Charles Thrale
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Tigers in the Park

Funk Holes in Singapore

Charles Thrale

Charles Thrale had managed to keep his drawings with him throughout his time up country and continued his passion once safely housed in the new quarters. Here he drew a number of sketches depicting life in the camp and working in the ‘Funk Holes’. Notably there are two images showing the inside of the accommodation blocks at the Adam Road camp.

Warrant officers Quarters Adam Park
Warrant officers Quarters Adam Park-tex-tn

Sketch of the WO's Quarters at Adam Park with his own caption attached

by Charles Thrale

 (Courtesy of IWM - Art.IWM ARCH 41)

The first painted with red pencil and blacking shows the inside of the warrant officer’s accommodation. Four men relax on makeshift beds with the door and window of the hut open allowing one would expect a faint breeze to cool the interior. The few ragtag private possessions hang from hooks nailed into the plank walls and sitting on the makeshift shelves. There is a dearth of military equipment to be seen as the time on the railroad would have ensured this would have rotted away. The clothing is limited to a fundoshi and homemade sandals; one man’s sits rubbing his foot that have just been extracted from a well-worn and well-maintained pair of boots. Outside at the crest of a small hill is a square building which Thrale alludes to in the accompanying text as the Japanese ‘secret weapon’. The hut was demolished before the allies landed.

The story of the secret weapon may however have just been a ruse to protect the real purpose of the building. Muller recalls that the Japanese used a nearby garage as a vantage point to view the camp from and that he had managed to get a good look into it on one trip to use the water tap.

‘As I approached the garage, the Japanese briefly opened the door and I saw some pretty interesting things inside. There were cans of coconut oil and soya paste. Wow! That motivated me to put together a stealing mission. Coconut oil and soya paste are foods that are rich in vitamins and protein, none of which we had eaten for a long time. With my friend Ferry van Haastert, we set out to steal some foodstuffs. Ferry and I were good buddies. Both of us liked to make fun of the Japanese.6

Over the following days Pte Muller and his lock picking pal Van Haastert made a nighttime visit to the store taking only what they could carry and hoping the disappearance would go unnoticed by the Japanese:

‘In it [the kitbag] we had sufficient room to hide a jerry can and a bag. Once I swiped the goods, I gave Van Haastert the signal to open the door. The jerry can was now full of coconut oil, the bag full of soya paste and the rest of the space in the canteen was full of water. We almost ran down the hill, our hearts beating in our throats. As far as I knew, the Japanese had no clue that we were stealing from them. For the time being at least.7

Thrale’s second image of the interior of the accommodation shows life in one of the longer barrack huts. The rank tabs suggest this was used for the other ranks. The scene is crammed with men in patched shorts and vests sitting around under makeshift bunks and raised staging. The men on the top staging sit with their feet dangling over the edge and their heads just touching the roof. It would appear each hut could house around 100 prisoners with men sleeping on the two levels.

Adam Road Soldiers Accomodation

Inside the soldiers’ accommodation at the Adam Road Camp

by Charles Thrale

(Courtesy of IWM - Art.IWM ARCH 41)

Other images of the camp sketched by Thrale from the upper slopes of the ridge, most likely from the garage, show the matchstick figures preparing food in the outdoor kitchens that surrounded the huts. The scene is a busy one with men clustered around open fires boiling up the rice in oil drums and ‘billies’ and in the distance the houses at Adam Park break through the foliage of the palms lining the Adam Road.

Adam Park Camp

A view of the Adam Road Camp showing the private cooking area

 by Charles Thrale

 (Courtesy of IWM - Art.IWM ARCH 41)


Adam Road Camp

A second view of the Adam Road Camp looking towards the Adam Park Estate

by Charles Thrale

(Courtesy of IWM - Art.IWM ARCH 410

Thrale also undertook to record the scenes from inside the funk holes.

Funk Holes of Singapore-tn
Funk Holes of Singapore text -tn

His charcoal image vividly portrays the cramped and humid conditions the men faced underground. Even the Japanese overseer in the image is stripped to the waist and the POWs labour in the half light of candles, intense heat and foul air. Thrale notes the dangers of working underground in his accompanying text stating that the Japanese in charge of his excavation were very superstitious and would always sprinkle salt to ward off bad spirits disturbed by the digging. One unfortunate overseer forgot to carry out the ceremony one morning and was later caught under a cave in. (IWM)

As Thrale points out the tunnels at Adam Park may well have been used for air raid shelters. Air raid precautions had been adopted by Singapore civilians from the outset and by 1945 many families simply continued to shelter in the trenches and bunkers built before the invasion.


6 Email dated 15 May 2015 Jack Muller /Jon Cooper

7 Ibid.




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