Tag Archives: Hanky Park


By Sears Eldredge

It is about this time that there is an increase in the mention of hunger in POW diaries and memoirs.[i] Wilkinson compared their rice allotment to what they received Up Country: “We get less rice than we had up country consequently we get less bulk and are always hungry and ready for the next meal. It has become increasingly difficult to buy extras for augmenting our meals.”[1][ii] Obviously, the Japanese supply chain was being severely disrupted by American submarines.

Playbill for March ’44. On 1 March, All At Sea: A Nautical Farce written by Slim De Grey and produced by Keith Stevens, with music by Bill Middleton, and setting by Bert West, opened in the A.I.F. Theatre. The Little Theatre put on Stardust: A Musical Revue 1900-1944 devised and produced by Ken Morrison. March 4th saw the play, Love On The Dole, produced by G. Kenneth Dowbiggin and Martin R. English, open at the Phoenix Theatre in Hanky Park. At the end of the month, the A.I.F. Concert Party performed their Second Anniversary Show.[2]

All At Sea

When the Japanese authorities saw All At Sea, they promptly announced they were going to film it for viewing elsewhere (propaganda purposes), which they did on 6-8 March. As Stewart reports, “A compulsory parade was made to the A.I.F. Theatre, where scenes from the current “All At Sea” were [reenacted] by the cast, photographs taken.[3][iii]

Love On The Dole

Walter Greenwood and Ronald Gow’s gritty three-act drama[4] takes place in Hanky Park,[5] a slum neighborhood of Salford (in Greater Manchester) during the Great Depression and has a strong socialist message—an unusually serious play for POW audiences. Charles Dolman, playing the lead role of the daughter, Sally Hardcastle,[6] who becomes a prostitute in order to help her family survive, was given star billing as his name is above the title on the program cover. Familiar names among the largely unknown cast were Graham Sauvage and Desmond Bettany.

Program cover for Love On The Dole. Desmond Bettany.
Courtesy of the Bettany Family.

Australian O.R. Stan Arneil thought it “a rather sordid play magnificently acted by a group of English players.”[iv] But he was so taken with the show, he saw it a second time five days later. And then decided, “but I had best not see it any more. I dreamt about it all last night and woke up with a boomer cold (almost my first in the tropics).[v]

[1] This must have been while Wilkinson and others were recuperating in Kanburi Hospital Camp Up Country where the Japanese wanted to fatten them up before they were sent back to Singapore.

[2] This is the last entry in Val Mack’s list of their shows in his exercise log books.

[3] As far as is known, no propaganda film of this show has ever been found.

[4] Based on Greenwood’s documentary novel of the same name.

[5] That the play takes place in Hanky Park, England, and the POWs were in Hanky Park, Singapore, may have carried some significance.

[6] Besides its metaphoric significance, the family’s name, “Hardcastle,” must be a reference to the family in Oliver Goldsmith’s famous 18th cent. play, She Stoops to Conquer, in which the daughter, too, saves the family.  

[i] Thomas, Fax. 31 March 01, 9.

[ii] Wilkinson, Diary. 5 Feb. ’44.

[iii] Stewart, Leonard. extracts from A.I.F. ROs, Changi ’44. AWM PR01013.

[iv] Arneil, 10 March, ’44.

[v] Arneil, 15 March, ’44.

Changi Concert Parties: January–May ‘44

By Sears Eldredge

Because of the huge resettlement of the POWs into a smaller perimeter that had taken place during the latter days of 1943, the number of performance venues in Changi were now limited to five: The A.I.F. Theatre, Command’s indoor and outdoor theatres, and the Con Depot’s outdoor theatre, as well as the YMCA music marquee—all in the Selarang Area. There is no mention of another performance in The Kokonut Grove Theatre in the records. But a new outdoor venue—The Phoenix Theatre— appeared in January in Hanky Park, which was, according to Huxtable, “over near the Malaya Command building half a mile away, over by No. 3 gate.”[i] These POWs were most likely from the Volunteer Forces who had been in the Southern Area and Up Country. The entertainers called themselves “The Red Rose Players.” Their orchestra was directed by Geoffrey C. Knight and their Stage Manager was S. J. Cole. The Phoenix became another of the Command Theatres.

Playbill for January/February ’44. Dick Wittington, at the A.I.F. Theatre, and Aladdin at Command’s indoor theatre, would finish their runs towards the end of the January. Meanwhile, the Variety show, Roman Rackets, written by Graham Sauvage and produced by S. J. Cole was on at the new Phoenix Theatre at Hanky Park. On 25 January, Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, produced by Osmond Daltry and directed by Chris Buckingham opened at Command’s indoor theatre.

In early February, Shooting High, a Western Farce written by Les Connell & McArthur and produced by Keith Stevens went up at the A.I.F. Theatre, followed by a Variety Show, Bits & Pieces. Huxtable, had this to say about the A.I.F. shows he saw:

The shows are always bright and amusing, if somewhat lowbrow – clever singing, dancing, female impersonations (John Woods) and conjuring tricks (Sid Piddington).[ii] 

The Phoenix Theatre’s show for February was P. G. Wodehouse’s, Good Morning, Bill, produced by John Burne.

[i] Huxtable, 153.

[ii] Huxtable, 153.

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