The Death Camp Murals – The Incredible Journey

The Death Camp Murals – The Incredible Journey

This is a place of immense suffering,
misery and death. It’s a place where lives were destroyed and changed forever.
This is Changi, Singapore. When Singapore fell to the Japanese in World War Two,
fifty thousand British, Australian and allied troops were imprisoned here.
They were crammed together in terrible conditions, they were often tortured and
beaten. Life was a daily struggle against humiliation, hunger and disease. Yet it
was here in one of history’s darkest hours where conditions were at their
worst that we find a story that is heroic, moving and most of all
inspirational. In this dreadful place one man, a British Bombardier, brought hope
and peace to the broken and dying men of Changi and he did it in the most unusual
way. Stay tuned because his story will inspire you and his secret could bring
you a hope and peace in your darkest hour as well. Singapore Changi Airport is one of the
largest transportation hubs in Southeast Asia, it’s the sixth busiest airport in
the world and the second busiest in Asia, each week about 7,000 flights
land or depart from Changi or about one every 90 seconds, with about 60 million
passengers passing through the airport each year but Changi is more than just
an airport, it’s a destination in its own right, with a multitude of shopping,
dining and entertaining experiences on offer at the airport’s four terminals.
It’s not surprising that it’s currently rated the world’s best airport, a rating
it’s held for the past five years. This Airport has blossomed and boomed over
the past few decades, so it’s not surprising that the first airfield at
Changi lacked the sophistication and marvellous attractions of today’s airport.
But what is surprising is that the very first airfield here at Changi was
initiated by the occupying Imperial Japanese forces after the fall of
Singapore in 1942 and the first landing strips were built by British and
Australian POWs, who were used as forced labourers. When Singapore fell to the
Japanese on the 15th of February 1942 it was Britain’s greatest military defeat
and the largest surrender of troops in British history.
Around 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops based in Singapore
became prisoners of war. The Japanese were astounded at the sheer number of
prisoners they suddenly found themselves with, clearly they had to do something with
them and quickly. They rapidly made a decision to
segregate them along racial lines and march them to Changi in the south of the
island, over 50,000 prisoners made that journey,. They were crammed together in
terrible living conditions in a number of barracks in the area. They were often
tortured and beaten, life was a daily struggle against humiliation, hunger and
disease. Changi was a living hell. Yet it was here in one of history’s
darkest hours where conditions were at their worst that we find a story that is
heroic, moving and most of all inspirational. In this dreadful place one
man, a British Bombardier brought hope and peace to the broken and dying men of
Changi and he did it in the most unusual way.
Stanley Warren was born in England in 1917, he was a talented artist and a
religious man. Stanley was employed as a commercial
designer producing poster ads with the Granada Organisation before the war. In
1940 he enlisted in the army to join the fight against Nazi Germany, he was posted
to the Royal Regiment of Artillery as an observation post assistant, his
responsibilities included having to make quick drawings of panoramas that
were used to plot targets for the artillery guns. In early 1942 he was
posted overseas to Malaya with the 15th Field Regiment Royal Artillery after the
Japanese had invaded Malaya and Thailand and Pearl Harbour had been bombed. On
their arrival their fight against the Japanese was brutal and short-lived,
soon his battalion began retreating to Singapore. By the 12th of February the
situation in Singapore was desperate and Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, who
was in charge of the British Malaya Command, ordered the troops into
Singapore town. Three days later the British surrendered and Stanley was
interned as a prisoner of war at Roberts barracks in Changi. Stanley joined other
POWs who were forced to work around Singapore repairing the damage caused by
the Japanese attacks and restoring essential services to working order
again. They endured appalling conditions of overwork, starvation, sickness and
torture. Disease was widespread and medical supplies were scarce. As a result
of the extreme hard labour and horrific conditions, the men’s morale and health
deteriorated rapidly, Stanley suffered terribly
he developed a severe kidney disorder that was complicated by dysentery and
malnutrition, he was close to death and was finally admitted to the Roberts
