Changi Chapel and Museum
The Changi Chapel and Museum is dedicated to Singapore’s history during World War II and the Japanese occupation of Singapore, with a strong focus on the prisoners of war (POW) held captive there. The current site of the Changi Chapel and Museum, moved in 2001, is approximately 1km away from the original site. The Changi Chapel and Museum reopened on 19 May 2021, which was closed since 1 April 2018 for extensive redevelopment.
The building is part of the original Changi Gaol where the prisoners of war (POW) were interned, who a bulk of them were later sent off to Kanchanaburi, Thailand to build the Death Railway.
Passing through the entrance gate.
The Changi Chapel and Museum starts at the visitor services counter. You will need to pre-book your admission by time slots here, or make an on-the-spot registration with the QR code beside the counter. A staff will check for your booking confirmation.
Like with all public places, TraceTogether-only SafeEntry via app or token and temperature screening is done before proceeding on to the exhibits.
For this walkthrough, I’ll only be briefly focusing on most parts of the exhibition, which you can visit yourself if you want the full works.
The exhibition starts with describing Changi Fortress, a modern coastal artillery base and military living quarters.
A topography map of Changi’s strategic location with its close proximity to the Straits of Johor.
On 15 February 2021, Lieutenant General Arthur E. Percival and his advisors surrendered and Singapore was occupied by the Japanese.
This section describes the Malayan campaign fought by Allied and Axis forces in Malaya from when the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) made landfall in northern Malaya on 8 December 1941 to the surrender on 15 February 1942.
Some artefacts the soldiers in the Malayan campaign had with them along the way.
A Japanese map of Singapore published in 1942.
The design of the information panel looks suspiciously like those found on Keiyō Line.
Life as Prisoners of War
The march to Changi was a 22km route march from the city to Changi Gaol, and the reason why the reverse 24km route march from Changi Beach to Marina Bay at the end of Basic Military Training (BMT) from Pulau Tekong is called the Victory March.
A preserved Changi prison door is on display here, integrating with a new exhibit behind.
A section of the Changi wall, along with a muster gong to call POWs to gather.
A new exhibit behind the Changi prison door shows a mockup on how basic the conditions were like in the Changi cell.
How the Changi cell looks like from the side.
Each cell was made for 1 prisoner, but 4 were usually placed inside. 1 will sleep on the actual bed, 1 on each side, and 1 in front of the bed / by the toilet.
There is a ventilation window at the top of the cell.
The toilet is tucked in behind the cell door.
The overall map of Changi POW Camp, taking up all of the tip of Changi.
Resilience in Adversity
This section explains how the POWs turned to ingenuity and improvisation as they faced a struggle for survival with a lack of food, clean water, and other essentials while in Changi POW Camp.
POWs were sent around Singapore for work under the Japanese Occupation.
Thai-Burma Railway / Death Railway
And here’s the main highlight of what I was here at Changi Chapel and Museum for.
POWs interned at Changi POW Camp were mostly sent to build the Thai-Burma Railway between Ban Pong, Thailand and Thanbyuzayat, Burma. More information about the working conditions and environment are described in the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum.
The section of the railway between Nong Pladuk Junction Railway Station and Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi Railway Halt is still in operation today with regular trains plying between Bangkok Thonburi Railway Station and Nam Tok Railway Station daily, and excursion trains plying between Bangkok Hua Lamphong Railway Station and Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi Railway Halt on weekends.
Most tourists would take the short train ride over the Tham Krasae Viaduct as part of a day tour in Kanchanaburi.
The image shown here is briefly described as steel rice trucks in Malaya. Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum has a drawing of a similar angle of this train which is described as being at Slim River Railway Station, Malaya.
A painting of POWs working on the Thai-Burma Railway is featured on one of the displays here. I’m not sure of the origins of the painting though, since it’s only described as a gift. I don’t recall passing through any tunnels on the stretch between Nong Pladuk Junction Railway Station and Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi Railway Halt.
St. Luke’s Chapel
St. Luke’s Chapel was at Block 151 of Roberts Barracks which was later relocated to this site. With the refurbishments done to the Changi Chapel and Museum, however, most of St. Luke’s Chapel’s fittings are gone, and now converted to a regular gallery room.
