July 4, 2013



At the National Memorial Arboretum in Tamworth, Staffordshire, is a “Far East Prisoners of War building.” In it is a copy of the Royal Arms that will tickle your Churchillian and heraldic fancy.

One day in World War II, British prisoners at Trandjong Priok camp in Java opted to paint the Union Flag and Royal Arms on their chapel window. This was allowed by the Japanese commander, but what he did not know was that Lt. Cdr. Herbert Upton, the artist, managed to work a picture of Churchill’s face on the lion’s body. The size of a thumbnail and complete with trademark cigar, it was known only to a few, as discovery would have led to retribution.

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The device was found several years ago during a project to produce a replica of the window at the Arboretum’s Memorial Building. The copy was painted by David Hillhouse, who said, “It shows the spirit and determination of the prisoners. Had the Japanese discovered it, I hate to think what they would have done. The consequences could have been horrendous.”

The original chapel, built by Allied POWs, no longer stands, but the windows were removed and are now apparently at the British Church in Jakarta. The replica painting was the idea of Meg Parkes, whose father, Capt. Andrew Atholl Duncan, was a prisoner at the camp. The £8000 required for the painting was donated by the public after an appeal in The Times.

—Our thanks to Paul Courtenay, Nigel Knocker and James Lancaster. 

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