Close enough to hear the 'clang'

Close enough to hear the 'clang'
Singapore's long-time hangman Darshan Singh.

When he was more lucid, Mr Darshan Singh often talked to his friends, family and those patient enough to listen about the day he hanged 18 prisoners.

Not with pride but with sadness. He later became known as the only person who had hanged 18 men in a day.

In 1963, a prison riot broke out on Pulau Senang, an island off mainland Singapore.

The island, then a penal settlement, was an experiment in 1960 to see if prisoners from Changi Prison could be rehabilitated through hard labour by developing it.

But things went awry and on July 12, 1963, the men revolted and four people were killed, including prison superintendent Daniel Stanley Dutton.

Fifty-nine men were hauled before court in a unprecedented 64-day trial and 18 were found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.

Madam Jeleha Haji Said remembers when the prisoners were hanged later.

It happened near her home then, a house used by wardens. These clusters of houses dotted the area outside Changi Prison, and her family's was a two-minute walk from prison.

So close, their kitchen window overlooked death row.

"The night before the hanging, everyone didn't sleep and we waited. Darshan left home at the same time and a few neighbours came over to our house. We sat around, drank tea and chit-chatted.

"Then we heard the men cheering each other on."

Prisoners often sang and cheered each other as a fellow prisoner walked the last steps to the gallows.

The singing would be interrupted by a sound she'd never heard before - a loud "clang".

Six times it happened. With each passing "clang", the singing grew muted and the cheers, restrained.

She later found out the "clang" was the sound of the trapdoor opening.

They had heard it because there were three trapdoors opening at the same time.

That day, Mr Singh went straight home after his shift. He was in no mood for cricket.


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