Tapping Rubber

Tapping Rubber

Tapping of rubber trees was difficult as most of them had been badly treated resulting in knotty and extremely hard bark. The POW’s had to improvise and make their own spout. Latex was collected in old tins or coconut shells. Credit goes to them for the amount of latex collected that then needed an additive to turn it to act as a filler and coagulant in order to produce usable rubber. Laterite clay was found to be the best medium after much experimentation.

Men who worked in Changi Industries were ‘the unfits’, those who were unable to carry out any manual labour on the airstrip, railway or other construction projects. The Japanese would not allow fit men to work in Changi Industry as they demanded they work on heavy construction. Praise to these men who were deemed to ill to work but carried on an important industry that served so many within Changi.

This image of Des Bettany’s artwork has been reproduced with permission from the book ‘Don’t Ever Again Say “It Can’t Be Done”’ published by The Changi Museum, Singapore.

‘In the early days of our prisoner of war career… a handful of volunteers got together with a view to repairing shoes … (it) later proved to be the birth of one of the most essential and useful installations in the camp: namely, the Rubber Factory.

On the strength of these experiments it was decided to open a factory for the manufacture of these rubber soles. Tappers, to tap the rubber trees and bring the latex to the factory each morning, were trained. Mixers were trained to mix latex, laterite and cement in their exact quantities.’

Source: Robert Moffett, ‘Rubber Factory Report’, in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi Book, Published by New South in association with the Australian War Memorial, 2015, pg. 200, 203

‘And with the latex that came out of the rubber trees – latex which the Japanese regarded as useless because the wicked British Imperialists had destroyed all the coagulant as they retreated – with this some planters soled boots and shoes. They coagulated the latex – crudely but effectively – by urinating in it. A little sand added to the hardening fluid, and there was a tough sole for a shoe.
With the same material, they devised a means of patching clothes – cotton having vanished from our lives – and of preparing an adhesive tape for medical dressings.
And with the soft white wood of young rubber trees those who had no boots fashioned themselves clogs so that the gaol’s concrete corridors rang to their clip – clop all day and all night, and one came to recognise one’s friends by their particular note and tempo – this especially when, later on, many men, because of vitamin deficiencies, became so blind that faces were indistinguishable to them.’

Source: The Naked Island by Russell Braddon; 1955 edition Pan Books Ltd, Pg 246