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. Photo: The Straits Times
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.
This illustration shows what the Christian mural looked like in 1942, when the space served as a prisoner of war (POW) chapel. Photo: The Straits Times
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. 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.
A handwritten calendar believed to have been drawn by a former prisoner of war. Photo: Jon Cooper
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.
Image: The Straits Times
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."
This article was first published in The Straits Times.