WWII tale unravels at Adam Park bungalow

A handwritten calendar believed to have been drawn by a former prisoner of war. Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper (above, right) with members of Maek Consulting - (from left) Ms Foo Chin Peng, Ms Serene Teoh and Mr Wong Chung Wan - which specialis
Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper (above, right) with members of Maek Consulting - (from left) Ms Foo Chin Peng, Ms Serene Teoh and Mr Wong Chung Wan - which specialises in architectural conservation and preservation. Behind them are the remnants of a mural from WWII in a bungalow at Adam Park.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
A handwritten calendar believed to have been drawn by a former prisoner of war. Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper (above, right) with members of Maek Consulting - (from left) Ms Foo Chin Peng, Ms Serene Teoh and Mr Wong Chung Wan - which specialis
This illustration shows what the Christian mural looked like in 1942, when the space served as a prisoner of war (POW) chapel.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
A handwritten calendar believed to have been drawn by a former prisoner of war. Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper (above, right) with members of Maek Consulting - (from left) Ms Foo Chin Peng, Ms Serene Teoh and Mr Wong Chung Wan - which specialis
A handwritten calendar believed to have been drawn by a former prisoner of war.PHOTO: JON COOPER

Archaeologist and team unearth over 1,200 artefacts from battlefield and POW camp site

The faint outline of what used to be a Christian mural for a World War II prisoner of war (POW) chapel has been found in a bungalow in Adam Park ,70 years on.

The remnants of the religious markings in No. 11 feature a cascading scroll with the Bible verse: "Lift up your heads, O ye Gates and the King of Glory shall Come in."

Chemical test results, conducted and completed last month by architectural conservation and preservation specialists Maek Consulting, were sent to battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper, who has been living in Singapore and studying Adam Park since 2009.

The test results matched historical records that detailed the different substances used to put together the simple painting in the then war- torn, resource-scarce Singapore.

The man behind the artwork, camp interpreter and padre, Captain Eric Andrews, had used a laundry whitener called Reckitt's Blue to extract blue pigment to paint the scroll. He also obtained yellow clay that was used to colour flowers. The chemical report supports Mr Cooper's historical research, that the black and white No. 11 served as a chapel.

It is the second POW chapel remaining in Singapore, the first being the St Luke's Chapel in Roberts Barracks that has been reproduced at Changi Museum.

Mr Cooper, 50, said: "Although the mural isn't spectacular as a piece of artwork to look at, it is a clear sign that the room had been used as a chapel.

  • Capture and days of hardship

  • These are some of the stories that have left an indelible mark on The Adam Park Project manager Jon Cooper.

    A SURRENDER STORY

    Over the course of the project, Mr Cooper contacted veterans who had fought or were imprisoned at Adam Park during World War II.

    One of them was Private Jack Jennings, who visited Singapore late last year. The Briton was in his early 20s when he fought in the war as a volunteer with the Cambridgeshire Battalion.

    Mr Cooper said it was a surreal experience speaking to Pte Jennings. "I had spent years researching the battle and here was a guy who actually fought in it. He was sharp as a pin. I was spellbound by his story."

    Pte Jennings had been in the trench when a Japanese officer came down the road with a British officer. The British officer had said: "That's it guys, everybody get out."

    Pte Jennings then laid down his weapons such as grenades and spare ammunition, and was taken to a nearby tennis court where he and other prisoners of war (POWs) were held till Feb 19, 1942. He was eventually sent to Changi Prison and later to work on the Thai-Burma Railway.

    PACKED INTO A PEN

    About 600 British troops were packed into a tennis court near No. 6 Adam Park following the defeat of the 1,000-strong Cambridgeshire Battalion on Feb 15, 1942.

    Mr Cooper, who consulted historical records and spoke with some survivors, said: "It was an ideal pen to put people in as there was a 10ft (3m) wire fence around it and only one exit."

    The captured troops were allowed to take shade under the trees in the day and their nights were spent squeezed in the pen. Latrines were scraped into the grass at the edge of the court.

