A Changi Chain

From my memoir chapter- AT NEWHAM 1944

I had seven uncles who were all farmers at some time.Three joined my father in enlistment in the army during WW2. Before we moved to Newham we lived at Gisborne and we lived on a farm owned by one of those three, my Uncle Stan. Stanley Frederick Newnham was captured by the Japanese at the Fall Of Singapore. He was imprisoned for a time in Changi Prison before being taken on board the Japanese prison ship ‘Rakuyo Maru’, in all probability bound for a fate as slave labour. The ship was torpedoed by mistake in Luzon Strait by USS Sealion of the US navy on 12 September 1944. Stan left behind a two-year old son and a pregnant wife who later gave birth to twin girls.

In the last few years a cousin met a soldier who was also on that ship. Only then did my family learn of the final days of my Uncle Stan. There were too many prisoners in the lifeboat so they took shifts in hanging onto the side. During one period when Stan was in the water the fellow prisoner saw Stan’s hands slip from the lifeboat rim.

Years later another cousin married Doris, who as a young girl was also imprisoned in Changi. Doris had Eurasian heritage. Her father was from Wales UK and was in Malaya working for Dunlop as manager of a rubber plantation where he met and married Doris’s mother. When Singapore fell Doris was about 8 years old.

Along with her sisters she was imprisoned in the female section of Changi prison. Her brother imprisoned elsewhere in Changi but in the boys and men section.

I learnt of this in a very recent conversation with Doris. It seemed to me they may well have been there when Uncle Stan was there. In the conversation I had with Doris she gave some detail of that time.

The unlikely links made between between lives by significant historic events highlight the stretch of the threads of war and are intriguing. And the stretch of time until such links are recognised is also intriguing. From such threads, and from some research in regard to Changi prison, this Changi Chain was woven.

The table included in this chain is proof of veracity. The photograph is a reminder of what for me at the time was somewhat embarrassing because my sister insisted on joining in the Pram Brigade and using our old battered pram with me as its cargo. I was reluctant because I wasn’t a baby but it seemed ill-sporting to refuse.

Now I see the photograph as way of lightening the strong, sad memory of a family time. Certainly a time that has influenced my life and my writing………..