barracks hospital in a comatose state. Later he was transferred to the
dysentery wing at block 151, the building housed a chapel that the
prisoners had built and dedicated to St Luke – the Bible physician. While
recuperating, Stanley heard the sound of Australian prisoners singing hymns and
carols in the chapel and the sound of those voices inspired him to use his
artistic talents to create a symbol that would bring hope and peace to his fellow
prisoners. As soon as he was strong enough, Stanley
joined the choir and agreed to paint a series of murals on the chapel walls, he
wondered what he could paint that would lift the prisoners spirits and give them
hope in their darkest hour. Then he realised that there was only one source
of lasting hope and peace. He requested a Bible and focused on the four Gospels
Matthew Mark Luke and John, from which he drew his inspiration, he decided to paint
a series of murals that would share the very heart of Christian belief. At the
time when Stanley was preparing his draft drawings of the murals, the
Japanese began an action which would become infamous as the Selarang Barracks Incident. the Japanese demanded the prisoners’ leaders sign a no
escape pledge, this was shortly after the recapture of four escaped soldiers, this
type of declaration is against the Geneva Convention and the prisoners’
leaders rightly refused to sign. The Japanese response was to have the four
recaptured soldiers executed on Changi Beach, then 17,000 prisoners were ordered
from their barracks and forced to assemble in Selarang Barracks’ square
they had to stand there in the open for nearly five days, exposed to the elements
without water or sanitation until the no escape pledge was signed, against this
backdrop Stanley began to paint the Changi murals, one of the biggest
challenges he faced was finding paint and brushes, but the prisoners rallied
and at risk of their lives they managed to scrounge paint, make brushes from
human hair and gather materials for the project.
Despite still being very ill Stanley began to work on the first mural, his
illness and meagre diet meant that he could only paint for a limited period
each day, for perhaps 10 to 15 minutes at a time followed by a rest,
he fainted often which also slowed his progress. Stanley decided to use the same
technique he used when he worked as a cinema billboard artist before the war,
he drew in clear bold outlines so that the murals could be seen at a glance or
from a distance. To compensate as much as he could for the lack of available colour
he resorted to large brushstrokes and areas of solid colour. The result was to
be murals of very low tones. The first mural Stanley painted featured the
Nativity, or birth, of Christ he painted each of the three wise men who presented
gifts to the baby Jesus as being from different racial groups, the figure
holding the cup is Asian, the robed and turbaned wise man kneeling at the front
is Middle Eastern and the third wise man is European, this helped convey the
concept of universality, that we’re all equal and part of the one human family
that shares this planet. Above the mural he painted the words that the angels used
to announce the birth of Jesus; “Peace on earth to men of goodwill”.
Despite serious illness Stanley persevered and managed to
complete the mural in time for Christmas, this lifted the spirits of the prisoners
that Christmas, the chapel was absolutely packed and others stood outside and
listened to the service and hymns. There was peace in Changi Prison that great
Christmas of 1942 and in the hearts of many of the POWs as well and the fact
that his Nativity mural contributed to that made Stanley glad.
Stanley feared that he would die before he completed the mural project so he
decided to paint the Ascension of Jesus, his return to heaven, next after the
Nativity so that the chapel would at least have two murals representing the
beginning and the end of Christ’s time on earth, fortunately his health improved
and he was able to complete the second mural on another wall within several
weeks. The Ascension mural features the risen Christ saying to his disciples “Go
and teach the nations, I am with you”. The third mural to be painted was the
crucifixion and Stanley deliberately chose slaves to carry out the
crucifixion, the slaves clad only in loin cloths were a direct reference to the
prisoners own conditions, loin cloths is what many of them wore, but there’s an
additional subtle, more important message here. By using slaves
Stanley was also inferring that the Japanese soldiers were under orders when
they carried out the many atrocities that they committed. Stanley was a
committed Christian and in this mural he was forgiving his captors for the
mistreatment of the POWs. Above the mural he painted the words “Father forgive them
they know not what they do”, to emphasise the concept of forgiveness.