    On the third day, it rained. The downpour failed to wash away the faeces, which rose from the latrines and covered the asphalt court. Mr Cooper said the pen and the men stunk so badly that the Japanese soldiers guarding them gradually moved farther away each day.

    On the last day, the Japanese came out wearing masks.

    The Cambridgeshires who fought against the Japanese were later sent to Changi Prison.

    WRITINGS ON THE WALL

    A calendar written in pencil, with the dates spanning September to December 1942, was discovered on the wall of an outhouse at No. 5 Adam Park.

    It was most likely drawn up by a member of the Australian 8th Division Signals that had been housed there during the war.

    Mr Cooper said the calendar had several pieces of evidence pertaining to the life of the POWs.

    For instance, the calendar features a countdown to the pay day of Adam Park POWs, who were disbursed wages of 10 cents a day, every 14 days, for their work on the Syonan Jinja Shrine at MacRitchie Reservoir. The shrine was built to house the ashes of the Japanese soldiers who died in the conquest of Malaya and Singapore.

    Mr Cooper believes the POWs would have likely spent this money at a canteen at No. 11 buying food to supplement their rice ration. "History was written on the wall," he added.

    The bungalow's tenant, who had been scraping away old paint to revamp the space as a guest room, has since stopped work on that section of the wall and the calendar has been left on display.

    Melody Zaccheus

"It shows the world that if you look carefully at these sites, there will still be hidden history."

The mural is one of the Briton's latest discoveries at the tail-end of his seven-year project at the site.

In 2009, he had accompanied his wife to Singapore for work and soon realised that Adam Park, which his condominium overlooked, was the site of the last battle line before Singapore fell to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942.

The battle had been fought by a 1,000-strong Cambridgeshire Battalion, for control of the southern shores of MacRitchie Reservoir.

It later became a camp for 2,000 Australian and 1,000 British POWs, who helped to build a Shinto shrine at the reservoir to commemorate Japanese soldiers who died in the conquest of Malaya and Singapore.

Mr Cooper began organising his neighbours and recruiting volunteers to work on an archaeological project there. He got permission from bungalow tenants to dig in their lawns. Since then, more than 1,200 WWII artefacts have been dug up following 21 metal detector surveys and two excavations.

The artefacts are now with the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute and the Singapore History Consultants.

Mr Cooper said: "We threw the whole kitchen sink at the estate. It is a very comprehensive study of a WWII battle site."

His project culminates in a website and book.

The website www.adampark project.com/ functions as a repository of information and photos of the artefacts. These and the stories behind some of the items, including used rounds, military badges, gas masks, and coins dating as far back as 1895, have been uploaded onto the online database.

Meanwhile, the 304-page book Tigers In The Park: The Wartime Heritage Of Adam Park, priced at about $40, is slated to hit bookstands early next month. It is divided into four sections.

The first discusses civilian life in the estate before the war, and the second details the fighting that took place there. The third discusses life in the POW work camp, and the final chapter is about what happened to the estate following the war.

Mr Cooper, who is returning to Scotland in July, is hoping that Adam Park will be cared for and protected by the local authorities.

He believes that the site still has stories to tell.

"It is still a heritage site which can be actively studied. Students can come by to do field research."

He said the site, which is now state land, is historically significant in several ways. For instance, the POW camp that operated there from March 1942 to January 1943, was where POWs learnt how to interact with Japanese soldiers.

"In that year, they learnt to cope under Japanese rule and imprisonment," he said.

For instance, they learnt how to cook rice, diagnose tropical maladies and speak basic Japanese.

About 900 British and many Australian POWs were later sent to the Thai-Burma Railway, where they slept in tents along malaria- infested river banks.

The comfortable conditions at Adam Park did not prepare them for what was to come.

This could explain why some of the POWs were photographed smiling at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station as they were en route to the Thai-Burma Railway in late 1942.

Mr Cooper said: "Adam Park is one site where a series of war events unfolded. You can't save everything in Singapore but if you're serious about heritage, then you've to think about how you can protect these structures and the estate."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'WWII tale unravels at Adam Park bungalow'. Print Edition | Subscribe