Having never been to the Changi Chapel and Museum before it closed for renovations, I didn’t realise that this room was fitted with actual chapel stuff, and I didn’t realise at first that this was the actual site of the chapel when visiting the refurbished Changi Chapel and Museum.
The organ at St. Luke’s Chapel is briefly described as “organ”.
This interactive table now sits in the middle of St. Luke’s Chapel where the pews were.
The Changi Murals are a set of 5 paintings painted by Stanley Warren under difficult conditions of sickness, limited materials and hardships. These are on the side walls of St. Luke’s Chapel. The 5 murals were painted in the following order:
These 4 murals were restored in December 1963, July 1982 and May 1988 when Stanley Warren made these trips back to Singapore. They were lost for 13 years when they were painted over with distemper coating after the war.
Only 1 mural was not fully restored – St. Luke in Prison. The original tracing of the drawing was missing and Stanley Warren could not remember the details of the missing portion. In 1985, Stanley’s original drawing was discovered in the memorabilia of Wally Hammond who had been a fellow prisoner with Stanley.
1 pew remains in St. Luke’s Chapel, moved against the wall.
Creativity in Adversity
This section shows the various arts brought out at Changi POW Camp where internees looked to creative outlets to stave off despair and add meaning to empty hours.
Another St. Luke’s Chapel’s pew is placed here facing the art pieces.
Photography was banned by the Japanese but sketches and paintings of their experience seem to be fine, along with newsletters and other forms of creative writing.
There were also performing arts such as concerts and skits.
I don’t know if there was a pun intended for Changi’s captive audience.
Emperor Hirohito formally announced the unconditional surrender of all Japanese forces on 15 August 1945, and conditions tremendously improved in Changi POW Camp with supplies which had been kept away from POWs finally distributed.
Changi POW Camp was then converted into a detention area for Japanese on trial for war crimes.
After the surrender, it was still a few months before all those who were to be repatriated were repatriated by air and sea.
Immediately after the war, the British Royal Air Force took over the area, and Changi Gaol was returned to civilian administration in 1947. This section describes the change back to peacetime and some interviews from the interned.
Changi Aerodrome was then upgraded to become Changi Air Base which is today attached to Changi Airport.
Changi Chapel and Museum Donation
At the end of the exhibition, there is a credit card donation device if you wish to donate to the upkeep of the Changi Chapel and Museum.
Changi Chapel and Museum Shop
Back at the entrance, there is a Museum Shop to purchase souvenirs.
The Changi Chapel and Museum Shop display looks almost like the one at Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum.
In the middle of the museum lies the Changi Chapel, modelled after St. George’s Church, one of the numerous churches built by the prisoners of war (POWs) in Changi during their internment.
The overall seating area at Changi Chapel.
A new shelter has been constructed above the seating area.
Information panels of the Changi Chapel.
The actual St. George’s Church is described as being moved to Thailand along with the POWs, and then moved back once the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway was completed. More descriptions here.
Various places of worship in Changi POW Camp.
Approaching the main chapel with a temporary tentage over it.
The altar of the of the Changi Chapel.
The Changi Cross is a small brass wartime cross made with a base from a 4.5 howitzer shell, with the cross itself being made from bits of brass from an ordnance gun shop. More details here.
The base of the cross has the wording St George’s Church and Changi Prisoner of War Camp 1942-1945 engraved at a later date.
The Changi Cross was brought to Kanchanaburi with the POWs who built the Thai-Burma Railway, back to Singapore by the survivors, to the UK after the war, and is now back in Singapore since 1992.
Outside the Changi Chapel and Museum, there is a map of Sime Road POW and Internment Camp, and another map of Changi.
On the map of Changi, the route of the pre-war railway line to service the 15 Inch Guns at Changi Fortress can be seen.
Overall, the Changi Chapel and Museum explains the history of the site and the POWs interned there reasonably well, though I wish that I could have seen the fitted St. Luke’s Chapel before it became a regular gallery room today. I’d recommend anyone visiting Kanchanaburi for the Thai-Burma Railway or Death Railway to come here first, if they are in Singapore, to complete the historical journey made by the POWs who built the line.