1st Short Wave Radio Broadcast & The Return of “H” Force

By Sears Eldredge

1st Short Wave Radio Broadcast

The A.I.F. made their first recording for short wave broadcast to Australia on 18 October. But it was not one of their shows that was broadcast: it was an original script, which included as many names of POWs as possible and coded references to their health and situation. Huxtable was part of a group of officers and men who “played” the audience, applauding as directed.[i]

Playbill for November/December ’43. November 2nd saw the opening of “Keep Singing” An Oriental Adventure by Ray Tullipan and Slim De Grey at the A.I.F. Theatre. It ended with a “Jungle Dance” supposedly performed by the African-American tap dancer, “Bojangles of Harlem.”[1] On 11 November, Lord Babs, an adaptation of a book by P. G. Wodehouse, opened at The Command Little Theatre, produced by Jack Fitzgerald. Credits list S. J. Cole as the General Manager for “Command Theatres, Inc.”.[2] On 16 November, the A.I.F. Theatre staged a new Variety Show in which the opening number was entitled “Outward Bound”—surely a takeoff on the popular play at The Little Theatre with lyrics more hopeful about their own destination.

December 1st saw the opening of Emlyn Williams’ play, A Murder Has Been Arranged presented by “The Command Players” at the A.I.F. Theatre. Besides the excellent acting, it was notable for the fact that there were five female impersonators in the cast. On the 12th, the A.I.F. Concert Party mounted We Must Have Music, a Variety Show with a surprise appearance of “Santa Klaus” and “Jingle Bells” during the Finale.

The Return of “H” Force

In early December, the POWs in Changi were shocked when the survivors of “H” Force unexpectedly returned from Up Country. Capt. Wilkinson was relocated to the Old Garden & Woods Area; others to a new camp at Hanky Park. But many of the Brits (like Ronald Searle, who almost died Up Country) and Australians (like George Sprod) were sent to Sime Road Camp on the outskirts of Singapore, where R. M. Horner had been dispatched to start weekly entertainments to take their minds off the recent past. On 14 December, he wrote in his diary:

The remainder of ‘H’ Force have now come down from Thailand – the total death rate of our force of 3,320 is now 823. ‘F’ Force are also on their way down either to Bangkok or possibly another camp in Singapore. Their casualties are over 3.000 already and they are dying at a rate of 8-12 a day. They lost a lot from cholera and pure starvation. As 18 Div. had a large number on this force I fear I’ll have lost many friends.[ii]

Now the POWs in Changi would hear firsthand about the killer work details, the cruelty, starvation, disease, and death suffered by their mates Up Country. [See future blog on Sime Road Camp].


[1] This was a highly unusual Finale, which raises all sorts of questions. Was this performed by an Aussie in blackface, or by one of the Dutch/Indonesian troops? Did it try to convey some sort of coded message about the war to the audience about their own “oriental adventure”?

[2] Note the use of the plural here. 


[i] Huxtable, 139.

[ii] Horner, 116.

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

Registration open for the 2023 Researching FEPOW History Conference


Registration for the 2023 Researching FEPOW History Conference is now open!

We advise early booking as places are limited, please see the notes below (or those attached to the registration form) for further details.

We hope to see many of you in Liverpool 10-11 June 2023!

All the best,
RFHG

IMPORTANT NOTES


Planning to put on this next conference has had its challenges!

As seasoned delegates will know, RFHG run the conferences on a shoestring; we are all volunteers and rely on delegate fees to underpin all but the venue costs. We are indebted to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine for its continuing support.

While we are all now learning to live with COVID-19, and with a further vaccine rollout this autumn, we still cannot be certain that something may arise to restrict plans once again. Therefore, in the event of another COVID-19 threat next year we must comply with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s safeguarding guidelines within School during periods of rising or high infection rates (such as mask wearing and social distancing).

FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED

This means that initially we have limited guaranteed places to the first 55 people for whom we receive completed delegate forms, together with deposits. When guest speakers and the RFHG team are added, we reach the school’s maximum number of persons allowed in the lecture theatre under the 2-metre social distancing rules.

However, we sincerely hope that by Spring next year we will be able to invite another 30 or more from the waiting list to join the conference. We appreciate your understanding. We will inform all those who register if they have a confirmed place or are on the waiting list.

NB previous delegates had priority booking (from 1 September) so don’t delay booking to avoid disappointment! If we do not reach our break-even by 1 November, regrettably we will have to cancel the conference.

Queries? Get in touch via email: researchingfepowhistory@gmail.com, or to mike.parkes@talktalk.net, or by telephone – 0151 632 2017. We aim to respond to queries within five working days.

