The Battle Within Ourselves: POWs of Japan in post-war Australia

Christina Twomey

Twomey-02One-third of Australians taken prisoner by Japan in World War Two perished. What of the 15,000 who survived, and returned home in the spring and summer of 1945? The horrors of the Thai-Burma railway are familiar to Australians, but the longer struggle of prisoners of war to rehabilitate themselves, and to win compensation and acknowledgement, is a story just as compelling as captivity

The Battle Within Ourselves reveals the personal struggles of former prisoners of war to reintegrate into their families and communities. It is also a national story about how a reluctant government, who once viewed prisoners of war as defeated soldiers unworthy of commemoration, ultimately embraced them as veterans worthy of special treatment by a grateful state. Once known as ‘white coolies’ or ‘war wrecks’, former prisoners are now more likely to be known as the victims of ‘human rights abuses’ who are prey to ‘traumatic memories’. Finally, the changing public reception to prisoners of war provides a compelling study of how, in the late twentieth century, the eyewitness to trauma became a key figure who renewed cultural interest in the history of war.

Twomey-01The research was funded by ARC DP DP1094837 Captive Australians: The Place of POWs in Australian culture. Christina Twomey’s publications from this project have appeared in the journals Memory Studies, Journal of War and Culture Studies and History Australia. Book chapters appear in the following collections: Australian Prisoners of War 1915-53, eds. J Beaumont, L. Grant & A. Pregram (2015), The Pacific War: Aftermaths, Remembrance and Culture, eds C. Twomey & E. Koh (2015) and Exhuming Passions: Pressure of the Past in Ireland and Australia, eds K. Holmes and S. Ward (2011).