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.


2 Responses to “Understatement”


  1. What an amazing piece of writing. It is a skill in its own right to take oneself out of the equation and write dispassionately about one’s surroundings. By reducing it to data, perhaps it might rationalise all the experiences and one’s emotional reaction to them?

    A truly wonderful gem of a post. Thank you.

    • Brian Spittle Says:

      Thank you for your kind comment and thoughtful observation. Detachment came easily to him but in this case it must also have been a survival skill.

      Brian


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