Out of Bounds

By Sears Eldredge

On 14 July, the POWs got word from Japanese H.Q. that the British and Australian units within Roberts Hospital would start moving to Selarang Barracks Square in a week. (This will eventually place The Palladium and Command Theatres out of bounds—but not their players and production staff. When they did move, they would take all their costumes, props, lighting, curtains, etc., with them to their new locations.) They would move to the Old Convalescent Depot in Selarang which had become Command and Southern Area Headquarters.

Concurrently, “30 medical officers and 200 Royal Army Medical Corps other ranks” (known as “K” Force) were sent to Thailand, which caused POW Command H.Q. in Changi to fear that some sort of epidemic had broken out Up Country.[i] How right they were. The troops Up Country were dealing with cholera.

Playbill for August/September/October ’43. In early August, the A.I.F. Concert Party shared their theatre with a N.E.I. concert party. What they staged was a musical comedy in Dutch seen by Huxtable:

. . . about two young bloods touring the world.[1] They were smart, well-groomed and clever, and the female impersonators were good. One of the latter, in fact, was quite ravishing in a long, blue evening gown, blonde, beautiful and languorous . . .. I was sitting with Smith-Ryan, and next to him sat a Dutch officer who helped a little with translation.[ii]

Over at the Kokonut Grove Theatre, which was about to go out of bounds, the N.E.I. POWs stationed there produced, Faust: An Operetta in Three Acts. The last show at the Palladium, which was also going out of bounds, was Alan Bush and J. J. Porter’s The Little Admiral. Meanwhile both the musical, Everybody Swing, produced by John Wood, and the revue, In The News, were performed at the A.I.F. Theatre.

Programme cover for Everybody Swing. Des Bettany.
Courtesy of The Bettany Family.

In September, the Aussie’s produced Let’s Have a Murder, a musical mystery play written by Slim De Grey. They were also given word that the Japanese planned to record their shows for short wave radio broadcast to Australia— “as an indication to the world of how happy we all are here at Selarang Barracks,” thought Huxtable.[iii]

October saw the opening of The Time of Your Life, produced by British POW, Ken Morrison, at the A.I.F. Theatre,[2][iv] followed on the 19th by The Fleet’s In, produced by Bennie McCaffrey, which featured a “Toe Dance” by Charles Wiggins to a trumpet duo playing music from the West End musical, Mayfair. At The Little Theatre, Osmond Daltry produced Sutton Vane’s thought-provoking mystery play, Outward Bound.

Program cover for Outward Bound. Desmond Bettany. [3]
Courtesy of the Bettany Family.

Outward Bound is a serious play about the passengers on a boat headed to an unknown destination. What an audience discovers is that the passengers have all died from various causes, and their unknown destination will be either to Heaven or Hell. Only the young couple, appearing on the boat as they prepare to commit suicide are saved from death by the barking of their dog. It was directed by C. J. Buckingham (prior to this he had only functioned as Stage Manager). Former actors from The Palladium Theatre were in the cast. Huxtable, who saw the play on 10 November, thought it “a difficult play to produce successfully before troops, but in spite of that it was most successful. [F. W.] Bradshaw and [Osmond] Daltry are both professional actors. Daltry lost an eye and a leg (thigh amputation) [in the Battle for Singapore] and has to get around on crutches. Bradshaw, young and handsome, has been in Hollywood, I believe.”[v]

On 17 October, David Nelson records that Command was opening a “new theatre.”[vi] According to Huxtable,

[this would be the] former building where Smokey Joe’s restaurant used to be. The walls of the big entertainment hall still carry the cartoons in black and white, painted by Private Rogan of the Convalescent Depot, depicting Walt Disney figures and similar characters. This hall, being in the original NAAFI building, had a proper stage and they have enhanced the effect by rooting up the floor in front of the stage and constructing a pit for the orchestra.[vii]

It, too, would be known as “the little theatre.”[4] Now the Command Players had both an indoor and an outdoor theatre.


[1] Interesting enough, this was the same plot of a show, Zijn Groote Reis (His Big Journey), produced by Dutch POWs in Chungkai POW Camp, Thailand, on 15-16 September 1944.

[2] In mid-August, Morrison, a compere and leading player in shows at the Palladium, received a letter from his mother that told him his wife had been killed in an air raid the previous December. [Capt. A. Smith-Ryan diary, PR00592]

[3] Bettany got the playwright wrong on his program cover.

[4] “Little” refers to the limited number of audience members that could be accommodated in the auditorium. Outdoor theatres could accommodate a lot more.


[i] Nelson, 100.

[ii] Huxtable, 132.

