24 Apr 2013
I was prepared not to like Archie's Letter when I realised that it was abridgement of another book called The Line by the same author. Based on that alone, I put it aside for a year, and almost didn't bother reading it this year either. Had I not I would have missed a really special book. Archie's Letter is a must read for all Australians.
It's the true story of Arch Flanagan and his experiences in WWII. Archie saw action in Syria before being taken captive by the Japanese in Java in what was then the Dutch East Indies. Under the command of a very special man, Lieutenant-Colonel "Weary" Dunlop, Archie was transported by the Imperial Japanese Army to Singapore's Changi Gaol, and from there to work on the notorious Burma Railway. The railway is known in Australia as the Death Railway, because it is said one man died for every sleeper laid. Life in the camps was barbarous, and many men died from cholera, exposure, starvation and horrific treatment by the Japanese. Weary looked after them all.
After completion of the railway Archie was transported to Japan in a Japanese ship. Many of the ships were intercepted, and sunk by the Americans. Eighteen hundred Australian prisoners of war died because they were part of Japanese convoys attacked by American submarines. I did not know that until I read this book.
Archie was working mining coal under the see when the atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A day later the war was over.
22,000 Australians were prisoners of war of the Imperial Japanese Army during WWI. One in three died in captivity. In 2010, less than 1000 were still alive. Archie was one of them. That year, for the first time, Archie was unable to attend the dawn service. He wrote a letter to the people who did attend.
"Thanks for coming. Thanks for remembering them. Thank you so much." These are Arch's concluding words.
I learned much from this book. Even after a term studying WWII history, there is much I did not know about the war in the Pacific. It's important for us to know the stories of ordinary men in the wars. It is important that we remember them. That's why we commemorate Anzac Day. Not to glorify war, but in the hope that it will never, ever happen again.
We will be at our town's service tomorrow. We will remember them.
Archie's Letter is harsh reading. War is not nice. I reckon it's good for mature 8 year olds up. Even adults will learn from this book.