The British Empire Library

Life and Death in Changi: The Diary of Tom Kitching Who Died in Japanese Hands in Singapore in 1944

by Tom Kitching

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Dr J E Hoare (Head of North Asia and Pacific Research Group, Foreign and Commonwealth Office)
In 1941, Tom Kitching was Chief Surveyor of Singapore. He had been due to retire in 1937 but was asked to stay on. The family went on home leave in 1940, and returned for one last tour, leaving behind their eldest son, then a student at Oxford. When war came, therefore, most of the family was in Singapore. The two other children, Joan aged 19 and Brian 9, were evacuated safely. Their mother, Norah, left on one of the last ships to leave Singapore, and was either killed or drowned at sea.

Tom went into internment. He was clearly a meticulous person, who liked order and neatness. In his spare time he had collected stamps, sorted photographs, and had kept diaries. In internment, he continued these interests, keeping a detailed diary that he made little attempt to conceal, although he wrote some passages critical of the Japanese in a simple code. Eventually the diary reached his younger son. A friend transcribed and edited the text, which has now been privately published. Tom's account was very detailed and repetitious. Much of the repetition has been edited out, although the excisions are not indicated in the text. Tom's careful narration, like all such accounts, is a harrowing one. While he does not seem to have been beaten up, or thrust into solitary confinement, his straightforward account of the deprivations and the pettiness of the guards builds into a massive indictment of the Japanese military occupation of Singapore. Lood and tobacco became a constant concern. Although these civilian internees seem to have been better supplied than many of the prisoners of war, they still suffered from shortages of essentials. One consolation was the Japanese failure to win over the colonial population, for not only did they set out to humiliate the former colonial rulers but, as Tom witnessed, they treated the 'liberated' Malays, Chinese, Sikhs and Tamils with a casual brutality that turned many of them against Japan. The result was that many were pleased to see the British return at the war's end.

For Tom. however, that came too late. Although he kept himself fit while a captive - he organised the camp cricket, and went running most days - he developed throat cancer and died in April 1944. Like others who suffered this terrible internment, he deserved better, but it is good that he lives on in the pages of this book.

British Empire Book
Tom Kitching
Brian Kitching


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