receive coded news about the progress of the war from their secret radio.[2] The St. George Players continued touring with Macbeth.

Back in the India Lines, Wilkinson was finding it increasingly difficult to both direct rehearsals of I Killed the Count and play the leading role, so Major Frederick Bradshaw, who had just been brought up from Singapore and had been a professional West End actor, took over as director.[v]  

A new show, Windmill Variety No. 1, opened at The New Windmill Theatre on 17 August, which was headlined by Padre Foster-Haigh’s Male Voice Choir, the 18th Div. Signals String Band, and Fergus Anckorn performing several of his conjuring tricks.            

Elsewhere in Changi, the P.O.W. WOWS had produced their 11th tour show which starred John Wood (on loan from the “The A.I.F. Concert Party”) and were ready to open their 12th edition which contained the song, “Changi Blues.” Another play, The Dream, was running in the Command Area, and the “Changi Celebrity Artists” continued their tours. To complicate matters, there was another outbreak of diphtheria in the camp which caused two deaths and put nearly two hundred men in the hospital. Fear of an epidemic spread throughout Changi.[vi]


[1] Orchestra: Herbert Almond (Clarinet), Ray Arnell (Saxophone, Violin), Ernest Banks (Banjo and Saxophone), Eric Beattie (Violin), John Boardman (Piano and Arrangements), Fred Brightfield (Drums and Effects), Ron Caple (Drummer and Comedian),  John Garrett (Guitar),  Jack Geoghegan (Guitar, Variety Artist, Leader Swing Band), David Goodwin (Saxophone and Arrangements), Keith Harris (Piano and Arrangements), Tom Hoffman (Cornet), Leslie Jacques (Trumpet), Bill Middleton (Musical Director), Fred Stringer (Trumpet, Piano), Ray Tullipan (Song Writer, Cellist), and Ernest Warne (Trumpet, Electrician).

Entertainers: Russell Braddon (Thought Transference), Wally Dains (Specialty Dancer), Ted Druitt (Ballet and “Glamour”), Slim de Grey (Variety Artist and Song Writer), Stan “Judy” Garland (Specialty Dancer and “Glamour”), Leslie Greener (Actor, Writer and Critic), Douglas Mathers (Baritone), Val Mack (Vaudeville, Producer, and Comedian),  Bernard McCaffrey (Baritone), John Nibbs (Singer), Doug Peart (Actor and Variety Artist), Bob Picken (Comic Artist), Syd Piddington (Stage Director and Magician), “Happy Harry” Smith (The “Funny Man”), Keith Stevens (Variety Artist, Writer), Jack Smith (Comedian), Charles Wiggins (Variety Artist, “Glamour”) Frank Wood (Singer, Actor, Variety Artist), and John Wood (Producer and Star Artist).              

Staff: Clarry Barker (Electrician), Bert Gailbraith (Tailor), Ted Rigby (Stage Carpenter), Bill Sullivan (Seating Supervisor), Robert Mutton (House Manager), Clifford Whitelocke (Publicity), and Bert Gay West (Décor). [Piddington, “Changi Souvenir Song Album,” privately printed, n.d.]

[2]Whether there was more than one secret radio receiver in the camp is difficult to tell from the documents. They did not have a transmitter.


[i] Piddington, “On With The Show” in A.I.F. Changi Souvenir Song Album, n.p.

[ii] Boardman, J. Letter, 23 Aug. 03.

[iii] Stewart, Report, 3.

[iv] Piddington, “On . . . . ,” n.p.

[v] Wilkinson. Diary. 27 August ’42.

[vi] Nelson, 39.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Touring Outside Your Area

By Sears Eldredge

At the start, POWs could only attend shows in their own areas and with their own Unit. But that meant long waits between opportunities to see a show as all Units in the area had to have a chance to see the show. To get more entertainment to more men more speedily, the Japanese gave concert party troupes permission to tour outside their areas for matinee performances, and POWs with legitimate reasons, permission to travel to other areas to see a show.

The next day the Aussie concert party toured to the Southern Area and performed in the Pavilion Theatre.

Even when touring by Divisional concert parties became permissible, the hunger for entertainment among the thousands of POW in Changi was still not satiated. And there were other would-be entertainers not in the Divisional concert parties who also wanted a chance to put on a show. So Regimental and Battalion Concert Parties were encouraged. Late in the month, a new Entertainment Unit and a new indoor theatre appeared in the Divisional Signals sector of the 18th Division. They called their renovated dining hall, The Theatre Royal, and their first show was appropriately titled, Signal Lights.

