Tag Archives: Dunkirk

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.

Singapore and its Environs — Work Site Concert Parties

By Sears Eldredge

Among the Australian work site concert parties not reported on in Captive Audiences/Captive Performers were the work camps at Adam Park and The Great World Amusement Park.

Adam Park –

“The Tivoli Theatre was an open-air affair,” wrote Adam Boyle, “and accommodation quite good really. The stage was situated in front of two adjoining cement garages at the bottom of a relative steep slope, thus affording a perfect view of proceedings beside providing excellent sound effect.”[i]

The Tivoli Theatre at Adam Park. W. T. Pole.
Courtesy of Mrs. Rae Nixon.

Boyle was one of the volunteers willing to provide entertainment at Adam Park even though they did not get release time to prepare their shows:  

Amateur actors and musicians were called for, and within a week we had quite a versatile group of between 30 and 40 artists.

I enlisted my aid as a banjo-mandolinist, and joined the band each evening for practice. The show was capably managed by [Lt.] George Bransen of the 2/4th MB Batt. The orchestra consisting of about fifteen instruments was conducted by Bert Ford of the 8th Div. Sig, who had been a member of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra before enlisting.

Some of the instruments were wholly manufactured in our camp, mainly from 3-ply and some of the lighter timber from the house furniture. For instance, chair arm-rests made ideal ‘necks’ for guitars and banjos. Strings became a problem for a while, until we found that steel signal wire served the purpose admirably. Later on, we made a machine by which we could bind thin coil wire into D8 signal wire for the heavier D and G Strings of the mandolins and so on.

 A new show would be produced each two weeks and would run for two or three nights. They became so popular that some of the chaps would take their evening meal with them in order to obtain a good seat[ii]

Program cover for “Khaki on Parade” Adam Park, Aug. 1942. Desmond Bettany.
Courtesy of the Bettany Family.[1]

Desmond Bettany was a British O.R. in the Royal Artillery. He survived the evacuation at Dunkirk and was posted to the 18th Div. Territorial Army. While a POW in Changi POW Camp and Changi Gaol, Bettany was able to use his skills as an artist by producing numerous concert party program covers, caricatures, and sketches of POW life, which are an invaluable resource.

The Great World

The Great World had been one of several popular amusement parks in Singapore prior to the war. It was here that a work force of Australians from the 2/30th Battalion were quartered. Their earliest concert – just a two-person show – took place soon after their arrival.[iii] 

And with the resources of abandoned open-air cinemas and small theatres that had operated as part of the amusement park prior to the war readily available, “The Great World Concert Party” soon developed more elaborate variety shows for presentation every Saturday night. And Gunner David was there to appreciate the additional theatrical elements: “it is wonderful where all the clothes and props have come from, even evening dress suits, a woman’s wig and clothing.”[iv] The Great World company had no problem finding soldiers willing to be female impersonators, and at the close of one show, “a banana for each of the ‘ladies’ was handed up from the audience and one ‘lady’ came forward to thank the audience for their applause.”[2][v]

Removal of POW workers from Changi to Singapore and its environs continued throughout March and into May greatly reducing the number of able-bodied men available to perform the necessary daily tasks in Changi.

[1] After liberation, he returned to England, got married, and he and his wife eventually emigrated to Australia. The Bettany Family have been extraordinarily generous in granting permission to use Desmond Bettany’s artwork in this series of blogs. Please see http://changipowart.com for more images and information.

[2] One can easily imagine the comic possibilities in those bananas and those “thanks”!

[i] Boyle, 33-34.

[ii] Boyle, 33-34.

[iii] David, 20.

[iv] David, 36.

[v] David, 37.

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