Changi Aerodrome - Singapore - LEVELLING PARTY

Changi Aerodrome – Singapore
This was constructed mostly in 1945 using POWs who had returned to Singapore from the railway and POWs who had never left the Island.  This aerodrome was one of numerous being built by POWs throughout Thailand and French Indo China.
The Japanese were hastily building their escape routes.
For the POWs working on these constructions, it was challenging.  Their health was precarious in most instances after three years of incarceration slaving long hours on little food, living with tropical illnesses being subjected to bashings and Japanese brutality, seeing mates die of illness which could have been prevented with the most basic medicines which were denied by the Japanese.

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Singapore. 1945-09-09. The Changi aerodrome as seen from an approaching aircraft. 
This airfield was planned to help counter increasing numbers of Allied aircraft appearing over Singapore and anticipating an Allied attempt to re-take the island. The airfield was originally made for fighter aircraft and was constructed using thousands of mainly Australian Prisoners of War as slave labour on a ‘levelling party’ on the site of Birdwood Camp sports ground opposite Selarang Barracks.
The earth airstrip comprised a main runway, cross-runway and a dispersal road at its southern end. Construction took 22 months and was completed by 25 May 1945.
The Memorial holds several ‘trench art’ items made by Australian POWs using parts of scrapped Imperial Japanese Army aircraft from Changi aerodrome.
The airfield was taken over the Royal Air Force (RAF) immediately at the end of the war with other British pre-war constructed airfields such as Kallang, Sembawang and Tengah. Since the war the airfield has been greatly extended through land reclamation of the nearby seashore, resulting in the hugely successful and award winning Changi Airport.


WX17634 HOLDING, Wally


Then we started to build the Changi Drome. One leg went out over Johore Straits the other end of that leg came down right behind the jail. The other leg went out over the South China Sea and inland. We could walk out the back garden of the jail onto the airstrip. It was a great old caper – too many men for the work they were doing – we would have two men with a little cane basket and a bloke with a chunkle (Asian hoe) to shift a bit of dirt from here and they would take levels and shift it again. They had a rail system of hand trolleys. In some places the embankments were up 30 or 40 feet and we had to take that down to the other side of the swamp to level it off. We were working away there and it was quite pleasant in comparison to Thailand.
Some of the Officers used to come out with us at times, most of the time the Officers kept out of the bloody way. Some of our blokes like Captain Gwynne and Lieutenants Bernie O’Sullivan and Mick Wedge were with us quite a bit.
We used to hold quizzes to help to pass the time. One day a question was asked and Doug Sterrett was leaning on a chunkle, he knew the answer but could not think of it. At the same time a guard (they used to wander round all the time) had his eye on Doug who was imitating a statue. The guard got to Doug and found a piece of wood. Captain Gwynne raced over and said
“What were you doing Sterrett?”
Back came the answer “I wasn’t doing a bloody thing!”
There was a lot of humour out there. After what we had been through it was quite pleasant working just to do something, go and wander back and knock off in daylight.
After a while they started using the bottom end of the strip for training pilots. Their training planes looked a bit like the old Tiger Moth but they were aluminium coated on the outside. We watched the planes each day hoping to see one crash. This day, just as we were knocking off, a plane was taking off down towards the bottom of the jail and the pilot misjudged it, hit the trees, and down he went.
Once we were in the jail area the guards left us. As soon as it was dark we went through the fence and we stripped all the aluminium off the plane. I still have a set of six serviette rings, I flattened them out and shaped them so that they would curl round on the piece at the bottom. I polished them up and a mate used a broken needle set in a piece of wood to draw scenes of palms, boats, rickshaws and things – one of the few things I brought home. Of course the next morning the engineering mob and the airforce went down there to get this plane and all hell broke loose – half the plane was missing!! The boys had taken what pieces they wanted and the blokes chasing wireless parts and wiring had their lot. They conducted a search but there was no hope of finding anything. The boys knew straight away once we pinched anything like that there would be a search job so we planted everything. Late in the piece, while on the drome one day we heard a plane high overhead there was a lot of cloud about, but through a break in the cloud someone spotted the plane and it had four engines. The Japanese, to our knowledge, had no four engine planes, the biggest we had seen was the Mitsubitsi known to us as the pencil bomber. After a while this plane on its daily patrol was nicknamed Heavy Harry. A few days later a guard pointed up and said
“B NE DU KOO”  – B29.
Through our news we found out they were flying out of Trincomalee (Sri Lanka today).  Later we saw them fly over in formation that gave us a hell of a lift.



Location of Changi Aerodrome - Singapore - LEVELLING PARTY (exact)