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Category: Changi

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Never work Books, books . . Concert Party War's over

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 sick bays.

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 in Sydney.

"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 isles.

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



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