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Update from the Changi Digitisation Project, Cambridge

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The Changi project team at Cambridge University Library have recently finished a major conservation challenge, the archives of John Weekley. In a new blog post John Cardwell, Project Archivist, and Emma Nichols, Project Conservator, discuss the content and challenges presented by this important part of the Changi Archive.

John Weekley served as an area commandant in the Changi and Sime Road men’s civilian internment camps for almost the entire three and a half year period of their existence. As a senior member of the camps’ administration, his papers are an invaluable source for understanding their day to day management. Many are notices disseminating information to internees, and those relating to diet, health and hygiene shed significant light upon the medical history of the camps. They record the organisation of medical services through the foundation of a hospital and the appointment of a Chief Medical Officer, a Chief Health Officer, a Medical Reference Committee, and a Fatigues Medical Board responsible for the health and safety the camps’ many workers.

The John Weekley Archive forms one of the ten conservation work packages in the Changi Archive and is by far the largest; consisting of over a thousand leaves of paper, adhered by their left hand edge into several thicker paper folded covers. The papers are all of differing sizes – from A4 to 1 cm strips; weights – from thick paper to very thin transparent paper known as onion skin; and colours – classic white and cream to violent shades of pink, yellow and blue. Though each folder had originally been one solid block of papers, over time, probably through a combination of intent and accident, the leaves had been separated into sections of varying number, adhered together but no longer to the cover. All of the leaves had sustained some kind of damage ranging from tears, losses and skinning, to staining from the adhesive.

To find out more details about the John Weekley Archive and how conservation work was carried out, including photographs documenting the conservation process, please visit John Cardwell’s and Emma Nichols’ article on “The History and Conservation of the John Weekley Changi Archives”.

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Changi digitisation project at Cambridge University Library

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Cambridge University Library has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Award to conserve, digitise and make freely available online the archives of two WWII civilian internment camps on Singapore – Changi and Sime Road. These form part of the Royal Commonwealth Society’s British Association of Malaysia and Singapore archives. The two-year grant commences in September 2015 and it is planned to launch the records in Cambridge Digital Library in August 2017.

The archives will be of immense interest to the families of internees, academic researchers, students and the general public, since few survivors ever spoke of their traumatic ordeal. The first stage of the project involves the meticulous conservation of the archives.

The archives contain invaluable primary sources for the reconstruction of the lives of Singapore’s civilian internees. They include official records compiled by the camps’ internal administration, which document personal data like an internee’s name, date entered camp, marital status, occupation, age, nationality, and camp address. Other sources shed light upon accommodation, camp discipline, relations with the Japanese authorities, work parties, diet, health and hygiene, recreation and leisure, the delivery of mail, and the repatriation of internees at the end of the war. Newspapers circulated within the male camp, such as the ‘Changi Guardian’, reported upon events, disseminated news of sporting, musical and theatrical societies, and published fiction, poetry and humour. These official records are complemented by the correspondence, diaries and memoirs of individual internees.

More information on the historical background and provenance of the archives can be found on the Cambridge University Library Special Collections webpage.

An article by Peng Han Lim on “Identifying and collecting primary sources of information to reconstruct the daily lives of the civilian internees at Changi Prison and Sime Road Camp 1942-45” is included in the SEALG Newsletter 2013.