Read any good books lately?
I recently finished Paul Ham’s Sandakan, The Untold Stories Of The Sandakan Death March, which was yet another atrocity of World War 2. Ham, a historian and journalist, specialises in the writing of historical events involving Australia during the 20th Century. Interestingly, Ham’s summation of how and why the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese occurred was clear, concise, and took only 20 pages, making my four years of history classes a total waste of time.(Tip: make sure you have taken your blood pressure tablets before embarking on said 20 pages).
This is an uncomfortable book to read. A Review in the Sydney Morning Herald summed it up perfectly. “ The most comprehensive account written about the worst single atrocity committed against Allied prisoners of war by the Japanese. Ham has written of these events with great power and assiduous research. Surely this is now the definitive account of the Sandakan death marches”.
Those readers under a certain age may not be aware that the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 is considered to be one of the greatest military defeats in the history of the British Empire. Singapore was considered vital to the Brits and impregnable as a fortress. The surrender indicated that the Japanese were truly a force to be reckoned with.
According to figures from the Australian War Memorial over 22,000 Australians became prisoners of war of the Japanese in south-east Asia. The wave of Japanese victories, ending with the capture of the Netherlands East Indies in March 1942, left in its wake a mass of Allied prisoners of war, including many Australians. Most of the Australians (14,972) were captured in Singapore; other principal Australian prisoner-of-war groups were captured in Java (2,736), Timor (1,137), Ambon (1,075), and New Britain (1,049).
My first job back in the 1970’s was with the Department of Repatriation, now known as Veterans Affairs. I had a natural affinity with the old boys and girls from several Wars across the ages and developed a particular interest in Australian POWs, having grown up surrounded by older people who had lived through the Depression and a World War. It was only ever discussed when I left Pumpkin on my dinner plate as a child and suffered a massive lecture about the days of rationing. No matter – I’m still not a fan of pumpkin.
I mention this because the 76th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore will be commemorated at the Shrine of Remembrance, Ann Street, Brisbane on Sunday, 18th February, 2018.
Government and services representatives will be present. The Military Wives Choir will sing the Captives’ Hymn, composed by female captives in the South East Asia regions, and will be followed by a half hour wreath laying ceremony, irrespective of the weather.
Is such a commemoration still relevant? I certainly think so. As a product of the baby boom era I went to primary school with many children who had fathers that went missing for long periods, or whom “drifted” from place to place towing their families along with them. Some of my friends grew up without a father. We all had a friend who was a ” Legacy Kid”. There was no stigma attached as it was not an uncommon occurrence. It was not something that was ever discussed either. It just was. It is only with hindsight and age that I look back and realise why a school mate was at the playground one day, gone the next.
Social gatherings and dinner parties with friends in their 50s, 60s, and even in their 70s, is when we now share stories from our childhood, and most stories are too personal, and sometimes too tragic, to share here.
Three of my best friends are the children of POWs who were detained in Changi. Their fathers may have survived incarceration, though each died prematurely. Funnily enough, each of my friends, though wonderful, loving and funny people, still bare psychological scars of sorts from their childhood.
( Read about Digger Shears in War On Our Doorstep).
Too long ago? What does it matter?
This commemoration is not a celebration. It is a reminder of what happened all those years ago, and in remembering, it is an affirmation that it must not happen again.
Those to be remembered at this service include the chief Queensland Second World War military units of the Eighth Australian Division (2/10th Field Regiment (Artillery) and 2/26th Infantry Battalion) which were comprised almost entirely of young Queenslanders. They suffered inhospitable conditions, slavery, brutality and malnutrition. One third of them died during their three and a half years captivity as prisoners of war of the Japanese. The nurses and civilians will be remembered also.
The program will commence at 10am and the General Public are most welcome to attend. Some seating will be available.
Central Station is the closest Railway station and this area, Anzac Square, is also accessible by bus.
If you are interested in reading more about the resilience, bravery, and guts of the POWs here are a couple of book titles that I have been carting around for thirty years or more, far longer than any husband/s.
If you have a loose hour on the day consider lending some support to families and friends.
We mustn’t forget.