Singing to Survive

This website was created in order to promote a special concert held in Chichester back in 2013 celebrating the Vocal Orchestra formed in captivity by women internees on Sumatra during World War II.

We have decided to minimally maintain this site so that we may continue to provide access to the story of these incredible women and so that teachers and others may access the educational resources we created. However, we do not have the capacity to respond to emails.

Singing to Survive concert – 17 May 2014

Following last October’s 70th anniversary concert, a smaller-scale Singing to Survive event is taking place in Chichester on 17 May 2014. Once again the stunning Chichester Women’s Vocal Orchestra is performing the music first arranged and sung in those Sumatran prison camps back in 1943, while the inestimable Margie Caldicott, daughter of prison camp survivor Shelagh Lea who sang in the original choir, is organising the event.  The venue is once again St Paul’s Church, Chichester. The evening promises to be very special indeed. Tickets are available from St Olav’s Trust Christian Bookshop in Chichester (01243 782790).


Concert recording

The Singing to Survive concert – this Saturday – is being professionally filmed in full so that it may be retained as an important record for the Imperial War Museum and other archives.

A documentary about the vocal orchestra incorporating footage of the concert is also in the planning stages which may eventually be made publicly accessible. There are also hopes to feature extracts from the concert on this site, so watch this space.

If you missed it, you can listen to Louise Jameson and Margie Caldicott talking with Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour about the concert and the women interned by the Japanese in Sumatra here.

We look forward to seeing you in Chichester this weekend!

Concert narrators announced!

We are delighted to announce the names of the narrators of the Singing to Survive concert. Three well-known and accomplished actresses, Stephanie Cole, Louise Jameson and Veronica Roberts, have all generously agreed to lend their talents to tell the story of the vocal orchestra of the Sumatran camps.

StephanieColeAll three are very familiar with the story of the women prisoners of the Japanese having all previously starred in Lavinia Warner’s drama Tenko which is currently airing on the Drama Channel. Stephanie played Dr Beatrice Mason who desperately tried to save as many prisoners as she could from disease and starvation amidst appalling conditions; Louise was mouthy cockney Blanche Simmons whose unruly behaviour led to fearsome punishments; while Veronica Roberts was Dorothy Bennett, a housewife who after losing her husband and child turned to prostitution with the guards.

All three actresses have enjoyed much success post-Tenko. Stephanie Cole (left) has most recently played Sylvia Goodwin in Coronation Street and Evelyn Floodporter in an adaptation of The Lady Vanishes. Other prominent roles have included: Auntie Joan in the Cornwall-set drama Doc Martin; senile Peggy Beare in Keeping Mum; acerbic pensioner Diana Trent in the sitcom Waiting for God; Betty Sillitoe in A Bit of A Do; LouiseJamesonMuriel in one of Alan Bennett’s acclaimed Talking Heads monologues; Sarah Mincing in the children’s series Return of the Antelope; and Delphine Featherstone ‘The Black Widow’ with Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours. Stephanie can also be heard on the popular Radio 4 series Cabin Pressure and Ed Reardon’s Week.

Louise Jameson (right), like Stephanie Cole, has also recently taken  a regular role in Doc Martin, playing Martin Clunes’s unreliable mother-in-law Eleanor Glasson. Other roles have included Susan Young, Jim’s estate agent girlfriend, in Bergerac; Rosa Di Marco in Eastenders, taxi-driver Janet in Rides; Tania Braithwaite in The Secret Diary of Adrian VeronicaRobertsMole; and Dr Anne Reynolds in The Omega Factor. She is perhaps still best known for playing Tom Baker’s leather-clad knife-wielding companion Leela in Doctor Who.

Veronica Roberts (left) has recently been seen on television in Merlin, White Heat, Holby City, and Doctors. Other roles have included: Mrs Goddard in an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma; Mary Cooper in Midsomer Murders; and Gloria in Party Animals. Aside from her role in Tenko she is best remembered for playing vet Laura Elliott in Peak Practice. Veronica now directs as well as acts and recently won an award for directing Louise Jameson in the play My Gay Best Friend.