[iii] Huxtable, 137-138.

[iv] Mack, Show Log.

[v] Huxtable, 141.

[vi] Nelson, 116.

[vii] Huxtable, 144-146.

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

Des Bettany – POW Artist

By Keith Bettany

Gunners – Unknown Mates (Des on far right).
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

My dad, Des Bettany, after seeing action in Europe in WW2 was evacuated from Dunkirk and posted to North Malaya. He was eventually imprisoned by the Japanese at various prisons camps on Singapore Island with some 100,000 other prisoners of war (POW’s) . You may well ask, how did he make it through all of this? Well, he painted to keep his sanity. 

Clumsy Gunner On A 25 Pounder.
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

From out of the misery, starvation, exploitation and brutality that resulted in so much loss of life and injury (physical and mental) a series of artworks that helped Des and his mates survive the ordeal has now come to light in a family collection. This artwork of his service life before and after the Capitulation of Singapore is a range of fascinating illustrations, done often with humour by Des himself.

Sketchbook Confiscated – Des Bettany’s confrontation with Major General Saito
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

However, while painting to keep his head, he nearly lost it, as he was also painting political cartoons of the Japanese and hiding these. They were found and after some quick talking and who knows what else occurred, Des was warned by Major Col Saito, if he ever painted like this again, he would get a short haircut (be beheaded). We are sure he was punished but he, like so many other ex POW’s chose not to share the horrors they went through with others. I guess in telling of the horrors, they just relive them again. 

‘Jap Guard’, Changi Gaol (March 1945).
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

This new website has been put together by us, Des’ family, as a tribute and to help raise awareness of what the POWs went through, as seen through the eyes of one man, Des Bettany. It also give a rare insight on how others kept ‘sane’ by looking forward to such things as: The Changi University; The Library; The Theatre and Musical Programs; Changi Industries; working to help mates by making rubber souls for boots or limbs for amputees; getting up to mischief: sabotaging their own work; or partaking in their Faith. 

Filling Moulds.
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

After 70 years in a cupboard, at last, this artwork is available to all who have access to the internet. Now that has been ‘liberated’ all the artwork can be viewed at www.changipowart.com

‘Say, Where’s The B…. Cookhouse?’ Towner Road POW Camp
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

A brief 4 minute video summarizing dad’s work can be viewed, go to www.changipowart.com/videos click on the ‘Channel 7 Today Tonight Program’.

Malayan Tragedy.
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

Please share this site so the message gets out to many of what these men went through and some of the strategies they employed to keep sane and to survive. We also honour & remember those who didn’t make the journey back home.

‘H’ Force Leaving Selerang Barracks Square (May 1943)
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

Des Bettany’s artwork, including some of his theatre programme covers are heavily featured as part of our Rice and Shine series.

Further Consolidation

By Sears Eldredge

At the beginning of May, the huge Southern and 18th Division Areas of Changi were shut down and the troops remaining in them moved elsewhere into a smaller, tighter perimeter.[i] These closings would include the loss of the theatres in those Areas (six in the 18th Division alone), unless they could be dismantled and re-erected elsewhere. With troops being crowded into other’s Areas, Unit distinction became more difficult to maintain. But more intermingling by the troops meant more possibilities for creative interaction. Not only had guest performers from one concert party already appeared in other Division’s shows, but new producers and new entertainment troupes with combined personnel were formed, such as seen above with “The United Artistes Players” at the Palladium. Interestingly enough, no instances of artistic jealousy or concert party rivalry has been found in the literature, but you can’t put that many musicians and theatre performers together without some sort of rivalry going on.   

Smokey Joe’s

The ultimate meeting place was Smokey Joe’s in the Selarang Area. Originally a Java Party snack bar operated by the Dutch in an attap-roofed hut.[ii] But with its huge success, it was taken over by Command H.Q. as a money-making venture for all the Divisions and moved to a more accommodating location.  

An old N.A.A.F.I. canteen was taken over, and painters, decorators and electricians performed wonders, under the circumstances. The decorative work, by A.I.F. artists, was fine, the walls being covered with the topical adventures of well-known comic strip personalities.[iii] 

The N.A.A.F.I. had a stage at one end and a bar at the other. Its official opening as an eating place/cabaret with twice weekly floorshows was on 31 May 1943. In Changi, it was the place to be!

