‘Cultural depth-charges’


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5Contrast Shute’s ‘a black pool on the ground now dried and oxidised by the hot sun’ with Rudyard Kipling’s ‘There remained only on the barrack-square the blood of man calling from the ground. The hot sun had dried it to a dusky goldbeater-skin film, cracked lozenge-wise by the heat; and as the wind rose, each lozenge, rising a little, curled up at the edges as if it were a dumb tongue. Then a heavier gust blew all away down wind in grains of dark coloured dust’, ‘Love-o’-Women’, Many Inventions (London: Macmillan, 1928), p. 261. Through its echo of Genesis 4:10 (‘… the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground’), Kipling here invests the blood of a soldier (in this case a murder victim) with a significance that is entirely absent in Shute’s description.

6Jim Davidson, ‘“A Town Like Alice”: Alice Springs as Ideal Community 1945–1965’, Meanjin, 53:2 (1994), p. 338: ‘a framing effect is achieved by having the lawyer narrate the story, even if at times he is made to advance the plot by reading letters or listening to the protagonists as they narrate the most recent turn of events’.

7Seamus Heaney, ‘Englands of the Mind’, in Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968–1978 (London: Faber, 1980), p. 150.

8Quoted in C. Day Lewis’s introduction to The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (London: Chatto & Windus, 1931; rpt 1963), p. 23 and by Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975; rpt 2000), p. 119. For the British First World War soldier as a Christ-figure, see also A. Stanley, ‘Anti-War Sentiment and Behaviour as Perceived in the Writing of British Subjects who Served Abroad During the First World War’ (unpublished M.Litt dissertation, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1998), pp. 18–19. I am grateful to Professor Bob White for bringing this dissertation to my attention.

9The story of the Crucified Canadian appeared not only in newspaper reports but was the subject of a book and a lurid propaganda film, The Prussian Cur (1918), sponsored by the US Committee on Public Information and written and directed by the American film-maker Raoul Walsh (1887–1980). A postwar official enquiry into the alleged crucifixion and a much later investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation both concluded there was no evidence to support the story.

10Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, pp. 117–118. The historian Philip Jenkins likens the widely publicised, fictional reports of Serbian ‘rape camps’ from the Bosnian conflict of the early 1990s to the story of the Crucified Canadian: ‘a powerful and once universally credited myth of the First World War, which stated that German soldiers had taken a Canadian war prisoner and crucified him on their front lines in order to taunt their Allied enemy. Not only was the tale bogus in itself, but it did irreparable harm in the Second World War, when the first stories of Nazi atrocities against the Jews were greeted with the cynical question of whether this was another “Crucified Canadian” horror story. Who would be foolish enough to believe such naieve propaganda again? On that occasion, of course, the stories happened to be true’, ‘Constructing Aggression: The Demonization of the Serbs in the Bosnian Conflict’, paper presented at the conference ‘Former Yugoslavia, Past and Present’, Chicago, 31 August–1 September 1995 (http://www.srpska-mreza.com/library/media/jenkins-95.html). James Hayward’s Myths and Legends of the First World War (London: Sutton, 2002), also dismisses the story as ‘mythic’, pp. xii, 101–111.

11Iain Overton, ‘Revealed, the soldier who was crucified by Germans’, International Express [international edition of the London Daily Express], 17 April 2001, p. 16. Overton’s claims became the subject of a television documentary, Crucified Soldier (Tiger Aspect Productions, London, 2001), screened on Channel 4 in Britain in January 2002. In 2003, Overton said: ‘My original sources for the story came from my research into letters in the Imperial War Museum and the Liddle Collection in Leeds where I was getting information for my Cambridge M.Phil thesis’ (personal communication, Iain Overton, 28 October 2003).

12For Shute’s military service in the First World War, see Julian Smith, Nevil Shute (Nevil Shute Norway) (Boston, Mass.: Twayne Publishers, 1976), pp. 15–16.