Tribute to Rod Suddaby

It is with great sadness that we learned on June 26th  2013 of the death of Roderick (Rod) Suddaby, Keeper of the Department of Documents at the Imperial War Museum.

rodsuddabyIt is impossible to over-estimate the contribution that Rod made to the awareness and importance of research into civilian internment in the Far East. As Ron Bridge, ex-chairman of the Association British Civilian Internees Far Eastern Region (ABCIFER) has said, Rod was pivotal in guiding him to look at sources of British Civilian Internees in the Far East. He also culled the manuscript holdings in the IWM for the names of internees enabling Ron to compile a complete list of approximately 20,000.

Rod’s support for others researching in the same area was unfailing. His knowledge and memory for names and places of civilian internment in the Far East was prodigious and he never hesitated to point the researcher to new source material and/or suggest further research. Of equal importance was his understanding of the source material itself. Whether it was the complete bound copies of newspapers from the men’s section of Changi or the smaller diaries, letters and post cards of internees or even the needle left in a birthday card made by a female internee, Rod grasped the value and importance of each and every item. As a result he inspired confidence in ex-internees and their families who knew their donations to the IWM would be treasured and used appropriately.

That integrity and enthusiasm for the vast variety of source material also inspired researchers too. Each of us on the organising committee for this Singing to Survive concert can vouch for Rod’s valued contribution to their work and lives, whether it was support with research sources, encouragement with writing or caring for the donated items of loved ones. His influence has touched us all in so many ways.

Rod supported the idea of this concert from the outset. He wanted very much to attend this performance but, sadly, his untimely death robbed him of the opportunity to do so. It also robbed us and all those connected, however tenuously, with the Second World War in the Far East, of a friend, a champion and a kind and thoughtful guide and mentor.

His death is and will always be an enormous loss to the Far Eastern internee story. We thank him for all he did to raise awareness in and the importance of the POW and Civilian Internee records and experiences and take this opportunity to pay tribute to him.

Rod Suddaby, archivist, friend and champion of Far East internees and POWs.

Download a more detailed obituary from The Times  Monday 1st July 2013 (pdf)

View the tribute to Rod on the IWM homepage

Christopher Larley, Conductor

A biography of Christopher Larley who will conduct the Singing to Survive concert:

Christopher Larley read music at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. From 1996 to 2004 he was a Tenor Lay Vicar of Chichester Cathedral, and from January 2005 he has been Director of Music at St. Paul’s Church, Chichester. Christopher now combines percussion and singing teaching at local schools with solo singing, composing and choral direction. He has conducted London Concertante, the Arun Sinfonia, South Downs Concert Band and the Emerald Ensemble recently.

He has made many recordings, television and radio broadcasts, notably with Llandaff and Chichester Cathedral Choirs, and as a conductor with singer Cathy Burton and for the Women’s World Day of Prayer.
Recent conducting engagements have included Charpentier Te Deum in Chichester Cathedral, and Mozart Requiem in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

Recent singing engagements include Montverdi’s Vespers in Ludlow,  Handel Messiah in Sussex and London, Haydn Creation in both Southwold and Shropshire, and Mozart Requiem in Chichester Cathedral.
Forthcoming engagements include Handel Messiah, a recital of Wesley songs, conducting workshops on Vivaldi Gloria, Monteverdi Beatus Vir, plus a singing day devoted to English Choral Classics.

Since he took over the position of Director of Music at St. Paul’s, Christopher has founded the biennial St. Paul’s Choral Festival, where he is artistic director. Christopher has previously conducted Bognor Regis Choir, Chichester Chorale and Brighton Chamber Choir. He founded Chantry Quire in 1999, a chamber choir that regularly commissions new works and performs existing choral greats. Christopher’s compositions have been performed by his choir and also by other groups, most recently by St Alban’s Cathedral Choir. He was commissioned to compose a piece for the 2010 Mayfield Festival, Missa Brevis, and is working on a commission for an ordination. His music is published by Chichester Music Press.

