In affiliation with the 2/26 Battalion Family & Friends Association Inc.
Ron Raaen was another POW in Changi who became quite resourceful and built a complete chess set from the drawers of a cupboard. Below is some photos and a personal account taken from Ron's diary of his time spent in Chang Gaol.
The wood I used to make the chess set came from a drawer, which I managed to get hold of while we were working in Singapore. We were camped in the Cabaret of the Great World Amusement Park. The main entrance to the Cabaret was a separate building from the dance floor and all patrons for the Cabaret passed through into a small courtyard before entering the dance floor. The building was locked up and out of bounds to we P.O.W's and we entered the courtyard through a side entrance.
When it came to making the chess pieces, I used the front and rear boards, as they were thicker than the sides. The bottom of the drawer I used to make the chessboard. I cut 3/8" strips off the sides, which I tacked along the edge of the board. I cut the board down the centre, fitted hinges (my manufacture) and when the board was closed over it made a box to hold the chess pieces. The wood was straight‑grained and easy to work. My tools were a broken hacksaw blade and the army jack‑knife. I am hoping to get some white paint from the engineers' section to finish off the job.
I also found a tin cigarette case. On the outside was a picture of the entrance of the Great World and on the inside of the lid, printed in black was the inscription, "With best compliments from the Great World, Singapore" ‑ a souvenir of my stay in the place.
It seems a strange fact that when there is an out of bounds area under one's nose, some people cannot resist the temptation to try to find out the reason and it was not long before an entrance was made. On one of my rest days I decided to run the risk and see what was there. I found office furniture, desks, cupboards etc and I came out with a drawer from the desk and an unused book of I.0.U. dockets which came in useful for some of my writing as writing paper of any description was a scarce commodity. The drawer came in handy for holding some of our cooking gear as there were no shelves and the only place was on the floor under the tables on which we slept.
.... I bought a cutthroat razor, the engineers were making them using spring steel. They were hollow ground and did a good job. When we surrendered I had a packet of five 7 o'clock razor blades and I made them last. I managed to get a small glass jar about the size of a small marmite jar and when a blade started to pull I would rub it around the inside of the jar and used each blade as long as I could. I drew a razor and a blade in a Red Cross comforts issue which was help. The blades finally wore out and I decided to buy the cutthroat. I had no razor strop to keep it sharp and to do that I had a piece of glass about five inches square on which I would sprinkle a few drops of water. I would then sprinkle some fine white ash, which I had collected from the fire, onto the glass. And would then hone the blade. It was a slow process but it worked.
I remember another little job I did during the time we were camped outside the gaol. It was to re‑bristle my toothbrushes. Older folk may remember that toothbrushes those days had three white strips on the top of the brush above each row of bristles. It was plaster of Paris used to cover the thread holding the bristles in. I scraped it out of the groove and was able to remove the old bristles. Somewhere along the track I had managed to get hold of a good clothes brush and I decided to try some of the bristles from it.
Not having a good, strong thread to pull the bristles into the handle, I used fine copper wire which I obtained from a piece of army telephone cable and after tying it in, I managed to get some plaster of Paris to fill in the grooves. They were not perfect toothbrushes but were an improvement on what I had been using.