Understatement

October 31, 2010



The original manuscript of my father’s piece on Changi Birds in the Bulletin of the Raffles Museum was considerably longer than the eventual article. One of the segments that never made it to publication was a description of the camp along with a detailed account of its vegetation.

As I have mentioned several times, my father rarely wrote directly about conditions or activities at Changi. At times – many times, in fact – you would never know that he was describing a POW camp. Perhaps he was simply being careful though it’s equally possible that this was simply the way he saw things.

Either way, his summary of the project must surely be one of the more prosaic descriptions of life at Changi.

“A project of this kind, undertaken under adverse circumstances was, however, not unnaturally beset with difficulties rarely experienced in normal times. In this respect, the continually changing conditions that prevailed in the Camp are referred to in the text: these included the large and fluctuating human population, the repeated reductions made in the size of the area, and the exploitation that was necessary to make it as self-supporting as possible. But in addition, mention may be made of the small amount of leisure-time and the rigid regulations that were imposed on the movements of personnel, the impossibility of being able adequately to compare the local bird life with that which occurred outside of the camp boundary, and the ever present uncertainty as to how long the study could be continued.”

Well, that would be one way of putting it, I suppose.


The Changi bird notes

October 2, 2010

Book D, pp 25-26

My father had been making detailed notes on birds since he was a teenager and in the decade before the war had filled several notebooks with his observations and drawings of herons at Oaken Grove near Henley. So he was no newcomer to this activity.

The Changi bird notes, which run to at least a couple of hundred pages, cover a period from November 1942 to around May 1944, with the most intense observations being in 1943.

They begin and end with similar abruptness. Why this is so I cannot say for sure though it is possible that my father was inspired to begin the project while reading The Birds of Singapore Island, by Bucknill, Bach, and Chasen which he was doing in late 1942 around the time he entered hospital. And May 1944 coincides with his move to Kranji. From all I can tell his bird notes end at this point.

The notes are organized by bird and then by date of observation. As can be seen from the illustration these observations typically included the location of the sighting, a brief description of the bird and the kind of activity it was engaged in along with any sounds it may have made.