Tag Archives: Rice and Shine

New Year’s Eve Celebrations

By Sears Eldredge

As they approached the New Year and the first anniversary of their imprisonment, the men in Changi were determined not to lose hope. On New Year’s Eve, Wilkinson and the other officers in the India Lines “heard all the men in the camp singing and creating a terrific din. Then we saw that they were marching round the camp led by drummers. . .. Everyone was in excellent form! We chimed all the bells we could lay our hands on at midnight and cheering and singing could be heard all around into the early hours of the morning.”[i]

Elsewhere in Changi, Batman H. L. David was involved in celebrations that were a bit more raucous:

. . . the Japs gave us a tin of pineapple between 6 and 2 oz of their wine, a cross between brandy and Sherry. It seemed very strong stuff to me and some of the officers have got hold of a lot of it and were blind drunk, the majority sang and danced and kicked up ‘hell’s delight’. Three Aussies dressed as women, came up for a lark, one was manhandled and “her” knickers were taken down just to make sure it was a man. We (the batmen) made apple pie [1]beds for most of them while they were out of the way. Our officer’s bed was filled with rice but he was so drunk he slept on it all night. 

Quarter to one before we put the lights out and went to sleep.[ii]

“AND SO ENDS 1942!” wrote Wilkinson in capital letters in his diary. “I WONDER WHAT EVERYONE AT HOME IS DOING, AND WHETHER THEY HAVE EVER RECEIVED OUR CARDS, AND WHETHER THEY KNOW WHERE WE ARE AND WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO US.”[iii]

[TO BE CONTINUED AT CHANGI BLOG ‘43]


[1] A form of short-sheeting a bed, where one of the sheets is folded over itself so that a person cannot stretch their legs out once they have got into the bed.


[i] Wilkinson. Diary. 31 Dec. ’42.

[ii] David, 45.

[iii] Wilkinson, Diary. Dec. 31, 1942.

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

More Trouble in the Works

By Sears Eldredge

On the 30th, Wilkinson attended an important “Director’s Meeting” at 18 Div. H.Q.  . . .

. . . to go into the whole question of entertainment, and the hospital and our Theatre arrangements. There was quite a lot to go into, as all the people who have come up from Singapore have got either complete shows or parts of them and we now have 5 small Theatres in the area producing unit shows.[1] The idea now is to finish building the 18th Div. Theatre so that Variety Road shows can be performed there, and select the best turns for more polished shows at the Palladium.[i]            

It was also disclosed at the meeting that the Japanese had confirmed that all the meat available in cold storage on the island had run out.[ii] This was not good news. The substitute would be fish.


[1] These are just in the 18th Division Area.


[i] Wilkinson. Diary. 30 Dec. ’42.

[ii] Wilkinson. Diary. 30 Dec. ’42.

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

Christmas Pantomimes

By Sears Eldredge

In the 18th Div. HQ Area, another new open-air theatre, dubbed The Hippodrome, opened with the pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, produced by one of the returned Singapore Working Parties.

Program cover for Jack and the Beanstalk. Desmond Bettany.
Courtesy of the Bettany Family.

In the Selarang Area, the A.I.F. Concert Party opened their Christmas pantomime, Cinderella.

Many pantos, like Jack and the Beanstalk, are about a young hero on a quest; others, like Cinderella, had a young female who needed rescuing from her desperate plight (in the A.I.F.’s case, Cinderella was an ex-Navy Sick Berth Attendant).[i]

During the beginning of Cinderella’s run, someone had the brilliant idea of trying to tour the panto to Changi Gaol to entertain the European children incarcerated there. Permission from the Japanese was sought and granted. But while they were in the process of transporting their costumes, props, etc., to the Gaol, the Japanese changed their minds and permission was denied. The toys made by the POWs, however, were delivered to the children for Christmas as promised.[ii] 


[i] Parkin, 19.

[ii] Boyle, 52.

