The Changi Chapel
After the surrender of Singapore on the 15th February 1942, a very large number of the Prisoners of War found themselves in Changi Jail, if not actually inside the jail, they found themselves quartered in the River Valley Road, Sime Road or elsewhere.It was estimated that there were around 18,000 men in total from every walk of life, so it was necessary from the start to try and create several interests as a diversion from the boredom and the deteriorating conditions. With skilled and craftsmen in abundance, making use of their talents not only gave them something to do, but their experience and knowledge often produced something essential to their surviving or to boosting their morale.Such was the case with the small Changi Chapel. Many found a great comfort from praying and a Church Service gave them a sense that not everything had disappeared from their lives as they remembered it - a Church Service kept them in touch with reality amidst so much inhuman brutality and building the small Chapel out of anything they could find, helped to keep them occupied and their minds off their empty stomachs.
Church Service in Changi Chapel(Photograph by courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London)
The Changi Chapel was shipped to Australia in 1947 with the intention that it be reconstructed as a fitting memorial for the Prisoners of War. It then lay untouched for forty years, until 1987 when the crate was opened to reveal that not all of it was there, but there was enough, and with the help of the original photographs and extra materials, namely some timber posts and roof tiles, it was rebuilt.
The original Changi Chapel in Australia
The restored Changi Chapel now stands in the beautiful grounds of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Canberra, Australia and was officially opened as a National Memorial in August 1998.
Meanwhile at Changi Jail on Singapore, an exact replica of the Chapel was erected outside the walls of the prison and for years many visitors have found solace in visiting this small place of worship, and praying close to where their loved ones used to sit and pray.
But even this small Chapel has recently found a new home. In February 2001, it was moved about a mile down the road and is now situated beside the newly built Changi Museum.
However, one small factor has not changed since the times of the POW's Chapel services. Still standing on the small altar is the original Changi Cross. This was made by the prisoners themselves soon after captivity. Made from any scrap material that they could lay their hands on, the base being made from part of a shell and the rest from hammered strips of brass.
On the base is engraved the words:
"St. George's Church and Prisoner of War Camp 1942-45"
In the early days it was placed in a converted Indian mosque within Changi Jail, but that is not quite the end of the story of the Changi Chapel, its Gates and its Cross. COFEPOW has two members whose father, Harry Stogden, was instrumental in the making of the Cross. Bernard Stogden was invited to Singapore in February 2001 to place the Cross into its new position when the Chapel was moved.
His sister, Freda Cooper, travelled with a party of COFEPOW members on a pilgrimage of the Far East and Commonwealth War Cemeteries in April/May 2001 and on visiting Singapore and the Changi Chapel, the Cross was taken out of its protective case and given to Freda to hold.
Their father, Harry Stogden, spent the last part of his captivity in Japan. He survived his 3 years of torment, only to die during his sea voyage home and was buried at sea.