Tag Archives: Kokonut Grove

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

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

Changi Concert Parties: Jan.—Dec. ‘43

By Sears Eldredge

Playbill for January/February ’43. At the beginning of the month, the panto, Jack and the Beanstalk, transferred to The Palladium Theatre for a short run, temporarily displacing Gentlemen Only which would be revived after the panto had completed its performances; Cinderella held forth at the A.I.F. Theatre; Horner’s New Windmill Road Show continued to tour; and in the Southern Area, the F.M.S.V.F.[1] mounted their own concert party, “The Vol-de-Rols,”[2] which put on a variety show in their Glade Theatre. 

Wilkinson, who was in rehearsal with R. C. Sherriff’s Badger’s Green, saw Gentlemen Only at this time and was amazed to find they “had 14 Instrumentalists in the orchestra. Two of them are outstanding and are professional American band players. One plays a trombone [J. J. Porter] and the other a saxophone [Musician First Class “Hap” Kelly]. They also have a double bass which has been made in the camp.”[i]

Renewed Troop Deployments

After the Christmas/New Year’s holidays were over, major troop movements into and out of Changi continued. Between 20 January and 5 February, all of the recently arrived “Java Rabble,” as well as many of the N.E.I.[3] forces already in Changi, were crammed into boxcars and sent Up Country to Thailand. Australian Medical Officer Weary Dunlop was placed in charge of a group of Australians and N.E.I. troops who would be known as “Dunlop Force.”

“A Riot of a Night”

On Saturday night, 30 January, a dance was held in the gymnasium of the Selarang Barracks. According to a writeup of the event found among Leonard Stewart’s papers, this was the second such dance.[4] It had been advertised as “A Riot of a Night” with “First Class Music” and “Plenty of Women.” “A bevy of talented girls were procured,” it reports, “their beauty being truly outstanding. They had the men folk gasping with desire. . ..” And it goes on to name twelve “women,” such as: “Misses. Pansy Anderson, Nudey Nolan, Ophelia Ralph,” etc.—obviously men in drag. The dance attracted a “large crowd from near and far.”

If this writeup is to be believed, it was “a riot of a night,” with an officer throwing a bottle of booze through a side window, etc. Another getting lacerated lips from trying to prevent all the contents of that bottle from draining away. And two soldiers “who had great difficulty in keeping their feet, attempted to disorganise the orchestra and were ejected after a violent struggle.” And before it was over, “[s]everal members of the A.I.F. Concert party put in an appearance . . .  and Doug Mathis, Fred Stringer and Harry Smith, favoured with items.”

The article contains lots of innuendo about what transpired between the “girls” and the men, i.e., “[Lieut. Tom Jones] affair with Flighty White however, completely left him in the air.” It closes with the claim: “After a night of unique diversions, the guests departed to the waiting taxi cabs and rickshaws. The end of another happy night.”[ii]

Given the non-existence of “taxi cabs and rickshaws” and other like details in Changi at the time, this writeup could be taken as wholly fanciful—just a fun read on a bulletin board—except for an entry in H. L. David’s diary for 22 February 1943, referring to a third dance a month later: “Went to a dance last night, jolly good show and plenty of fun about 20 chaps dressed as girls. I had to dance lady most of the evening.”[iii]

So, it seems these dances actually happened, but the author of the writeup embellished the events of the evening to give everybody a good laugh.

Badger’s Green

With their theatre still not ready, “The New Windmill Players” produced R. C. Sherriff’s comedy, Badger’s Green at The Palladium on 4 February. It would finish its run on the 18th when “over 7000 had seen the show.”[iv]

Secret photograph of Badger’s Green onstage at the Palladium.
H. D. T. Gawn. Courtesy of Judith Gawn.

 

At the end of the month, the Variety show, Zip, went up at the Kokonut Grove Theatre.


[1] Federated Malay States Volunteer Force.

[2] Believe this was also the name of a World War I concert party.

[3] Netherlands East Indies.

[4] No record of a previous dance has been found.


[i] Wilkinson, Diary. 14 Jan. ’43.

[ii] Stewart, Leonard. Paper 5 of 14] Item(s) 19 and 28 and folder 12. AWM PR01013.

[iii] David, 46.

[iv] Wilkinson, Diary. 18 Feb. 1943.

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