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The Battle Within: POWs in postwar Australia

The front cover of this book depicts the loving embrace of a soldier and his wife after his return from war. It would almost appear that the hardship and nightmare was over. The author has researched and presented a factual and powerful argument that this was not the case. Using Australian Government records, as well as many other sources, Christina has written this rather shocking and sad account of the reality for POW’s and their families.

The attitude in Australia to POW’s was rather strange. They were seen as soldiers who had surrendered to the enemy, rather than fight on, like their compatriots in other regions. The reality of this was it was not their decision. The personal accounts in this book are taken from the men who applied for grants from the “War Trust Fund”; they were frank and honest about their struggles to reintegrate into society and family life. The Australian War Memorial in the 1990’s had only a small section devoted to POW’s, and this focused on objects like swords and ham radios. It seems unbelievable that this attitude was also reflected in the thinking of Generals such as Blamey.

The chapter “A Broken Body Of Men” outlines the mental struggles and psychological disorders which was the lot of so many returned soldiers, but especially POW’s. The Red Cross insisted in their report in 1947, that “Very few POW’s made a permanent adjustment, and many were prone to personality problems.” A Government Committee was formed and ultimately decided that the “Psychological consequences of captivity had been exaggerated and that far too many pensions were being granted for anxiety.” It was also thought that many of the symptoms shown by these men could be caused by gastrointestinal worms. Sterility was also an issue for many of these returned soldiers, but again was not seen as specific to POW’s.

Support for this group was delayed until a former POW became a Member of Parliament. Winton Turnbull launched the “Subsistence Allowance claim,” and continued to fight for it. The RSL requested that the government support this, acknowledging a degree of suffering for this group of men as a basis for the request.

In 2001, the Government passed an act (Compensation for Japanese internment), and men were given a one off $25,000 payment. How sad that the ones who survived, and their families, had to wait so long.

This is a breath taking, factual recount with many lessons to be learned for the future.

AuthorChristina Twomey
PublisherNew South Publications
DistributorNew South Books
ReleasedFebruary 2018