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The Battle Within

POWs in post-war Australia


Christina Twomey

Randwick, NSW: New South Books, 2018

Paperback    320pp    RRP:$39.99 


Reviewer: Adrian Catt, February 2024


Author Christina Twomey discusses, explores and explains the experiences of ex-prisoners of war (POWs) in Australia post-World War ll, through case-studies, reports, personal accounts, and documentation such as family letters and official correspondence.

The author highlights the perceived distinction between POWs held by Nazis and Italians, and those taken by the Japanese, using examples of differences in food, confinement, interrogation, observation of rights, torture, and murder; ultimately suggesting that the Australian Government and public considered that those held by the Japanese had received far-worse treatment by far. Such views had been formed upon liberation of these POWs and their indelible images and stories of horror.

Returning to Australia as broken men, many faced lives filled with failed marriages, domestic violence, unemployment, financial hardship, homelessness, and psychological damage (including impotence, questions of sexual orientation, and deviancy),

Ex-POWs campaigned hard for Repatriation benefits, to which the Army had strongly objected on the grounds it would create a precedent of surrender, entitlement and malaise.

This detailed book also describes the formation, function, and determinations of the Prisoner of War Trust Fund, and its’ objective of dividing financial benefit amongst desperate claimants, many only to be refused on the basis of being a known drunk, shirker, or exaggerator.

Attention is given to the implications of the White Australia Policy, and the xenophobia toward Asians shared by the Australian Government and its citizens from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, and how such prejudice and hatred shaped views towards Japan and the Japanese.

Immediately post-war, Australia was quick to reward cash and material aid to those in Northern Borneo who had assisted Australian troops flee or hide from the Imperial Japanese Army. Further, a later initiative of awarding Nursing Scholarships to most worthy Malaysian applicants, was instigated in appreciation.

In the late 1950s, the Australian Government started to shift attitudes towards Japan by entering into a Bi-lateral Trade Agreement, in order to put war-time prejudice to rest. The pendulum began to swing over time, and by the 1990s the Balance of Trade had shifted to such an extent that Japanese over-investment, particularly in Australian real estate, had to be thwarted by further regulation.

As this book clearly exposes, ‘one shoe does not fit all’. Ex-POWs are individuals facing circumstances of unique financial, marital, professional, and political perspectives. Such division was most evident amongst ex-POWs on the issues of repatriation, and nuclear armament. A very interesting book, broaching many diverse issues, policies and views, of, and on behalf of ex-POWs in Australia, canvassed in extraordinary detail and academic depth. Well worthy of a read and serious reflection.



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

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