Henri Ecoma female impersonator (1945)

Caricature: 'Ecoma'

Henri Ecoma’s full name appears to be HENRI ECOMAVERSTEGE from Bandoeng in West Java.

He was clearly a gifted female impersonator and also performed in a ballet piece called ‘La Lanière’ part of a presentation called ‘Music Through the Years’ at Changi Gaol in March 1945.  This appears to have prompted the Japanese authorities to order the closure of the theatre as promoting ‘bad thoughts’. (See Singapore Diary: the Hidden Journal of R M Horner (Spellmount Ltd, Gloucestershire, UK 2006 ISBN 978-1-86227-430-3))

Henri Ecoma  took part in quite a number of Theatre Programs, including: ‘Music Through The Years’; ‘Sweet And Hot’; ‘Grin And Bear It’. To view the 100 programs painted and bought back by Des Bettany, go to ‘Changi Theatre Programs’ on this website. This is where this information has been researched from.

There were a number of P.O.W’s who could look ‘the part’ and bring welcome relief to their fellow POW’s, as well as keeping their own minds occupied, some of whom were professional actors and musicians.

‘If there was one example of humor and keeping up morale in Changi it was the Changi concert party.

The Changi concert party was formed only two days after the POW’s arrived at Selarang barracks. The first show was a simple variety show in which anyone who wanted could get up and perform.

 Female impersonators were an important part of the concert parties. At first the men felt self-conscious about playing women, but as time went on they became more adept at making themselves up. They had permission to grow their hair long and some of them could be very convincing.’

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

‘The standard of the acting is really high and even the female parts are most convincing in their ‘femininity’. There is nothing amateur about these entertainments, and we have been amazed at the finish in dress and stage furnishings. Ingenuity has reached unbelievable heights. The facts are I suppose, that we have her behind the wire, men who comprise this civilian army who everyday jobs are those which are now used in the multitudinous activities that make up this prison life.’

Source: Down To Bedrock (the diary & secret notes of a Far East prisoner of war Chaplain) by Eric Cordingly, Pg 70; permission by Louis Reynolds, daughter.