“Would you be interested to visit a few old SAF camps that we are planning for a group of history bloggers?”
To say I was delighted would be an understatement, especially when they mentioned that it would include the Changi Murals and the old Selarang Barracks.
The Selarang complex was built in 1936 by the British forces and was then called Selarang Barracks. The Singapore Armed Forces took over the camp after 1971. The camp has been upgraded and modernized to SAF’s new requirements but sadly most of the original pre-war buildings had to be torn down as it was found unsafe or unsuitable for today needs.
|The Parade Square at Selarang camp today.|
Inset: The British barracks surrounding the same square during the pre-SAF days.
|Selarang Barracks and the old Parade Square.|
|The Officers Mess is the only pre-war building surviving today at Selarang Camp.|
The Selarang Incident
On 30 Aug 1942, four escaped POWs were recaptured by the Japanese.
The Japanese camp commander, Gen Fukuei, then demanded all POWs sign a declaration that
they would not try to escape. This was in contravention of the Geneva
Convention, so all the POWs refused to sign.
In retaliation, Gen Fukuei ordered
all 15,400 POWS, mainly from the Australian Imperial Force, to be confined within the Barracks until they signed. Selarang Barracks could only house 1,200 men. Thus the majority spilled over into the Parade Square. As punishment, water
and food were strictly rationed and there were no sanitary facilities available, even in the barrack buildings.
Seeing that the Allied soldiers were
not budging by the 3rd day, Gen Fukuei had the 4 escapees publicly
executed as an example. He ordered
that all the sick soldiers be brought from the hospitals and also confined to
the Parade Square. On seeing that their men were starting to die of illnesses like
dysentery, the British commanders permitted their soldiers to sign the
declaration “under duress”. Thus ending the Selarang Incident on 5th Sep 1942.
|Latrines dug into the parade square ,|
|Photo source: Australian War Museum|
|The Selarang Barracks Parade Square today in silent testimony to the events in 1942.|
After the war, Gen Fukuei was tried at a war crimes tribunal and was sentenced to death by firing squad, specifically on the charge of ordering the 4 escapees executed. Ironically, he was executed on the very same spot where the four Allied soldiers were executed at Changi Beach.
|The execution of Lt-Gen Fukuei at Changi Beach.|
However, I have compiled some photographs taken at Selarang Barracks where we were allowed to.
The photographs are in my album here.
The Changi Murals
The Changi Murals are a set of five painting done by an English POW, Bombardier Stanley Warren.
Bdr Warren was ill with severe dysentery and was warded at the military hospital at Roberts Barracks. Roberts Barracks was another camp within the Changi military area housing captured POWs.
|Roberts Barracks at Changi.|
Warren, despite being close to death at one stage, undertook the arduous task of painting the murals, despite lacking supplies like paints and brushes, which he managed to scrounge around to complete his task.
|The Nativity was the first mural painted by Stanley Warren and was completed in time for Christmas 1942.|
Only in 1958, the significance of the murals were 're-discovered' and efforts were made to find the artist. Stanley Warren was located in London but was hesitant to return to Singapore to do a restoration due to the trauma he underwent during the war.
It was not until 1963 that he finally found courage to return to do a restoration of the five murals. He returned a further two times in 1968 and 1988 to finalise the restorations, of which only four could be completed. The final mural, which was partially damaged by the creation of a passageway, could not be done as hZtanley Warren didn't have a sketch of the original painting he titled "St Luke the physician in prison". When finally a sketch was discovered, Warren was too frail to return again to Singapore and so he did a small oil paint facsimile of the work.
|The murals restored by Stanley Warren in 1963, 1982 & 1988.|
|The oil painting of "St Luke the Physician in prison" done by Stanley Warren after a sketch was re-discovered.|
|Blk 151 Roberts Barracks, Changi|
|Chapel of St Luke at Roberts Barracks.|
I was extremely lucky to have been able to enter the Chapel itself on this visit.
Due to numerous requests to visit the murals, a replica of the Changi Murals was created at the new Changi Prison Museum and Chapel located at Changi Road North just Selarang Barracks. The Changi Museum is open to public at no charge.
|The Changi Prison Museum and Chapel contains a replica of the Changi Murals.|
Seeing all the old buildings including the old Medical Centre brought a rush of memories back for me.
Sadly though, most of the old pre-war buildings that were around in my time are no longer there.
|ME4 Yip explaining the various aspects at Changi Airbase|
|Changi Airbase Heritage Hall|
|The old Changi Road that ran to Changi Village. Tangmere Road led to Changi Camp and misery as a NS recruit.|
|Building 494, an old pre-war metal sheet walled building.|
|Commemorative plaque at the old Medical Centre. a reminder of its heritage.|
|This tree was there when I was a recruit in 1975!|
|The old AETI buildings at Changi Airbase where early aircraft mechanics trained.|
|The old Changi Road, now locked within the airbase.|
Changi Airport Tower can be seen in the background.
|Camp security. Pulau Tekong and Johor at the rear,|