UK cartoonist Des Bettany tells his 3 years in notorious WWII PoW camp

Updated: 06 Jul 2012
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The lost drawings made by a British soldier during his time as a Japanese PoW during the Second World War have emerged. 
 
Lance Bombardier Des Bettany used his humorous work to keep himself sane during his three years in the notorious Changi prison in Singapore. 
 
It was only after his death that his three children uncovered a book containing hundreds of paintings. 
 
 

Lance Bombardier Des Bettany depicting the futility of attempting to having some peace and quiet in the crowded library at Changi prison camp in Singapore 
  
  
Mr Bettany painted the prisoners with smiles on their faces and rosy cheeks when illustrating the notoriously cramped conditions and lack of food that faced the Allied prisoners at Changi 
 
  

A cartoon by Lance Bombardier Des Bettany illustrating the prisoners need for something more exotic during their harsh prison days
 
His images include drawings from memory of British countryside, imagining life after the war and poking fun at the grim existence faced by the 50,000 prisoners of war. 
 
Lance Bombardier Bettany, from Burnley, Lancashire, a talented artist before the war, fashioned a paintbrush out of human hair and a bamboo cane and used different coloured soil mixed with rice water for paint. 
 
Any scraps of paper that could be salvaged - from loo roll to old work rotas were turned into a canvass for him to draw and paint satirical scenes of prison life. 
 
 
 
Lance Bombardier Des Bettany pictured near Brighton before his imprisonment during World War II, left, and painting pottery at South Shields Art School after the war in the 1950's, right
 
Although the 300 paintings kept in a ledger book survived the war, the Dunkirk veteran, hid them from his family in his wardrobe for 50 years. 
 
His son Keith, 60, said: ‘We knew that this book of paintings was there but we never saw it. 
 
'Dad hardly ever spoke about the war but he opened up a little in his later years. Dad painted to keep his sanity, that is what he told us. 
 
'And when you look at his work you can see what he meant.
 
Mr Bettany’s images of life in the Singapore prison camp include a contented PoW with his hands on his enlarged stomach following a Red Cross drop of food rations. 
 
Another is of two soldiers working on building Changi airport wearing sunglasses and leaning of shovels as they idly exchange gossip. 
 
There is a cartoon of a PoW carrying an enormous pineapple the size of a man, telling a comrade that there is one for everyone in the canteen.
 
Lance Bombardier Bettany’s images of life in the Singapore prison camp include a painting entitled ‘Oh Boy, Liberation’ and shows a PoW at the camp gates kicking a Japanese guard high into the air. 
 
And another poking fun at the Japanese is a parody of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and shows seven burly PoWs being escorted by a tiny guard. 
 
Some of the images of Mr Bettany’s memories of home depict a quaint church in Windermere and a chocolate-box country cottage.
 
His humourous cartoons of life in the future focus on how the ex-PoWs struggle to adjust to life in the normal world. 
 
For example, one depicts a smartly dressed wife telling her husband, who is dressed only in his underwear, ‘Changi or not, you’re not coming out with me dressed like that.’ 
 
Another shows a man cracking open a coconut with a hammer in his lounge, with his wife telling him to ‘keep it off the carpet.’ 
 
He also helped celebrated artist Ronald Searle with the programmes for theatre productions in the camp. 
 
 
THE CHANGI PRISON 
 
 
First built by Britons as a civilian prison in 1936 it was taken over by the Japanese during the Second World War when Singapore fell in 1942.

Until the end of the Pacific War it held over 50,000 Allied military men.

It was notorious for the way they treated their prisoners with low food rations and slave-like labour. 
 
Prisoners had to come up with imaginitive ways of gaining food and medicine, and the black market flourished. 
 
Imprisoned army medics concocted pills from their Red Cross rations and sold them to Japanese guards as tablets against STDs - and used the money to buy proper medicine for their sick fellow inmates.
 
During the hellish hardship there were some brighter times – the prisoners were sent 20,000 books from libraries in Singapore and the University fo Changi was set up with classes in agriculture, general education, languages, law, engineering, medicine and science.

400 men learned to read and write while prisoners of war in Changi.

The prison is described in James Clavell’s 1962 novel King Rat which depicts the fight for survival at Changi and the prisoners’ hierarchy and the black market among them.

It follows ’The King’ an American corporal who wishes to dominate the prisoners and those who hold them captive thought exploiting the black market and corruption withing the camps and Peter Marlowe, a young British pilot, who strikes a friendship with The King by becoming his Malay interpreter. 
 
Clavell himself was a prisoner at Changi during the war and suffered greatly at the hands of his captors.

Lance Bombardier Bettany had a natural talent for art although he trained as an industrial chemist before the war.
 
He joined the Royal Artillery in 1939 aged 20 and fought in France and Belgium before being evacuated at Dunkirk. 
 
After that he was sent to the Far East and fought against the Japanese in what was then called British Malaya before Singapore fell in 1942.
 
After the war he married and had three children. He eventually emigrated to Australia where he died in 2000. 
 
Keith said of his father’s art: ‘The spirit of much of the work is one of light-heartedness that helped my father keep a sense of optimism in the face of a brutal captor. What you see in the work is the opposite to what life was like. 
 
'He painted cartoons of happy PoWs with bloated bellies and healthy pink skin and wearing clean clothes and being chauffer driven to their work by the Japanese. 
 
'There is no sign of what life was really like. There are no skin-and-bone bodies or men dressed in loincloths or showing a life where anything that crawled was eaten. 
 
'If he had painted what actually went on it may have destroyed him. What helped him and his mind was to paint the opposite and put a humourous spin on it. 
 
'He drew touching works of nostalgia and of life after the war to keep him going.’ 
 
Nearly 1,000 prisoners perished at Changi and a further 16,000 died while working on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway or the ‘Death Railway’. 
 
Des Bettany’s artwork can be seen at changipowart.com. 
 
SOURCE: dailymail.co.uk
  
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