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People say that there aren’t many places to visit in Singapore. That isn’t entirely true! Hidden gems can be found on our tiny island — one of which is a quaint, free historic museum located on the far Eastern shores of Singapore, in the Changi Precinct. There are already plenty of things to do in the East of Singapore, that’s for free too, and this museum has just made the list a whole lot longer.

Originally set up in 1988, the Changi Chapel & Museum is a commemorative site dedicated to showcasing Singapore’s history during the Japanese Occupation. It has come a long way since then. After three years of its temporary closure in 2018, the museum is back with a major glow-up, and reopened its doors to the public in May 2021! 

It now sports new and improved interactive experiences like virtual tours with up to 114 rare artefacts that detail our nation’s history during World War 2 (WWII).

Not only is the museum ideal for history buffs; couples and families will enjoy the visit too. From an unpublished 400-page diary to a toothbrush fashioned from scratch, you’ll get a chance to delve into the riveting personal stories of those who were confined in the Changi Prison camp. 

If you've already explored the various attractions along the Changi Precinct, here are other impressive exhibitions to admire!

Step into history: A remembrance of WWII through immersive experiences

the changi fortress exhibition at changi chapel and museum, east singapore the changi fortress exhibition at changi chapel and museum, east singapore

The Changi Fortress introduces the importance of the precinct as a modern coastal artillery and living quarters for the military pre-WWII, just before it turned into one of the infamous internment camps in Southeast Asia.

The big revamp sees Changi Chapel & Museum presenting a historical wartime narrative woven through eight sequential exhibition zones. It is enhanced with multimedia installations like digital touch-screens — you’d even get access to a chatbot for audio or virtual tours to nearby WWII related sites.

The exhibitions are designed in chronological order, aimed to take visitors through a well-curated journey. It begins with the “Changi Fortress”, which introduces the history of Changi to visitors, followed by the “Fallen Fortress'' that covers the fall of Singapore.

“The Interned” then spotlights the stories of internees; accounts from the approximately 48,000 people who were marched into the converted prison camp at Changi. Stories include the fate of soldiers and civilians, and what they faced at a time where batteries and barracks were built to protect Singapore from attacks.

It’s not every day that you get to hear such harrowing tales — those that serve as a reminder not to let such horrors take place again.

As you move along the exhibition, the zones take on a more poignant note. Sections like “Life as a Prisoner of War” and “Resilience in Adversity” dive into the day-to-day lives of those imprisoned back then. These shine light on the hardships and challenges they faced before their eventual liberation.

When we say “immersive,” think well-built replicas of a prison cell showcasing cramped confines, while built-in speakers play recordings of prisoner conversations. Keep your eyes peeled on a digital display that showcases a historical database of more than 50,000 in-depth war stories — these are stories that are unique to Singapore, and an experience that can’t be found anywhere else!

the creativity in adversity exhibition at changi chapel and museum in singapore the creativity in adversity exhibition at changi chapel and museum in singapore

From embroidery to sketching, the inmates at the Changi Prison camp created semblance of normalcy through creative expression. Sports was also a regular occurrence at the camp aimed to uplift the spirits of the prisoners, though it diminished when plenty were sent overseas for assignments.

The grimness of the past takes a lighter turn further down the walkthrough with “Creativity in Adversity.” This exhibit includes creative works of prisoners who found hope through writing, drawing, or crafting. As the saying goes: light can be found even in the darkest of times.

Make your way through “Liberation,” and “Legacies” next—the final exhibits capturing the raw feelings of the Prisoners of War (POW) at the end of a gruelling three and a half years.

Expanded showcase of history: Rare & personal artefacts from the war

the kodak baby brownie camera owned by sergeant john ritchie johnston, changi museum singapore the kodak baby brownie camera owned by sergeant john ritchie johnston, changi museum singapore

The Kodak Baby Brownie camera belonged to Sergeant John Ritchie Johnston, which was a gift from his wife. As photography was banned by the Japanese, the Sergeant hid the camera away during his time at the camp.

Among the exhibits at the Changi Chapel & Museum is the wide collection of wartime artefacts revealed to the public for the first time.

