The argument I make is this. The men put on New Britain were not permitted to show 'a defeatist attitude' but, as their fate had been decided beforehand, their masters had already shown a totally defeatist attitude and then compounded it by absolute cowardice in not giving permission for planned retreat. Why were the men not given the choice of giving up or going on? I blame the officers as well.
As a ghastly mirror image of the Australians' fate, when the Allies regained Rabaul Japanese troops were exhorted to fight courageously and sacrifice their lives for the Emperor. 'Of courage there was no shortage among the Japanese troops, and ultimately nearly all of them died fighting. They did not know it but back in Tokyo they had already been written off.'
A telegram came to Mrs H.M. Pender of Sweno Avenue on the 8th of October 1945. 'It is with deep regret that I have to inform you that V12000 Pender T M previously reported missing has now been reported missing believed deceased while POW on or after 1 July 42 and desire to convey to you the profound sympathy of the Minister for the Army.' I would have returned it, with deep regret for the Army's incompetence, not only for the insult of not being able to get the dead man's name correct, but for the whole miserable mess.
The Frankston branch of the RSSAILA sent its official regrets on the 11th of October. 'Your sad bereavement will naturally be tinged with pride that your husband in the full blush of his manhood heard the call of Empire.' That's how they expressed themselves in those days.
On the 15th of October came another telegram. Did Doris's heart miss a hopeful beat? Fortunately, or unfortunately, it cleared up the bungle. The names and addresses were got right this time. 'V12000 Render J M became missing on 1st July 1942 and is for official purposes presumed to be dead.'
The whole country was keen to rule off the ledger on these men's lives and get back to building a brave new peacetime world.
On the 5th of December an official certificate of death on war service was issued. On it was another number: VX 129387. Army history was being rewritten.
Jack's sister Constance did her best. 'What a dreadful blow after all this long time of waiting and hoping. I would like to get my hands on those responsible for sending them there. The whole of the Rabaul affair is a disgrace, and stinks. I still feel there is a faint chance for some of them turning up. I agree with that Mr Watson. It is unusual for a boat with all hands to vanish and no one to know anything about it. There are lots of small islands around the Philippines still to be occupied....Keep your chin up.'
In October Aunty Agnes on holidays in Sydney from Western Australia wrote a letter of condolence which was as much about the chaos of the early postwar days. 'Last week I went in to see about transport home and the trains are all booked up until December 17th. I nearly swooned....Tonight we have no lights, except the hurricane lamp. There is a strike in full swing. Seems they are a very common occurrence here.'
On 13 May 1946 Buckingham Palace expressed its sympathy. 'We pray that your country's gratitude for a life so nobly given in its service may bring you some measure of consolation.' Doris got a war widow's pension. With much penny pinching, it kept us alive in a sort of genteel poverty. Before the war there had been no hot water service in the house. For the next 10 years Doris brought in buckets of hot water from the copper in the shed for our baths 6 inches deep. The cold water tap supplied us in the kitchen. A wood fire in the front room did not heat the room, let alone the whole house. Cold, holes in my shoes, poor clothing, the inability to expect anything better than our poverty, those are the things I remember about my childhood. Jack would have been so humiliated.
John James Render died 29 March 1947. His son Jack did not return to help him in his work.
Frankston became a developer's delight.
Jack would have made lots of money after the war. Skilled tradesmen, especially those with building experience, came into their inheritance of good jobs and good money in Frankston. Some of those Frankston men who did not go to war made money, both during and after.
The Futility of Hindsight
Jack believed in the competence of those running the show. Dr Peter Stanley of the Australian War Memorial does not. It is a pity that he was not there at Blanche Bay to tell Jack that there never had been a planned invasion of Australia by Japan. In his Remembering 1942 Conference paper entitled He's (not) Coming South: the invasion that wasn't Dr Stanley castigates 'Australians' for 'kidding themselves', for not looking 'seriously at their role in the Allied war effort', for being 'self centred in their approach to the war from late 1941', and for wanting to believe that 'they faced an actual (rather than a potential) invasion.' Does he mean Australians in the past or Australians now, some Australians all the time, or all Australians some of the time? Struth, what vast generalisations! Struth, what a lack of empathy!
Anne Henderson of the Sydney Institute was not there to tell Jack, as she told us in the Age on 13 January 2003, that, because 'Australians' are so paranoid and bigoted in wartime, Italians in internment camp in Australia were experiencing war 'much worse' than the so-called 'good and loyal' (her quotes) men in New Guinea and other theatres of war abroad. She sounds like one of those self appointed Enlightened Ones who has never experienced, and never will be required to experience, what Jack in Rabaul, and Tom on New Hanover, and Stan on New Ireland and all their mates all over New Guinea had to endure when Germany and Japan and Italy decided to make them their enemies. Struth, what a lack of imagination!
© Jenny Evans, 2003