The end of the month came and the Senior Officer Japan Party still did not leave Changi as expected. Their date for departure was postponed once again.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Two Daring Variety Turns

By Sears Eldredge

Over in the Selarang Area, John Wood wowed audiences by singing and dancing a 1930’s revue song, “Get Yourself A Geisha,” “dressed beautifully as a geisha in kimono and obi.”[i] 

Get yourself a Geisha

A gay little Geisha

A Geisha girl’s the purest,

The sweetest and demurest.

And she’s top hole for the tourist.

Get yourself a Geisha girl.

(Doing what you want to do in Tokyo.)[ii]

Another daring turn on a playbill in a British show was a song entitled “Axis Trio,” performed by three men made up to represent their characters: 

 I’m Hitler the Nazi Fuhrer.

I’m Musso the organ grinder chief.

I’m Tojo the Nip, whose navy made a slip,

In ever going near the Barrier Reef.[iii]

Oliver Thomas believed the lyrics to this song “were written by a Major Bowen (Brig. Major 54 Brig.) who thought we were becoming defeatist and needed to sing a song which would reawaken our aggressive instincts.”[iv]

If any Japanese guards appeared, these items would suddenly be cut from the bill. But at this point, no Japanese officers attended the shows and guards dropped by only intermittingly during their rounds. Nor did scripts have to be submitted to a censor.


[i] Boardman, J. “Notes.”

[ii] Boardman, J. Lyrics and Score in Original Docs.

[iii] Thomas, Letter. 31 March 01.

[iv] Thomas, Fax, 31 March 01. 1-2.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Two New Concert Parties

By Sears Eldredge

The 18th Div. Dramatic Society was given the N.A.A.F.I. building as requested and they set right to work making the necessary structural improvements.[i] They would christen this new space “The “New Windmill Theatre.”[1] 

Locating a suitable play from the scripts available in Changi’s libraries had proven more difficult, but A. A. Milne’s 1923 “absurd comedy,” The Dover Road, was finally selected.[ii]  After their first rehearsal in the N.A.A.F.I., Wilkinson thought the show would go off well. And then reality set it: “Webb and his 39 men went off this afternoon. I wonder if we shall ever see them again.”[iii] July 10 . . . 

. . . was a full dress rehearsal with an audience of about 50. It consisted of all the people who have done so much to get the theatre and the show ready, e.g., Sappers, Scenery Artists, Electricians and so on. It went well and we had all the props, food, etc. The “Kippers” have been most realistically made by the cook at “A Mess”, Div. H.Q.[iv]

During the month, another new Entertainment Unit appeared in the 18th Div. Area with a modern dress production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar performed in St. George’s Church, a converted mosque, situated next to the Officers’ Barracks. It was produced by Alan Dant with costumes and settings by Ronald Searle, one of the Royal Engineers in their midst. 

Searle, who would gain enormous fame after the war for his satirical cartoons of British life, became a costume and set designer for several concert parties in Changi.[2] His design concept for Julius Caesar was heavily influenced by Orson Welles’ sensational 1937 modern dress adaptation of the play in New York which interpreted the play as the rise of Fascism. Searle’s set designs for the first part of the play show a fixed set of arches and how they could be employed for either interior or exterior settings.

The Dover Road

11 July was the opening night of The Dover Road performed by “The New Windmill Players” at their new indoor theatre. The scratch orchestra quickly put together to play pre-show and interval music, became known as “The Nitwits.” It was led by Jack Greenwood, who had been a professional trumpet player in civvy street, and recently arrived from Java with a detachment of British POWs. With him came an American POW, the “angelical pianist,” Jack Cooper. Eric Bamber, a British O.R., joined these musicians as their drummer.[v]

In the audience for opening night was D. S. Cave, who was amazed at the renovations which had taken place in the old N.A.A.F.I building:

The Windmill . . . has been converted into a small theatre by the addition of tiered seats. Owing to a shortage of cut wood the rear and higher seats have no floor and patrons sit like pillar saints, high above the floor. The curtains bear a painting of a Malay girl in an abbreviated sarong and a smile, and a Chinese girl playing a lute without even a smile. Round the walls are some neat cartoons. One shows Mr. and Mrs. Blimp holding aloft shooting sticks flying the Union Jack, captioned ‘Remember you are British; sit still as the siren sounds’. Another depicts an army field urinal with an arrow pointing outside. This is matched by one showing a matron guarding a door marked ‘Ladies’ and an arrow pointing to the heavens.”[3][vi]

