Changi Prison, Singapore

  by Walter Guest



I’ve always thought that “King Rat” was one of the best movies ever made. I got the book by James Clavell and thought it was a masterpiece. I was surprised that the movie followed the book so closely, time allowing.

The two moved me so much that, years ago, I made two trips to Singapore in part to visit Changi Prison where I had difficulty hiding my tears.

I wondered how the movie rated with critics. Very poorly. In a list of the thousand best films of all time it got no mention although “D. C. Cab” was there. So much for critics.

I wondered what Clavell thought about it. He had spent the war in that prison. In his biography it was described as the “notoriously barbaric Changi Prison” where “140,000 out of 150,000 inmates died.”

Wait a minute! Numbers have been my life and those numbers looked odd.

Look up “Changi Prison.” One encyclopedia gives the same numbers as in the biography, probably the source. But the Australian War Memorial website tells a completely different story. “out of the 87,000 POWs who passed through the camp only 850 died.” Most of them, it says, from wounds received previously. Some ex-prisoners described it as “POW heaven” when compared to other camps.

Why the discrepancy? Because tourists don’t want to visit “POW heaven.” They want to visit the “notoriously barbaric” prison. I guess I wasted my tears.

In the same vein, there was no bridge on the river Kwai. That was fiction. But now there is. The people in that area had a bridge that crossed a river so they renamed the river “Kwai” and built their hotels and souvenir booths. Good for them.

So what’s the point of all this? The point is that true education, in this age of the internet, is there for all.




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