Many of these debates related to concerns relative to the men’s former civilian lives. On occasion then, the camps debates might have struck a deep chord for some of the prisoners based on their own personal experiences. For those with an inquisitive nature, the Empire Co-Operation Society was another group with a focus on the trials and tribulations of civilian life as its speakers gave lectures on the benefits of emigration. Yet for nuance, these lectures also engaged in issues that went deeper than a mere travelogue; sometimes the potential problems that might face immigrants after arriving in a new country were also discussed. Whatever the topic or debate, what united those prisoners who got involved in the ‘topics of concern’ in the camp, was the distraction away from their present situation, a focus on the return to civilian life and the hope that there would be a bright new future after the war.
By October 1942, after months of camp life and inadequate food rations, and despite the best efforts to boost morale, there was little doubt that life as a prisoner of war at Bandoeng was beginning to take its toll. As the commanding officer and in his capacity as a trained professional surgeon Lt Col Dunlop was particularly concerned. On 7 October 1942 he noted in his diary that ‘The health of the troops is a source of considerable worry – over a third of them now look quite ill, thin, pale and drawn. Nearly everyone is underweight with haggard, lined faces.’ Just over three weeks later, on Saturday 31 October the men distracted themselves with a debate at Radio City over ‘One of the most contentious problems of our Century’. It was not about food or the rise of Nazism or fascism or indeed even the war, but instead focused on the central premise that, ‘Divorce Should Be Made Easier’. If the Camp Debating Society kept minutes - and it is highly likely that somebody kept some sort of record - sadly these have not survived. We can therefore only speculate as to how this debate played out. Perhaps there were differences of opinion between men of different religious denominations. Maybe married men were more likely to support the proposal than younger men who had not yet had the chance to wed. Whatever the outcome of this particular evening’s debate, it probably engaged the hearts and minds of many men in the camp including de Crespigny, who had been briefly married and divorced just before the war. The debate would have been an interesting intellectual distraction at the time. However it undoubtedly also turned some minds to home, sparking a variety of feelings including a deep yearning for wives and sweethearts and also perhaps the loss, remorse, anger and regret of past failed relationships.
As part of Bandoeng Camp’s educational program, John de Crespigny taught classes in drawing from Monday to Saturday. The artwork of this poster was done by one of his favourite art students, Arthur Bentall.
2584060 Corporal Arthur Mede Bentall of the British Army drew many of the posters in this collection including those in the ‘Know the Dominions’ series of lectures. Bentall was later moved from the Bandoeng Camp and ended up where many men dreaded being sent to the most – Japan. Happily he survived his captivity and at the time of his liberation in September 1945, he was working in a copper mine at the Osaka 4B Ikuno Prison Camp. Here, other British prisoners together with American, Australian, New Zealand and Canadians had laboured for their Japanese captors during the war.
The lecture, ‘The Problems of an Immigrant’ was delivered by NX69425 Sgt Arthur Charles Emery on the evening of Tuesday 27 October 1942. Owing to the shortage of accommodation and foreseeing that the topic was going to be a very popular one, Bentall’s poster warned that preferential seating would be given to Empire Co-Operation members.
Emery was born in the ancient Welsh town of Caerleon in 1897. He was 28 years old when he arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia as an immigrant in 1925. He eventually settled in the town of Hay in regional New South Wales. Despite speaking the same language and sharing a very similar British cultural heritage, we can infer from the topic of his lecture that Emery had found his experience as an immigrant to have been a challenge. Perhaps the ‘tyranny of distance’ and feelings of homesickness had blighted his first experiences as a migrant? Maybe he missed the ones he had loved and left behind? Yet whatever the reason for his troubles, overseas travel and a sense of the unknown had not entirely daunted him and in March 1941, he travelled to Sydney to enlist in the 2nd AIF. Deployed to the 3rd Reserve Motor Transport Company of the Australian Army Service Corps at the rank of Driver, by the time of his capture in Java in 1942, Emery was an acting Sergeant. As with many prisoners of war, Arthur Emery succumbed to illness due to camp conditions, privation and the prevalence of tropical disease. He died on 26 April 1943 at the age of 46 years and was buried in the Jakarta War Cemetery.