And contrary to expectations, they had lights! – the POWs had been able to build a small power station which provided the needed electricity.[vii] But there was no set per se for the show, only a backdrop, a window frame suspended in air, and some furniture that had been scrounged or made in the camp. To overcome for this difficulty, a character called “Prologue” verbally set the stage for the audience.[viii]      

The opening night had been planned as a gala event with an invited audience: “The G.O.C. (General Beckwith-Smith) was in attendance as it was a special programme for his birthday,” noted Wilkinson. “There was a large audience of invited guests, consisting of all Unit Commanders, Senior Officers of the Division and representatives of O.R.s . . . The G.O.C. made a speech at the end and the whole thing had a real first night atmosphere. The show went well.”[ix]

With the success of their first offering, “The New Windmill Players” immediately made plans for their second. The Dover Road was scheduled to run until 14 August by which time all the troops in the 18th Division would have seen the show as well as patrons from other Areas.

Casting Crisis

But on 20 July the Players had a casting crisis on their hands when the I.J.A. confirmed the rumor that had been circulating in the camp. With thousands of POWs on their hands in Changi and Singapore and relatively few I.J.A. or I.N.A. forces to guard them, the Japanese greatly feared that a breakout might be organized. To prevent such a possibility, all the Senior Officers above the rank of Lt. Colonel were ordered removed from Changi and sent overseas, supposedly to Japan. They were to leave on 21 July – the next day. It was, in Wilkinson’s words, “the greatest blow we have had since we surrendered.”[x] With Lt. Col. Dillon and Archie Beavan (members of the cast) scheduled to go with them, it would end the run of The Dover Road unless understudies could be quickly found. They were. Cpl. Oliver Thomas (formerly of “The Optimists”) and Capt. Tunbridge, were given four days to learn their lines before they had to go on stage.[xi] Capt. Wilkinson took over as producer-director of the fledgling company.

That evening, General Percival was in the audience as the guest of honor, and he came with all of his Malayan Command Staff along with General Beckwith-Smith[4] and the Australian G.O.C.[xii] This performance was supposed to be their farewell concert. But the 21st came and the officers’ departure did not happen. It was postponed until the end of the month.

On 30 July, the “St. George’s Players” opened their second Shakespearean production, Macbeth, produced again by Alan Dant with sets and costumes again by Ronald Searle. It would tour to four different venues within the 18th Division.


[1] The “Windmill” in the titles referred not only to the “flash” of the East Anglian 18th Territorial Division, but may also refer to the well-known London theatre of the same name.

[2] . In Searle’s IWM Art folders are costume and set designs for Julius Caesar. Unfortunately, these were not made available for this blog.

[3] It was Ronald Searle (and, most likely, Derek Cooper) who had painted the murals.

[4] 18th Division G.O.C.


[i] Wilkinson. Diary. 11 June ’42.

[ii] Wilkinson. Diary. 15 June ‘42

[iii] Wilkinson. Diary. 18 June ’42.

[iv] Wilkinson. Diary. 10 July ’42.

[v] Bamber, IWM Interview, Reel #5.

[vi] Cave, 9.

[vii] Cave, 9.

[viii] Bamber, IWM Interview, Reel #5.

[ix] Wilkinson. Diary. 11 July ‘42.

[x] Wilkinson. Diary. 17 July 42.

[xi] Thomas, Fax, 31 March 01.

[xii] Wilkinson. Diary. 17 July ’42.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Changi Carries On

By Sears Eldredge

Even with the reduction in camp numbers caused by the deployment of troops to Singapore, Up Country, and other overseas locations, concert parties continued to flourish all over Changi. When the “A.I.F. Malayan Concert Party” opened their next major Variety Show in the Gordon’s Gymnasium, the highlight was John Wood in a solo drag act singing “Flora MacDonald,” a song made famous by the British female impersonator, Douglas Byng.

John Wood as “Flora MacDonald.” Cartoon by A. E. G. West.
Courtesy of Jack Boardman.