13Jim Edwards (1913–2000) was a private in the 2/26th Infantry Battalion, 8th Australian Division. My account of his ordeal is based on ‘An Interview with Jim Edwards, 3 November 1966, conducted by John Thomson’, unpublished typescript, J. S. Battye Library Oral History Programme (OH10), J. S. Battye Library, Perth, Western Australia, pp. 1–2. See also ‘Novel life of a bush legend’, The West Australian, 14 June 2000, p. 45 and Humphrey McQueen, Japan to the Rescue: Australian Security Around the Indonesian Archipelago During the American Century (Melbourne: William Heinemann Australia, 1991), pp. 310–316. Shute’s biographer Julian Smith wrongly states that Edwards was ‘nailed down by the Japanese’, Nevil Shute, p. 99.

14In a postcolonial world, it might be tempting to read significance into the fact that both Joe Harman and the Crucified Canadian are colonials – men captured by the enemy while fighting for the British in a foreign war. However, if both their stories are originally factual (and thus accidents of history) such a reading would be over-interpretation.

15Eric Partridge, ‘War Adoptions and Adaptations’, in Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1947; rpt Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1963), p. 360.

16Inazo Nitobe, Bushido: The Soul of Japan. An Exposition of Japanese Thought (1905; rpt Boston, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 1969), p. 1. The historical context of this book of 1905 is interesting. In 1894, the Japanese Army caused international outrage when it massacred the civilian population of Port Arthur during the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Yet a few years later it was receiving accolades in the Western press for its humanitarian treatment of wounded and prisoners during the 1900 Chinese Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5. See Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth Maker (London: Andre Deutsch, 1975; revised edn London: Quartet, 1982), p. 58 and Robert B. Edgerton, Warriors of the Rising Sun: A History of the Japanese Military (New York: Norton, 1997).

17A Town Like Alice, p. 124.

18A Town Like Alice, p. 125.

19Although the film A Town Like Alice was a low-budget production (all its principal photography was shot in England), its makers seem to have made serious efforts in their quest for authenticity. One of the film’s co-screenwriters, the novelist Richard Mason (1919–1997), had served with the RAF in Burma during the Second World War and seems to have been a Japanese-speaker himself. Its script certainly improves on some of Shute’s original dialogue. For example, the novel’s ‘Is there anything I can get for you before you die?’, which makes Captain Sugamo sound like a James Bond film arch-villain, is delivered on-screen as simply ‘What you want?’

20The Knights of Bushido: A Short History of Japanese War Crimes (London: Cassell, 1958).

21End of a Hate: A Sequel to ‘The Naked Island’ (London: Cassell, 1958), p. 158.

22End of A Hate, pp. 158–159.

23A Town Like Alice, p. 98.

24A Town Like Alice, pp. 98–99.

25J. G. Ballard, The Kindness of Women (London: HarperCollins, 1991), p. 28.

26Matthew 27:57–60; Mark 15:43–46.

27The Australian Roman Catholic chapel from Singapore’s Sime Road prisoner-of-war camp was transported to Australia in 1946 and rebuilt and re-dedicated as the ‘Changi Chapel’ at Duntroon in 1988. In Singapore itself, the refurbished Changi Prison Chapel was moved in 1986 to a modern building outside the prison. A wooden lychgate built by Royal Engineers over the entrance to the British cemetery at Changi was re-erected in 1972 as a memorial at the Royal Anglian Regiment’s Bassingbourne Barracks in Cambridgeshire. See Kevin Blackburn, ‘Changi: A Place of Personal Pilgrimages and Collective Histories’, Australian Historical Studies, 112 (April 1999), 153–173 and ‘Commemorating and Commodifying the Prisoner of War Experience in South-East Asia: The Creation of Changi Prison Museum’, Journal of the Australian War Memorial, 33 (2000) (http://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j33/blackburn.htm).

28The ‘Changi Murals’ were painted in 1942–43 by Bombardier Stanley Warren of the 15th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, as the wall decorations of a prisoner-of-war chapel at Roberts Barracks, Changi, which then served as a hospital. Warren used the only materials available to him: brown camouflage paint, crimson and white oil paint, and blue billiard-cue chalk. His five murals show the Nativity, St Paul in Prison, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The restored chapel is maintained today by the Singapore Army (http://www.pwstubbs.force9.co.uk/murals/murals.htm).

29Eric Lomax, The Railway Man (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995; rpt London: Vintage, 1996), pp. 139–40. The quotations in the passage are from Revelation (King James Version) 22:13, Blake’s ‘Preface’ to his Milton (which provides the words of the hymn ‘Jerusalem’), Milton’s Paradise Lost 4:2, and Job 5:7. Lomax’s reference to his mind ‘turning into a machine that produced texts’ suggests Noam Chomsky’s dictum that man is ‘a sentence-producing organism’.