When not engaged in professional music making, Christopher plays cricket for the Broadhalfpenny Down Brigands at Hambledon.

The Vocal Orchestra Repertoire

When she looked back at the music she helped to create in the camps, former internee Norah Chambers, who came up with the idea of a vocal orchestra, commented: ‘I cannot imagine how we did it all in two short years.’ The vocal orchestra music she arranged in collaboration with Margaret Dryburgh, which was arguably the most significant part of their impressively high output, consisted of the following works:

Composer                      Work
Bach  (Arr. Myra Hess)   Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Barrett                              Coronach (A Highland Lament)
Beethoven                        Minuet in G
Beethoven                        First Movement (from Moonlight Sonata)
Boughton                          Fairy Song (from The Immortal Hour)
Brahms                             Waltz  No. 15
Chaminade                       Aubade
Chopin                              Prelude No. 20   (‘Chord’ or ‘Funeral March’ Prelude)
Chopin                              Prelude No. 6
Chopin                              Prelude No.15   (‘Raindrop’ Prelude)
Debussy                           Rêverie
Dvo?ák                              Humoreske
Dvo?ák                              Largo (from ‘New World’ Symphony)
German                            Shepherd’s Dance (from Henry VIII Suite)
Godard                             Berceuse (from Jocelyn)
Grainger                           Handkerchief Dance (from Country Gardens)
Grieg                                Morning (from Peer Gynt Suite)
Handel                              Pastoral Symphony (from Messiah)
MacDowell                       Sea Song
MacDowell                       To A Wild Rose
Mendelssohn                   Song Without Words
Mendelssohn                   Venetian Gondola Song  No.3
Mozart                              Allegro (from Sonata in C)
Paderewski                     Menuet à l’Antique
Ravel                                Bolero
Schubert                          First Movement (from Unfinished Symphony)
Schumann                       Träumerei (from Scenes From Childhood)
Traditional                        Auld Lang Syne
Traditional                        Londonderry Air
Tschaikovsky                   Andante Cantabile (from String Quartet No.1 in D)
and a Christmas Medley  (Pastoral Symphony from Messiah; Good King Wenceslas; The First Nowell; Away in a Manger; Good Christian Men Rejoice; Cowley Carol; Sleep, Holy Babe; Hark, the Herald Angels Sing).


Some of the original Palembang Women’s Vocal Orchestra scores belonging to Shelagh Brown (Imperial War Museum)

The vocal orchestra music was published in 1987 by Universal Songs B.V., Holland and is still available to purchase in the United Kingdom under the title ‘Song of Survival’ from: United Music Publishers (Choral Catalogue, page 3). There are 6 volumes as follows: 1) Dvo?ák ‘s Largo, Captives’ Hymn, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. 2) Christmas Medley. 3) Chopin’s Prelude No 20, Beethoven’s Minuet in G, Bolero, Londonderry Air. 4) To a Wild Rose, Auld Lang Syne, Country Gardens, Fairy Song. 5) Mozart’s Allegro, Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile. 6) Morning from Peer Gynt, Chopin’s ‘Raindrop’ Prelude.

An SATB/Keyboard version is also available: Song of Survival, The Captives’ Hymn arranged for SATB a cappella. 312-41787 Theodore Presser Company

N.B.1.  The vocal orchestra music is for SSAA (Soprano 1 & 2 and Alto 1 & 2).
N.B. 2. See the ‘Music’ PDF on the Educational Resources page for ideas about using the vocal orchestra music in schools.

