- Swinden, Greg
- Book reviews
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth II
- March 1999 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Title: All Men Back – All One Big Mistake Publisher: Hesperian Press
An odd title for a very interesting book. This is the story of young Signalman Bill (Buzzer) Bee, who served in the cruiser HMAS Perth at the Battles of the Java Sea and Sunda Strait and was later a Prisoner of War of the Japanese.
Following the sinking of Perth, and the cruiser USS Houston, in the Sunda Strait the story follows the adventures and misadventures of Bill Bee and the other Perth survivors as they are held captive in a variety of Japanese POW Camps. These include camps in Java, Singapore, Thailand, Burma (including their time spent on the infamous Thai-Burma Railway) Indo China and finally Japan where they were employed underground in Japanese coal mines.
The title of the book comes from a habitual saying of their Japanese overlords; when a planned move from one camp to another fails to eventuate due to some breakdown in the Japanese communication or logistics chain (a bit like the Australian version of `packs on, packs off – hurry up and wait’.
The book ends with Bee returning safely to his family home in Western Australia, however, over 100 of his comrades did not return – victims of untreated wounds received in battle, malnutrition, Japanese brutality or killed when their unmarked prison ships were sunk by Allied submarine or aircraft,
I found the author’s style of writing very easy to read and the story captivating, no pun intended, and finished the 156 page book in a few hours. Although the story of Australian POW’s held by the Japanese has been told several times before, both collectively and on an individual basis, the tales of the hardship they endured and their determination to survive never cease to amaze me.
Hesperian Press published this book and they have done a very good job. The book includes over 30 illustrations, mainly photos of HMAS Perth and members of her crew and a folded map of South East Asia which is a copy of a Red Cross publication from World War II showing the location of Japanese POW Camps. An appendix lists the Ships Company of HMAS Perth and their final fate (ie killed in action at Sunda Strait, died as a POW, died since the end of the war, or still living).
I purchased my copy for $19.95 from a small bookstore in Western Australia (where the publisher and author are located), however, it may not be readily available on the east coast. The book is available from Hesperian Press PO Box 317, Victoria Park WA 6979.