But of all ranks, British, Aussies, Yanks, and Dutchmen (brown and white), representing all services, is not easy to describe. The evening hours were filled in contentedly, with a snack to enjoy, noise of the re-echoing band, the concentration on the cabaret turns which came on at various times.[iv] 

One night, John Wood appeared there in a floorshow “as an entrancing blonde in filmy silver and blue.”[v]

Playbill for June/July ’43. June saw The Five Moods of the Theatre ending its run at the Palladium; Midsummer Follies: Being A Riot Of Fun And Merriment, written and directed by Alan Bush,opening at the Command Theatre (with the Palladium Theatre Orchestra directed by J. J. Porter); and a Variety Show at the A.I.F. Theatre. July 6-9 saw a new producer, Jack Fitzgerald, present Love Laughs: A New–Gay–Romantic–Musical Comedy, at the Palladium, with six female impersonators in the cast, including Garland and Stevens from the A.I.F. Concert Party; and the musical comedy, The New World Inn, re-written by George Donnelly at the Command Theatre.


[i] David, 48.

[ii] Nelson, 85.

[iii] Penfold, Bayliss and Crispin. Galleghan’s Greyhounds, 323-324.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

The Shows Go On

By Sears Eldredge

In the midst all the commotion caused by these massive troop movements, the concert parties remaining in Changi continued to perform and audiences continued to attend them. One way to relieve anxiety about any upcoming deployments, it appears, was to attend a show. Seeing friends off and then going to a show would also help you forget your sadness. The only difficulty for directors was when sudden cast changes had to be made because one or more members were being sent away.

Playbill for March/April/May ’43. Among the productions playing during this time were the original musical Dancing Tears, written by Alan Bush, at the Palladium; G. B. Shaw’s play, Androcles and the Lion, at the Command Theatre; Two Masks—two one-acts (one of which was The Monkey’s Paw) at the Kokonut Grove Theatre[1]; and the variety show, Ship A’hoy, at the Hippodrome. S. J. Cole toured the principal theatres in Changi with Audition, hoping to find new players for his shows. In Selarang, the A.I.F. concert party memorialized their captivity with their 1st Anniversary Show and Val Mack proudly noted their accomplishments during the past year:

Early in April saw the completion of twelve months’ solid work by the A.I.F. concert party. It had staged, in the year, 134 sketches, 152 songs, 61 musical items, 74 specialty numbers and three complete plays — including a Christmas pantomime — before appreciative audiences totaling over 300,000.[i]

April performances saw S. J. Cole’s The Show Goes On at the Command Theatre, which had “Judy” Garland (borrowed from the A.I.F.) in the cast as well as a most unusual turn: “Belisha’s Soldiers . . . Original Changi Marionettes.”

Program cover for The Show Goes On. Desmond Bettany.
Courtesy of the Bettany Family.

Five Moods of the Theatre, performed by “The United Artistes Players,” directed by Jack Greenwood[2] opened at the Palladium, which was followed by a revival of I Killed the Count.

In May, “the wild and merry” Max Revels: A New Crazy Show went up at the Palladium, and the new Japanese Camp Commandant, Captain Takahachi, sat in the front row enjoying himself immensely.[ii] (Attendance by a Japanese officer at a show had never happened before in Changi.) The A.I.F. Concert Party toured with Nudovia, an original musical comedy,[3] and mounted the revue, Slab Happy, in their home theatre. And the Little Theatre mounted a stage adaptation of the radio play, He Came Back, by Fred Cheeseborough with settings by Ronald Searle that would run through July.

Program cover for He Came Back. Desmond Bettany.
Courtesy of the Bettany Family.

[1] This may have been a show by American POWs from Java as this show had been performed there earlier in Bicycle Camp in ’42 (see future blog on POW entertainment in camps on Java).

[2] Compered by Ken Morrison, Leofric Thorpe’s nemesis. Where had he been hiding?

[3] Which had characters named Silas Roosevelt, Jerry Bilt, Van De Bilt, and Winnie.


[i] Mack, Show Log.

[ii] Nelson, 95.

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 “Speedo”

By Sears Eldredge

Meanwhile, over a thousand miles away in Thailand and Burma, the POWs building the railway were entering the “Speedo Period”—the desperate push by the Japanese engineers to get the railway completed to the new earlier deadline set by Tokyo. During this period, the POWs would work extended hours and seven days a week without adequate food or medical supplies. Corporal punishment was harsh and frequent. As a consequence, sickness and death increased at an alarming rate, so urgent calls went out to Singapore for more POW workers.

On 20 March, massive evacuations from Changi began. “D” Force, which contained 2,750 British and 2,250 Australians—”fit men for heavy manual labour in a malarial climate”—was the first to leave for Up Country destinations. “There were emotional scenes,” recalled Murray Griffin, “as the parties moved out with the concert party band playing ‘Now is the Hour’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’.”[i]

A week later, “E” Force, consisting of troops from the Southern Area and the A.I.F., was sent to Kuching, Borneo. 500 Australians were then sent on to Sandakan on the other side of the island (see future blog on Borneo).  

