The British Empire Library

Priest in Prison: Four Years of Life in Japanese-occupied Singapore, 1941-45

By Canon John Hayter

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by E.C.S.
This is a book by John Hayter which covers four years of his life in Japanese Occupied Singapore.

His first experience was from February 1942 to March 1943, when as Assistant Chaplain to the Rt. Rev. Bishop Wilson of Singapore, he and his Bishop were allowed, over a period of 13 months, to continue their Christian Ministry over the Diocese; permission having been obtained that they might do so from the Occupational Authorities. As the book continues with the story of Activity not only is it of interest to read about the reactions of the population to a system of existence under the Japanese which they had never experienced with the British, but to discover - which I did not know until now - that it had only been possible to obtain from the Japanese Authorities permission for the go ahead of this Ministry, by the devoted and, yes, brave courage and effort of a Japanese Army Officer, professing the Christian faith on special duty, and he was Lieutenant Andrew Ogawa.

The book continues with an account of the Activity of the Ministry in the 13 months of their "Freedom" over Singapore territory, when it became apparent to the Bishop and others that the suffering of the population due to starvation, malnutrition, disease, and the increasing activity of the Japanese Secret Police, was the prime issue requiring action. Thus contacts came into existence, and an organisation was set up.

Eventually the occupying Powers became suspicious that subversive elements were active. The Christian Ministry over Singapore was called off. Bishop Wilson and the author, John Hayter, in March 1943 were interned in Changi Gaol.

The Double 10th Investigation

This, carried out by the Japanese Kempeitai, their Secret Police, became known as the Double Tenth Investigation as it started on a Friday, the 10th day of the 10th month of 1943; 56 individuals, including the Bishop of Singapore, were arrested by the Japanese Kempeitai, and 15 did not survive extreme torture. An account is given of this in the book. I cannot end without believing that John, or Canon John Hayter, the author, can fail to have been moved and stirred by what he has written of the events of so long ago. He has moved me and it is for each individual to say what sudden strength may come to him when all seems lost, a force to triumph over Evil and disaster and I think his book, "Priest in Prison", shows that.

The 1991 edition begins with a page of extracts from letters the author received from readers deeply moved by the first edition. It ends with a dozen pages called "Afterthoughts", which amplify some of the material or illuminate it with new information. There are also additional photographs, frequent paragraph headings for easy reference and a good index.

The new material includes accounts of Bishop Wilson and Alan Ker with the Kempei-tai after the Double Tenth; the Changi Quilts, an Archbishop's view of Sorby Adams; the Rev. Cecil Parr, a POW Padre exceptional, who died on the Railway. A photograph of the Malayan Civil Service Memorial in Singapore Cathedral and an account of the perilous work of Mr. Schweizer, the Unrecognised Red Cross representative in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation are also included.

British Empire Book
Canon John Hayter
Tynron Press


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by Stephen Luscombe