This 2007 op-ed by Alan Ramsey says it quite well,and I need not add anything except to say
that remembering those who died defending Malaya is important for the sake of history, and to address
ignorance such as this: Anzac Day a jarring experience for migrant Australians
Savaged in battle, blotted from history
April 21, 2007
April 21, 2007
Varley and those Australians who survived the Malayan campaign have always felt the 8th Division's short, brutal war is largely ignored because they ended up POWs on the orders of a British general in Singapore. And when John Howard's pet project of a new $9 million Australian war memorial on the corner of London's Hyde Park was opened by the Queen in November 2003, Malaya was missing from the named list of 47 Australian battle sites chosen from two world wars.Jack Varley is now in his 87th year. He was 19 when he enlisted in the army in July 1940 and 20 when he was shipped to Singapore with the 8th Division's 2/19th Battalion in 1941. He was 21 when cited for a Military Cross for "conspicuous gallantry in complete disregard for his personal safety" during fierce fighting against invading Japanese troops on the Malay peninsula in January 1942.
Varley was still 21 when his war ended.
The British capitulation in Singapore on February 15, 1942 delivered 130,000 troops, including 15,000 Australians, into Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Jack Varley, a junior lieutenant, and his father, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Varley, a World War I winner of two Military Crosses on the Somme, were among them. The Malay campaign had lasted just 70 days as Japanese forces swept 1000 kilometres down the Malay peninsula into Singapore. Australian casualties totalled nearly 3100, including 1789 dead, according to the official war history.
Jack Varley survived 3½ years in Singapore's Changi prison and on the infamous Thai-Burma railway. His father did not. Neither did one in every three of the more than 21,500 Australian soldiers captured by the Japanese in all theatres of the Pacific war. Of these, 7777 died in captivity, including 123 officers, while 13,872 survived. Of the dead, 27 were executed for attempted escape, 193 were executed for "other reasons" and "375 others were believed to have been executed".
Volume four - The Japanese Thrust - of the Australian official war history records: "By comparison, of 7116 Australian soldiers who were prisoners of Germany and Italy only 242 died in captivity. Australian soldiers who escaped from … German or Italian camps numbered 582. Only about eight of the Australian soldiers captured in Malaya succeeded in escaping, evidence partly of the ruthless treatment of recaptured men."
All this is sombre background to this story.
Jack Varley now lives in Queensland. He wrote to me a few weeks ago of the 90th birthday of one of his fellow POWs ("There must be more good in rice than we first thought!"). Then he got to the point: "We belonged to one of the most distinguished and yet unrecognised AIF battalions in World War II. All battalions had heavy battle casualties and [the 2/19th was among] those with the most. But ask the public or the education [system] about the AIF in Malaya and [all] you will be told is they became POWs and built a railway line for the Japs."
Di Elliott, of Evatt, ACT, who lost an 8th Division relative in the notorious Sandakan POW camp in North Borneo, wrote in part to the then veterans' affairs minister, Danna Vale, in June, 2004: "After waiting for a reply for eight months, I am not satisified with your explanation. Irrespective of what process was taken on the choice of battle sites, I and many others still find the omission of Malaya offensive to the men of the 8th Division AIF. Nothing will ever convince me, or others, that the omission is anything short of yet another slur on the history of the 8th Division who, for some reason, are seen by today's historians as nothing more than 'those who became prisoners of war'."
Vale's departmental adviser replied, in part, 2½ months later: "The architect sought to capture the broad events covering two world wars for present and future generations. The focus for veterans is to be found in the 24,000 names of home towns where the separations, losses and aftermath were endured by whole communities. I trust you can accept that the breadth of scope of the design of this memorial prevents it meeting the focus you seek. Thank you for again raising your concerns."
Elliott said this week: "How wrong they are. One word - Malaya - would have done nicely, thank you."