‘The One Man Concert’ – Calendar Illustration – July 1946

Calendar Illustration - July 1946The One Man Concert (nightly) or … In Dock – (Take 2)

In contrast to the restful scene depicted in the previous water colour painting, Des’ contrast this painting showing all 12 men bar one wide awake, the sleeping man indicated by zzzzz’s.

The other big contrast is now there are many mosquitoes around the man’s bear feet and they are now hovering around everyone’s faces.

Des in his humorous way is once again showing the POW’s struggle not only to sleep peacefully but also the fact that mosquitoes are attracted to feet. Serious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, encephalitis, to name a few, are transmitted by mosquitoes, result in very uncomfortable symptoms and with very high mortality rate if not treated.

Once again, a seemingly innocent painting tells a terrible story that so many suffered and died from. This is not dissimilar to the painting ‘Now come on, don’t be shy’ painted by Des while in Changi and on this site.

His ability to exaggerate the uncovered feet of one man in the ‘Dock’ reveals a whole story in picture form of the consequences of this.

In the previous image, ‘In Dock 1’ perhaps the one man awake was thinking to himself ‘for goodness sake man, cover your feet up or our barracks will be invaded by mosquitoes who have a special liking for feet, and then we will not only be awake all night but be subject to the terrible diseases they bring also.’

You will note that there are subtle changes in the make up of the barrack too, especially with the clothes hanging on the line, the colour of the blankets and the scenery from the ‘window’. It can be assumed these were painted at different times or on different days. However, the main characters and theme is bought through by Des.

‘In Malaya in 1930 –  tigers, crocodiles, buffaloes and snakes killed a few dozen people. In Malaya in 1930 a tiny animal, scores of times smaller than a pinpoint, killed many hundreds of people and kept many thousands away from work. Tigers propel themselves to their prey, but nature, so rich in ways and means, has provided air-transport for the little parasite, and has even ordained that it need not concern itself one iota with its transport. The mosquito comes along, picks it up, carries it away and dumps in its new abode. All the parasite has to suffer is the inconvenience of a slight change of temperature and some internal rearrangement. But a B-29 with a belly full of bombs is of less consequence than the tiny ‘Anopheles’ mosquito with a cargo ofPlasmodia’: the malarial parasite that kills more people each year than any other organism known. It kills 1,000,000 people in India alone each year…

More 8th Division AIF troops died of disease in Asia between 1941 and 1945 than died of wounds received at the hands of Japanese soldiers, or from shells and bombs. Malaria killed some, but the most important aspect was the debilitating effect of malarial infection with its relapses. It paved the way for other diseases. It weakened us. It lowered our resistance. It kept up a continuous heavy stream of patients into hospital.’

Source:  Rodney Matthews, ‘Swamps, Fun & Fever’, in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi Book, Published by New South in association with the Australian War Memorial, 2015, pg., 268

‘To the malaria-carrying mosquito Anopheles gambiae, the stench of human feet is like the smell of a fresh-baked pie. A team of entomologists set out to see if the bugs were even more drawn to the odor when infected with the malaria parasite.’

Source: http://news.sciencemag.org/2013/05/scienceshot-stinky-feet-smell-sweet-malaria-infected-mosquitoes

The Romanised Japanese words  under the hut number: ‘Shoko’; ‘Go- Kei’ and ‘Kashi Kan –Hei’ probably refers to the amount of ‘commissioned officers’, ‘non commission officers’ & ‘other ranks’ present in the hut.’

‘We all wear only a pair of patched shorts and wooden clogs, there are those whose shirts are finished and now wear a strip of cloth passed between the legs and fastened front and back with tape. In those who still have bits of clothes at bedtime the ordinary custom is reversed – here one gets dressed for bed – the air cools a little before the dawn. It is always tricky getting one’s blanket (if one possesses one) laid out. There are 12 of us who sleep on a platform 12 feet by the same width, say about the same area as a small room in an English home. There are no mosquito nets to be fixed.’

Source: Down To Bedrock (the diary & secret notes of a Far East prisoner of war Chaplain) by Eric Cordingly, Pg 124; permission by Louis Reynolds.

“Japanese Bastardry, as we Australians called it, applied to almost everything in our lives, but most of all – because of the far – reaching effects it had – to our request for drugs. Of these they had vast quantities and also had vast quantities of their own. Yet, despite the ready availability of emetin to cure dysentery, of quinine (the Japanese now owned all the Dutch East Indies) to quell our malaria, and of Vitamin B tablets (of which they had billions, for they are easy to manufacture) to counter the deficiencies of a rice diet, the little Nip constantly refused all requests for any of them. His best answer was: ‘Ashita’ – (tomorrow) – which, in the Jap mouth, means ‘never’; his more common reply was a savage bashing for him who was courageous enough to ask.

“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, Pg121 & 131

‘Instead of slapping us around for having the wrong number in a hut, the guards have decided to make us accountable for keeping close watch on our numbers. At one end of  each hut, in the doorway, is hung a small noticeboard showing the total number of men in the hut, and on each doorpost is a section of hollow bamboo, one of which has a number of tally sticks. They system is simple. Every man going out takes a tally from one bamboo and puts it into the other, replacing it when he comes back.. Foolproof. The Nip counts the actual bodies, adds the number of ‘out’ tallies and there’s his total.
Well it may be foolproof but it does not cope with some of our thick-headed soldiers. The latrines are near the far end of the hut, and if you’re in a hurry there isn’t time to walk down the hut and back again to put your tally in, and a jolting run to save time can be disastrous for straining bowels. And, of course, some idiots will take a tally out of the wrong holder, or someone will shift a tally while the Nip is actually counting. Nothing is so simple that it cannot be complicated hopelessly.’
Source: One Fourteenth of an Elephant, by Ian Denys Peek, 2005, Pg 436

Extracts from One Fourteenth of an Elephant by Ian Denys Peek reprinted by permission of Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd. Copyright © Ian Denys Peek 2003

Thank you: State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library Special Collections where this Calendar is archived