Bastard Behind the Lines by Tom Gilling is a good reminder of how our soldiers suffered in Borneo and the Philippines

The secondary title of this book, prominent on its cover, reads as follows: The extraordinary story of Jock McLaren's escape from Sandakan and his guerrilla war against the Japanese. This is above a picture of a smiling soldier carrying a long gun.

After all that, a reader may expect a full and detailed account of the events suggested in the subtitle, in particular the heroics of McLaren. In fact, what you get is quite different and there are whole chapters where he is not mentioned at all.

That does not take from what seems to be a thorough examination of the events that led to the final removal of Japanese troops from Borneo and the Philippines.

Australian troops, some of them escapees from enemy capture, played a major role in that action, though they do not seem to have been given the credit to which they were due.

McLaren escaped from Changi and later from Sandakan and took a leading role in training local guerrillas and then leading them in actions against the Japanese.

He was a private when he started out, but was promoted, first to lieutenant and later to captain.

He received a number of awards and bars to existing awards and the reader is left regretting that the book was not concerned with him only, because some of his feats were extraordinary

There are other soldier-heroes in the story besides McLaren, and their roles are described fully. Lieutenant (later Captain) Rex Blow, McLaren's boss in many of their activities is one example as is Captain Ray Steele.

So, most emphatically is the man known to the army brass as Mata-Mata 142, a Borneo tribesman who managed to persuade the Japanese that he loved them and hated the other outsiders. He was vital to many of the actions, but managed only to rise to the rank of corporal, though after the war he was awarded an MBE in London by King George VI. Could someone please tell Denzel or Idris that here is a role made for one of them.

Blow and McLaren and the others who had survived those final years and led the opposition to the Japanese are real heroes. All were critical of General Blamey who banned them from making an attempt to rescue the prisoners at Sandakan before those unfortunates were, quite literally, marched to their deaths.

This book points out that the order against the rescue mission came from MacArthur himself. The result: "Of the 2100 Sandakan prisoners alive at the beginning of 1945, just six survived the war." Not a biography of Jock McLaren as its title suggests, this is a book that will remind Australians of what their enlisted soldiers went through in Borneo and the Philippines.

This story How soldiers suffered in Borneo and Philippines first appeared on The Canberra Times.