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Daphne, James and baby Jennefer: one family’s story

In 1942, Daphne Davidson, a prisoner at Changi, gave birth to baby Jennefer. Precious letters and items allow a glimpse into Jennefer’s first years of life in a prisoner of war camp.

When Daphne and James Davidson were separated by the Japanese army, Daphne was pregnant. She had worked at police headquarters in Singapore and was sent to Changi gaol.


Daphne said: “In March 1942 we went to Changi prison. I by ambulance, my friends and sister walking the nine miles with their pitiful belongings – what they could not carry they never saw again. I was very proud of them when we overtook them near the Prison gates walking or limping along with their heads held high, singing ‘There’ll always be an England.’ Even the Japanese sentries appeared to be impressed.


Life in prison taught us many things – the cheerfulness and warmth of friendship, the closing in of ranks when a common enemy threatened…

“In July I went into the Singapore maternity hospital which rejoiced in the Malay name of Kandang Kerbau (Buffalo Pen) to have my baby. I left the prison in a car accompanied by my doctor (an Australian lady doctor who did a magnificent job looking after us and the children in the camp). In front sat a Japanese sentry with a rifle and a fixed bayonet – which often looked as though it would go off in my face.”

Daphne carried a bag with underwear, cotton wool, safety pins and baby powder. “Some of my friends in the camp had knitted a few soft silk bootees and I had also made a pair of white sharkskin shoes embroidered with forget-me-nots from a scrap of material I had been given.”

She gave birth to Jennefer and was allowed to stay in the hospital for 14 days. “I was on parole and had promised not to communicate with the world outside.”


She was given an English speaking nurse who “took one look at me and went down to the hospital’s kitchens to have a word with the Chinese cook and I benefited by having delicious dishes smuggled up to me.”

“When I returned to Changi in the middle of August… the heat was terrific. Children cried, mothers lost their tempers and the long days crept by. Jenny grew and flourished.”


Jennefer only met her father once during the war, on 10 March 1943. She was eight months old. He was brought along with other men from the military camp to see their wives and families in Changi prison. They were given one hour, which Daphne described as "so precious and so full of fear for the future."

James had made his daughter a rattle. Daphne said: "It was made from some pebbles in an old can attached to a stout wooden handle. Jenny accepted it graciously then dropped it over the side of her pram. A good place for it to be, I thought! Might come in useful if I have to hit a Japanese in self defence."

Jennefer and Daphne remained at Changi prison until May 1944, when all the prisoners were sent to an open air camp at Sime Road.

“Here we were in huts and were able to grow vegetables in our little gardens. There was a feeling it wouldn’t be long now,” recalled Daphne.

But the captives were not liberated until August 1945.


“My husband, baby and I left Singapore for England, freedom and feeding. What the future held we did not know – it was enough to be together again,”


Speaking in 2015, Jennefer said: "I had this debt of gratitude to the Red Cross. They sent us food parcels and my toy, Pooh bear. They also gave us our first winter clothes when we were returned to England.

“We got a ferry back to Liverpool and we only had our clothes from the camp so we really needed winter clothes. My mother got a lovely fur coat but my father made her give it up when we got back."