30The Railway Man, p. 175.

31The Railway Man, pp. 32–34.

32During his travels in Queensland, Shute met a doctor who had been a prisoner on the Burma–Thailand Railway and who seems to have suggested the character of Dr Ferris. The doctor appears early in the narrative (pp. 22–25), largely to assist Shute’s exposition of its historical background. He provides an account of the diseases to which Far Eastern prisoners of war were exposed and of their lack of medical supplies that reads like a précis for a lay audience of an article written after the war by the Australian prisoner-of-war doctor Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop, ‘Medical Experiences in Japanese Captivity’, British Medical Journal, vol. 2 (5 October 1946); reprinted in Ray Parkin, Into the Smother: A Journal of the Burma-Siam Railway (London, The Hogarth Press, 1963), pp. 271–291.

33Nevil Shute, ‘Flight Log from England to Australia’, 10 February 1949, quoted in Smith, Nevil Shute, pp. 99–100.

34Smith, Nevil Shute, p. 100.

35‘Author’s Note’ to A Town Like Alice [p. 315]. The novel is also apparently dedicated to Mrs Geysel Vonck and Shute may, in a sense, have fallen in love with her (as his novel’s elderly narrator Noel Strachan does with Jean Paget). His epigraph to the book is a verse from one of W. B. Yeats’s poems to Maud Gonne, ‘When you are Old’:

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true;

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face. [p. iv]

36The quotation is from Surah 4, verse 128 (the Koran’s injunctions on divorce). A present-day English translation gives this verse as: ‘If a wife fears / Cruelty or desertion / On her husband’s part / There is no blame on them / If they arrange / An amicable settlement / Between themselves; / And such settlement is best; / Even though men’s souls / Are swayed by greed. / But if you do good / And practice self-restraint, / Allah is well-acquainted / With all that ye do’, The Holy Qur-an: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary (Al-Madinah/Al-Munawarah, Saudi Arabia: King Fahd Holy Qur-an Printing Complex, n.d.), pp. 256–257.

37A Town Like Alice, pp. 60, 104, 121.

38Japan to the Rescue, pp. 312–313.

39The 1970s BBC television drama series Tenko and Bruce Beresford’s film Paradise Road (1997) also focus on groups of women prisoners.

40Samuel Hynes, The Soldiers’ Tale: Bearing Witness to Modern War (New York: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press, 1997; rpt London: Pimlico, 1998), p. 232.

41Contemporary Authors, 21–22 (1969), p. 219. Greener may possibly have based his character Padre Choyce on a well-known and popular British Army chaplain in Changi, the Rev. Noel Duckworth, although I cannot produce any evidence to support this claim.

4241 Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, p. 272.

43Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1962; rpt London: Vintage, 1994), p. 13.

44No Time to Look Back (London: Victor Gollancz, 1951), p. 7.

45No Time to Look Back, p. 25. In fact, five typewritten copies of each edition of The Survivor were produced – ‘they were carbons: the fifth was almost illegible’ – with hand-coloured illustrations by Searle in aniline dye and brown crayon, Russell Davies, Ronald Searle: A Biography (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990), p. 58.

46The Naked Island (London: Werner Laurie, 1952), pp. 153–154.

47John Coast, Railroad of Death (London: The Commodore Press, 1946), p. 46. Coast refers to Watt in his book by the pseudonym ‘Ian White’.

48Ian Watt, ‘The Liberty of the Prison: Reflections of a Prisoner of War’, Yale Review, 44 (1956), p. 519. The vitamin-deficiency disease beriberi causes painful swelling of the feet – in Changi, it was known as ‘happy feet’.

49Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, pp. 82–90 (‘The Enemy to the Rear’).

50Davies, Ronald Searle, p. 58. After the war, Searle wrote a sardonic account of the suppression of The Survivor: ‘The Survivor: A Warning by Ronald Searle’, ARK: Journal of the Royal College of Art, no. 10 (1954), pp. 35–39.

