Singapore Birds

September 18, 2010

My father started making notes on the birds at Changi in November 1942 shortly after entering Roberts Hospital for pellagra and tinea cruris.  This became the focus of his note taking activity for the next eighteen months until about May, 1944 and indeed turned into a research project that would not be completed until 1950 when his article ‘Nesting Habits of Some Singapore Birds’ was published in the Bulletin of the Raffles Museum.

My mother was convinced, no doubt rightly, that  it was these “bird notes” above all else that kept my father going through the long years of captivity.   But they were more than a simple exercise of mental discipline, it seems to me.  And there was a collective aspect for he was aided by a small cadre of fellow birdwatchers.  The most notable of these was E.K Allin, a former planter in Perak, who would also publish some of his observations in the Raffles Bulletin.

These “bird notes” will be the focus of my next few posts.

Changi ‘greens’

September 5, 2010

The vegetables were grown to provide much needed vitamins though were not particularly appetizing to the POW.  In the end they essentially boiled down to a sort of spinach.

On the other hand, the growing season was year-round and plants grew rapidly; so rapidly, my father once said, that you could almost see them grow.  While everything was used, the leaves could be harvested most rapidly and regularly.

Here’s a note, I believe from early 1943, listing some of the more common vegetables that were cultivated.  As the plants were unfamiliar he draws on English comparisons to describe them.

Sweet potato

This is grown by inserting the ‘runner’ shoot into the ground – not the ‘seed’ as in the case of the English potato.  From such a shoot it takes about 6 months to produce a fairly large tuber.  The plant is of a rambling nature.  Its leaves are large and resemble that of an ivy in shape.  The tubers are produced  under the ground level in the same way as our English potato.  In addition to the tubers, the young growing shoots are snipped off at occasional intervals. They may be boiled as “greens.”


This plant has thin V-shaped leaves.  The fruits are either purple or green in colour; they resemble short cucumbers.


This plant has large heart-shaped leaves.  The stem, which is the part eaten, resembles celery.

Tapioco (sic)

This plant takes 1 year to produce a decent sized root or tuber.  The tuber may be boiled & has the appearance of, and tastes like, a floury English potato.  he young tender shoots are occasionally boiled as “greens.”

Edible spinach

This plant grows to about 2’6″.  The leaves are greenish purple in colour.  Flowers are produced, raised above the leaves in a dense bright purple spike.  The leaves of this plant are eaten.

Green Book 2, 6-7