A DEED OF TRUST

№ 4 Bishopsgate, Singapore. My car pulled up to the gates of this old colonial house located near Grange Road, I recalled that during the Japanese Occupation, these were the living quarters of Rev. John Hayter, priest-in-charge of St Hilda’s Church. Today, it serves as the office of the Diocese of Singapore.

Rev. Hayter wrote in his book, Priest in Prison, that he would cycle between Bishopsgate and St Hilda’s Church in Katong, as that was the only means of transportation at that time, besides walking.

How many kilometres were there between Bishopsgate and Katong? How long did he take? He must have been drenched in perspiration by the time he arrived at St Hilda’s … I wondered to myself. Rev. Hayter’s heartfelt dedication to his fledgling flock in St Hilda’s Church had to be matched by brute physical effort and stamina.

I had arrived at Bishopsgate by prior arrangement to retrieve a forgotten document, which had lain entombed and unnoticed for many long years. 18 thin sheets (“Croxley Cambric” brand of paper) of neat handwriting enfolded by a sheet of brown paper, the edge of the fold reinforced by black material to form a spine, were bound together with yellow threads hand-stitched into the black spine, into a booklet measuring 20.5 cm (8 inches) wide and 26 cm (10 ¼ inches) long.

Dated 11 November 1944, the booklet is entitled “Declaration of Trust concerning Saint Hilda’s Church and School in the Parish of Katong Singapore”. This legal document was made by the Venerable Graham White, Archdeacon of Singapore. By this document, the Ven. White divested his actual ownership in №41 Ceylon Road and declared that the property should henceforth be dedicated for use as an Anglican church and school forever.

Legal documents in public records had made reference to the existence of this Declaration of Trust made by Ven. White in 1944. However, the Land Registry had no copy of the same as they had no interest in trust documents. Ven. White’s Declaration of Trust is not of public interest. As the title states, it is a Declaration of Trust concerning St Hilda’s Church and School. It concerns no one at large. What the contents of the Declaration of Trust are, under what circumstances the Declaration was made, whether the original document still exists — I cannot think why anybody should be interested in the answers to all those questions. Except of course, those whose benefit Ven. White made the document for, namely, the people of St Hilda’s Church and School.

The Declaration of Trust was composed by a small group of emancipated Christians living in huts in the jungle near Sime Road as prisoners of the Japanese, separated from their spouses and loved ones, but nonetheless still continuing their work for the extension of God’s kingdom. By November 1944, they had been imprisoned for more than two years under progressively deteriorating conditions. As it turned out, the Japanese surrendered in August 1945. But in November 1944, the end of Occupation was nowhere in sight.

The authors had worked in secret. If discovered, they could have been tortured and executed. Their captors did not know English. They would have concluded that the authors were spies and that the document was subversive. Such were the circumstances under which the document was produced.

Evidently, four or more individuals were involved in its production. Firstly, Ven. White himself.

Now Ven. White probably did not ponder over the fate of St Hilda’s Church and School alone. He must have discussed and consulted the matter with such others who were as concerned about St Hilda’s Church and School as he was. Hence, I count Ven. White’s adviser (or advisers) as the second participant.

The third and fourth participants were Messrs C. V. Miles and F. J. Bryant. There is no doubt that Ven. White’s document was drafted by solicitors, as evident from the accurate use of legal words and phrases. The two English solicitors, C. V. Miles and F. J. Bryant who signed and gave their names as witnesses of Ven. White’s signature must have been the very ones who drafted of the document and gave Ven. White legal advice.

The fifth participant in this covert project was the man who actually wrote out the document in his own handwriting. The neat, legible words written longhand in fountain pen ink shows his professional penmanship skills. Anyone who has seen the signatures of Ven. White and Messrs C. V. Miles and F. J. Bryant would agree with me that none of these three gentlemen were the “scribe”.

Surely the document must have undergone a number of drafts and revisions. Who knows how many times our patient, anonymous scribe wrote out the document, before the maker and his solicitors were satisfied with it and it was finally signed.

Was the “scribe” also the one who stitched and bound the pages into a booklet or was that done by yet another participant? — Who knows.

The Declaration of Trust is now kept at Bishopsgate together with other papers relating to №41 Ceylon Road. As I beheld the handmade booklet of thin pages and the fading ink which bore the carefully chosen and meticulously written words of the documents, I was awed and humbled. Who knew that this handmade item, cobbled by a small huddle of languishing captives, would bear testimony to their daring vision of vindication and victory.

Jeannette Chong Aruldoss

24 November 2003

A lawyer practising in Singapore for more than 30 years.