In captivity, prisoners faced a struggle for survival. As time wore on, the effects of malnutrition and the risk of injury and disease mounted. What hope the internees harboured for escape soon became secondary to addressing the lack of food, clean water, and other essentials. Hard labour under the Japanese occasionally endangered the prisoners’ lives, particularly when disputes arose between captors and captives.
To make the best of a bad situation, internees turned to ingenuity and improvisation to meet their needs. Their diverse pre-war professions, such as dentistry, engineering, and gardening, became very useful in devising new ways to live on what they had.
By 1945, Changi’s resources had dwindled to the point that starvation and disease were serious concerns, and prisoners would need all their resilience and resourcefulness to survive.
Within Changi’s strictly regulated confines, the prisoners were allowed personal belongings, but items such as cameras, binoculars and compasses were banned. This did not deter the internees, who found ingenious ways to conceal contraband.
Wireless sets were widely known to exist, though few would have known their exact whereabouts. Internees used them to keep up with world events through radio stations like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Some internees even owned cameras and used them covertly to document their experiences.
Mundane tools like bags and broom handles were typically used to hide such items. When restrictions grew more stringent in mid-1943, disguises grew more elaborate – some records and photographs were placed in spent 15-inch shell casings and secreted around Changi. The internees risked much to hide such objects, but maintaining records and a link to the world outside Changi were tremendously important to them.