Changi Gaol Camp - Singapore
Changi Gaol Camp – Singapore
Above Changi Gaol Camp
‘For much of its existence Changi was not one camp but a collection of up to seven prisoner-of-war (POW) and internee camps, occupying approx. 25 square kilometres. Its name came from the peninsula on which it stood, at the east end of Singapore Island. Prior to the war the Changi Peninsula had been the British Army’s principal base area in Singapore. As a result the site boasted an extensive and well-constructed military infrastructure, including three major barracks – Selarang, Roberts and Kitchener – as well as many other smaller camps. Singapore’s civilian prison, Changi Gaol, was also on the peninsula.’
Constructed in 1936 , Changi Gaol was at that time declared as one, if not the best prison camp throughout the British Empire.
It was built to hold a maximum of 600 prisoners.
In February 1942 3,000 civilians were housed in the Gaol.
The POWs trudged past Changi Gaol from the city on their first humiliating march after surrender. The men noted the austere gaol exterior and iron grills, thinking they were pleased not be staying there and they passed by to Selarang.
During the next years POWs were catch glimpses of the civilians, or even hear women’s voices.
At the Conference House in Changi Gaol the Japanese held court and issued their decrees to Allied Staff Officers to impart to POWs. This became the ‘battleground’ for Allied Officers to fight successive Japanese Generals – Fukue, Arimura and Saito in their unremitting struggle for better conditions.
If a special conference was called, the official party, protected by carrying a flag, would march down the winding road while the Camp waited.
Was it another work party for Thailand, an execution or another concentration in Barrack Square? Nobody would know until the officers returned from the Gaol – the seat of all infamy!
In October 1944, the Japanese unexpectedly ordered the Australian POWs move into Changi Gaol. All 7,000 POWs within one month! The civilians were moved elsewhere.
The POWs remained in very overcrowded conditions until the end of war.
‘A concert party of prisoners entertained fellow detainees on a regular basis until this was stopped by the Japanese guards towards the end of the war. Guards occasionally attended these concerts, and their presence often meant that subject matter would have to be censored. The Japanese surrender saw many POWs from working camps return to Changi to recover before being returned home.’
The building was damaged by bombing was finally demolished in 2000.
CHANGI POW CAMP opened after Fall of Singapore 15 February 1942. It was main camp for captured British and Commonwealth Forces, including Australians.
Changi Prisoner of War Camp contained most of the Australians captured in Singapore on 17 February 1942. They occupied Selarang Barracks, which remained the AIF Camp at Changi until June 1944 when they were moved to Changi Gaol.
Changi was one of the least brutal Japanese POW camps, particularly compared to those on Burma–Thailand railway.
Changi tended to be a transit camp for many prisoners who were shipped out on working parties to Japan, Thailand and Burma. Also POWs sailed from Java to Singapore on their journey to Burma-Thai Railway whether to be entrained to Thailand or sail onwards to Burma.
With various work parties departing Singapore for the Burma-Thai Railway during 1942 & 1943 and further work parties sent to Borneo and Japan – the number of POWs at Changi fell to less than 2500 men. These men were mostly disabled by illness or from battle injuries. There also remained a large contingency of POWs involved in essential services The administrative HQ of 8th Division continued, but had lost more than 80% of its personnel.
When the railway was completed by the end of 1943, some POW Work Forces such as ‘F’ and ‘H’, returned to Changi.
For POWs who left Changi – conditions there were far superior and life much easier than anywhere else. Changi seemed to them now like a holiday camp!
POWs at Changi rarely saw a Japanese guard/soldier – unless on work parties.
POWs who left Singapore with Work Parties now worked like slaves, were starved, beaten, humiliated and knew they had to survive the sadistic and brutal Japanese guards and endless unknown tropical illnesses for which they had no medicines if they were ever to survive and return home to Australia.
General Percival GOC Malaya, Major-General Cecil Arthur Callaghan Commander AIF and General Overaker of Netherlands East Indies departed Changi on 16 Aug 1942 for Japan and thence interned on Formosa until October 1944 when they were moved to Japanese held Manchuria until the end of war. They were released by American Forces.
Lt. Col. (Black Jack) Fredericjk Gallagher Galleghan was appointed Commander of AIF in Singapore on Major-General’s departure.
Major General Cecil Arthur Callaghan, (31 July 1890 – 1 January 1967) who served during First and Second World Wars. He was commander of 8th Division when it surrendered to the Japanese Empire at the end of Battle of Singapore. He spent the wars years in captivity in formosa and Manchuria.
In October 1940, Galleghan was appointed commander of newly formed 2/30th Battalion, part of 27th Brigade and originally destined for service in Middle East with 9th Division. However, the following month, the brigade and Galleghan’s battalion with it, was transferred to 8th Division.
Galleghan, a strict disciplinarian, had high expectations of his battalion and accordingly implemented a rigorous training program. The battalion would become known as ‘Galleghan’s greyhounds’ and was initially based at Tamworth but in the coming months would move around various bases in NSW. Training carried on into 1941 and in July the battalion embarked for Singapore on Dutch transport Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt.
In later years he was criticised for his very strict discipline at Changi and today, his leadership style is questioned by some.
Calleghan clashed with several officers, including Weary Dunlop and ‘Roaring Reggie’ Newton when they were in Singapore from Java before entraining to Thailand.
Looking back it can be said Changi accommodated officers who were from time to time, involved in petty jealousies – particularly those who remained in Singapore throughout the entire war.
Leadership of POWs was vastly different to leadership in the field. Not all officers adapted to their newfound status.
In particular, look at Pages 80, 81.