43rd Infantry Division by Howard F Brown

By Howard F Brown

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This was what Babb called ‘a complete swing of the pendulum’. The old colonial order had been restored, the white man was master, Babb was a prisoner no more. Re-enactments, reimagining: Simpson’s documentary drama Whatever their differences, Sticpewich’s and Babb’s accounts have one crucial feature in common: they were personal accounts. Neither author sought the publication of his manuscript, and to this day their readership has been confined to a narrow circle of historians. Colin Simpson’s Six from Borneo is a very different kind of document.

The entry for 17 May is typical of many: … a native led us to a location where … in 1945 … he was working … he saw 6 Japs[,] 4 ORs [other ranks] and 2 officer types with swords, with a white man (soldier) they put a rope round his neck and strangled him then dragged him into the jungle about 12 yds where they left him. 13 Such information was invaluable to the war crimes trials, and at several points in the diary Sticpewich rehearses his grim testimony to some imagined future court. But he also faced a dilemma.

Not long after the liberation of Labuan, Army Minister Forde issued a statement to the public headed ‘Australian Prisoners of War in Borneo’. It was the first official acknowledgement that Allied troops were interned on Labuan and the first (unsatisfactory) attempt to explain their fate. There was a vague reference to forced marches across the mainland, an admission that ‘defenceless captives’ had ‘been shot by their Japanese guards’ and disturbing revelations of starvation and ‘inhuman brutality’.

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