Book Review : THE HAPPINESS BOX, the Book They Buried In Changi Prison


Originally written to boost the morale of child prisoners of British and Australian families incarcerated in Changi Prison during WWII, The Happiness Box is as delightfully inspirational and entertaining today as it was first written in December 1942.

The Happiness Box, a children’s story book, tells a captivating story of how three jungle friends; Winston the lizard, Martin the monkey, and Wobbley the frog, discovered a magical box and how they learned the secrets to happiness in it.

The idea for creating this children’s story first came about when the Australian POWs convinced their Japanese captors to agree to them sending Christmas gifts to children incarcerated together with the women in Changi Prison. Twenty-seven year old Sgt. David Griffin, one of those recruited to make toys for the kids, couldn’t make toys.

But he could write stories. Thus came the idea of writing a book for Changi Jail’s child prisoners.

Griffin set about creating the story and enlisted his friend and fellow inmate, an accomplished artist, Leslie Greener, to do the illustrations. When completed, the pages were bound into a little book which went on display along with the toys.

However, when Gene-ral Saito arrived to conduct an inspection of the toys before they were sent out to Changi, he became immediately suspicious of the book after noting that a key character in the book, Winston the lizard, bore the same name as the British leader of the day, Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Thinking it contained secret coded messages between the prisoners housed outside Changi Jail and the civilians within, they ordered the book confiscated. The Australians, however, managed to cart the book away and eventually hid it in an ammunition container which they buried within the grounds of the prison camps.

Following the liberation of Singapore in 1945, The Happiness Box was dug up and returned to the author. The original copy survives, and is today kept in the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney Australia.

In 1990, a historical research team from Media Masters rediscovered Griffin’s work and produced the book for public release. In 2006, the Great Libraries of Australia declared The Happiness Box a “National Treasure”. The book has since been a best-seller, and proclaimed “a children’s book with a story as good as the story in the book”.

More than just a charming children’s book, The Happiness Box is a unique piece of history for all who treasure the human spirit’s will to survive and to prevail.

The Happiness Box, 32 pages, is retailed at RM18 and is available through Ipoh Echo for individual purchase or through Media Masters Publishing for bulk orders. Call Ipoh Echo at 05-2495936, or email: for more information.

Wern Sze Gill

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One thought on “Book Review : THE HAPPINESS BOX, the Book They Buried In Changi Prison

  1. this should be read by all children and know its origin this was bought for us by my father in law who was in Changi when it was written Mrs A Oxford

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