via Kopi.co, 30 January 2021: An interesting piece of World War II history on how scientists on both sides of the war conspired to save the artefacts kept at the Raffles Museum (now the National Museum of Singapore).
Eldered John Henry (EJH) Corner was a renowned botanist and the Assistant Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1929 to 1945. During this period, the man extensively travelled the Malaysian Peninsula to study its flora and fauna. The resulting book, “Wayside Trees of Malaya” drew critical acclaim and propelled him to prominence both in Malaya and Japan. As the clouds of war were gathering on the horizon, Corner decided to stay in Singapore to protect the Gardens’ collections from what was to come (although his son and wife both fled). He was lucky to some extent as a serious monkey bite disabled his right arm, exempting him from serving in the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force. This saved him from being interned in the notorious hell-hole that was Changi Prison during the occupation.
Hidezo Tanakadate, on the other hand, was a volcanologist from Tohoku Imperial University, Japan. He had been sent to Singapore to investigate the conditions of Raffles Museum and other scientific institutions on the island on behalf of the Emperor of Japan, who as a biologist was “deeply concerned” of the effects of war on science. The Professor, as he was called by Corner, was slightly more westernised than his peers. He had travelled to London, Oxford, Cambridge and lived in Italy as a lecturer. While little can be found about his prior life or work, there is certainty that Tanakadate saw academia as a universal endeavour that transcended the boundaries of war. “The Japanese researchers came to the aid of their British counterparts because they looked beyond enemy lines and saw them as scientific colleagues in distress,” said Sharon Lim, the assistant curator of the National Museum of Singapore.