4000 Bowls of Rice: A Prisoner Comes Home

About The Author

Linda Goetz Holmes is a Historian appointed to the U.S. Government Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, tasked with locating and declassifying material about World War II war crimes.

Summary

The author’s central figure, Australian Staff Sergeant Cecil Dickson, had been a reporter for a Melbourne paper. Already a veteran of fighting in the Middle East, he was returning home with his battalion in January 1942 when it was diverted to Java. Eventually, the battalion joined masses of American, British, Australian and Dutch prisoners working under brutal conditions on the Singapore-Burma railway.

Between stories of suffering and sadistic cruelty the author focusses on the months after Japan’s surrender and Dickson’s return to Australia utilising the letters he had written to his wife.

Personal Take

I enjoyed the different perspective with the protagonist focussing on wars end and getting home to his wife , Binks. It wasn’t until October 1945 that Dickson finally left Asia for Australia and between the lines we get that he could have departed earlier except that as a journalist he was interested in writing the POW experience for the Australian public.

Dickson was pipped at the post by Rohan Rivett, a fellow POW, who wrote the POW Bible, Behind Bamboo, released in 1946, which was the Go To book when I was a student.

One particularly tragic tale refers to the POW who survived years of incarceration only to ring his wife in Perth, Western Australia, on his journey home to learn that she had formed a liaison with another man. He quietly slipped over the side of the ship never to be seen again.

Dickson also relates that as he disembarked off the ship in Melbourne a “ charming woman came up and chatted to him”. It didn’t click that it was his wife of 19 years, Binks.

We have absolutely no idea, do we ?

Stringybark & Short Stories

Stringybark Publishing is an Australian bespoke publishing house in operation since 2010. No, I am not sleeping with anyone within management, nor do I have any monetary affiliations within the organisation.

To be honest, it was only within the last twelve months and my retirement that I took any interest in short stories which is the area in which Stringybark Publishing specialises. Someone once said “A short story is the ideal place for a first meeting, a bit like making the first date for coffee rather than a meal.”

Stringybark Stories encourages Australian and international writers to create and share stories by running regular short story writing competitions throughout each year with a variety of themes. And no, this is not my area of expertise though my appreciation of tales with a decidedly Australian flavour has certainly been fuelled by my recent visits to country townships and a better understanding and appreciation of our unique history. See here for further details: https://www.stringybarkstories.net/index.html

Up until the end of February Stringybark Stories have on offer a choice of two Summer Reading Bushfire Packs containing six different anthologies of short stories written as part of past writing competitions. These cost $29.95 each and include postage within Australia.

ALL PROFITS from these sales will be donated in equal amounts to WIRES Wildlife Information and Rescue Service to assist with the immediate needs of Australian wildlife and Bush Heritage Australia (https://www.bushheritage.org.au/ ) to help protect biodiversity into the future.

I’m not a rampant consumer ( unless the product involves Errol Flynn) and I don’t participate in online shopping ( unless the product involves Errol Flynn). But, WOW!

* Bushfire Update: As a nation we do adversity really well. We rally, support and assist each other. We thrive in times of major dramas. It’s what we do best. We also proportion blame, bitch like six year old girls in the school yard, and carry on like chooks with our heads cut off. Move on kiddies. Pull up those Big Girl Panties and keep moving forward regardless of your politics. “ It will be okay in the end, otherwise it’s not the end.”

** New Participants in competitions most welcome.

And if you have an interest in writing competitions, WOW again.

Around The World Reading Challenge

I don’t need to count the number of books I read each year. I read because it gives me pleasure. Pure and simple.

This year I will add to the mix by deliberately focussing on reading books by authors from other countries, starting with Nigeria. Off to the Library next week to pick up Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

This week I’m staying home. It doesn’t sit right gallivanting at the moment. Doesn’t mean that I’m not having fun. I’m up to series 4 of West Wing, continue to puppy sit and walk the grand fur-baby, and have read a couple of (appalling) books.