51Greener served on the headquarters staff of the 8th Australian Division, A. J. Sweeting, ‘Prisoners of the Japanese’, in Lionel Wigmore, Australia in the War of 1939–1945, Series One (Army), Volume IV The Japanese Thrust (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957), p. 517, n. 6.

52Braddon, The Naked Island, pp. 242–243, 254–257.

53Searle joined the Territorial Army in Cambridge six months before war began and was called up into the regular British Army in September 1939. He was a sapper in 287 Field Company, Royal Engineers, 53rd Brigade, 18th (British) Division, which disembarked at Singapore on 13 January 1942, to be rushed straight into the fighting in Johore,‘unfit, unacclimatized, unenthusiastic and untrained in jungle warfare’, Ronald Searle, To the Kwai – and Back: War Drawings 1939–1945 (London: Collins in association with the Imperial War Museum, 1986), p. 46.

54Braddon, The Naked Island, pp. 237–238; Searle, To the Kwai – and Back, p. 128; Davies, Ronald Searle, p. 62.

55Patsy Adam-Smith, Prisoners of War: From Gallipoli to Korea (Sydney: Penguin Australia, 1992; rpt Collingwood, Vic.: Ken Fin Books, 1998), p. 304. Adam-Smith describes No Time to Look Back as ‘a delicate book, quite out of pace with the times when it came out in the early 1950s’, p. 324.

56No Time to Look Back, pp. 134, 178, 218, 180.

57No Time to Look Back, p. 216.

58No Time to Look Back, pp. 220–231.

59John 18:24–28.

60George Moore, The Brook Kerith: A Syrian Story (Edinburgh: Werner Laurie, 1916), D. H. Lawrence, The Man Who Died (London: Heinemann, 1931), Robert Graves, King Jesus (London: Cassell, 1946). Greener may have read The Brook Kerith: after his crucifixion, Moore’s Essene Jesus, like Greener’s Andros, suffers from memory-loss.

61Braddon, The Naked Island, pp. 161,187; Lomax, The Railway Man, p. 81.

62Many prisoner-of-war authors mention the cannibalisation of books for cigarette paper: ‘There was plenty of “hagsbush” and “Tamil’s armpit” [local tobacco], but cigarette paper had run out. Most men were now smoking books and Steve’s Anthology of World Poetry was eyed by the men around him as an almost inexhaustible supply’, Hugh V. Clarke, The Tub (Brisbane, Qld: Jacaranda, 1963), pp. 109–110. Ian Watt read the works of Shakespeare, Dante, and Swift while a prisoner and sometimes used the pages he had read for cigarette paper. The most eloquent writer on this topic is Ronald Searle:

And how we smoked [in Changi in 1944–45]. We inhaled any blade of grass or leaf that would smoulder when wrapped in any morsel of paper that would stay rolled. Thin paper was so rare that in desperation I smoked the corners of many of my drawings, half of Pickwick Papers after a fifth reading, and the whole of Rose Macauley’s Minor Pleasures of Life, which had been respectfully printed by Gollancz on something resembling prayer-book paper. However foul and acrid the result, however like choking over an autumn bonfire, it helped to hold off the constant clamouring of the stomach to be sent down something – anything. (To the Kwai – and Back, p. 158)

Searle adds in a footnote: ‘By chance, many years later, I met Rose Macauley at a party. I told her how I had been able to add a further minor pleasure to her anthology. Sad to say she was not amused, looked me up and down with distaste and turned her back to talk to someone more respectful. Dickens, I feel, would have been more understanding.’

63He Lived in My Shoes: The Autobiography of My Second Self (Sydney: Harrap, 1948).

64Greener quotes the final verse of the song, Umi Yukaba:
Our utmost aim is to die

beside the Imperial banner.

There is no time to look back

and think of ourselves. (p. 248)

Umi Yukaba (‘Across the Sea’) is Japan’s most famous war poem and dates from the eighth century AD. The song based on it was broadcast on radio at the conclusion of Prime Minister Tojo’s announcement of Japan’s declaration of war, John W. Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), p. 25.

65Davies, Ronald Searle, p. 33. Davies captions the drawing: ‘Scene based on notes made by Searle in Changi. Many inmates “found God” there, but Searle’s instinct was to “give the thief a chance”. Original in the possession of Katie Searle’, p. 32.

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