Books Galore

A Book Written in Sime Road Camp During WW2

Happy Lunar New Year! I recently stumbled upon an interesting listing in ebay for a Genuine Typewritten Book from World War 2 Prisoner-of-War Sime Camp in Singapore. Given that Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 Feb 1942, the first day of the Lunar Calendar that year, it is appropriate that I discuss a wartime book during this period!

The posting for the WW2 book immediately piqued my interest. The location seemed correct. Sime Road Camp was used as a POW camp during WW2. A lot of the British and Australian troops were also interred there from 1942 to 1945 during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

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The book appears to be typed on a very thin, almost translucent paper where one could easily see the text on the other face. The cover appears to be a simple 1- section case bound book. The pictures do not show the type of  sewing but from the way the book opens, it should be a single section that is stitched together with a 3 to 5 hole pamphlet sewing. The covers are wrapped with a plain light blue paper where some parts appeared to have delaminated, revealing the brownish laminated kraft board below.

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All in all, the book looks plain and simple, definitely befitting of a wartime document/book! Historically, most POW and veterans remembered the wartime “Changi University”. Described by George Sproud in his book Bamboo Round my Shoulders, books were given to POWs to “prevent disaffection and thoughts of escaping”. I attach a longer quote from the book below, taken off the website of ABC Australia:

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
(Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/changi/life/university.htm)

Now, this book in question could possibly indicate that a seperate Wartime University was in place at Sime Road Camp as well! The banality of the topic “Some Notes on Cheese” also fitted with the historical description that while some prisoners of war in Changi were studying subjects that had practical applications, others were just studying for interest and to “escape the drudgery of camp life.”

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By 1945, the war was reaching its tail-end. The book, dated August 1945, was probably written in a period of transition. In the same month, the Japanese had surrendered. This meant that the writer, provided that he is a Allied soldier, was most likely in the process of being repatriated back to his country of origin. Interesting enough, Sime Road Camp was used as a transit camp after the end of the war. Many interned soldiers continue to stay in the POW camp instead of returning to their own camps as the inbound Military Administration had taken over their accomodation. Below is an excerpt taken from Infopedia (http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1769_2011-02-14.html):

In 1944, more than 3,000 military prisoners from Changi were transferred to Sime Road Camp to make way for more prisoners from Selarang.  Towards the end of the war, some prisoners who survived the building of the “Death Railway” in Burma were also interned at the camp. By the time of their release, there were 4,507 persons from 27 nationalities in the camp, including 1,023 women and 328 children. The British formed the largest proportion of the population but there were also significant numbers of Eurasians, Australians, Jews, Chinese and Poles. They were reportedly treated relatively better than prisoners of other Japanese camps in places such as Sumatra or even Changi in Singapore. However, many prisoners died in the camp, for instance, the editor and managing director of the Malay Mail, Mr. J. H. M. Robson. After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Japanese administrators of the camp were arrested as the British military administration carried out a full investigation into the conditions in the Sime Road and Changi camps.

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After the Japanese surrender, internees at Sime Road Camp were released by the following month. However, a curfew was initially imposed on released internees and they were advised to stay in the camp for their own safety. Released internees were given a small amount of money dubbed the “Freedom Fiver”. Non-Europeans were given half the amount that European internees were given, causing some unhappiness. Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten and Lady Mountbatten visited the camp in September 1945, bringing messages from relatives and friends overseas as well as food parcels.

During the subsequent months, Sime Road Camp became a place of transition for former prisoners before they could find accommodation or were repatriated. The use of Sime Road Camp as a transit camp for internees led to a great deal of unhappiness, since it meant that they had to return to their site of internment. It was also alleged that the camp was used because the prisoners’ homes in Singapore had been taken over by military authorities.

A few hundred internees were repatriated home by sea and air, but some internees were so dissatisfied with the conditions in the ships provided for them that they returned to the camp in protest. Some internees chose to stay behind to help in the rebuilding of Malaya and Singapore. Workers at the Sime Road Camp stayed on to look after the needs of the displaced people who were still in the camp. These people were largely unable to find employment or accommodation in Singapore, although they were local residents. The camp therefore became a transit centre for former internees and other such displaced persons. Social and recreational facilities were provided and sanitary conditions were improved. The inhabitants of the camp were known as “campers”. To help them, the colonial government gave cash grants to those leaving the camp. By October 1945, only about 351 people remained in the camp.

In July 1946, it was announced that the camp would be closed down and its remaining destitute campers were sent to settlement homes in Poh Leung Kuk at York Hill.

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Caption for Picture: JAPANESE OCCUPATION, 1942 TO 1945 : SIME ROAD CAMP, SYONAN-TO.  WOMEN INTERNEES READING BOOKS IN THE TATTERED LIBRARY SET UP IN THE LAVATORY (National Archives of Singapore Collection, Photo Accession No: 2006-004244-NARA)

It is amazing how a book from a forgotten era can trigger so much research to find out more about the time period. While a book may be constructed simply and without much aesthetic consideration, the meaning embodied within such books carry a lot more significance for the rest of us.

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