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Events and Project Updates

Voices of civilian internment: World War II Singapore

Wednesday 16 August 2017: Launch event for Cambridge librarians and archivists to disseminate information about the archive.

Sunday 13 August 2017: at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire meeting internees and their families, hearing their stories and promoting our online archive.

Friday 11 August 2017: Launch events at Cambridge University Library. We were delighted to welcome internees and their families and friends, as well as archivists from Cambridge Assessment, the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, and the Imperial War Museum to a day of presentations about our archive, its origins, content, conservation and digitisation. We exhibited original materials from the archive and gave behind-the-scenes tours of our conservation and digitisation studios. Approximately 60 people attended. 

Monday 12 June 2017: Midlands Conservators Group meeting at Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham: Emma Nichols will discuss the conservation of the Changi archive.

Friday 9 June 2017: Researching FEPOW History Group/Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine Conference: The conservation and digitisation of Second World War civilian internment camp archives from Singapore ( a presentation by Emma Nichols and John Cardwell)

Saturday 25 March 2017: Science Festival: Resilience, repair and research, 10.00-12.00, Cambridge University Library. Booking required: Email to book your place.

Archivist John Cardwell, Conservator Emma Nichols and Photographer Maciej Pawlikowski will discuss the history, conservation and digitisation of the Royal Commonwealth Society's civilian internment camp archives from WWII Singapore. There will be tours of the Conservation Department and the Digital Content Unit, with the chance to view cutting-edge equipment, and a display in the Map Room of original items items from the Changi and Sime Road camps, complementing items already on display in the University Library entrance hall.

20 February to 25 March 2017Exhibition of archives from Changi and Sime Road civilian internment camps. Cambridge University Library Entrance Hall. Free entry Monday - Friday - aturday -

Project outline

Cambridge University Library has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Award to conserve, digitise and make freely available online the archives of two WWII civilian internment camps on Singapore - Changi and Sime Road.  These form part of the Royal Commonwealth Society's British Association of Malaysia and Singapore archives.  Our two-year grant commences in September 2015 and we plan to launch the records in Cambridge Digital Library in August 2017.

Few survivors of Japanese internment spoke of their traumatic experience, so the records are of immense interest to the friends and families of those interned in the Far East, as well as to the academic community, and particularly to those studying the effects of malnutrition and tropical diseases.

In our archives, the internees meticulously documented their captivity - their accommodation, work for the Japanese, their recreation, diet and health, and repatriation at the end of the war.  Nominal Rolls and the files of the Camp Commandant and Quartermaster are complemented by newspapers, written and circulated by the internees, diaries, letters, plays and memoirs.

Making contact

We are keen to contact the families of those whose records we hold to ensure they have no objections to us publishing these records online.  By following this link you will find a document listing the records we plan to digitise.  It gives the internees' names and pre-war occupations where known.  Nominal rolls vary in the amount of information they list, but include for each individual some of the following: name, camp registration number, camp address/hut number, age, nationality, and remarks. Remarks might list occupation, family relationships e.g. sister of, or the country in which they were working prior to internment. Occasionally they list earnings, or a death in camp giving the date of death of the named individual. Men, women and children were listed separately.

Conservation challenge

The records were created on very thin scraps of now brittle paper, and the paper in several folders is tipped-in, obscuring its full contents, so microfilms offer researchers an incomplete record.  Our plan is to repair the paper, separating, cleaning and encapsulating leaves, to make it safe to digitise.  Once digitised each record will be hosted on Cambridge Digital Library and we will also re-package the original records so that they can be exhibited and handled safely by the families of internees.

We were delighted to report that Emma Nichols won a Wellcome Trust Research Bursary enabling her to do additional research on one of the Nominal Rolls - see 27 June 2016 news link below.  As the project draws to a close, Emma reviews her 21 months as project conservator in a blog post on 30 June 2017 entitled 'Farewell to Changi'.

You can learn more about the diet, health and medical services in the camps in archivist Dr John Cardwell's blog post about John Weekley's archives (11 July 2016). Weekley was an area commandant in Changi and Sime Road camps.  Emma describes the challenges of conserving these fragile records in the same post.

For historical background and an introduction to the archive, please refer to our blog post of 3 November 2015 and to better understand the conservation challenges posed by the archive, do look at the blog post written by conservators Mary French and Emma Nichols on 16 November 2015. For a taste of the internee's first Christmas in the internment camp, please refer to posts by Mary and Emma on 22 December 2015 and 23 February 2016.

Contact us

Please address enquiries about RCS holdings to:

RCS Curator
Cambridge University Library
West Road