‘Heigh – Ho!’ (It’s Off To Work We Go) (1945)

Heigh ho

“Hi Ho”

A parody of the Disney animated film ‘Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs’, released in 1938 and no doubt seen by Des and many other POWs. In the film, the 7 dwarfs go to work singing ‘Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go’. In this cartoon, 7 POWs (plus one for some reason) are ‘off to work’ with their minder, a diminutive Japanese guard – the opposite of the dwarfs who were towered over by Snow White. The Japanese were characterized in the early years of the war as very small people.

Once again, Des in his mind, moves away from the cruelty of the situation as a POW by using his imagination and painting quite the opposite of what occurred, ie well fed, decent clothing and footwear, happy, friendly guard leading the way, can’t wait to get back to work.

‘In March 1942 the IJA started to take parties of prisoners to Singapore for work on various jobs … on the wharves, building shrines, memorials, and temples … until by September the same year more than 7,000 AIF and many more British were out on those jobs.’

Source: Unknown Author, ‘2nd Echelon’, in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi Book, Published by New South in association with the Australian War Memorial, 2015, pg., 315

‘Light, two-foot gauge railways crept across the cleared sections of ground and men shifted hundreds of tons of earth daily by filling skips of one cubic yard capacity and pushing them to a dumping point where the soil was levelled out. The work was constant and was made a great deal harder by the crude tools issued to the workers: shovels and changkols with straight wooden handles and blades fashioned from petrol tins or galvanised iron made the work a great deal harder than it should have been.

Up to date machinery, left undestroyed in Malaya, now made its appearance on the work site. The light railways were replaced by heavy metre gauge, and tracks and caterpillar tractors towing four – and ten – yard – capacity skips moaned across the growing drome. Modern electric shovels and a great steam navvy kept half-a-dozen diesel locomotives pushing long lines of skips heaped with soil to the swamp edges. As each train stopped at a dumping point the ragged workers attacked it with their crude shovels, and within 15 minutes the empty train would be puffing back to the refilling point, leaving the prisoner, sweating and gasping, sitting on the line until the next unloading.

From the beginning of the work the prisoners had comforted themselves … that the war would be over long before the drome was complete, but in June 1944 they watched three fighter aircraft land on the northern arm and the first stage of the work was over.’

Most visitors to Singapore today know Changi as an international aviation hub rather than for its prisoner-of- war connections. But the modern airport that processes tens of millions of travellers each year sits on the foundations of the original aerodrome, built with prisoner-of-war labour in 1944.’

Source: Stan Arneil, ‘The Aerodrome At Changi Point’, in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi Book, Published by New South in association with the Australian War Memorial, 2015, pg., 333 336