Changi flag finds a home
NEARLY sixty-three years after a secretly hand-made Australian flag was first flown over the infamous Japanese Changi prisoner of war camp, the much-cherished piece of cloth yesterday went on public display in Murwillumbah. And one of the 100-plus people to witness the occasion, ex-Changi POW, Uki resident Henry Cook, who turns 94 today, summed up what it meant with more emotion than any official speaker: “We suffered for that flag,” said the former Australian soldier who was on a ship to the Middle East when it was diverted to Singapore just before the capture of the British outpost. Mr Cook suspects the flag was made after his stint of several months in Changi, when he was sent to work at a gold mine in Japan. The flag was unveiled in the newly opened Heritage Lodge aged-care home in west Murwillumbah by Returned Services League national president Major General William Crews. Maj Gen Crews revealed its makers had risked “instant execution” if the flag had been discovered by their Japanese captors. He said the flag had spent much of its%history “in the bottom drawer” of a family member of the late Corporal Jim Kelly, the flag’s custodian. It was the first flag flown above Changi on the defeat of the Japanese in 1945. Maj Gen Crews said it was one of just four flags to make it out of Changi, made or kept “as a piece of defiance” against the Japanese and “all the more precious because you were not allowed to have it”. “Discovery could have caused immediate execution of the owners,” he said, asking whether many people today would “risk death for a flag”. The three other Changi flags are displayed in the POW gallery of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and at the RSL national headquarters in Canberra. The secretly-made flag now on the Tweed was bought from the family of Corporal Kelly on internet auction site eBay in 2006 by the McKenzie family, who head up the aged-care group which built Heritage Lodge on Byangum Road. It was bought as a tribute to Keith McKenzie, the father of Mary-Ann and Sally McKenzie. The preserved flag is now encased in glass to ensure it remains part of Australian%history for many years to come.