Advice to Choir Leaders

Choir leaders interested in performing the vocal orchestra music are advised to start with Volumes 3 and 4 above. Norah Chambers herself gave the following advice to choir leaders/conductors in 1986:

‘…I think that any conductor who uses this music should use his or her own ideas as to sounds. I can only give the general idea of how we sang; so much was spoken to the singers by me beforehand, so that they would know what I wanted (such as dynamics – ‘”forte,” “piano,” etc.). Only about six of our thirty women could read music, so a certain amount of teaching and explaining had to be done, and some learned note by note and line by line, which to me was a tremendous achievement by all. I was lucky to find six trained voices from high sopranos to deep altos.’

The Captives’ Hymn

The Captives’ Hymn was composed by Margaret Dryburgh in the Palembang ‘houses’ camp in 1942 and first sung by herself, Shelagh Brown and Dorothy MacLeod at a Sunday service. Thereafter the hymn was sung by the women every Sunday even throughout their later years in captivity when they encountered suffering and death all around them. When, in 1943, some internees were repatriated from Palembang to Singapore, the hymn was taken with them and, as a result, it found fame in camps there too.


Norah Chambers transcription of the The Captives’ Hymn, dictated to her by Margaret Dryburgh

Father in captivity
We would lift our prayers to Thee,
Keep us ever in Thy Love.
Grant that daily we may prove
Those who place their trust in Thee
More than conquerors may be

Give us patience to endure
Keep our hearts serene and pure,
Grant us courage, charity,
Greater faith, humility,
Readiness to own Thy Will,
Be we free or captive still

For our country we would pray
In this hour be Thou her stay.
Pride and selfishness forgive,
Teach her, by Thy Laws, to live,
By Thy Grace may all men see,
That true greatness comes from Thee.

For our loved ones we would pray
Be their guardians, night and day,
From all dangers, keep them free,
Banish all anxiety.
May they trust us to Thy care,
Know that Thou our pains dost share.

May the day of freedom dawn
Peace and justice be reborn,
Grant that nations loving Thee
O’er the world may brothers be,
Cleansed by suffering, know rebirth,
See Thy Kingdom come on earth.

When the survivors of the Sumatran camps were reunited by researcher Lavinia Warner for Margot Turner’s This Is Your Life in 1978, it was their singing of The Captives’ Hymn which inspired her to explore the story of their captivity further.


The reunited internees sing The Captives’ Hymn on Dame Margot Turner’s This Is Your Life in 1978 (© Thames Television)

‘Now this little group of survivors from those days gathered around Margot Turner and, unaccompanied as they had been then, and a little hesistantly at first in these strange surroundings, they began to sing. But as the words flooded back and their confidence grew there was a truly remarkable transformation. The years visibly fell away from them and the cloak of their reserve disappeared so that they were the young women again, vulnerable, beleaguered, a little afraid but taking strength from each other, as they must have done them… It was suddenly apparent that an extraordinary sisterhood had existed between these women in those days when they faced a common peril and had last sung The Captives’ Hymn together. It was that glimpse of such a powerful bond between women who had gone on to lead the rest of their lives so much like everybody else, that made it imperative to know more about them and the experience they had shared all those years ago.’
[Page 2, Women Beyond the Wire]

Warner’s later research led to the Omnibus documentary Women in Captivity (1979) and thereafter to the drama series Tenko (1981-85), and, with John Sandilands, the seminal book on the topic Women Beyond the Wire (1982).

The Captives’ Hymn has been featured on Songs of Praise, is used at VJ Day services, and still sung to this day by women’s choirs all around the world.

Welcome to the site

This new site offers information on the forthcoming 70th anniversary concert, taking place in Chichester on 26th October 2013, commemorating the women’s vocal orchestra which was created in Palembang, Sumatra in 1943.

In addition to details of this concert, this site also chronicles the history of the original vocal orchestra, and of women’s internment by the Japanese in general, as well as providing educational materials for teachers and other interested parties.

In the lead-up to the concert please keep checking back here for updates and new resources.