According to Jack Boardman, who was sitting in the orchestra pit, 

John Wood was dressed in full tartan rig including cap and sang a song . . . “Many’s the time I’ve been out in the heather, behind the bracken with young Charlie Stu” . . . dialogue mid-way through details how Bonny Prince Charlie was shacked up with her on the Scottish moors hiding from the Sassenachs and used to work in the field by day. He was particularly fond of porridge and would return home at night to the shack, saying, “Flora, Flora, I must have it now (ha’e it noo).” Flora would say, “Bonne Prince Charlie, get ye to bed. You’ll have your oats in bed and not before.”[i]     


[i] Boardman, J. “Notes.”

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Further Troop Deployments

By Sears Eldredge

During July, the further removal of POWs from Changi to overseas worksites continued as the Japanese mined the enormous supply of free labor for construction projects in support of their war effort. The 2nd of July saw 1,500 Australians (“B” Force) ship out of Changi for Sandakan in North Borneo to build an airfield.[1] Among them were Captains Claude Pickford and John Rowell, and Lieutenants “Tod” Walker, Bill Peck, and George Forbes. These officers will become responsible for producing an astonishing series of choir concerts, original musicals, and plays under the most adverse conditions in their camps at Sandakan and later, when they, along with other officers and batmen, were separated from their Unit and sent to the Australian Officers’ Camp at Batu Lintang outside Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. They were the lucky ones. Before the war was over, those left behind at Sandakan would undergo a series of death marches that would kill all but six of them.

[For more on these men and the entertainments they produced, read the forthcoming blog on Borneo.]


[1] This was 2/10th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery under the command of Lt. Col. Walsh.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

DR KAMALUDDIN (“KAMAL”) KHAN BSc, MB, BS, PhD, FRCPsych, DPM.

The “FEPOW Psychiatrist”

We sadly report the recent death of Dr Kamal Khan, who as a Consultant Psychiatrist befriended, treated and supported many hundreds of ex-Far East POWs who suffered mental health problems as a result of their experiences in captivity.

Dr Kamaluddin Khan in 2017 at the International FEPOW Conference in Liverpool

Dr Kamaluddin Khan – widely known as “Kamal” – was born in India in 1937, and  qualified in science (BSc at Agra University) and medicine (MB,BS at  Lucknow University). He later moved to the UK and trained in psychiatry, including as a Senior Registrar at Sefton General Hospital in Liverpool. It was here, in the mid-1970s, that Kamal was approached by Dr Dion Bell from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). Dion was the tropical diseases consultant in charge of the School’s inpatient beds at Sefton. These were at the time mostly occupied by ex-Far East POWs (often known as “FEPOWs”) undergoing tropical diseases investigation.  Dion was concerned that many had significant psychiatric disturbances related to their imprisonment, and asked if Kamal could see some of these patients. Kamal agreed, and after assessing a small number, was  so concerned by their mental health status that he offered to see all the ex-POWs referred to the tropical unit.

The men had varying degrees of depression and anxiety, often associated with nightmares and flashbacks of their captivity experiences.  Retrospectively, this represented a form of post traumatic stress disorder  (PTSD), but this diagnostic label had not at the time been clearly defined. 

In 1977 Kamal was appointed to a Consultant Psychiatrist position on the Wirral  (close to Liverpool) and continued to regularly assess and treat ex-Far East POWs, establishing a weekly  “FEPOW Clinic” . He also began a major research investigation into the mental health of a randomised  group of ex-Far East POWs, comparing them  with a similar group of non-imprisoned members of the 2nd World War Burma Campaign. He found that 40% of the POW group had significant psychiatric consequences of their captivity, and the work was successfully written up for a PhD degree. All of this clinical and research activity was carried out in addition to his routine busy NHS caseload.

When he retired in 1995, many of his POW patients were devastated at losing such a caring doctor and good friend. In an oral history interview to the Liverpool Tropical School, one ex-POW said,

he was a wonderful man… I was able to tell him things that I couldn’t tell anyone. I went on a regular appointment, there were lots of FEPOWs there ….. and each time he was wonderful”

Kamal’s contribution to the Far East POW community was immense, and his unique research was of major academic value to our understanding of the Far East POW experience and its outcomes.

