Short upright piano : Changi Concert Party

Place Asia: Singapore, Changi
Accession Number REL43749
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Maker Robinson Piano Company (Siam) Limited
Place made Thailand
Date made 1930s
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Robinson short upright piano, originally with olive green wash finish to body, later given cream wash when used by the Changi Concert Party 1942-1945, and subsequently painted cream in Australia. A steel plate on the upper front board of the piano is impressed: 'This piano belongs to the history of World War 2. It is the piano from Changi Camp and is here by courtesy of 'Happy Henry' Smith, who was responsible for its removal from Singapore to Changi and was finally instrumental in bringing it back to Australia.' The inside of the lid carries 31 signatures, written in texta and biro, of former prisoners of war. The signatures inside the lid are: Dick Armstrong 2/29 Bn 8 Div; Arthur Dawson 2/1 FLD ENG 6TH DIV; Ken Lacey 2/30 BN.; Bob Davis 2/12 FLd Coy RAE; Allan Mason 2/15 Fld Regt; Alf Stone 2/2 BTN NX1391; Pat Jenkins 8 DIV SIG; P. Hendry 2/10 Fd AMB; JOE FIELD 2/30 BTN NX37612; William (Bill) Rigby 8th Div. Changi/ Burma Rd late of Blackalls Park; Percy Hunt 2/19 NX50914 A. Coy; ANGUS KLOSE 2/10 Fld Coy. RAE; VINCENT ROWETT 2/19 BN; NX47090 Ted Bradley 2/20 BN; BOB WILSON 2/10 FLD AMB; KEN ASTILL 8 DIV. HQ.; BERRY ARTHUR, 8th Div SIGNALS; Fred Butt NX26185 2/30 BN; Blue Butterworth NX2592 2/1st Batt; Bill HAMMON VX46251 2/3 MG BTN; Bluey Pollock SPARROW FORCE TIMOR; Butch Curran (McCann) SPARROW FORCE TIMOR; JIM CONNOR 2/15 Fld Regt; WAL BUCKLEY 2/20 Fld Amb; ROLY DEAN 2/19 Bn; Arthur Wade NX745 2/3 Fd Ret 6 Div; Bart Richardson 2/20 Bn; Roy Kelly 2/20 Bn; Max Morris 2/1 Fortress Coy; JACK BOARDMAN (PIANIST); FRANK ELWORTHY 22 Bde HQ.

These signatures have been identified as the following Australian servicemen: NX68547 Private R J ARMSTRONG, 2/29 Battalion; NX777 Corporal T A Dawson, 2/1 Field Company (a POW in Europe); NX47207 Lance Corporal K J LACEY, 2/30 Battalion; NX72294 Sapper R DAVIS, 2/12 Australian Infantry Field Company; NX31346 Gunner W A MASON, 2/15 Field Regiment; NX1391 Private A J STONE, 2/2 Battalion NB STONE WAS A POW IN EUROPE; NX36370 Signalman T P A JENKINS, 8 Corps of Signals; NX35147 Captain P I A HENDRY, 2/10 Field Ambulance; NX37612 Private J L FIELD, 2/30 Battalion; William (Bill) Rigby has been identified as EITHER NX16591 Gunner T W RIGBY, 2/15 Field Regiment OR NX68280 Driver W RIGBY, 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy; NX50914 Private P C HUNT, 2/19 Battalion; VX33038 Sapper A E Klose, 8 Division Provost Company; NX10629 Private V R ROWETT, 2/19 Battalion; NX47090 E BRADLEY, 2/20 Battalion; NX54812 R N WILSON, 2/10 Field Ambulance; NX72824 Private K A ASTILL, 8 Div HQ; NX31512 Corporal B F G ARTHUR, 8 Corps of Signals; NX26185 Sergeant F G BUTT, 2/30 Battalion; NX2592 Private M BUTTERWORTH, 2/1 Battalion; VX46251 Captain J D Campell HAMMON, 2/3 Australian Machine Gun Battalion; NX81839 Gunner A POLLOCK, 2/1 Australian Heavy Battery; NX39094 Gunner A H MCCANN, 2/1 Heavy Battery; NX10792 Gunner J S CONNOR, 2/15 Field Regiment; NX46754 W BUCKLEY, 2/10 Field Ambulance; NX59496 Corporal R M DEAN, 2/19 Battalion; NX745 Gunner W A WADE, 2/3 Field Regiment (a POW in Europe); NX35013 Lieutenant B D RICHARDSON, 2/20 Battalion; NX57289 Private R J KELLY, 2/20 Battalion; NX38720 Corporal M MORRIS, 2/1 Fortress Signals; NX59309 Private O J BOARDMAN. Headquarters 22 Australian Infantry Brigade; NX51361 Lance Corporal F A E ELWORTHY, Headquarters 22 Brigade.

History / Summary

After Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, 15000 Australian prisoners of war were marched in to camp at Changi. By the second day in camp an Australian Concert Party had begun rehearsals. Initial concerts featured a succession of artists performing individual acts, but soon a concert party of about thirty full time performers was formed, and moved into an open-sided steel-framed garage, which was gradually adapted as a theatre, complete with elaborate backdrops, curtains and theatre lighting. The materials used to transform the garage, as well as some of the costumes and musical instruments were scrounged by prisoners on work parties outside the camp, and by small parties of men who went through the perimeter wire at night. Recognising the need for a piano, Keith 'Dizzy' Stevens, the Party's 'female' comic who performed with a red dyed mop on his head, led eleven men though the wire one night to a sailor's mess in the former British submarine base, 'liberated' the Robinson upright piano there and hauled it back to camp, a distance of one and a half kilometres.

The concert party's increasingly professional shows ranged from individual acts, comic and vaudeville routines, to popular songs, many of them written in the camp, and serious dramatic performances, as a well as a traditional pantomime each Christmas. Concerts were so popular, not only with the prisoners but also with the Japanese, that tickets had to be rationed.

At the end of the war in 1945, members of the Concert Party who had played smaller individual instruments prepared to take them home with them. An initial request by the Concert Party as a whole to ship their beloved piano to Australia was refused. When the Concert Party made it clear that they would not board the troop transport Largs Bay without the piano it was finally loaded and lashed to the deck. On arrival in Sydney the question of who would transport and care for the piano proved difficult. 'Happy Harry' Smith, one of the original members of the Party agreed to take it home, although he was a comic and puppeteer, and never played the piano.

The piano was later lent to the Sussex Inlet Bowling Club on the New South Wales South coast (c 1960) before being placed in the Sydney headquarters of the ex-Prisoner-of-War Association in the 1980s. It is believed that the signatures were added to the underside of the piano lid during its time at the Association. In 1983 eight members of the Changi concert party assembled to perform around the piano once more. It was lent to the Round the Earth Company in 1992 for their performances of 'A Bright and Crimson Flower', an epic about Australian POWs. The play was performed in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, but the piano was abandoned in Hobart. It was eventually located by 'Happy Harry' Smith's son and grandson and flown back to Sydney by the RAAF. After it had been donated to the War Memorial in 2011, Jack Boardman, the Changi concert party's pianist, together with a singer, saxe and bass player from the Royal Military College band, gave a final performance on it, playing popular songs which had been written in the camp. The concert was filmed for television.