Stanley painted Jesus with his eyes closed so that he wouldn’t see and
recognise those who were harming him, he wouldn’t hold it against them, that’s
true forgiveness. The message of this crucifixion mural was so powerful that
even the Japanese guards would come into the chapel and gaze up at it and
whenever the chaplains met with small groups of prisoners they chose to stand
under this mural. Next came the painting of the Last Supper, the mural depicts
Christ sharing the very first communion with his disciples before his betrayal
by Judas Iscariot and his subsequent torture and crucifixion. The inscription
reads this is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for many, Christ
was telling of the suffering and death that he was soon to endure, the prisoners
found hope and affinity in this suffering Messiah, they felt he
understood their situation and that brought them comfort. The final mural
shows an aged Saint Luke in prison writing his gospel while a Roman
centurion and others watch on, the walls of the prison are broken down to show
that the human spirit and true hope cannot be contained, Christ’s word would
go out to the world despite imprisonment. The Changi murals
were completed by May 1943, their effect on the atmosphere in the prison camp was
quite remarkable, in that living hell, in one of history’s darkest hours where
conditions were at their worst, Stanley Warren’s paintings boosted the
morale of the men, brought them spiritual uplift, provided them peace and gave them
hope. The murals and their message played a role in the survival of many Changi
POWs. After he started painting the murals,
Stanley was informed that his work party was to be sent north to work on the
Thai-Burma railway, a colonel in charge of the hospital who was aware of his
work on the murals intervened to have Stanley transferred back to the hospital
so that he could continue his work in the chapel. Most of Stanley’s unit who
went to the Thai-Burma railway never returned, if Stanley went in his weakened
condition he most certainly would have died there,
so the murals very directly saved his life in a way he could never have
foreseen. After the war Stanley returned to England where he married and became
an art teacher at a school in London, meanwhile Saint Luke’s Chapel at Changi
was turned into a storeroom, the murals were painted over and forgotten and the
Changi murals remained forgotten for thirteen years, until an unnamed RAF
national servicemen was told to clean up the storeroom which had served as the
POWs Chapel, he noticed that some streaks of colour lay under the outer coat of
paint and reported it to his officer who realised the importance of the discovery,
the outer coat of paint was carefully removed – revealing the five murals but
there was no signature on any of the murals and so the identity of the artist
was a mystery, an all-out search was then put into operation involving the
national press in Britain, in February 1959 Stanley Warren was finally found
living in London with his wife and son, still teaching his beloved art. The RAF
contacted Stanley and persuaded him to make three trips back to Singapore to
restore his murals and today, 60 years later,
Stanley Warren’s Changi murals continue to inspire people
with their enduring message of hope, just as they did for hundreds of his fellow
prisoners of war back in the darkest days of World War Two. What is it about
hope that’s so important to us as humans and our well-being? It’s said that we can
go three weeks without food, three days without water,
three minutes without oxygen, but how long can we exist without hope, the loss
of hope is a terrible thing. Without hope life’s challenges bring
discouragement, despair, depression and even death. Without hope we are broken
people, that’s why the Bible lists Hope as one
of the three great Christian virtues, it links hope to faith and love and it
indicates that these three virtues are amongst the most important gifts that
God gives us and that they will remain or last. Notice what the Bible says in
first Corinthians chapter 13 and verse 13 “and now these three remain faith, hope
and love. But the greatest of these is love.” So there you have them, faith, hope
and love, these are three gifts that God gives us and they are linked, they’re
united, what happens to one happens to all and what happens is that they remain,
they never end. Many people understand hope as wishful thinking, a desire for
something they may or may not receive, as in; ‘I hope something will happen’ like I
hope I get a new job, or I hope it’ll be a sunny day tomorrow,
but not knowing if they’ll happen or not. But this is not what the Bible means by
hope, the Bible definition of hope is confident expectation, it refers to a
desire for something we are certain to receive and assurance concerning the
future. The Christian hope is based upon what
God has already done in the completed work of Jesus, it’s built on fact, this is
true hope, it’s far greater than just a wish or a desire, this is hope that lasts
forever and this is what Stanley Warren communicated in his murals, he simply
told the story of Jesus, he pictured the most important events in his life, the
very heart of Christian beliefs, he brought hope into the lives of the POWs
at Changi death camp by communicating faith, hope and love. In his first mural,
featuring the nativity or birth of Christ,
Stanley showed that God is not far away like some uncaring absent landlord,
rather, in Jesus Christ he came to this planet of ours and became intimately and
actively involved in providing a solution to the problems we face and
right there, when Jesus was born, we are reminded of what’s really behind our
major problems, notice what God said regarding Mary and the birth of Jesus in
Matthew chapter 1 and verse 21 “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall
call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus came to
this planet for one purpose, to save us from our sins, the Bible says that
because of the wrong things we do everyone falls short of who God wants us
to be, because of the wrong things we do sin separates us from God, but Jesus came
to earth, over two thousand years ago, to pay the price for our sins, that’s why he
came and that’s the message of hope that Stanley shared in his Nativity mural. Then in the mural of the last supper Stanley
shared how on the Thursday before his execution Jesus sat down at the table
with his disciples to eat his final meal before his crucifixion and resurrection.
