My father’s third notebook in Singapore was fashioned out of ‘The “Justso” Investment Register’ made by Henstocks stationers of Bristol. Curiously, it was labeled ‘Book B’ on the inside cover though it was the third of his Singapore notebooks in chronological order; the second, equally curiously, having been labeled ‘Book C.’

The first entry has to do with “the effect of certain gargles upon septic substances.” The second reads like a tropical parody of Mrs. Beeton.


The correct method of opening a coconut is to:
(1) punch two of the three micropyles (one of which is easy to pierce) & drain off the juice.
(2) Lay the nut on its side in the palm of the hand & strike it across the middle with a sharp heavy instrument. The nut will then crack transversely & break into two halves.

Useful words and phrases

January 10, 2010

The first Changi notebook is 493 pages long. It consists primarily of notes on tropical diseases, sanitary arrangements and the eating habits of the local populations. Towards the end of the notebook, however, the emphasis changes with space increasingly devoted to books and articles. (Future notebooks would be filled with the lectures attended at Changi University.)

It’s as if a sort of accommodation to circumstances is being made with the initial observations of the world around him giving way to a more internal (and disciplined?) activity.

Sometimes the note taking seems to become an almost mechanical activity as with the pages headed ‘useful words and phrases.’ What their precise source is I cannot tell but besides the obvious self-improvement aspect they may simply have been a good way of filling up time.

Reading as escapism?

January 2, 2010

There were books at Changi; thousands of them.  One source was Singapore library the contents of which had been trucked to the camp after the Japanese had been persuaded that plenty of reading would divert the prisoners’ attention from thoughts of escape.  This must have led to a good deal of bemusement about whether reading was or was not to be encouraged as an escapist activity; a delightful linguistic conundrum that was presubably lost on the Japanese.

Christmas Day 1942 found my father in Roberts Hospital enjoying Ethel Boileu’s Arches of the Years.  But on the whole his taste was in non-fiction.  Even then it was highly eclectic including (at least in the early months of captivity) textbooks on anatomy and physiology, British government circulars on food preservation and various works on world affairs.

Sometimes he simply made lists of books to be tracked down in the future, presumably from citations he ran across in his current reading.  For example, pages 488 and 489 of his first Changi notebook include references to Frowhawk’s A Natural History of Butterflies, Muir’s Mother India, Clegg’s War-time Health and Democracy, Greenwood’s Love on the Dole, Imms’ Recent Advances in Entomology and Cox’s The Chemical Analysis of Foods, among others.

Quite often he made elaborate notes on what he read, as in the illustrated page on the Public Health (Imported Food) Regulations of 1937.  Sometimes he wrote out lengthy passages verbatim. In such instances he was no doubt trying to capture as much detail as he could for future reference.  But it was a laborious method he had also adopted in his pre-war notebooks.  No doubt he found refuge in the elaborate note taking; at the very least it would have filled up a considerable amount of time.