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

Christmas, 1942

By Sears Eldredge

In his memoir, Death Camps of the River Kwai, Thomas Pounder writes of their first Christmas in Changi:

Our first Christmas as prisoners of war was very near and naturally out thoughts were of our families at home. How were things going with them? None of us had heard anything or had any letters from home for over twelve months. Was the bombing still as bad? How many of us would return after the war only to find a heap of rubble where once stood our homes? Worse still, to find members of our families had fallen victims to the Luftwaffe. As our thoughts went out to them, so we hoped and felt certain that they too would be thinking of us at this time.[i]

To relieve the anxiety and homesickness, POW cooks, as well as entertainers, tried to prepare something extra special for the holiday celebrations. A petition had been made to the Japanese to allow the POWs to make and deliver toys for the European children interned with the adults in Changi Gaol. The Japanese agreed and POWs in both the 18th Div. and in the A.I.F. set right to work.[ii]  

Christmas Carolers.  George Sprod.
Courtesy of Michael Sprod

On Christmas Eve on the padang in the 18th Div. Area, Padre Foster-Haigh’s Choir, even with the singers missing who had been sent Up Country, presented their Christmas concert, including excerpts from Handel’s Messiah.[iii] It’s probable that Ken Scovell’s newly composed “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” for Male Chorus was sung at this time as well (to listen to this piece, click on the button below). [1]

“Gloria in Excelsis Deo” for Male Chorus by K T Scovell

At the Con Depot in Selarang, the main hall, which had previously been used for performances (their Little Theatre), was now occupied with returned working parties as well as hospital patients, so McNeilly and Hanger dismantled the stage, took it outside, and rebuilt it as an open-air theatre.

Together with flood lights. I think it impossible to have a more magnificent setting amongst the trees and gardens of the Y M Rest gardens. We hung red and blue curtains at the back and heaped up bowls of flowers at the side. The lights shining on these gave the desired effect. Hundreds of men sitting on the lawn and seats in the gardens listening to the Xmas Carols and stories of Xmas.[iv]

There was another concert on Christmas night. “At 20.30 hrs. a large open air concert was held on the hockey ground [wrote Wilkinson]. Horner was compère and the dance band did stout work. It was again floodlight and there was a very large audience.”[v] But the celebration was almost ruined by two Javanese troops caught trying to steal the last of their precious chickens. They were given a good beating, sending one to hospital.[vi] On the evening of Boxing Day (26 December), Wilkinson went with friends to a show by POWs from Java in The Kokonut Grove, a new open-air theatre in the 18th Div. Area.[vii]

This was the show in which Medical Orderly Idris Barwick “attempted an effeminate part” as a member of the chorus line, “The Beri Beri Girls”: 

We winked and “cooed” at the officers showing them our very masculine knees with very suggestive eye rolling and jerking our heads. The men behind started cat calling, “How about looking our way,” etc., then just as we were dancing off (I was the last to leave) my brassiere worked loose and slid down to my waist and the stuffing fell out. The lads went crazy shouting all kinds of remarks and suggestions.[viii]


[1] This electronic realization of Scovell’s Gloria is by Chris Latham, artist-in-residence at the AWM. He has been commissioned to write a series of requiems to honor the soldiers who fought in the war. 


[i] Pounder, 54.

[ii] Wilkinson. Diary. 21 Dec. ’42.

[iii] Wilkinson. Diary. 24 Dec., ‘42; Inglefield, 32.

[iv] McNeilly, Misc. documents. n.p.

[v] Wilkinson. Diary. 25 Dec. ’42.

[vi] Wilkinson. Diary. 25 Dec. ’42.

[vii] Wilkinson. Diary. 26 Dec. ’42.

[viii] Barwick, 31.

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

Gentlemen Only

By Sears Eldredge

The “New Windmill Theatre’s” revue, Gentlemen Only (the company now billed as “The 18th Divisional Concert Party”) opened The Palladium Theatre on 21 December.[i]

Program cover for Gentleman Only. Desmond Bettany.
Courtesy of the Bettany Family.

In a wry take on the show’s title, Desmond Bettany’s cover for the program shows one of the checkpoints many POWs would have to pass through to get to the Palladium Theatre in the Roberts Hospital Area. (This program was done for the revival of the show in January, ‘43.)