Geoff Gill & Meg Parkes

Liverpool  School of Tropical Medicine

The 18th Division Players

By Sears Eldredge

In response to the success of Malayan Command’s Arms and the Man (and perhaps a little sense of rivalry), 18th Div. H.Q. requested that Capt. Charles Wilkinson of the Northumberland Fusiliers, form a Dramatic Society.[1][i] Canvasing the 18th Division Area for an indoor location, the Entertainment Committee found a N.A.A.F.I.[2] building with a stage that, if it could be acquired, could be easily remodeled to fit their purposes.   

The N.A.A.F.I. building in the India Lines, Changi, Singapore.
Photograph by Capt. Charles Wilkinson.

Over in the Selarang Area, “The A.I.F. Malayan Concert Party” had also located a potential indoor venue – the former gymnasium of the Gordon Highlanders – where they could perform additional shows. Here they could hold their audience’s attention for a longer period of time – fifty minutes rather than their half-hour tour shows. So, they put everyone and everything they could muster on stage—songs, instrumentalists, comedy sketches, a magic act, and a ballroom dance number, as well as the ventriloquist, Tom Hussey, with “Joey,” his dummy—for Sing As We Go, their first show in this new indoor locale.

Highlights of their next show, Cheerio, included a telepathy act with Syd Piddington and Russell Braddon that would become one of their great concert party acts,[3] and a piano duet by Herb Almond and Fred Stringer.                 

How these two pianos were “acquired” are intriguing stories. One piano – an upright – had been obtained without the Japanese knowing about it.

One night, some months later, a party of engineers, led by Sergeant Keith Stevens of the 2/12 Field Company, making use of one of the gaps in the fence, made their way stealthily to an unused building in the former British naval base, in which a piano had been discovered. Without anyone’s authority they took possession of the heavy Robinson upright and carried it through the scrub and swamps back to the camp, a distance of about two kilometres. This was a daring and highly dangerous exercise, for if the lads had been discovered outside the wire they probably would have been treated as escapees; and the usual penalty for attempting to escape was death.[4][ii] 

“The Piano.” Cartoon by George Sprod. Courtesy of Michael Sprod.

The other piano – a grand – was actually acquired with the help of the Japanese. Some Australians on a day-long working party cleaning up the debris at Raffles College of Singapore University found it. As Boardman tells the story,

Not a full size grand, but one of the intermediate sizes. And they said to the Japs, “Can we take it back?” And they couldn’t care less, you see. So to get it on the truck they had to take the legs off, and the pedal. And, of course, when you see a baby grand without those things, it’s just a flat box.

So they put it in there. And then some of them sat on it on the way back. And they came back, and they said, “Boardie, try this out!” And in front of the theatre was all cement. And to play it I had to kneel down. Somehow, they got the Cantonese to build some legs on it and put on its pedals — and we had two pianos then.[iii]


[1] Wilkinson was passionate about theatre and his diary recording the planning of shows, their rehearsals and performances, as well as his attendance at other productions, has been a godsend.

[2] Navy, Army, Air Force Institute. An education and recreation center.

[3] Piddington and his wife would continue this mind-reading act to great acclaim after the war.

[4] This is the treasured upright piano that the concert party would bring back with them to Australia after they had been liberated and now resides at the Australian War Memorial.


[i] Wilkinson, Diary, 3 June ‘42.

[ii] Boardman, J. “The Changi Piano – and the Little Organ – The True Story,” Legacy Torchlight, 8.

[iii] Boardman, J. Interview, 25.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

The Temple Players

By Sears Eldredge

Arms and the Man

On May 28, a new entertainment group, “The Temple Players,” appeared in the Command Area to give their first performance in the 11th H.Q. Division at Temple Hill. The Players, composed entirely of officers, chose George Bernard Shaw’s full-length play, Arms and the Man, for their debut. This would be the first time a straight play had been attempted in Changi. It had quirky characters, an absurd plot, and scintillating dialogue barbed with typical Shavian wit. But, given the circumstances, it was also a provocative choice. In the words of one critic, Shaw’s play was a “comedy that mocked war, propaganda, lies, and false heroism.”[i] Arms and the Man would engage audiences in a way that the Variety Shows and Revues did not, and it proved to be hugely popular with the POWs.

Programme cover for Arms and the Man. Desmond Bettany.
Courtesy of the Bettany Family.

