British Women and Children Interned in a Japanese Prison Camp, Syme Road, Singapore

Cole, Leslie1945

Imperial War Museums

Imperial War Museums
London, United Kingdom

As the war progressed, and with it Cole’s experience of extraordinary and often horrific events, his work became increasingly macabre, with a symbolic use of colour evident in the unsettling yellow-green cast of the painting.In the image of internment there is an anguish in the skeletal figures appearing to carry out daily domestic activity. The unimaginable had become every-day. The angular malnourished children with stick-like limbs and hollow eyes become almost translucent and insubstantial.The painting has an underlying theme of cleansing – the bath of water, the swathes of white sheets and draped washing and the clarity of the pale sunshine illuminating the room – all suggest a quiet redemption from the dark days of imprisonment.Singapore’s British civilian population was interned when Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942. Sime Road and Changi Gaol were both used as holding camps although Changi was later used for prisoners-of-war returning from work on the Thai-Burma railway and civilians were then concentrated in Sime Road camp. After the camps were liberated the inmates continued to live there for some time, having no-where else to go.


  • Title: British Women and Children Interned in a Japanese Prison Camp, Syme Road, Singapore
  • Creator: Cole, Leslie
  • Creator Lifespan: 1910 - 1977
  • Date Created: 1945
  • Location: Sime Road Internment Camp, Singapore
  • Physical Dimensions: w915 x h655 mm (unframed)
  • Provenance: © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 5620)
  • Type: painting
  • External Link: Imperial War Museum website
  • Medium: oil

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