On September 3, 1939, Australian Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies announced the country's involvement in WWII, and from 1942 until the end of the conflict in 1945, the majority of the Australian effort went to defeating the Japanese. Two-thirds of all Australian POWs were captured in the first few weeks of 1942 - including Herbert James "Ringer" Edwards. Edwards was a private in Australia's 2/26th Battalion, and he was captured only a year after enlisting.
His is a survival story for the history books. Not only did Edwards survive three years in brutal Japanese captivity, but he also miraculously survived 63 hours of being essentially crucified. And he was forced to work on the infamous Burma-Thailand railroad. Edwards managed to survive insurmountable odds - nearly 40% of Australian POWs in Japan perished in captivity before the end of WWII.
Edwards Was Essentially Crucified For 63 Hours, Just For Trying To Feed Himself
The story behind Edwards's "crucifixion" began when he and two of his fellow POWs were caught slaughtering cattle for their meat to feed themselves and their comrades. The three of them were sentenced to death. They were bound at the wrists with fencing wire, suspended from a tree, and beaten with a baseball bat. Although the two other men perished, Edwards managed to free his right hand, at which point his captors drove the wire through the palm of his hand to restrain it.
After 63 hours, he was considered "finished." He was cut down by other friends and nursed back to health.
Edwards Worked On The Burma Railway
The Burma Railway was a railroad built by the Japanese using POW labor during WWII. Edwards was one of tens of thousands of POWs forced to cut through the dense jungle and mountains between Thailand and Burma. One POW who worked on the infamous railroad, Milton Fairclough, described rampant illness, hunger, and endless work.
One-fifth of those who worked on the railroad perished. Edwards's resilience as a POW under the Japanese far surpassed the one incident he endured for 63 hours. Edwards managed to survive for three years under some of the worst conditions imaginable.
Crucifixion Was Not The Only Sentence Edwards Managed To Escape
Private Edwards was a survivor, but some part of his survival as a POW cannot be attributed to bravery; rather, he also benefited from sheer luck. Edwards did manage to survive his crucifixion-like experience, but this was not the only time he was sentenced to perish.
The details are unclear, but it's been reported that at one point, Edwards was sentenced to capital punishment and only escaped because his last meal request, chicken and beer, could not be fulfilled. The author Nevil Shute incorporated this fascinating anecdote into his novel A Town Like Alice.
Edwards managed to live a full life despite his hardships during WWII, and he passed in 2000 at the age of 86.
Edwards's Upbringing Led Him To Join The Ill-Fated 2/26th Battalion
Herbert James Edwards was born in Freemantle, Western Australia, on July 26, 1913. Edwards spent the years leading up to WWII serving on ranches in the outback of Australia, herding cattle and horses, which is how he got his nickname, Ringer - it alluded to the practice of "ringing" in cattle at night.
Edwards was herding cattle in Queensland when the conflict broke out, so when he enlisted, he was posted to the 2/26th Battalion, which was formed in Queensland. At the Battle of Singapore in 1942, the entire division that Edwards was a part of was captured by the Japanese and made POWs.