With the New Windmill Theatre now in the hands of the Japanese, and the 18th Division’s new theatre still under construction, Greenwood and his “Nitwits” Orchestra left the Windmill company and moved over to The Palladium. They weren’t the only ones to do so: the actors Derek Cooper, Hugh Eliot, Rich Goodman, and Jon Mackwood soon followed suit. And so did Chris Buckingham, Milburn Foster, and Aubrey King, who became respectively, The Palladium’s Stage Manager, Lighting Designer, and Costumer. (Besides performing as a female impersonator, Cooper would also design sets.) The American seaman 1st Mus, J. J. Porter (who had arrived with one of the new Java Parties), started work at The Palladium as Musical Arranger for Jack Greenwood, but would eventually take over as Band Leader.


[i] David, 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

Working Parties Return

By Sears Eldredge

In mid-December, the 10,000 POWs remaining at work sites in Singapore were ordered back to Changi, and they continued to pour into the camp right though the Christmas holidays, placing great stress on the housing accommodations and food rations there.[i] Those Working Party concert parties who were in the midst of rehearsals for their Christmas shows, brought back all their costumes, makeup, props, and other paraphernalia with them determined to produce their shows at their new locations in Changi.

Renovations at the old Garrison Cinema had proceeded speedily. By late December it had been rebuilt and refurbished with a new roof, an enlarged stage, split log benches for seats, electric lights, and witty murals painted by Ronald Searle, Derek Cooper, and Stanley Warren on the auditorium walls.[ii]

Since the Garrison Cinema was in the Roberts Hospital Area, which housed the bed-down sick from the British and Australian Divisions in Changi, a multi-national theatrical organization was formed to run the new theatre. The Entertainments Committee consisted of British Padre E. C. Weane as Chairman, Australian Capt. Alan Bush as General Manager, and [British?] Jack Wood as the Foyer and Box-Officer Manager. Renamed “The Palladium” (after another popular London theatre), it would become the most prestigious performance venue in Changi.[iii] The original idea had been to use The Palladium as a venue for touring shows, but it soon developed into a producing venue as well.

Eric Bamber, who had had little prior experience with military concert parties, was amazed at what had been accomplished in the renovation:

Well, by this time we’d assembled a theatre staff. We’d got carpenters, we even had an electrician . . .. He tapped into the main source of power going from the Singapore power station down to the mainland . . .. Because he tapped it with a makeshift electrical connections of telephone wire. I mean the damn things were lethal. If you, if you touched something, you know, [sound effect-phew], they’d flare if they got wet, anything like that. But we had electrical power . . . and the bulbs were stolen, and sockets were stolen, and eventually we lit the theatre up. 

Well, the thing right now [was], we had a theatre, which had seats, and a stage, and a roof, and a staff, but we had no show.[iv]

That situation didn’t last long.


[i] Wilkinson. Diary. 19 December ’42.

[ii] Bamber, IWM Interview, Reel #6.

[iii] Bamber, Interview, Reel #6, transcription pages 10-13.

[iv] Bamber, IWM Interview, Reel #6.

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 Garrison Cinema Discovered

By Sears Eldredge

It was during this time that the old Changi Garrison Cinema was rediscovered by Alan Bush and Eric Bamber just off the path leading from the 18th Div. Area to Roberts Hospital. It sat in a clearing down a flight of steps at the bottom of an incline. Shelling during the battle for Singapore had caved in its roof, and its orchestra pit was filled with water, but the structure that remained was sound and had distinct possibilities. Renovation work started immediately.[i] A sketch by Ronald Searle shows what those renovations should be.[1]

Playbill for December ‘42.

In the early part of December, Horner’s New Windmill Road Show was still touring. On the 14th, he introduced a song he had composed, entitled, “When We Are Free,” an excerpt of which is given here.

When we’re free yes, when we’re free

Oh how happy we shall be.

 When we see the last of Changi tree[2]

Oh what a wonderful day for you and me.[ii]

In the Southern Area, a new group of performers from the Straits Settlement Volunteer Forces [S.S.V.F.] tried to duplicate the activities of “The Mumming Bees” Concert Party, which had been deployed to Thailand. 


[1] Not made available for this blog.