Australian comedian Kitty Flanagan’s 488 Rules For Life was a massive disappointment. I’ve seen Kitty live several times and love her to bits. Why so many of our celebrities are turning their hand to books I don’t know.

A couple of short stories by Robert G Barrett were even more woeful. Barrett, an Australian crime writer, was a butcher by trade. Say no more. They reminded me of my Uncle Bill, a commercial traveller, who used to keep a box of girlie magazines and cheap pot boilers in a box in the backyard dunny which was covered in choko vines.

I read his first book back in the early 80s. It was Sydney-centric and I could relate. Who else would understand “ how could you live in the Eastern suburbs and follow St George?”. No more Les Norton for me.

My next big trip is to Papua New Guinea. All booked and paid. I guess it would be appropriate to source some PNG authors too. Any suggestions please?

Christmas Reading

In recovery mode so just finished reading Di Morrissey’s Rain Music. Massive disappointment though I shouldn’t be surprised as I selected it purely for its pretty front cover. I’m generally not one to take any notice of book covers but the flowering Poincianas are very familiar and line the streets where I live.

Tip: Give it a miss.

Doesn’t matter. Fluff is acceptable after too much merriment, isn’t it?

My previous read was Peace by Australian author Garry Disher.

Constable Paul Hirschhausen runs a one-cop station in the dry farming country south of the Flinders Ranges. He’s still new in town but the community work—welfare checks and working bees—is starting to pay off. Now Christmas is here and, apart from a grass fire, two boys stealing a ute and Brenda Flann entering the front bar of the pub without exiting her car, Hirsch’s life has been peaceful. Until he’s called to a strange, vicious incident in Kitchener Street. And Sydney police ask him to look in on a family living outside town on a forgotten back road.Suddenly, it doesn’t look like a season of goodwill at all.

Crime books are not my forte and so I battled through the first few chapters with Constable Plod slowly negotiating his way around his rural precinct. Then it clicked. Plod is working at the pace of the heat and the dry which is so draining on the edge of the Flinders Rangers in South Australia. Beautiful, but the only things that move fast are the flies.

A great read and of course I had no chance in predicting who was the culprit.

Tip: Well worth the effort.

I need a new Reading Challenge for the New Year. I’ve loved discovering more Australian authors, especially indie writers, but I need to up the anti.

Any suggestions?

I blame the chocolates.

Sure Beats Vegemite

My youngest daughter will be playing tourist in Agra over Christmas. Loving her work stint in India she is making sure she clocks up as many experiences as possible.

Cat Balou is loving sampling the Indian foods and spices and I guess being a vegetarian (for medical reasons) helps. She is off to a Celebration of Rice this weekend which should be fascinating.

She disappeared to Sri Lanka for a break recently so my (early) Xmas gift to her was a cooking class whilst in Colombo. Both my daughters undertake cooking classes when travelling through other countries – somewhat surprising given that for many years as University students a Vegemite sandwich was the extent of their culinary expertise.

When they flew the nest to pursue their careers in different parts of the country cooking a seafood paella together on their return home became a family tradition. Well, Cat Balou and I cook paella – Pocahontas was in charge of the sangria

In Australia, there’s this practise of judging a pub meal by the standard of its chicken schnitzel, affectionately known as a schnitty. It just is. When my daughters and I travel outside the country we judge by the paella we consume.

Cait’s Sri Lankan cooking class included Coconut Cassava Chips and a Beetroot Curry which she promises to repeat when she arrives home. I’m not sure what wine goes with a beetroot or jackfruit curry. I’m not even sure what a jackfruit is, or where to buy one, though I am looking forward to the experience.

Daughter of mine always immerses herself into the cultures she visits including delving into the literature. It’s a habit she’s had since childhood: diving in head first from one interest till the next. Here’s Cat Balou’s tip for the next great Indian writer:

I’m a little anxious about any new cooking skill Pocahontas may bring back from her time in remote Nhulunbuy……………

Khaki Town by Judy Nunn

Khaki Town by Australian author Judy Nunn had an interesting byline that had me throw caution to the wind and spend $1 at a charity store. Bargain! It said:

“ inspired by a true wartime story that has remained a well-kept secret for over seventy years”. 

