The Lost Battalions
A battle that could not be won. An island that could not be defended. An ally that could not be trusted
By Tom Gilling
Published by Allen and Unwin
RRP $32.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781760632342
This is a particularly poignant book for me as it tells the little known story of two Australian battalions, the 2/3 Machine Gun and the 2/2 Pioneer who were diverted to Java in early 1942 on their way home from the Middle East.
My father’s battalion was also diverted, but thankfully to Ceylon where they remained for nearly six months before returning to Australia. I say thankfully because unlike the troops diverted to Java, he was not thrust into an unwinnable battle with the Japanese. New Guinea still lay ahead of him.
The men of 2/3 and 2/2 battalions faced an impossible task of stopping the inexorable march of the Japanese forces across south-east Asia. Aided only by an “inexperienced and not highly trained” Dutch force and local Javanese natives whose “fighting qualities were doubtful under conditions of modern warfare” the hopelessly outnumbered Australians fought courageously before being ordered by the Allied high command to join the Dutch surrender.
And so began three and a half years of hell as prisoners of the Japanese.
Included among these prisoners was LTCOL ‘Weary’ Dunlop whose foresight in insisting that he be allowed to take medical supplies with him when disembarking in Java saved many Australian lives.
The men of the 2/2 and 2/3 suffered dreadfully, forced to work on the infamous Burma railway before being shipped to Japan in 1944 to work in their coal mines. Three hundred and seventy-two men from these two battalions died during captivity and many more suffered in the years that followed.
The final word should go to ‘Weary’ Dunlop who said “… the lads from Java showed fortitude beyond anything I could have believed possible”.