Changi Cartoonist George Sprod
George Sprod was 20 when he signed up,
still under the legal age of 21. He had come to Sydney from Adelaide,
but hadn't had much luck finding steady work. The army meant a change of
scene and a chance to do something for King and Country. He was assigned
to the Artillery and became Gunner Sprod.
George didn't have a background in
drawing when he became a POW in Changi. But he needed something to fill
in the hours and managed to find some paper on which to doodle.
He was trying to capture what he saw
as 'the lighter side' of Changi. He began publishing a journal of his
cartoons called "Smoke-Oh", which was distributed to men in
George admits that Changi changed his
life. When he returned to Australia he got a job as a cartoonist on the
Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald before a 20 year stint on
Punch. He has written a number of books about his experience in Changi.
The following are excerpts from Bamboo Round My Shoulder.
George is now 81 years old (written
2001) and lives
"After the fall of Singapore many
of the troops resented being still under orders, 'The war's over for us
mate', and were all set to become an undisciplined rabbles, bored, demoralized;
no match for the wily Japanese. Every man was ordered to shave at least
once a week, and regular haircuts were mandatory, to maintain
self-respect. 'But we've got no razors sir', some misery piped up. 'Then
get to work and make some!'
At that time there was a good deal of
sneaking in and out of the barbed-wire perimeter, foraging and
scrounging -strictly forbidden, of course, and highly dangerous. One day
there came the exciting news that a piano had been spotted in the former
British submarine base, and was there for the taking. A party of
engineers went over the wire and manhandled it bodily back to camp. 'It
was no light weight, believe me,' recalls Keith Stevens, 'it took 12 of
us'. From then the concert party never looked back.
Did the prisoners ever miss the fair
sex? Well, yes, but not in any erotic sense, they just weren't getting
the right sort of vitamins that produce the old urge; their thoughts
hardly extended beyond the next meal. So it was, as the years dragged
by, that women became part of that dreamy, desirable, misty world of
freedom to look forward to, like Sargent's pies and Cascade ale. As the
memory of what a real woman looked like faded the concert parties were
able to stage with complete credibility, serious dramas. Dodie Smith's
Autumn Crocus was one, that tear jerker had strong men weeping in the
As prisoners clothes disintegrated in
the tropical climate, men were forced to make 'clothing' out of whatever
material happened to be available.
We had with us in Changi a gunner of
such delicacy that he would pick all the weevils out of his rice before
consuming it. Nightly, after receiving his meagre portion, he would
stand under the solitary globe at the end of the cell block, going
through it with a fine tooth comb, as it were, ejecting with a grimace
those unbidden intruders.
The disbursement of the rations was
carried out with as much solemnity and scrutiny as a Papal election and
with as many subtle points of formality involved; the slightest
deviation from the norm would give rise to accusations and scandalous
gossip. 'Did you see that? Did you see that orderly give the rice a
whack with a spoon as he scooped it up? Giving old Paddy a packed pint!
It's favouritism, I tell you, I'm going to complain.' And any
left-overs, called 'leggies' were dished out to a complicated numerical
system that left no room for argument. Oh how the men looked forward to
their turn for leggies, it was something to dream about!
There were large baskets of rice
festooned with green leaves and festive flags, there was a tree
decorated with candles, even a Santa, who proved to be Slap-Dash Ferdie
Dressed up, and a present under the tree for each man, which turned out
to be an item of his own gear purloined the day before by the sergeants
and wrapped in festive paper!
It was decidedly moist in Singapore
that memorable day. Not that it bothered us much, for all we were
wearing was old tattered shorts, and our feet were bare. What did bother
us, though, was that the large cylindrical pole we were carrying on our
shoulders was growing increasingly slippery and heavy as we trudged up
the hill, slithering and sliding in the red mud.
Suddenly a most astonishing
occurrence! Shouts and screams from below were heard, and a Japanese
sergeant appeared, waving his arms and clambering up the hill. Our guard
motioned up to drop the pole, then, in English, 'All men back'.
All men back? In the middle of the
day? Someone started to laugh. 'It's over!" cried another. 'Shut
up', muttered some more cautious. 'It mightn't be that at all; you'll
get us all in strife'.
But it was over! Of all the
latrine-based rumours that we had heard over the years this one, the
most improbable of all, about a mighty bomb with the power of umpteen
tons of TNT, was as real as the Allied planes zooming overhead.
from the ABC website Changi