‘A Quiet Browse In The Library?’ Changi (Aug 1945)


Note the embossment toward the bottom of the painting. Paper was in short supply so Des would use the rear of  any scrap paper available.

‘The library was a Changi institution, and as such contributed to the maintenance of the high morale that was one of the outstanding features of imprisonment (there) … for most men the library at some time or another played its part and kept them going during the darkest hours. … For there on the shelves lay the dilapidated volumes with their contents of priceless words, memories of times past, hopes for the future, the one unpunishable, undetectable escape.’

Source: C. David Griffin, ‘Books & Prisoners’, in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi Book, Published by New South in association with the Australian War Memorial, 2015, pg. 110

The colonel [Colonel ‘Black Jack Galleghan] came up with another winner; to prevent disaffection and thoughts of escape, as he put it to the Japanese commandant, books were the answer, and furthermore he knew where to put his hands on some. Consequently a convoy of lorries descended on Changi and the entire contents of the Singapore Library were shovelled in.

Some 20,000 volumes arrived at the camp from libraries in Singapore.

The University of Changi was born. Classes were set up in Agriculture, general education, languages, law, engineering, medicine and science. Anyone who could, offered to share their knowledge with others.

400 men learnt to read and write while prisoners of war in Changi. Many of the subjects had practical applications, but others were just for interest. Study became a way of escaping the drudgery of camp life.

Art of all kinds flourished in Changi. There was a literary society, a choir, and lots of cartooning and painting. But perhaps the biggest single group was the Changi concert party.’

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/changi/life/concerts.htm

“Alec Downer, David Griffin and Tony Newsom, the scholar, the lawyer and the salesman, from the first days of Selerang in 1942, ran the library. Irked beyond endurance by the ‘officers – must – be – saluted – and – treated – like – tin –gods’ nonsense of 1942, they called everyone who came to their library – be he Colonel or Private – ‘Mister’! In this atmosphere of almost pre-war courtesy, they studied their readers’ tastes, persuaded men who had never read to start, urged everyone to steal books and contribute them to the library, ignored the nastiness that was Nippon and – whenever trouble arose with any of the minions of officialdom – promptly had it squashed by their term ‘people in high places’.
The library which, between them, these three ran for all the days of our captivity, was one of our main consolations and there could have been no better men to run it.”
Source: The Naked Island by Russell Braddon; 1955 edition Pan Books Ltd, Pg 259