[2] The “Changi tree” was an exceptionally tall tree in the heart of the Garrison that was ordered blown up by the British during the battle for Singapore Island so that it couldn’t be used by the Japanese as a reference point for their artillery.


[i] Bamber, IWM Interview, Reel #6.

[ii] Horner, 61.

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

Toneel

By Sears Eldredge

The N.E.I. POWs from Java had many talented musicians and theatre personnel among them. Most of the officers spoke English but their troops did not, so they needed some sort of entertainment in their own language to keep up morale. “Some Dutch Officers from the A.I.F. Area came to see me to borrow some plays,” wrote Wilkinson, “so that they could translate them into Dutch and produce them in the A.I.F. Theatre.”[i] 


[i] Wilkinson. Diary. 23 Nov. ’42.

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

Miscellaneous News Items:

By Sears Eldredge

Reorganization and Consolidation

As the last drafts of British, Dutch, and Volunteer Force POWs departed for Thailand, those remaining in Changi were informed that due to the huge decrease in the number of POWs in the camp, “all units would be closed up in smaller areas.”[i] Thus began a reorganization and consolidation of Changi into a smaller, more manageable perimeter.        

Then, on 9 November, due to another alarming spike in diphtheria cases, The New Windmill Theatre was ordered closed again. Horner decided that if the men couldn’t come to them, their theatre would go to them, and he proceeded to produce The New Windmill Road Show which played to the British and Dutch troops in the 18th Div. Area on alternate nights.[ii] 

When the threat of the diphtheria epidemic had passed, the New Windmill Theatre was not returned to “The New Windmill Players” as had been expected. Instead, the Japanese commandeered the NAAFI building for their new HQ in Changi, throwing out and burning all the sets, costumes, and props.[iii] As no other indoor space was available, the Windmill producers decided to build a new open-air theatre.

Death of Major-General Beckwith-Smith

On 20 November, the men in the 18th Division received word that their beloved G.O.C., Major-General Beckwith-Smith, had died of diphtheria on Taiwan. “We wonder whether to cancel this evening’s show,” Horner wrote, “but as it will disappoint so many and ‘Becky’ would be the last man to want any cancellation, we’ve decided to carry on.”[iv]


[i] Wilkinson. Diary. 26 December’42.

[ii] Horner, 64.

[iii] Bamber, IWM Interview, Reel #6.

[iv] Horner, 64-65.

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

First Massive Troop Departures

By Sears Eldredge

In the last week of October, all of the British POWs from Fortress Signals in the Southern Area, as well as many from the 18th Division, started to be sent to Thailand to work on the railway. Huxtable . . .

. . . was glad to hear from [Denis] East that the theatrical and concert group to which he belongs are not to be moved with the rest of the 18th Division. By some means or other, exemption for them had been obtained from the Japanese, so the Windmill Theatre will be able to carry on although it expects to be moved inside our wire.[i]

But this wasn’t exactly true. Foster-Haig lost half of his choir and Fergus Anckorn and other entertainers from “The Optimists” were included on these drafts. Who wasn’t included was East’s own group, “The Changi Celebrity Artists.” By the first week in November, all the 18th Division drafts and all of the Singapore Fortress troops, including their concert party, “The Mumming Bees,” had been sent Up Country (see Chapter 1 of my online book for more details).

Playbill for November ‘42.

On November 3rd, the “A.I.F. Concert Party” mounted their first original revue with a book: a piece called, Hotel Swindellem. The plot follows two characters through various misadventures at the Hotel (which lived up to its name).

Although the Australians had been spared from sending any troops in these recent drafts, their concert party’s’ Variety Show two weeks later contained another Slim De Grey original song, “They’ve Taken My Old Pal Away,” which verbalized what many of the POWs in Changi felt about being separated from mates they had served with for a long time (only the first and final verses are given here):

They’ve taken my old pal away,

Somewhere over the sea.

Now [sic. Then?] we were so happy and gay,

But now life seems empty to me.

Now everything seems to have changed.

Like sunshine that turns into rain.

We were together in trouble,

In fun a good double,

But they’ve taken my old pal away.[ii]


[i] Huxtable, 89-90.

[ii] De Grey, “Changi Souvenir Song Album,” n.p.

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