A Case Study in Tenacity and Aussie Fighting Spirit

There is history with a capital H, which is dates and times and famous men and then there’s history at the personal level, fashioned from the lives of individual people.  And in many ways this is the most difficult to get in a written form. It is the sort of history that mostly disappears with the death of the teller. So in many ways we are really fortunate that Dave “Digger” Barrett ran into someone with the ability to put it on paper: Brian Robertson.

Barrett was born in 1922 and, like so many of his generation of Australian men and women, his life was shaped by the events of World War II. He signed up and joined the 2/9 Field Ambulance. Sent to Malaya 1941, it wasn’t long before he was caught up in the military farce that was the fall of Singapore.

From there it was years of horror and inhuman treatment as a prisoner of the Japanese Army in Changi. And, as if things weren’t cruel enough, he was eventually sent to work on the infamous Thai Burma railway. He was in Kanchanaburi when the bridge over the Mae Klong (River Kwai) was bombed.

As a fit young man and a medical orderly, Barrett had the job of burying many of his mates, fellow prisoners and forced labourers. Fortunate to still be alive at the end of the war, he refused to come home straight away and spent time with the War Graves Commission identifying the final resting places of many other Diggers.

This is as real as history gets.


Ian Barry
The Courier Mail - 11th August 2012