Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services 

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Category: Changi

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No account of the Changi prison camp would be complete without some reference to the ‘University’. Despite the apathy which was all too apparent among many of the men, the RAEC staff were soon appealing for potential lecturers and instructors, and a wealth of talent was unearthed, ranging from officers who possessed some sort of professional qualifications to almost the entire staff of Raffles College, Singapore, who had been mobilized as volunteers and now found themselves behind the wire.

Inevitably educational materials were scarce, but several libraries were found more or less intact, and chairs, tables and even blackboards were discovered. From March to August 1942 the educational programme expanded until several thousand men were taking part. Lectures were given on every conceivable topic and class tuition was provided in a series of faculties, including General Education, Business Training, Languages, Engineering, Science, Agriculture, Law and Medicine. Southern Area College (in Kitchener Barracks) provided tuition approaching university level, while 18th Division College provided instruction up to matriculation standard. Unfortunately, hardly had the educational work got fully under way than the teaching staffs began to be depleted by the departure of working parties and by November the 'university' had contracted into an Education Centre, which provided a library and a limited range of classes and lectures.             From Changi History

Another recollection from a POW

The colonel [Colonel 'Black Jack Galleghan] came up with another winner; to prevent disaffection and thoughts of escape, as he put it to the Japanese commandant, books were the answer, and furthermore he knew where to put his hands on some.

 Consequently a convoy of lorries descended on Changi and the entire contents of the Singapore Library were shovelled in.

And what books! Choice items that had been banned in Australia for years. Australia in those days was running neck and neck with Ireland for book-banning championship of the world… The more serious volumes were also avidly seized upon, and soon the camp was full of people studying law, medicine, astronomy, thermodynamics and all kinds of professions they envisaged taking up when the blessed day of freedom dawned.

George Sprod - Bamboo Round My Shoulders

Some 20,000 volumes arrived at the camp from libraries in Singapore. The University of Changi was born. Classes were set up in Agriculture, general education, languages, law, engineering, medicine and science. Anyone who could, offered to share their knowledge with others.

400 men learnt to read and write while prisoners of war in Changi. Many of the subjects had practical applications, but others were just for interest. Study became a way of escaping the drudgery of camp life. Art of all kinds flourished in Changi. There was a literary society, a choir, and lots of cartooning and painting. But perhaps the biggest single group was the Changi concert party.


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces