Again Des almost paints the ridiculous, a very well fed prisoner in cartoon western prison uniform, having nothing more to do than just wait for liberation, unsure whether it will be 6 months, 1 year, or several years.

In reality, the POW’s in Singapore spent 3.5 years under appalling conditions, with nothing provided but a starvation diet of rice. On top of this many were suffering from various tropical diseases, or suffered vitamin deficiencies which caused their teeth to fall out and other serious life threatening diseases.

They were however  expected to work a 10 hour day with no protection from the sun or the torrential downpours or the dangers the jungle presented, let alone the beatings they received for no reason from their captors.

An interesting aspect is that when Des’s son Keith gives presentations of the artwork, he has found it necessary to include in his presentation some actual photos of the ‘walking skeletons’ to bring the audience back to the reality of the situation, a reality that Des was escaping from in his mind by painting. We would call this Diversional Therapy these days and this surely assisted Des and many others who could see the humour in his images to survive.

Des did give a lot of his work away to his mates and to date, many images have been scanned and returned via email to Des family. Some one has said that they (the cartoons) were as valuable as medicine, as it helped keep many a prisoner alive by giving them the freedom, even in prison, to smile.

‘We had only a few weeks of captivity, but it seemed an age to us. We were expecting to be rescued, or relieved, or released any day. Surely tomorrow they’ll get us out. Little did we know at the time that we had three and a half years of waiting.’

Source: Changi The Funny Side by Slim DeGrey, pg30

‘One of the Concert Party comedians, Harry Smith, had a catch phrase, ‘You’ll never get off the Island’, which became almost the watchword of the prisoners throughout the captivity.

Source: http://ukmamsoba.org/changi.htm

“The prisoner – of – war life for these four years was an object lesson in living together. The three things that could, at any time kill us all off were work, disease and starvation.”
Source: The Naked Island by Russell Braddon; 1955 edition Pan Books Ltd, Pg131

‘In order to cope, I believe, most men surrounded themselves in their own personal and protective armour. Mine, as I have already written, was work, an almost obsessive sense of duty; for others it was humour or religious faith; and for nearly all of us, it was the setting of a deadline: ‘home by Christmas’ or ‘home for my wife’s birthday, or some other date of personal significance. In establishing a mental goal to work towards we were focussing on a future life which we could anticipate living and, in the process, attempt to reject the reality of what we were experiencing, deferring our disappointment. Keeping an ‘end point’ in mind, even though deep down we know it was artificial, gave us hope – one of the most powerful weapons in the limited armoury of defence we could own. If we were to not only survive but also remain sane, it was all we could do.

Source: A Doctors War, by Dr Rowley Richards, pg 157, Harper Collins Publishers, 2006.