Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beyond words

Uncle & his best friend joined up at the start of the war. They trained together & were posted to the same infantry unit in Malaya. When Japan entered the war the fighting went badly and retreat was ordered.

Uncle was shot in the legs in one of the first clashes with the Japanese army. He was unable to walk, and such was the urgent pace of the retreat that he was among those left behind by their own unit.

Uncle & other men unable to walk were laid in the shade in a sheltered position, their mates propped canvas shades over them, Uncle & his mate shook hands and parted.

One can only imagine what were the thoughts & the mood of the men who retreated south leaving their mates to the Japanese. In later years the only comment on the matter from Uncle's mate was gruff & along the lines of: Had they known what the Japanese treatment of prisoners was to be, they would never have abandoned them.

The wounded men lay abandoned, unable to move, pondering their fate. Hours later they heard the approach of the Japanese army. For most of a day they could hear, but not see, the Japanese carefully making a systematic approach to what would have seemed to be an Australian position.
When Japanese scouts ascertained there was no military threat, the Japanese came in full force. It was made plain to the wounded men that they must march, or be beaten.

None could walk, so Japanese soldiers got stuck into them with rifle butts. It was made plain to the Japanese officer commanding that none of the Australians could walk. The Japanese officer replied that the Australians would march, or the beating would continue.

Most of the skin on the front of Uncle's face had been lifted in a 3-cornered gash, & hung down over his face. His nose, brow ridges and teeth & jaw were smashed, giving him the appearance of being dead. The Australians were pushed together by the Japanese, Uncle was not grouped with the others, presumably he was believed dead.

The Japanese became tired of wielding rifle butts. A tripod mounted machine gun was positioned facing the Australians, and fired continuously into the collection of wounded & immobile Australian soldiers. Then Japanese soldiers advanced forward and bayonetted any who had survived the machine-gunning. The men who were still alive lay still & feigned death, even as they were bayonetted.

After the machine-gunning and bayonetting many were still alive. Uncle & other survivors lay still. The Japanese then poured petrol onto the dead & living Australians and ignited it.

It was dark by this time, & uncle was able to make it into the nearby long grass & into the forest. He was unable to walk, unable to see, & unable to eat. The first 30 days of wriggling on his stomach through the jungle were the hardest.

When recaptured several weeks later, he was wasted enough to not be expected to live, his injuries were in a very serious state.

He recovered in Changi jail, and spent most of the war on the Burma Railway.

At war's end he returned to his home. His eyes had a look in them that caused all & sundry to pause & reflect.

Uncle rarely spoke of the war, always wore long sleeves & long trousers, and became practised at training his hair so that though it appeared to be in an untidy state from him performing manual labour, was actually carefully trained to cover the maximum amount of scarring.

Uncle was one of those who never purchased a Japanese car, and never worked for an employer who dealt, even peripherally, with a Japanese company.

On the difficulty of years later and after a wartime of events, identifying which Japanese officer or soldier committed which atrocity, and the unreliability of identifying the actual perpetrator, he stated that "Hanging any Japanese officer is a good start...", his eyes making it plain how extensively he thought war crimes trials should proceed....

Uncle would have no part of any suggestion of a national reconciliation with Japan, and on occassion walked out of a job without another word rather than be in the presence of one who believed that Japan's wartime record should be treated with tact.

He never exhibited bitterness toward people who seriously urged him that Japan should be treated with tact. In fact he never exhibited anything, simply never responded to any further contact from them, ever.

Uncle went to his grave maintaining that the Japanese were a very intelligent and very dangerous species of monkey that was able to interbreed with humans. This was not an obtuse expression of bitterness, it was his acknowledgement that huge numbers of individual Japanese had over many years, performed acts which no human could have committed.


Sackerson said...

I hardly know what to say, other than I've read this piece attentively. You may be interested in this permanent exhibition - or protest - for Far East prisoners of war, in the National Memorial Arboretum, which we visited a few years ago.

Kay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kay said...

I believe every nation has in its past horrible atrocities that we keep calling inhumane. What Europeans did to gentle native Americans is cruelty beyond imagination. They very nearly wiped out millions of indigenous people, sometimes killing for sport. I wonder how Austalians of the past treated their aborigines. Sadly, this horrible cruelty is what we call inhumane... and yet, it's humans who keep doing it and it doesn't stop. You still hear of it happening around the world.
Why? Why don't we learn?

Sackerson said...

Kay, the Native Americans could also be despicably cruel. And look at the carefully organised ritual mass slaughters by the Aztecs and others. We imagine we're basically good and kind, and have forgotten that the flower of peace and love has its roots in the teachings of Jesus, the Buddha and others.