"When they heard the allies were coming, we were given extra rice to have the strength and energy to dig our own graves."In February 1942, ten-year old Olga Morris and her family were living in Singapore when the city fell to the Japanese Imperial Army in the biggest defeat in history of the British Forces. Turned back at an evacuation ship's gangway as the bombs fell, Olga and her parents and siblings were forced to take their chances and hide out until, captured by Japanese soldiers, they were sent on a forced march to the notorious Changi Prison. There's a certain stereotype of the British in Singapore in the '30s and early '40s, which Olga Morris - Henderson as she is now - definitely did not fit.
Her family was not part of the privileged Raffles Hotel set, with their big houses and servants. Her father worked in construction, building roads, the city's hospital and a mosque. Olga and her siblings grew up in Johor Bahru, a diverse part of Malaya just across the causeway from Singapore, amongst children of all faiths and cultures, who played together without a thought to race or class.
It was a very happy upbringing. All that changed in 1942. Olga was playing with her guinea pigs when a British Army officer arrived to tell her mother that the family had just 20 minutes to pack what they could and get out.
The Japanese were ten miles away. Olga's mother grabbed the family photograph album and they ran... Three years of captivity followed.
Three years of disease, malnutrition, deprivationand oppression. Olga and her friends bravely raided the vegetable plot; "dodging the searchlights" and sometimes enduring severe punishments. She stood alongside the other women and children through the ordeal of Tenko in the blazing sun.
They were used as slave labour. Halfway through their captivity, Olga's ten-year-old brother William was put into the men's camp, where he suffered terribly cruelty that scarred him for life. February 2022 marked 80 years since the Fall of Singapore and at last Olga is ready to tell the story of her years as a child prisoner of war.
It's a story of great fear and deprivation; of a childhood utterly lost to conflict. It's also a story of class prejudice and unkindness that didn't end when Olga was freed from the camp and returned to England as an unwanted refugee. Yet moments of humour and camaraderie also live on in Olga's memory.
The camp's girl guide group held clandestine meetings, where they worked on sewing a quilt. The 'Changi Quilt' is now held at the Imperial War Museum in London, as an emblem of the guides' courage and faith. As Olga says, "We always felt the end of the war would come, we lived for it, from month to month and tried never to lose hope."