This is a story of forgotten Australian heroes, the soldiers of two battalions—the 2/3 Machine-Gun battalion and the 2/2 Pioneer battalion—who were on their way home from action in the Middle East to defend Australia from the Japanese when they found themselves diverted to Java to face the vastly superior Japanese army sweeping through the Dutch East Indies. Condemned, for political reasons, by Churchill and the Allied leadership—and by the Australian prime minister, Curtin—to a hopeless battle alongside Dutch forces bent on capitulation, the outnumbered Australians fought heroically before being ordered by the Allied high command to join the Dutch surrender. While their compatriots from the Middle East campaign reached Australia, the men of the 2/3rd and the 2/2nd were marched into captivity and to three and half years of hell as prisoners of the Japanese. For nearly a year, their families in Australia did not know whether their missing fathers and sons were dead or alive. Scraps of information began to trickle out, via radio broadcasts and the Red Cross, about the fate of the prisoners, many of whom ended up on the infamous Thai-Burma railway while others endured atrocious conditions as prisoners in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Several hundred never returned. The full horror of what the men endured only came to light after the wasted survivors were brought home at the end of the war. Some of these men would be key witnesses in war crimes trial against the Japanese.
Tom Gilling is an acclaimed novelist, with a vast array of nonfiction to his credit. He is the co-writer of all of Clive Small's books and the author of Colin Dillon's Code of Silence and Griffith Wars.