Historical fiction I read this in a single sitting under the comfort of ceiling fans and followed up with a little research.  This is what I discovered:

TRUE STORY:

Back in 2012 an Australian historian, Ray Holyoak, from James Cook University, was researching why US congressman Lyndon B Johnson visited Townsville for three days back in 1942. 

During World War II, Townsville was a crucial base for campaigns into the Pacific, including the Battle of the Coral Sea. To this day it remains a garrison town.

About 600 African-American troops were brought to the city to help build airfields and bridges. These troops, from the 96th Battalion, US Army Corps of Engineers, were stationed at a base on the city’s western outskirts. Two white USA officers handed out serial abuse in the form of racial taunts and violence which resulted in a large-scale siege lasting eight hours.

Holyoak uncovered several documents hidden in the archives of the Queensland Police and Townsville Brigade from the night of 22nd May, 1942, confirming that the soldiers took to machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons and fired into tents where their white counterparts were drinking. More than 700 rounds were fired.

At least one person was killed and dozens severely injured, and Australian troops were called in to roadblock the rioters. ( I suspect alcohol may have played a part which would account for so many lousy shots).

Mr Holyoak also discovered a report written by Robert Sherrod, a US journalist who was embedded with the troops which never made it to the press, but was handed to Lyndon B Johnson at a Townsville hotel and eventually filed away into the National Archives and Records Administration.

For political reasons this incident was hushed up.

Khaki Town is based on these events though very much embellished and personalised with stories about the troops and their interaction with the citizens of Townsville, as well as the relationships between white Australians and aboriginals.

The author also includes a tale of coffins containing the bodies of African Americans on a train from Mt Isa, west of Townsville, which I confirmed here:

https://www.ozatwar.com/usarmy/africanamerican.htm

Sister Eileen Richardson recalls the Americans arrived in Mount Isa and took over Hilton Hall which was owned by Mount Isa Mines, which became the 17th Station Hospital. She remembers a tragic incident where 73 Negro soldiers died after drinking a home brew which was made in disused cyanide drums, which were probably surplus from the mines. The cyanide would have seeped into the inside seams of the drums. The 73 coffins were loaded on a train and sent to Townsville possibly to the US Military Cemetery in Townsville.”

Khaki Town also covers the anti American sentiment by the Aussie soldiers who declared the yanks to be “ over paid, over sexed, and over here”.  Apparently, American troops were also known as paw paws – “green on the outside and yellow on the inside” – which I had never previously heard

The racism in this novel is ugly and Australia is hardly as pure as the driven snow with its White Australia Policy. Regardless, a good read that opened my eyes to an interesting facet of our history. I look forward to reading Holyoaks further research.

The Strand, Townsville, looking over to Magnetic Island

PERSONAL NOTE:

LBJ visited Australia during his presidency in 1966. My ex, a Townsville lad, to this day argues that the biggest thing ever to happen in FNQ was the visit for a day to Townsville by the President, beaten only in popularity by a visit from Elvis Presley’s car. It’s that kind of town.

Jack Reacher and Mickey Mouse

These books were left in a bundle by my front door during the week, a donation for the Little Community Library.

Naturally, I thought it prudent to read the Jack Reacher books before passing them on. Jack and I go back a long way. Great escapism and I’ve always had a soft spot for the lump of a man. Or thug if you prefer. (And that does not include the Tom Cruise version. What a crock!)

Sadly, I confess to breaking up with Jack. There is an issue when a girl wants to send Jack Reacher a Red Cross parcel. Or buy him a dog. Jack sorely needs a dog to call his own.

Someone please let me know when Lee Childs gives Jack a white picket fence or a share portfolio. Or a basset hound. I’ll read all about him again then.

Monash and Chauvel will be undertaken on those long hot days under the ceiling fans when all the guests have departed.

Same with Mickey Mouse.

And thanks from my neighbourhood. Much appreciated 🙂