Historical Society reprints Japanese prisoner of war cookbook

Changi Jail Cook Book a part of Ethel Mulvany’s remarkable life

Ethel-MulvanyMINDEMOYA—For the second time, the Central Manitoulin Historical Society is showcasing the remarkable story of Islander Ethel Mulvany at the Mindemoya Welcome Centre.

Ms. Mulvany, who was born in 1904 and died in 1992, was a schoolteacher at one time on Manitoulin and then studied at the University of Toronto, McGill University and the London School of Economics. She was living in Singapore with her husband Captain Denis Mulvany when that city fell to the Japanese during World War Two and spent the rest of the war in the Changi jail, which had been turned into a prisoner of war (POW) camp.

While enduring horrific conditions at the jail, Ms. Mulvany came up with the idea of compiling a cookbook as a means of getting the salivary glands of the prisoners working to prevent deaths by starvation. “It would relieve our hunger,” Ms. Mulvany wrote in a foreword to the cookbook, “to compile a recipe book. It seemed to help when we were most hungry. I made this collection when I weighed 85 pounds.”

Called the Changi Jail Cook Book, the volume contains many delicious recipes from the prisoners and is now on display at the Welcome Centre along with numerous pictures, including those of Ms. Mulvany and her husband, and artifacts consisting of her wedding dress and a quilt made from scraps by prisoners at the jail.

Members of the Historical Society decided to reproduce the cookbook and copies, titled ‘Ethel Mulvany’s Prisoners of War Cook Book,’ are now on sale at both the Welcome Centre and the Mindemoya Market. Permission to copy the cookbook was received from Ms. Mulvany’s niece, Marion King, as well as pictures for the exhibit. Ms. King, as society member Laurene Martell explained, was one of three nieces of Ms. Mulvany and once worked as a nurse at the Mindemoya hospital, as did her sister Ruth.

“This was a two-year project,” Society Curator Pat Costigan said of the cookbook. “Marilyn Irish typed up all the recipes from the cookbook and Norma Hughson gathered information from different places including Manitoulin Genealogy. Norma took pictures of all the treasures we had received from Ethel Mulvany’s estate. Over the past year, I have found additional information and organized the material into the book format.”

With a cover design by Julianne and Pat Costigan, the book includes a foreword by Dr. Suzanne Evans, a former Research Fellow at the Canadian War Museum. Ms. Evans is currently writing a book about Ms. Mulvany and she and her husband will travel to Singapore to do more research on both this extraordinary woman and the Changi POW camp. As Ms. Costigan explained in the preface of the cookbook, it was a phone call to Central Manitoulin Historical Society President Ted Taylor from Ms. Evans, who was looking for the original ledgers containing the recipes, that made the organization’s members realize what a treasure they had. Ms. Evans was particularly appreciative of the information she was able to glean from The Expositor, saying, “In my research work on Ethel I have greatly appreciated all the articles that The Expositor has done on Ethel from the 1930s onward. While keeping track of their Island daughter the paper has provided an historical record far more interesting and personal than any census record.”

As well as Ms. Evans’ book, writer Lorraine Mallinder is currently writing an article about Ms. Mulvany for the magazine Canada’s History.

The book produced by the Historical Society is impressive for it is not just a remake of the Changi jail prisoner’s book, but also adds details of Ms. Mulvany’s exceptional life. “We just found her to be a creative problem solver,” said Ms. Costigain. “Even when she got out, she continued to help others.”

Indeed, when Ms. Mulvany returned to Canada in 1946, she raised money for foodstuffs to be sent to POWs who were in hospital in England, by selling copies of her recipe book and giving talks around the Toronto area about her experiences. She is also responsible for the Treasures Van Corporation, which brings crafts from other countries to Canadian universities and provides craftsmen in developing countries the means to raise their standard of living.

Members of the Historical Society have made the new cookbook as close to the original as possible and anything written by Ms. Mulvany in the original jail ledgers are typed in italics. As well, the names of all the POWs who submitted recipes are included. Plans are also underway to include a video of an interview with Ms. Mulvany in the Welcome Centre display. As Ms. Costigan explained, when Mindemoya resident Marion Seabrook was teaching, she had her students interview different people and two of her pupils talked with, and recorded, Ms. Mulvany. The video will be available for viewing once permission has been obtained.

It is well worth your while to take in the Ethel Mulvany display at the Welcome Centre in Mindemoya and to pick up a copy of the ‘Prisoners of War Cook Book.’ You will be glad you did.

by Betty Bardswich