Rare World War Two cartoons and more form new digital Cartoon Museum exhibition, “Laughter of our own making: Cartoons from the secret artists of Changi Prison Camp”

Basil Parry Akhurst (‘AKKI’) - Hut construction at Non Pladuk, Thailand, 1943 | Imperial War Museum
Basil Parry Akhurst (‘AKKI’) – Hut construction at Non Pladuk, Thailand, 1943 | Imperial War Museum

The Cartoon Museum has launched a new digital-only exhibition, Laughter of our own making: Cartoons from the secret artists of Changi Prison Camp 1942–1945.

Although free to view, a suggested donation of £8.50 to support the Museum’s work, as it recovers from the economic impact of lockdown, is welcomed.

Launched this weekend as the world marked the 75th Anniversary of the official end to World War Two, the powerful exhibition celebrates the power of the arts in adversity through a selection of archival treasures from the collection of Jack Wood, a Prisoner of War in Singapore.

Featuring never-before-exhibited cartoons and other works of art created at POW camps, as well as items from Jack Wood’s collection, the exhibition also presents further artwork reproduced with permission from the families of Bill Norways and Des Bettany, alongside cartoons by POWs such as Basil Parry Akhurst, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

“Welcome home…darling!” cartoon by Des Bettany, showing the imagined future world he would return to following release from the prison camp 1941 | Bettany family collection
“Welcome home…darling!” cartoon by Des Bettany, showing the imagined future world he would return to following release from the prison camp 1941 | Bettany family collection

15th August 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day (VJ Day), the day Japan surrendered in the Second World War in 1945, which in effect ended the war.

During the World War Two, over 190,000 British and Commonwealth military personnel were taken prisoner in East Asia by the Japanese. These POW were incarcerated in harsh conditions and subjected to starvation, disease, forced labour and punishment.

There have been many historical accounts of the great suffering and tragedy endured during this period, but archives also reveal stories of hope, joy and human connection in the POW camps.

Jack Wood was a First Royal Army Medical Corps medic from Yorkshire who was imprisoned in Changi Prison Camp, a POW camp in Singapore, from 1942 until 1945. During his time in confinement, he amassed a collection of cartoons, illustrations, scripts, musical scores, theatre programmes, set and costume designs, Christmas cards and magazines created by himself and his fellow prisoners.

Keeping records, including artwork, was forbidden at camp, and it is unknown how Jack managed to keep this collection concealed and transport it back to Yorkshire.

“This extraordinary exhibition reveals how, in brief moments amongst hard labour and extreme hardship, many POW sought comfort and distraction in the arts,” notes Director Joe Sullivan, “creating music, drawings, concerts, theatrical productions and magazines. In these works we find humour, creativity, intellect, imagination, colour, joy, reflection, emotion, memory, beauty, friendship and humanity.

“Together, they tell a story of the resilience of the human spirit and the power of the arts in the face of adversity.

“The exhibition is very timely in 2020, as many people emerge from strict lockdown conditions having discovered, and re-discovered, the joys of the arts.

“I want to thank the families of Jack Wood, Bill Norways and Des Bettany for making their collections available to exhibit. It is remarkable that the collection exists in the first place, and it is an honour to share this story.”

• Explore the exhibition on The Cartoon Museum website at www.cartoonmuseum.org/laughter-of-our-own-making until 30th November 2020

Although free to view, a suggested donation of £8.50 to support the Museum’s work, as it recovers from the economic impact of lockdown, is welcomed

You can also support the Cartoon Museum’s fund raising efforts here

FURTHER READING

Jack Wood Collection

The Changi POW art of Des Bettany

Toby Norways on Twitter – Toby has completed a PHD, a memoir of my father’s time as POW of the Japanese on Thai-Burma railway 1942-45

World War Two cartoons held by the Imperial War Museum

Images featured © respective creators

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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