What to see at the newly reopened Changi Chapel and Museum

What to see at the newly reopened Changi Chapel and Museum

The Changi Chapel and Museum, closed since 2018 for redevelopment, is reopening its doors on 19 May to visitors. Formerly Changi Museum, it has been turned into a commemorative space and a museum to keep alive stories of courage and resilience from prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians.

The museum features 114 personal effects, war artefacts and community loans from families of the POWs and civilians who were interned in the place during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945.

Here are five not-to-miss highlights at the Changi Chapel and Museum:

Kodak Baby Brownie camera

Kodak Baby Brownie camera_1930s_Metal_Collection of the National Museum of Singapore changi chapel museum

This vintage camera from the 1930s belonged to Sergeant John Ritchie Johnston and it was given to him by his wife. With the fall of Singapore on 15 Feb 1942, Johnston was captured by the Japanese, but successfully brought the camera with him to Changi and carefully hid it from his captors during the entire time he was incarcerated there, because cameras were not allowed in Changi Prison. The camera survived the camp, like the Sergeant.

Chronometer from a cargo ship

Chronometer from the HMS Bulan_c. 1918−1919_Wood and metal_Collection of the National Museum of Singapore changi chapel museum

This chronometer made of wood and metal once belonged to the HMS Bulan, a cargo ship that was used to evacuate civilians from Singapore during the Japanese Occupation. On 11 Feb 1942, the cargo ship, ferrying evacuees, was bombed mid-route between Singapore and Batavia. Surprisingly, the ship and its passengers arrived safely at the destination four days after the bombing incident, coinciding with the day that Singapore surrendered to the Japanese.

Toothbrush made from scratch

Toothbrush_c. 1942−1945_Bamboo and coconut fibre_Gift of the family of Forbes Wallace_2019-00638_Collection of the National Museum of Singapore changi chapel museum

This simple wooden toothbrush is an example of an everyday item made by POWs at the workshop in Changi Gaol during the Japanese Occupation. The workshop produced some 30,000 items in total, including brooms and toothbrushes. With resources being scarce during the war, it was difficult for POWs to obtain necessities and the POWs had to use their ingenuity to make the most of what they had and improvise with what was available. They used bamboo for the brush handle, coconut fibre for bristles, and attached the bristles to the handle with bitumen from roadways.

Changi Murals

changi murals changi chapel museum

This mural depicts the nativity scene and it is a replica of a mural painted on the walls of the museum. The original mural, part of a series of five murals, were made by Bombardier Stanley Warren, who used everything from crushed chalk for pigment, to brushes made with human hair. He painted the life-like scenes to bring internees spiritual comfort and solace during the war.

Diary of Arthur Westrop

Diary of Arthur Westrop_1942−1945_Paper_Gift of the family of Arthur Westrop_Collection of the National Museum of Singapore changi chapel museum

This 400-page diary written by civilian internee Arthur Westrop contains a series of entries in the style of letters to his wife, who had been in Rhodesia – Zimbabwe today – at the time. On 10 Oct 1943, Westrop’s cell was raided during a massacre, also known as the Double Tenth Incident. He survived the massacre, and his diary was not found by the Japanese, as he had taken care to hide it beneath the floorboards.

Learn more about the Changi Chapel and Museum here.

(Photos: National Museum of Singapore)

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