The heavy task of recording a series of reverses culminating in one of the greatest disasters suffered by British and Allied arms befell the writer of this volume. He has had to tell of shortages and shortcomings in men and materials – the more exposed to notice because in this period there was no victory to shed its mantle over them. The volume is thus a chronicle “Not of the princes and prelates with periwigged charioteers riding triumphantly laurelled to lap the fat of the years”, but all too frequently of men whose moral and physical resources were tried to, and sometimes beyond, the bounds of human endurance.
The volume is mainly concerned with the operations of the Australian Army in the early months of the war against Japan. A very shallow understanding of Australia’s contribution to the struggle would, however, be given if these were not shown in the light of the many and diverse circumstances which determined the nature of the conflict and to a large extent dominated the employment of the Allied forces. The writer therefore has endeavoured to place those operations in their setting and to relate them to the overall strategy determined in London and Washington, Berlin and Tokyo. In this endeavour he has necessarily overstepped the boundaries of an exclusively national viewpoint; but has indicated Australia’s influence upon the decisions of her Allies and the reasons which underlay her own decisions. Although he has naturally described Australian participation in the military operations in greater detail than that of the other forces, this should not be taken as a measure of its relative importance or effect.
Again, the narrative is focused principally upon the ground forces. Accounts of the activities of the naval and air forces are left to the writers of volumes in the companion series, except for such references to those Services as seem necessary because of their bearing upon the course of events generally, and the experiences of the ground forces in particular. Furthermore, attention is necessarily directed principally to infantry action, for it would be impracticable to relate the activities of the ancillary forces on the same scale.
The choice of what the volume should or should not contain was largely a matter of discovering, selecting and fitting together what seemed most interesting and most significant in the stream of events; but the writer has sought also so to present the facts that the reader may have a sound and sufficient basis for judgment. With the object of re-creating the outlook and atmosphere of the time, the words of participants are freely quoted.
Most of the war diaries of the part of the 8th Division, AIF, which fought in Malaya were destroyed when Singapore fell. Soon after the Australians went into captivity, however, unit commanders were instructed to rewrite these diaries. The task was painstakingly performed during the period of several months before parts of the force were dispersed to various areas in Malaya, Thailand and elsewhere, and while the events of the campaign were still fresh in the minds of officers and men. Thus the
diaries were compiled by reference to notes and other surviving records and by searching the recollections of those concerned; also a divisional narrative was compiled. The writer has drawn also on the despatches of Lord Wavell, Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, Lieut-General A. E. Percival and other commanders of the forces engaged in Malaya and in other areas; the Australian War Cabinet minutes; and the very large number of published memoirs of political and military leaders and of soldiers of all ranks Those on which particular reliance has been placed are referred to in the footnotes.
The writer was greatly aided by interviews and correspondence with leading civil and military authorities; formation, unit and sub-unit commanders from generals to lieutenants; and men whose principal jobs were to use their weapons, drive a truck, maintain a telephone line, and so on. All these, by relating what they did, saw or experienced at particular times and places helped to confirm, correct, or amplify information contained in the records.
Indeed, one of the major difficulties has been the mass of material which had to be sifted, analysed, and taken into account. So extensive was the range of such sources and of the assistance given by individuals in response to requests that any fully detailed acknowledgment is impracticable. The sources mentioned in the volume are, however, the main ones from which information and quotations have been drawn. The writer has been helped in procuring documents or by comment on chapters when they were in draft form principally by: Lieut-Generals H. G. Bennett, Sir Vernon Sturdee; Brigadiers F. G. Galleghan, C. H. Kappe, D. S. Maxwell, H. B. Taylor, W. C. D. Veale; Colonels H. H. Carr, W. S. Kent Hughes, S. A. F. Pond, G. E. Ramsay, J. J. Scanlan, W. J. R. Scott, J. H. Thyer; Lieut-Colonels C. G. W. Anderson, B. J. Callinan, B. G. Dawson, W. E. Fraser, W. W. Leggatt, R. F. Oakes, L. N. Roach; Major A. E. Saggers; Captain W. B. Bowring. The comment, suggestions and information received from these soldiers were of great value in the process of revision, but it does not follow that any of them is in full agreement with the contents of the volume in its final form.
