Des’ Sketch Book Confiscated By Major General Saito

Sketch book confiscated

Des Sketch Book Confiscated by Major General  Saito

Des wrote the following as part of a statement he wrote in 1991 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle for Singapore, at the request of the Singapore Government:

‘My personal worst moments came when I had to appear before the Japanese Commandant and an assortment of interpreters, to try and explain away, to humourless Japanese officers a book of political cartoons I had drawn. I had lent the book to a careless person who allowed it to fall into the hands of Japanese guards. This was at a time when the war was going badly for Germany and Japan and this was reflected in the cartoons. I was extremely lucky to get away with a whole skin. The Japanese did not approve. I never saw the book again. I am now retired from a life of tertiary art education, and enjoy the benefits of family and eight grandchildren.’

Des told those close to him that he narrowly escaped being‘given short haircut, POW slang for beingbeheaded.

He went on to explain to those close to him how he lent a sketch book to an interested POW in Changi. Unbeknown to Des, the POW left the area leaving the sketch book on a table. A Japanese guard discovered this  and Des was hauled before Major General Saito (‘the big boss of the prisoners’ as a 94 year old ex POW put it), to explain what these sketches said. These were all political drawings and sketches of the Japanese. Des quickly made some stories up and said he escaped by the skin of his teeth. General Saito stated that if he ever did any more drawings or painting like these, he would give severely punished, as dad put it ‘given short haircut with his samurai sword‘, meaning, he would be beheaded. Des family wonder if this book of sketches survived in Japanese hands or were simply destroyed. This points to just how a prolific artist Des was. These 300 odd images have survived Changi and the war. We know that many were confiscated and also that Des gave away many of his works to fellow prisoners upon being liberated.

‘In April it was announced that Major General Saito would take over command from the easygoing General Arimura. Changes in Japanese administration were of vital interest to prisoners since treatment varied considerably with different commanders. The only settled policy from Tokyo appeared to be: work the prisoners, starve the prisoners, and inoculate the prisoners every six months. Within these broad limits the local commandant could give full rein to his own idiosyncrasy.’

Source: C. David Griffin, ‘The Changi  Backdrop’, in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi Book, Published by New South in association with the Australian War Memorial, 2015, pg. 63

“(Major) General Saito who commanded us, ordered that all men should be able to count up to one hundred in the same barbaric language. Whenever he or his aide, Lieutenant Takahashi, appeared, we were all to shout ‘Kirray” and stand up to attention and salute.
Saito and Takahashi frequently did the rounds of the camp to enforce this rule. They and Saito’s pet monkey on a leash became quite familiar sights to us, though, of the three, the only one we liked was the monkey.
Then one day the monkey on its leash leapt round the corner of a hut and the first occupant who spotted it shouted, ‘Kirray’, realising that Saito and Takahashi would be close behind. But, as the whole hut stood up and saluted, Saito and Takahashi were not close behind. They were, in fact, standing on the crest of a hill a hundred yards away. And what they saw was block after block of prisoners of war screaming ‘Kirray’ and saluting a monkey as it bounded down the lines. The implication was unmistakable. There is no subject on which the Nip is more sensitive. That night Saito chopped his pet monkey’s head off with his large Samurai sword and next morning Takahashi issued an order that any other pet monkeys in the camp were to be destroyed.”
Source: The Naked Island by Russell Braddon; 1955 edition Pan Books Ltd, Pg241

‘Aircraft flying overhead dropped six paratroopers. We were told later that these consisted of two colonels who were doctors, two paratroopers, lieutenants, and two paratroopers, privates. They were all British, and had been dropped on the aerodrome at Changi which we had built. (Major) General Saito in a staff car flying the yellow pennant which Japanese generals flew on their cars, drove up to the first paratrooper who was getting out of his parachute harness. When the paratrooper walked over to the car, the (Major) General saw that he was only a private and indicated to his driver to drive on. The paratrooper opened the car door, told the driver to get out, then the general, he then seized the car and drove around to pick up his five companions.’
Source: You’ll Never Get Off The Island by Keith Wilson; 1989, Pg 121

Major General Mastochi Saito was Prison Commandant, Southern Prisoner of War Camps, Changi, from 1st March 1944 until capitulation in August 1945.  It has been reported that he grew angry when ordered to carry his own baggage into Changi Jail following his arrest for war crimes on 11 September 1945. Saito denied all the charges against him at his subsequent trial, claiming that he tried to make the internees as cheerful as possible and blaming delays in distributing Red Cross parcels on the sinking of  Awa Mura.  He was subsequently convicted and hanged.

‘We often agreed amongst ourselves that being an ex – Japanese prisoner of war was like being a member of the most exclusive club. Amongst us there has always been a mutual dependence which is understood but never stated. The fact that we knew what each other had lived through was enough. Socially, we recalled humorous incidents, mostly stories that were at the expense of the Japanese; how so and so had outwitted a certain guard or got away with sneaking out of camp to trade at night. Just as it had in captivity, the ritual of humour offered escape. If unpleasant elements of the past were raised they would be discussed in a dispassionate manner, getting whatever it was off our chests and moving on quickly. There was never the need to talk of specific suffering, nor a call to enter into personal exchanges centring on pity or sentiment. That wasn’t our way; we remained crack – hardy men.’

Source: A Doctors War, by Dr Rowley Richards, pg 290, Harper Collins Publishers, 2006.