Between 18-26 April, “F” Force made up of British and Australian troops, which included Padre Foster-Haig and members of his musical group (inc. the pianist/symphony orchestra conductor, Renison and the singers, Aubrey King and George Wall, etc.), were sent to northern Thailand (see Chapter 2, “Jungle Shows Thailand” in my online book for a more detailed account of the fate of this group).[ii]

On 25 April 1943, “G” Force (various groups) was sent to Japan where there was also a huge labor shortage.[iii]

Then, with still urgent calls for more workers for the railway, “H” Force, made up of British and Australian POWs “with as many officers as possible with bridge-building and road-making experience” was sent to Thailand between 5-17 May.[iv] Among these troops would be the artist Ronald Searle, the female impersonator Michael Curtis, the actor/director Capt. Wilkinson,[1] and cartoonist George Sprod—and, in a break with precedence, two performers from the A.I.F. Concert Party: the singer, Doug Mathers and the ventriloquist, Tom Hussey.

On 15 May, “J” Force went off. Speculation was that they were headed for Japan.[v]

When these deployments were complete, the number of POWs left in Changi had changed dramatically:

Changi Camp, in February 1942, had held approximately 52,000 prisoners of war. By the end of May 1943, however, most of them had departed and were working for the Japanese in Burma, Thailand, Borneo, and Japan, those remaining in Changi numbered only 5550 officers and men.[vi]

And many of those POWs were either in hospital or in convalescent wards so unable to fulfill camp duties.[vii]


[1] That Wilkinson is on “H” Force seems indisputable. In my online book, I mistakenly placed him on “F” Force.


[i] Griffin, 28.

[ii] Nelson, 87.

[iii] Nelson, 25.

[iv] Nelson, 5-17 May.

[v] Nelson, 94.

[vi] Penfold, Bayliss and Crispin. Galleghan’s Greyhounds, 320.

[vii] Ibid.

Been to an RFHG Conference before?

If you have previously attended an RFHG conference, and are interested in joining us in 2023, you can now request access to early registration for a place next year.

Simply fill out the form below, we’ll double check that you are eligible for early access, and then we’ll send you the registration form as soon as we can!

Please note early registration is only open for those subscribed to our mailing list, or who have previously attended a conference. Full registration will open on 1st October 2022.

Registration is now open for everyone. Please visit https://fepowhistory.com/conferences/2023-conference/ to find out more on how to register.

Symphony Orchestra & Choir on Tour

By Sears Eldredge

Elsewhere in Changi, Reginald Renison’s 18th Division Symphony Orchestra was performing at different venues as it toured the Changi Areas in the first two weeks of March.

When it opened at the Palladium, the concert was dedicated to Padre Foster-Haigh, who was its producer.

Our Symphony concert which ran at the Palladium Theatre was a glorious success [Foster-Haigh wrote]. We had an orchestra of twenty-two players conducted by Reginald Renison, who is a very fine solo pianist; a former pupil of Myra Hess, & an able lecturer. His playing of the Schumann Pianoforte Concerto with orchestra was a delight & really a high spot in the concert. In addition to the orchestra, we had a Male Voice Choir of forty voices conducted by myself & another able musician named Kenneth Scovell, a music master in one of our English Schools & quite a good composer of anthems; while as Leader of the Orchestra we had Denis East, a very fine violinist & a member of the London Philharmonic Society. In Cyril Wycherley, a cinema organist from Ipswich I had a firsthand accompanist. During the series of concerts, I sang on five occasions. It was as much as I could do in addition to my other work. The remaining nights the soloist was Aubrey King, a most likeable fellow & a promising soloist.[i]

Mr. Terrai

After the Symphony performed in the A.I.F. Theatre, Foster-Haigh was approached by a Japanese interpreter called Mr. Terrai who had attended the concert. “He was so thrilled with the performance, that he came personally to thank me, & have a chat about music in general. . .. Mr. Terrai is a most charming conversationalist & knows a good deal about the great masters. He told me that he had a gramophone library of five hundred records, & enjoys opera & modern songs.” Foster-Haigh learned that Terrai was a Christian and before the war he taught English Literature at one of Japan’s universities. “What a strange world it is & how mixed is man!”, he writes after the meeting. “Virtually Terrai & myself are enemies because our countries are at war & yet we found a common meeting place. Music and literature made us friends.”[ii]


[i] Foster-Haigh, 7.

[ii] Foster-Haigh, 8.

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

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