Unfortunately, the opening night’s performance in their open-air theatre was rained out, and had to be postponed until the following day. And the performance that Australian S.M.O.[1] Albert Coates saw on the 31st also got rained out in a fierce storm: “Near the end rain stopped the play and we made for camp. We were soaked in a minute, blue with cold, wind blowing branches off trees off right and left, nearest approach to hurricane I’ve seen.”[ii] With the coming rainy season, foreshadowed by drenching tropical squalls (deemed “Sumatras”), there was now a determined effort by the Divisional Concert Parties to acquire indoor performance spaces. Indoor theatres would allow them to do more than keep the rain off themselves and their audiences; they would increase the performers’ abilities to project their voices so they could be heard more easily. And, as electricity was slowly being restored to the different Areas of Changi, lighting effects, combined with scenery, would greatly enhance a show’s effectiveness. Most of all it would give the theatrical producers an opportunity to create the atmosphere of attending a real theatre back home. Unfortunately, these indoor spaces would also limit the size of audiences.


[1] Senior Medical Officer.


[i] Weintraub, “Introduction,” xix.

[ii] Coates, 7.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

The Y.M.C.A. Hut Concerts

By Sears Eldredge

A welcomed addition to the week-day entertainment in Selarang were the Sunday evening musical concerts (including gramophone concerts or operas) performed in the Convalescent Depot area in an open-sided hut [marquee] which their Y.M.C.A. Representatives, George McNeilly and Ivor Hanger, had especially built for these purposes.

“Listening to Music YMCA Hut” Murray Griffin. AWM ART26510

McNeilly later wrote,

At our Y.M.C.A. Hut and Gardens every Sunday evening, the A.I.F. Band and Orchestra gave promenade concerts. The Hut was flood lit, and hundreds of men promenaded in the gardens or lazed under the palm trees, and listened to “Rose Marie Selections” and “Poet and Peasant” Overture.[i]

McNeilly was also encouraged to form a Choral Society. “Music,” he wrote, “was the means of keeping hundreds of men sane. It appealed to them in different ways, but it was a vital part in each man’s life, and added to the morale of the camp.”[ii]


[i] McNeilly, “Summary,” p. 3.

[ii] McNeilly, “Music in the Prisoner of War Camp Changi Singapore,” n. p.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Portraits of members of the A.I.F. Concert Party

By Sears Eldredge

Sometime after “A Force” deployed to Burma, two wash sketches of the leading members of concert party were drawn by Murray Griffin.

“Men of the A.I.F. Concert Party.” Wash Sketch by Murray Griffin.
AWM 38669.

Identifications: Top row left, Capt. Val Mack; top right, Sgt. Fraser;[1] 2nd row left, John Wood; right, Jack Smith; bottom row left Frank Wood; right, Jack Geoghegan.

“Men of the A. I. F. Concert Party.” Wash sketches by Murray Griffin.
AWM 38590. 

Identifications: Top row left, Doug Peart; top right, Slim De Grey; Middle row left, Fred Brightfield; center, John Wood[2]; right, Doug Mathers; Bottom row left, Eric Beattie; center, Harry Smith; right, unidentified.[3]


[1] Sgt. Fraser was not a performer in the concert party. He was most likely Val Mack’s administrative assistant.

[2] Why John Wood was drawn twice is not known.

[3] For some reason, Jack Boardman and other musicians were not included in these sketches.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

“They Won’t Let You Go”

By Sears Eldredge

When the first draft of 3000 Australian (“A Force”) troops were sent from Changi to Burma on 14 May, it should have included pianist Jack Boardman along with Major Jim Jacobs and other non-concert party musicians and entertainers.

And I was quite happy about [it] [recalled Boardman] because I was going away with my mates. And then word came that I was to be taken off the draft because we’d started to give those little scratch concerts around. And “Blackjack” had said, “Anybody who’s entertaining is not to go.”

So I went and saw the officer and said, “Can you get me back on the list,” I said, “because I don’t want to be stuck here with a lot of people I don’t know? I want to be with my mates.” Anyway, he came back and he said, “I did my best for you, but,” he said, “they won’t let you go. That’s the end of it.”[i]

During their years of imprisonment in Changi, Commanding Officer, Lt. Colonel “Blackjack” Galleghan would protect the members of his A.I.F. Malayan Concert Party from these overseas drafts. He insisted they be kept in Changi to keep the morale of his troops there high.

Before leaving for Burma, Major Jacobs transferred leadership of the Aussie concert party to Val Mack, who was given a field promotion to Captain to head the entertainment group.

