In the shadow of the rising sun
Author: Olga Henderson
Olga braves difficulties to tell of her Changi hell
Olga Henderson is a COFEPOW member who has supported the charity for many years. Now in her nineties, she is finding life increasingly trying as she suffers with failing sight. Nevertheless, after much encouragement, Olga agreed to write her book which was launched in July of this year, and is entitled ‘In the Shadow of the Rising Sun - Surviving a Prisoner of War Childhood’.
In February 1942, ten-year old Olga Morris and her family were living in Singapore when the city fell to the invading Japanese army.
Her family had not been part of the privileged ‘Raffles Hotel set’, with a big house and servants. Her father worked in construction, building roads and hospitals. Olga and her siblings grew up in Johor Bahru, a diverse part of Malaya just across the causeway from Singapore, amongst children of all faiths and cultures, without a thought to race or class. It was a very happy upbringing.
One day, a British Army officer arrived to instruct the family that they had 20 minutes to pack and try to escape, with the Japanese only a few miles away. Turned back at an evacuation ship’s gangway as bombs were falling, the family were forced to hide until, captured by enemy soldiers, they were forced marched to Changi Gaol.
Three years of disease, malnutrition, deprivation and oppression followed, sometimes enduring severe punishments and the ordeal of Tenko in the blazing sun, then forced into slave labour.
Once in Changi, Olga and her friends bravely raided the vegetable plot, dodging the searchlights. In the middle of the family’s time in captivity, her younger brother was moved to the men’s camp, and suffered cruelty that scarred him for the rest of his life.
Towards the end of the war, when the internees heard the Allies were coming, they were “given extra rice to have the strength and energy to dig our own graves” admits Olga.
As the 80th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore arrived in 2022, Olga felt ready to tell her story: recounting the great fear and deprivation, and of a childhood lost to conflict. It’s a story of class prejudice, too, such as when she was freed and her experiences as she returned to England as an unwanted refugee.
Yet memories of camaraderie also live on within the book. Inmates of the camp, for example, held clandestine meetings, where they worked on sewing a quilt - the ‘Changi Quilt’ as it is now known and displayed in the Imperial War Museum in London, as an emblem of courage and faith. As Olga says, “We always felt the end of the war would come, we lived for it, from month to month and tried never to lose hope.”
The book, which is in paperback, is 272 pages long and was published on 6th July this year. It is available for:
From Waterstones, W.H. Smith, Amazon and a number of other high quality retailers.