“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

Changes/Adjustments

By Sears Eldredge

On 3 April, the first party of POWs was sent from Changi to an undisclosed overseas location – perhaps to Saigon.[i] This was also the date on which the Japanese guards manning the checkpoints between the different Areas of Changi were replaced by former Sikh soldiers of the 3rd Indian Corps who had willingly – or unwillingly – become members of the Indian National Army and allies of the Japanese. Relieved of this responsibility, the Japanese soldiers were detailed to patrol inside the huge POW encampment to spot any infractions of the rules or trouble brewing.

When the pestilential bugler is a-bugling, and the
Whistle is a-piping for P.T;
When the Sergeant-Major’s shouting, and the Sikhs are
up and clouting,
Then you know you’re home in Changi by the sea![1]


[1] From “A Prisoner’s Lot Is Not A Happy One” – a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “A Policemen’s Lot Is Not A Happy One.”


[i] Nelson, 20.

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 Within Your Area

By Sears Eldredge

During April, the Australian concert party continued to tour a different show every week to the outdoor stages in the Selarang Barracks Area as well as two matinees to their sick and wounded in Roberts Hospital.

There were separate wards for battle casualties, dysentery, TB, malaria and so on [wrote Jack Boardman]. 

 I remember Happy Harry in his clown outfit on stilts singing and dancing in the dysentery ward. The blokes were really too sick to enjoy it but seemed to appreciate the efforts to entertain them.

In the earliest of these two concerts, I remember two patients who had battle wounds and were skeletal — one called Johnson weighing 42 pounds or three stones, who survived and came home, and his mate almost as gaunt. The smell of gangrene was strong in that ward.[i]

New songs and sketches were mixed in with previously performed materials to keep both the performers and the performances fresh. Boardman remembered one humorous incident that illustrates the hazards of performing on different stage heights:

It was funny, one time before we got our theatre going, one of our venues was around at the convalescent depot . . . And so Keith was doing this skit where little Jackie had played up, and he [Keith as the School Ma’am Teacher] was going to spank him, you see. So he pulled him onto his knees and hit him hearty. But he’d forgotten to put his underpants on — Keith . . . and when he sat down facing the audience with his legs apart, all was revealed. The audience was laughing and laughing. And Keith said, “Gee, I’m going over well tonight.”[ii]

But coming up with new material for a weekly change of program would soon prove to be a huge challenge for the Australian entertainers.


[i] Boardman, J. Letter, 18 August 02.

[ii] Boardman, J. Interview, Typed 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

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