Major-General S. W. Kirby, the writer of the corresponding volume in the United Kingdom Official History of the Second World War, visited Australia in 1953 for discussions with Australians who took part in the events described in this book; collaboration with him, both then and since, has been invaluable in searching out and assessing facts and shaping this volume, especially as regards those circumstances and happenings outside the sphere of Australian records. The very thorough accounts of the composition and activities of the Japanese forces which he and his colleagues obtained and collated were generously made available to supplement those from other sources which the writer had to hand.
Voluminous reports of the prisoner-of-war period were studied. Information drawn from these was checked with and supplemented by the large number of diaries kept by the prisoners, and by the many interviews
collected by officers of the Repatriation of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees organisation, which are now systematically catalogued in the library of the Australian War Memorial. The thoroughness with which the interrogations were carried out at the end of the war made it possible for answers to be found from the prisoners themselves to almost every question which arose. These reports, diaries, and interviews have been plundered, sometimes without acknowledgment, with the object of providing an authentic account of the life of the Australians in captivity. The medical aspects of the period of active service and of captivity have been described in more than 150 pages of the second volume of the medical series. In dealing with the period of captivity in the present volume the main endeavour has been to describe the changing organisation and problems of the various groups of prisoners, their movements from place to place, and the general character of their experiences. As an appendix shows, Australian men and women who with many others were prisoners of the Japanese, produced a remarkably large number of books in which their individual and group experiences are described in graphic detail. These books contain intimate accounts of the experiences of Australians in Changi, on the Burma–Thailand railway, in Sumatra, Java, Japan and elsewhere. It is hoped that this narrative will provide a frame into which those individual stories may be fitted.
In the preface of the first volume of this series the difficulty of obeying any one system of transliterating Greek and Arabic place names was mentioned. A similar problem is presented by Indonesian place names. In large-scale maps used by the Allies in the war Dutch spellings of places in the Netherlands Indies were generally followed, but as a rule these are unfamiliar to English-speaking readers, whose atlases have long preferred English phonetic spellings. The atlases, however, disagree with one another as to how the English forms should be arrived at. Thus the Dutch spellings of four places frequently mentioned in the following pages are: Soerabaja, Koepang, Tjilatjap, Makassar. The Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, a main authority on this subject, considers that the best English forms are Surabaya, Kupang, Chilachap, Macassar. The Oxford Atlas, 1951, however, prints Koepang, the National American Geographical Association’s map of the Pacific Ocean, 1952, Surabaja and Makassar. In this volume the English methods of transliteration have generally been employed, but exceptions are made where the Dutch form became so familiar to Australian soldiers that to abandon it might confuse them. Among these exceptions are Koepang, Tjilatjap and (in other volumes of this history) Noemfoor. In the case of Thai place-names, spellings familiar to the prisoners of war have been used.
The services of Mr A. J. Sweeting, a member of the staff of the Australian Official War History section, were in part available in compiling this volume. Mr Sweeting was responsible for procuring most of the documents, collating certain of the information used, preparing biographical footnotes, indexing the volume, and performing other such tasks. He also
drafted, very largely in the form in which it now appears, the story of the fate of the force in Rabaul, and wrote the three chapters which describe the prisoner-of-war period. Thus to a large extent he is a CO-author. Much painstaking work went into the maps drawn by Mr Hugh Groser.
The writer is grateful to his wife for unselfishness, forbearance and fortitude at times when heavy demands were made on her resources of those great qualities. He was stationed in Singapore (where it was his duty to keep in close touch with the course of events, but in a civilian capacity) from April 1941 to February 1942, and in Java almost until its last escape port was closed to Allied shipping. It seems certain that had he realised at first the magnitude of the task which writing this volume would present to him he would not have felt able to perform it. It is no less certain that but for his having drawn heavily and continuously upon the General Editor’s knowledge of military affairs, and his experience, wisdom, and seemingly inexhaustible patience he would not have completed the work as it is now presented.
L. G. W.
25th March 1956