A Changi perspective

February 28, 2010

Brown Book 1, p 2

My father drew several maps of Changi. I find this one particularly interesting because of its projection (Robinson? Arizmuthal?). It includes the Changi Tree, Changi Village and Temple Hill but also the swimming point, water towers, gardens and padang. But it also seems to situate Changi in a much larger perspective. Far off on the northern horizon is the Japanese flag (Japan?) while on the southeast horizon lies the Sugar Loaf (Brazil?) The significance of the former is obvious enough; less so the latter, except perhaps as a reference point for imagination and dreams. Either way, there’s a lot packed into this map; much more I suspect than meets the eye.

The map appears in a subsequent notebook, though there is no indication of when it was drawn.  The rest of the notebook contains detailed notes on three books: Modern Man in the Making by Otto Neurath, The Arches of the Years by Halliday Sutherland, and Wayside Trees of Malaya (2 volumes) by E.J.H. Corner.

A simple solution

February 26, 2010

Conservation of salt

As salt is absent from the basic rations issued to POWs, potatoes etc. are boiled in sea water.

Book B, p.24

Diphtheria precautions

February 26, 2010

The following guidelines at Roberts Hospital speak for themselves but also to the conditions.  Cigarette stubs were a precious commodity.  I’m not sure who would have been smoking cigars.

Precautions to be taken against Diphtheria epidemic

(1) Cancel all entertainments & lectures
(2) Beds to be spaced so as to give sufficient headroom (sleep head to foot if necessary)
(3) The picking up of cigarette & cigar buts for reuse is prohibited
(4) All sore throats, however trivial, are to be reported
(5) Patients to be isolated
(6) Staff to be isolated from other personnel
(7) Staff to wear nose & mouth guards (made of gauze) when working in wards
(8) Patients to wear nose & mouth guards when being moved in vicinity of non infected persons
(9) All drinking containers to be sterilized in boiling water

Book B, p.56

There are several references to diphtheria in the early pages of Notebook B (the third notebook since arriving in Singapore but the second at Changi) though it is not until page 53 that an explanation is provided.


During August & September 1942 there was a diphtheria epidemic  at Changi.  Many men were affected & although comparatively few deaths occurred the symptoms appeared more severe than the type prevalent in Britain.  Chiefly the nose & throat were affected and membranes were produced in both areas.  Occasionally tracheotomy was necessary to facilitate breathing.  In many cases, however, men reporting sick with… Pellagra were found to be suffering from Diphtheria (K.L.B.) organisms.  Also in other sores, such as sores in the nose, although the usual symptoms of diphtheria were not present.

Book B, page 53

Earlier he had noted that a good gargle for diphtheria was potassium permanganate, 1 in 10,000, and that cardiac trouble seemed to be a complication of diphtheria presumably due to the increased exertion caused by the growth of membranes across the throat (page 3).

Squelch that bug!

February 13, 2010

Bed bugs were a constant irritant at Changi and my father never stopped making careful observations of them. In a subsequent notebook, he drafted a short account titled “Squelch that Bug!”which just shows how bad things must have been.  In my memory at least, he would never have harmed an insect, other than of course to pop it in a tube for posterity.

After the war he continued to work on his bed bug notes and started to write a paper based on them, as can be seen from the illustration.  As far as I can tell, however, he never finished it.

But always there is the fascination with detail, as can be seen from this short extract from Book B.

It appears that certain nights are more prone to attack by these insects. They prefer warm, still nights. They do not venture forth in cool, draughty nights such as which often precede a storm. (This is not always correct as they were biting continuously one night which was cool and draughty.) Some say that they appear to favour dark rather than moonlit nights, but this does not account for the fact that one night they were biting continuously throughout the night & the following night they were practically absent. One thing is clear, that is that on the the biting nights everybody in the room is affected; it is not an isolated colony restricted to a single bed. Hence the phenomenon cannot be accounted for by the fact that a new batch of eggs has been hatched.

Book B, 25

Peanut butter as a laxative

February 7, 2010

I doubt whether my father tasted peanut butter before arriving in Singapore, or even knew what it was.  It would have been a rarity in English shops before the War and for that matter some time after it.  Even at Changi he didn’t seem to know what to call it but wrote a note about its laxative properties, at least when on a rice diet.

On the following page he provided a recipe.  As usual, the language is more that of the scientific observer than the gourmand.


An appetizing way of serving these is to grind them up with a pestle & mortar until the oils are caused to form a vehicle for the remaining solids & a thick paste is obtained.  This paste may be spread, like butterscotch, on toast or bread & butter.

Book B, p.4