Changi Camps – Work Parties
Amongst the many tasks carried out at Selarang and Changi Gaol Camps, the following are of note:
It was the responsibility of this party to collect or fell firewood for the camp kitchens and hospital.
The method used to transport the necessities of daily life by trailer.
Truck and car bodies were stripped of their chassis and replaced with flat platforms. Depending on the size and weight of the chassis and its load there were as many as 20 men in a party. The men would pull and push these wheeled skeletons whilst Japanese guards merely went along for the ride at the helm.
Several serious accidents occurred under this arrangement, so obviously the chore was not as safe as it sounds.
The job of this party was to collect coconuts from locally found trees. Edward ‘Snow’ Taylor was on this party for a time.
It was the job of the party to collect saltwater from Changi Beach to be boiled for its salt content for cooking and to produce saline solution for the hospital.
Garden Control Party
From the outset gardens were established at both Selarang Barracks and Changi Gaol. Vegetables grown included tapioca, sweet potato, spinach cucumber and sweet corn to supplement the POW’s rice diet.
Having been allocated ground and tools Major Colin Cameron and Lt. Kevin Boyle were the first to use their green thumbs and firstly planted 5 acres with tapioca, spinach and sweet potato outside the wire at Selarang. A further 3 acres were planted inside the wired area. When Colin and Kevin were sent to Thailand with ‘A’ Force in May 1942, Captain Tom Bunning took over as Garden Control Officer.
The additional food and nutrition provided by the vegetables was vital to men’s survival and large numbers of men toiled in these gardens for the common good.
Private Arthur London, A.A.O.C. an engineer by trade was appointed as drainage engineer. With men working under his command, Arthur London was promoted to the rank of T/Sgt. for the term of his employment on the Garden Control Party.
With the move to Changi Gaol Camp there was an urgency to again establish gardens. Capt. Tom Bunning and his team started on Thursday 1st June 1944. Tapioca and vegetables were planted in an allocated 8-acre area. This new garden area was known as Tanah Merah. Capt. Bunning’s largest problem was the lack of manpower. Although the garden produced tons of vegetables it was obvious the men were physically losing between 4-5 lbs in body weight at the new camp. During 1945 the problem was exacerbated with the desparation of the Japanese as the war drew to a close. The Japanese demands for labour on work parties, in particular Tunneling Parties around Singapore and Johore deprived the gardens of workers. The gardens took a back seat to Japanese military priorities.
The Concert Party
This multi-national band of merry makers did more than just entertain the troops. Their performances lifted prisoner morale and if only for a short time, took their minds off their miserable existence, death and empty stomachs.
The Concert Party was represented by at least one member of the 2/4th – Robert Lyle who as an accomplished vocalist. The Concert Party made all their own props as well as producing and choreographing all their productions for which they must be congratulated.
The AIF concert party was disbanded in March 1945 by order of the Japanese. A certain item on the repertoire had displeased them!