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.
Australian Involvement In WWII Was Lesser Known – But Just As Crucial and DevastatingPhoto: Australian National Maritime Museum on The Commons / Flickr / No known copyright restrictions
Much is known about the Allied and Axis forces of WWII. The Germans were the "bad guys"; America and Britain were the "good guys," and there was a multitude of other players who supported both sides. Yet very little is said about the Australian forces who fought alongside the major players.
Nearly a million Australian men and women served in WWII; more than 30,000 were POWs and 39,000 perished fighting for the Allied powers. Two-thirds of those were captured by the Japanese in the first months of 1942 during the Australian advance through southeast Asia. From that point on, the majority of Australia's effort was directly focused on defeating Japan.
The Entire 2/26th Battalion Of Queensland Was Captured At The Battle Of Singapore
In February 1942, Australia, Britain, and India had forces in control of Singapore. However, these troops were weary from battle, whereas the newly energized Japanese soldiers had just become players in the conflict. The British miscalculated where the Japanese would attack from, and as a result, the troops were easily overtaken. 130,000 Allied troops, including 15,000 Australian soldiers, were taken prisoner on February 15, 1942. This included the 2/26th Battalion, of which Ringer Edwards was a part.
Nicknamed "the gallopers" for their weekly cross-country training run, the 2/26th was an Australian battalion made up of recruits from Queensland and New South Wales. After the capture at Singapore, they spent the next three-and-a-half years as POWs at the hands of the Japanese.
8,000 Australian POWs Perished In Japanese Captivity
Many Former Japanese Troops Faced Trial In Australia After WWII Ended
Australia never forgot the brutality their POWs endured under the Japanese during WWII. Hundreds of these POWs wrote statements attesting to the cruel treatment they endured at the hands of their captors over the years. Trials were held throughout southeast Asia, but Australia also conducted its own trials. 922 men were tried in Australia, 641 of whom were found guilty. 148 were sentenced to capital punishment, and 137 sentences were actually carried out.
Some POWs did not think justice was entirely served, though, as many of those convicted were released early as a part of America's efforts to keep Japan in the western "sphere of influence" during the Cold War.