The Changi Murals were discovered in an unused storeroom on the ground floor in block 151, just off Martlesham Road, in the early 1950’s. A party of airmen had been detailed to clear out this storeroom and they noticed pictures on the walls, under several coats of distemper. Work was immediately stopped whilst some investigations were carried out, and eventually the murals were revealed.
It was established that they had been painted during the time that block 151 was in use as the dysentery wing of the hospital, during the Japanese occupation of Singapore, when it had housed over one thousand patients, who were being cared for under appalling conditions. It was originally thought that the murals were the work of Ronald Searle, of St. Trinians fame, but eventually it was established, with the aid of the “Daily Telegraph” and the “Daily Mirror” in England, that they had actually been produced by Bombardier Stanley Warren, of the 15th. Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.
The small room in block 151 had been turned into a hospital chapel, named after St. Luke. Stanley Warren, who had been admitted to the hospital suffering from severe renal disease, dysentery and malnutrition, was inspired by other prisoners singing hymns and carols during the services conducted by Padre Fred Stallard, and later Padres G. J. M. Chambers and Aubrey Pain, that when he was sufficiently recovered he joined the choir, and later, as a thanksgiving for his partial recovery, he requested permission to paint a series of murals on the walls of St. Luke’s which was duly granted. He started painting in 1942 but as he was still very weak was only able to work for some ten to fifteen minutes at a time. One of the main problems to be overcome was the lack of the appropriate artist’s materials, paint was not readily available in the camp, but with the aid of the other prisoners, who unquestionably put themselves at great risk, materials to make paint were gradually acquired. The resulting works are all the more remarkable when considering the constraints imposed on the artist, and his physical limitations. In total there were five murals, which were painted in the following order, the Nativity, the Ascension, the Crucifixion, the Last Supper and St. Luke in Prison.
The completed murals uplifted the spirits of the prisoners when they visited the Chapel. Stanley never actually signed any of his paintings as he considered them “a gift to God”. During May 1944 block 151 was converted to become a store for the adjacent airfield, and St. Luke in Prison was nearly completely destroyed, by the Japanese, when a doorway was knocked through into an adjoining room, and the walls of the Chapel were distempered over, hiding the murals from view, a condition that was to remain for over ten years. When the four complete murals and the top quarter of the fifth were fully exposed the search for the artist started and when Stanley Warren was located he was in London, in 1959, living with his wife and son.
He was contacted by the Royal Air Force in 1960 and the idea of restoring the murals was proposed, although reluctant, at first, to a return to Singapore and all of the painful memories that would be resurrected, he eventually agreed and made three trips back to Changi in December 1963, July 1982 and May 1988. The four complete murals were restored, the exception being the partial mural St. Luke the prisoner, as Stanley could not remember details of the missing section, also by now he was no longer fit enough to continue the restoration work required
On 20th. February 1992 Stanley Warren passed away at his home in Bridport, England at the age of seventy-five.
A booklet entitled, “The Changi Murals”, by Stanley’s friend and fellow prisoner, Wally Hammond, which gives a fuller account of the murals, is available from the Changi Chapel Museum, 1000, Upper Changi Road North, Singapore, 507707. ISBN 981-04-8032-6. Tel: (65)62142450
Stanley Warren, taken during his visit to Singapore in 1982.