The Cowra Breakout by Mat McLachlan
The riveting story of the missing piece of Australia’s World War II history, told by bestselling historian Mat McLachlan (Walking with the Anzacs, Gallipoli: The Battlefield Guide).
During World War II, in the town of Cowra in central New South Wales, Japanese prisoners of war were held in a POW camp. By August 1944, over a thousand were interned and on the icy night of August 5th they staged one of the largest prison breakouts in history, launching the only land battle of World War II to be fought on Australian soil. Five Australian soldiers and more than 230 Japanese POWs would die during what became known as The Cowra Breakout.
This compelling and fascinating book, written by one of Australia’s leading battlefield historians, vividly traces the full story of the Breakout. It is a tale of proud warriors and misfit Australian soldiers. Of negligence and complacency, and of authorities too slow to recognise danger before it occurred – and too quick to cover it up when it was too late. But mostly it is a story about raw human emotions, and the extremes that people will go to when they feel all hope is lost.
This book was enjoyed by our readers, with many adding that they were surprised by how much they did enjoy this book.
We found the book to be extremely well researched by the author. With this very factual research the author has then developed a highly detailed and very readable novel about an interesting episode in Australian war history.
The writer was able to take us to this period in time by well researched real personal accounts starting with Japanese Zero fighter pilot Tatsumi Hanada, Australia’s first prisoner of war, shot down over Melville Island following the first Japanese attack on Darwin.
We found it to be a most enjoyable read about the homeland history of Australian soldiers in WW2.
The book also prompted a reflective discussion about how the Japanese prisoners of war were treated by the Australian captors as opposed to how Australian and allied forces along with civilian expats who were captured were treated by the Japanese forces. The Japanese culturally having a completely different attitude to what it meant to be a POW. It was an interesting fact in the book that many Japanese prisoners used false names to conceal from their families in Japan that they were POW’s. Their complete personal shame at being a prisoner, they would rather die in a mass escape than return home after the war to be known as a POW. The Australians treating them well as prisoners only seemed to make them resent their situation more.
This story also gives real recognition to the Australian soldiers who died during this escape and a detailed account of what these soldiers faced on that night in 1944, the night of the breakout.
The cover up following from the Australian authorities, just like the cover up of the bombing of Darwin, evokes hurt and resentment to this day from Australian soldiers and citizens.
As a group we all confessed that we had very little knowledge at all about the Cowra breakout although most of us had heard of the breakout. This bought about a discussion of many other historically important and impressive episodes in Australia’s war history that are not taught in school history as far as we know.
The cover up following from the Australian authorities, just like the cover up of the bombing of Darwin, evokes hurt and resentment to this day from Australian citizens.
A lengthy discussion also followed about Australians’ personal attitudes toward the Japanese after the war. How attitudes have changed over time. Our own grandparents and parents, who lived through this period, had such a different attitude to the Japanese compared to our own generation and that of the current younger generations.
This was a read that we are happy to recommend.
Read by MJ Readers