National Library of Australia

David Griffin’s The Happiness Box

David Griffin (1915–2004)The Happiness Box. A Fairy Tale 1942

Illustrated by Leslie Greener (1900–1974)

bound typescript with watercolour illustrations; 20.5 x 17.2cm

ML MSS 5428

Presented by Sir David Griffin, 1990

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
The Happiness Box. A Fairy Tale 1942

At Christmas in 1942, a group of Allied prisoners-of-war in Selarang Barracks, Singapore, with permission from their Japanese captors, made presents for the children of nearby Changi Jail.

Sergeant David Griffin (1915–2004), a solicitor from Sydney, came up with the idea of a book.

The Happiness Box was a tale of a chi-chak lizard (gecko), a monkey and a frog on a quest for the secret of happiness.

Griffin wrote the story, Bruce Blakey (b.1916) typed it, Leslie Greener (1900–1975), an English artist, writer and former editor of the Australian weekly, Pix, drew the illustrations, and then it was bound—all in less than 48 hours.

During inspection, the Japanese became suspicious because the lizard was called Winston (like the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill) and, thinking the book might contain coded messages, ordered it confiscated.

Major Phillip Head told the Japanese he would destroy the book, but instead buried it in a metal container with army records until Singapore was liberated on 5 September 1945.

The book returned to Australia with Griffin. It was published in 1947 and reprinted in 1991. The ABC recently dramatised it.

for teachers Read the Teachers Notes for this item