A Kodak Baby Brownie camera, Christmas dinner menus, and handmade toothbrushes are just some of the many rare, novel items that once belonged to civilian internees of the old Changi Prison camp. What makes these items even more special is the fact that a third of them were generously donated or loaned by their descendants.

You’d even discover cryptic morse codes hidden in a matchbox — a method of communication that the prisoners used to transmit messages when they were held captive.

a 400 page diary by mr arthur westrop, internee at changi prison singapore, changi museum a 400 page diary by mr arthur westrop, internee at changi prison singapore, changi museum

Mr Arthur Westrop’s 400-page diary which comprised letters to his wife who escaped to Africa during the Japanese Occupation.

the morse code device in a matchbox used by prisoners to transmit messages, exhibited at changi museum singapore the morse code device in a matchbox used by prisoners to transmit messages, exhibited at changi museum singapore

The Morse Code device made by the POW to transmit messages, disguised as a matchbox to avoid the scrutiny of the guards.

Some of these artefacts carry great historical significance and come with interesting backstories. You’d find a diary that belonged to Mr Arthur Westrop, a civilian internee who wrote every entry as a letter to his wife. Not only that, the Kodak camera also belonged to Sergeant John Ritchie Johnston, who painstakingly hid his camera from captors during the entire period of his incarceration.

a replica of the changi mural painted by british prisoner of war stanley warren, exhibition at singapore changi museum a replica of the changi mural painted by british prisoner of war stanley warren, exhibition at singapore changi museum

A reflection of hope through art, the replica of the Changi Mural that was painted by Stanley Warren is an exhibition to look out for at the Changi Chapel & Museum. Indeed, it is a creative display of emotions through artistic flair.

On top of that, the museum also showcases a replica of the Changi Mural, a set of paintings with biblical themes painted by Stanley Warren, a British bombardier and POW. Though the originals are currently archived in a military base and closed off to the public, the replicas should serve as a testament to the power of hope through art. It is remarkable how he was able to produce the pieces despite the inhumane conditions back then as much-needed solace for fellow POWs.

Sombre and eerie as some of these artefacts might sound, they effectively transport visitors to the years between 1942 to 1945, offering a glimpse into the emotional events that unfolded then. You’ll walk away with increased empathy and a better understanding of Singapore’s past at this museum — more so than through books alone.

Round off the experience at the chapel and museum shop

wooden pews at the changi chapel, located at the changi precinct of singapore wooden pews at the changi chapel, located at the changi precinct of singapore

Sit on a pew at the Changi Chapel, amid the tranquil surroundings of the courtyard, before heading to shop for souvenirs.

Take a stroll in the courtyard located outside the museum and you’ll find a beautiful chapel sheltered by a canopy of glass and timber. It offers an open-air respite while providing shade at the same time.

Need a breather or space to reflect after all that heaviness? Sit on one of the many wooden pews that overlook the central stage. On the altar of the stage rests the iconic Changi Cross — a brass wartime cross created by prisoners as a symbol of hope. This makes an ideal spot for some quiet rumination. Why not plug in your earphones for some instrumental music to enhance the experience?

Lest we forget, the chapel is also reminiscent of the original chapels typically found during WWII. And if you’d like to leave with a little souvenir or memorabilia, you’ll be thrilled to know that publications and museum merchandise are now up for grabs at the Changi Chapel & Museum shop! Bring a handy backpack along to store your souvenirs for easy carrying.

Before you leave, why not check out the next-door Bark Cafe? A quiet cafe offering alfresco dining, and a great spot to refuel after spending an afternoon touring the museum.  

All in all, the museum’s narrative continues to centre on remembrance, but it has been made even better with an intimate and engaging format since the big revamp. These stories are a reminder of courage and resilience in the face of difficulties, of our country’s journey; and a way to pay tribute to generations that came before us.

 

Changi Chapel & Museum
Address
: 1000 Upper Changi Road North, Singapore 507707
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday - 9.30am to 5.30pm. Closed every Monday except Public Holidays. Last admission at 5.00pm. 
Entrance fee: Free for Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents. Visitors are encouraged to book their tickets online

Bark Cafe
Address: 1000 Upper Changi Road North, Singapore 507707
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday and Sunday – 11:00am to 1:00am, Friday and Saturday – 11:00am to 2:00am

 

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