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Bastard Behind the Lines

The extraordinary story of Jock McLaren's escape from Sandakan


his guerrilla war against the Japanese


Tom Gilling

Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin 2021

Paperback   256pp    RRP $29.99


Reviewer: Mike O’Brien, December 2021


Jock McLaren, MC and Bar (1902-1956) indeed led an extraordinary life. He was born in Scotland and claimed under-age active service in the First World War in the Highland Division. Tom Gilling cautions the reader in his prologue: “What people knew about him was only what he allowed them to know, and it was not always true.”

In outline, McLaren joined the 2nd AIF (2nd/10th Ordnance Field Workshop) and was captured in Singapore. He escaped from Changi and was recaptured. He was transferred to Borneo by the Japanese as part of E Force. He escaped and made his way to the Philippines, joining an American-led guerrilla force. His action led to the award of a Military Cross. During this time, he told of removing his own burst appendix without anaesthetic, a feasible operation but perhaps with some exaggerated details. He returned to Australia and joined the clandestine Services Reconnaissance Department. He undertook several hazardous operations in Borneo lasting to the end of the war and was awarded a bar to his Military Cross.

            This is the second biography of McLaren – Hal Richardson published One Man War: The Jock McLaren Story in 1957 - a book also in our collection. It was based on conversations with McLaren and thus its contents are open to question. The reviewed book relies on deeper research. Perhaps echoing Gilling’s incredible achievements, the book is less than well-organised. It takes until page 150 to discover McLaren’s pre-world War Two marriage.

There is an index and a reasonably extensive bibliography in Gillings’s book. The omission in the latter of the several volumes of The Official History of Special Operations Australia is inexplicable. The balance of style leans strongly to the journalistic. It’s a great yarn but a doubtfully accurate history.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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