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An act of kindness: was it allowed in wartime?

An act of kindness: was it allowed in wartime?

by Jane Fagan | February 22, 2019

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Books and reading really can be a source of happiness, as shown in this book. 

There are many picture books on the subject of the Second World War. This one is special, and with expert illustrations by Andrew McLean it will not easily be forgotten.

“The Happiness Box” is based on the true story of Sergeant Griffin “Griff” who, despite the terrible conditions of being interned in Changi Prison, hatched the idea of cheering up children who were cooped up in the prison over Christmas. It is quite amazing that the book was written given the conditions in Changi Prison

Japanese camp guards gave their permission for the soldiers to make toys such as trains, dolls and a model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Sergeant Griffin couldn’t make a wooden toy so he made a book.  Paints had to be made by collecting colour from flowers, leaves and clay. The book was typed up and bound, all in 48 hours.

The story featured characters based on people the Sergeant knew. For example, there was ‘Wobbly’ the frog, based on Lieutenant Webster who had an injury from WW1 and used to sway when he worked in the prison garden.

Read on to find out whether the story and toys reached the hands of the children.

The original manuscript of the wartime children’s book, complete with illustrations, somehow miraculously survived the Second World War. It was published in 1947 and the manuscript donated to the State Library of NSW. In 2005 and 2007 it toured Australia along with other ‘national treasures’ like Sir Don Bradman’s cricket bat, Ned Kelly’s helmet and many other iconic Australian treasures.

All in all, a highly commendable book which evokes the feeling of the time and retells an amazing story of hope and innovation.

Jane Fagan is a children's librarian with a B.A. (University of Melbourne) and a Grad. Dip. Library and Info Studies (Melbourne).

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