[To learn more about the activities of the Australians sent to Burma and the extraordinary entertainment they produced against overwhelming odds Up Country, read Chapter 3, “Jungle Shows: Burma,” in my online book.]

As “The A.I.F. Malayan Concert Party” continued their weekly touring shows in the Selarang Area and Roberts Hospital, “Happy” Harry Smith became famous not only for his pre-war tall stilt and “tit and bum” drag acts, but for taunting his fellow POWs in the best tradition of barracks’ humor with the mournful cry, “You’ll never get off the island!” “No matter how black the news nor how depressing the atmosphere,” Russell Braddon recalled, “Harry Smith . . . had only to turn his long face full at the audience and wail the apparent truism, ‘You’ll never get off the island,’ for complete hilarity to be restored.”[ii]


[i] Boardman, J. Interview, 37.

[ii] Braddon, 177.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

80th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore: Online Commemoration Ceremony

The Commemoration Committee for the 80th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore have organised a ceremony at Kranji War Memorial to honour those who sacrificed their lives for the defense of Malaya and Singapore.

In person attendance is by invitation only, but the ceremony is being live streamed online and this is open to all. The ceremony takes place 15th February 2022 at 07:30am Singapore time. It can be accessed via this link: https://fb.me/e/4O8FPD5w7

ANNOUNCEMENT: Deferred RFHG 2020 Liverpool conference

It is with regret that due to the comparatively high infection rates and the resulting uncertainties, we have reached the decision that we are unable to stage the conference, originally planned for 2020, in 2022.

We have explored the potential for running an online conference, but have concluded that whilst technically this may be possible, we would lose many of the benefits of hosting the conference. We know from the feedback that we have had from our delegates over the past 15 years that we have been organising conferences, that the strength in what we do is to bring like-minded people together to meet others with similar (or not) research interests. Delegates are used to open access to the range of experts who agree to share their knowledge at the conferences, all within a convivial social setting. We simply cannot replicate this aspect of the conference virtually for our community.

The good news is that the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have agreed to us deferring the conference until June 2023. This means that it would fall within the school’s 125th anniversary year. This would inevitably help us to reach a wider audience than previously. We will let you know in due course how to register your interest for this event.

We may need to make some alterations to the original proposed conference programme to reflect any changes to speakers and any travel restrictions that we may need to consider. We also hope to be able to accept contributions from remote speakers via online platforms. We would like to hear from anyone who has any ideas for potential topics, either new or revisited, for the programme. We have also previously had some interest in the possibility of us holding a smaller online event during the coming year. If there is sufficient interest, we would like to hear from those of you who would like to join an event like this remotely later in 2021. Please click here to share your thoughts on this. 

We thank you for your continued interest and also your patience during these challenging times.

Best wishes,

Martin Percival,
Chair of the Researching FEPOW History Group

Header image credit: Rodhullandemu via  Wikimedia Commons, the author of this image is in no way affiliated with RFHG.

80th Anniversary Bangka Island Zoom Memorial Service

On 16th February 1942 a group of Australian Army nurses were marched into the sea on Radji beach, Bangka Island and massacred in what is now known as the Bangka Island Massacre.

The Banka Strait also saw the deaths of thousands of British soldiers and civilian men, women and children when their boats were sunk by the Japanese forces.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of these tragic events and as such a memorial service is taking place in Muntok to commemorate those who died. The service is also being streamed on Zoom and the details of how to join the call are below.

If you would like further information regarding the Bangka Island Massacre we would recommend the article Bangka Island: The WW2 massacre and a ‘truth too awful to speak’ by Gary Nunn on the BBC.


Zoom Service Details

The Service will commence at 8am Jakarta Time, 12 Midday Australian Eastern Time. Please check the appropriate time in your own location. Those attending are asked not to join early to allow time for the speakers to set up.

To join the Zoom Meeting:
Link: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/84344109953?pwd=K3VlQVIrazAvZlFsNWUxRk9PckM5Zz09
Meeting ID: 843 4410 9953
Passcode: 101960
Dial in by location: https://us06web.zoom.us/u/kbUEVJGkiR

Thank you to Rosemary of the Malayan Volunteers Group for sharing this information with us.

Please note that this Zoom Service is in no way affiliated with RFHG and as such we are unfortunately unable to provide members of our community wishing to access the call any technical support for this event.

Remembering captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War