The Last Supper was very significant because Jesus showed his disciples he
was about to become the Passover lamb of God. His shed blood would open the door
to freedom, his followers would exchange slavery to sin and death for eternal
life in God’s kingdom, this mural carried a powerful message of hope to the
prisoners here as they were literally slaves, this mural gave those slaves hope.
The crucifixion mural continued the message of hope for those prisoners in
Changi, when Jesus died in our place on the cross he paid the penalty for our
sins, he broke the power of sin and death and created a new relationship with God
for us and that brings true freedom no matter what our circumstances, no matter
what mistakes we’ve made, we can have the assurance that our sins are forgiven if
we bring them to the cross and leave them there. Next came the resurrection
mural, here Stanley shared with his fellow prisoners that, by rising from the
dead, Christ’s promise of new life became sure and certain, even though they were
facing death Stanley’s resurrection mural gave these prisoners hope, a living
hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ and so through all their
challenges and persecution Stanley Warren and his fellow prisoners fixed
their eyes upon the Lord Jesus Christ- their hope. Amid all the hopelessness and
despair of this dark place they found hope, true hope,
through these murals that pointed them to Jesus. As I stand here in the Changi
Chapel, gazing at Stanley’s hope-filled murals, it’s as if I can hear the voices
of those prisoners echoing down the years, singing the old favourite hymn of
faith and assurance: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and
righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’
name”. What about you? Have you lost hope? Where do you find your hope in the
trials and storms of life? When you accept Jesus and allow him into your
lives then he will bring life-giving forgiveness into your situation and
bring your hope, real hope. With Jesus in your life you’ll never face your
problems alone, you’ll know victory instead of failure, you’ll have true hope
to face your challenges, you can stand with Jesus and he will guide you through
life in ways that are far better than you can ever think or imagine. Jesus will
put your life together again, give you hope and walk with you step by step, if
you’d like to have that hope in your life why not
ask for it right now as we pray? Dear Heavenly Father, we all face
challenges in the journey of life and sometimes it seems that the trials and
storms of life are about to overwhelm us and when we’re down it’s so easy to fall
into discouragement, despair and depression. Please point us to Jesus,
uplift us and give us the hope that comes from knowing him. Lord we want to
stand with you and have you guide us through life, please bless us and give us
hope, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. If you feel as if you’ve lost hope
or would like to find out more about Christian hope, then I’d like to
recommend the free gift we have for all our viewers today, it’s the Christian
classic Steps To Christ, this book is our gift to you and is absolutely free, there
are no cost or obligations whatsoever. Thousands have become acquainted with
Jesus and found hope through this book and it has helped many more including
those who have walked with him for years to know him better. So please don’t miss
this wonderful opportunity to receive the gift we have for you today, here’s
the information you need: phone us now on 0481 315 101
or text us on 0491 222 999 or visit our website the
to request today’s free offer, so don’t delay
contact us right now. Be sure to join us again next week when
we’ll share another of life’s journeys together and experience another new and
thought-provoking perspective on the peace, insight, understanding and hope that
only the Bible can give us. Until next week remember the ultimate destination
of life’s journey “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth… and God will wipe away
every tear from their eyes, there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying,
there shall be no more pain for the former things have passed away”.

2 thoughts on “The Death Camp Murals – The Incredible Journey

  1. Ps. Gary Kent's teachings are unique and smooth way to learn and to link the acts of this curled world with understanding our Holy Bible.
    God bless The Incredible Journey Program with a shower of blessings

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