Forum: Give the public access to the original Changi murals

I read with great delight about the reopening of the Changi Chapel and Museum (Everyday items tell stories of POWs at Changi museum, May 12). Tucked away in a quiet site in Changi, this is a little-known gem of a museum.

The artefacts displayed in the museum, many of which were the personal effects and invention of the prisoners of war (POWs), show the ingenuity of the POWs in trying to survive the war. Ultimately, the museum tells the story of the triumph of the human spirit against all odds.

One group of artefacts that have fascinated me, and which I have personally done research and given talks on, are the artworks that were created by the POWs. These include sketches, drawings and paintings, often using improvised materials such as billiard chalks and camouflage paint.

And it is especially remarkable that the POWs were able to produce a large body of works despite inhumane conditions and threats to their lives.

The most well-known and visible of these works of art are the five murals depicting Christian allegorical scenes that British bombardier Stanley Warren painted for the chapel on the ground floor of Block 151, Roberts Barracks in the dysentery wing.

Mr Warren completed the murals in less than a year despite being ill most of the time. The murals provided much-needed solace and contemplation for the POWs. The murals in the museum are replicas and the originals are in a military base closed off to the public.

I had the privilege of viewing the original murals when I was doing research on them. Viewing them in their original context is a totally different experience from viewing their copies in a museum. It was extremely moving, to say the least.

I hope that the authorities can consider giving the public access to the original murals. Access could be by registration only for a limited number of people on selected days. Strict security could be enforced.

It would be a pity if Singaporeans are not able to see one of the country's most treasured works of art that provided a light during those dark days.

Jeffrey Say Seck Leong

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