Tag Archives: 1943

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

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

“Changi by the Sea”

The Concert Parties in Changi POW Camp, Singapore, Feb.  ‘42—May ‘44

By Sears Eldredge


Dedicated to Oswald “Jack” Boardman[2]

With his peerless musical ability Jackie Boardman brought great happiness to hundreds of prisoners of war for the total time of their long captivity, yet he never sought headline billing. He was quite happy to accompany those of lesser ability, but he deserves to be rated as the brightest star of some legendary luminaries.

–Gus Baker. “Legacy Spotlight”[i]  

Introduction

This new blog series assumes that the reader is familiar with Chapter 1 (“In The Bag”) of my free online book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers,[3] which details how the defeated British, Australian and Volunteer troops in Changi POW Camp, Singapore, quickly reestablished their pre-war concert parties, or created new ones, to alleviate the boredom of POW life and to keep hope alive.

What readers will discover is that concert parties in Changi proliferated so much during the first year and a half of captivity, that it came to resemble Broadway, or London’s West End, with all its entertainment venues. The professional and amateur musicians and theatrical performers active in Changi numbered in the hundreds with more POWs behind the scenes in construction, technical, and design work. Changi was not the worst place to be.

Indeed, the POWs who were sent Up Country to Burma and Thailand to work on the Thailand-Burma railway looked back wistfully on their time in Changi as in a holiday camp. Not counting the first few months as prisoners, or the last year and a half, the POWs’ living conditions during the intervening years were bearable—food was never plentiful (when the meat rations ran out, they were given fish), but they had running water (for at least two hours a day), electricity, gardens provided fresh produce (although a limited variety), and daily rations of rice. Though there are many reports that they were “always hungry,”[ii] their lives were not filled with sickness, brutality, and starvation as it was for POWs elsewhere.

Following the departure of the all-Australian “A Force” to Burma in May, 1942, there is little mention in Chapter 1 of the accomplishments of the “A.I.F. Malayan Concert Party”[4] which remained in Changi, because the focus is on those POW musicians and theatrical entertainers who were sent up to the Thailand side of the railway construction.

This new series of blogs will first recover the unreported story of the Australian entertainers in Changi—going back before May 1942, if necessary, to mention events left out of my book. But once that’s been done, it will tell as complete a story as possible of the extraordinary entertainment that took place in Changi—up to the point when the POWs are removed to Changi Gaol in the spring of 1944. A future blog will detail the story of the last year and a half of POW entertainment in the Gaol.

This will be the most comprehensive history of the POW entertainment in Changi POW Camp and Changi Gaol ever attempted.


[Title: “Changi by the Sea”] From “A prisoner’s lot is not a happy one”—a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one”—sung in a camp show.

[2] Jack Boardman, who was the pianist/musical arranger for the A.I.F. Concert Party, provided me with voluminous invaluable materials on their activities in Changi POW Camp and Gaol.    

[3] http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/captiveaudiences/

[4] This had been the original name of the A.I.F.’s 9th Divisional concert party (see previous blogs on pre-war concert parties).


[i] Baker, Gus. “The Legacy Spotlight,” Sydney, 2003, p. 2.

[ii] Wilkinson. Diary. 5 Feb. ‘44.

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