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Digger's Story

For rememberence day 11/11/13.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common in troops returning from Afghanistan. But David (Digger) Barrett diagnosed himself in1968 as a result of his WW2 service, which ended in 1946. He called it Anxiety Neurosis and he was pretty brave to admit to this in 1968. In his own wards he writes about it: —

Anxiety neurosis is a common affliction of former Prisoners of War (Japan). Many of us with that diagnosis do not understand the illness. We are not able to say just what is wrong with us, and we do not know why we have the symptoms associated with that type of illness. Most of us would, I suspect, deny that we are particularly anxious or that we are neurotic. For several years after liberation, I did have problems of adjustment. By 1960 however, fifteen years after the war, I was able to put aside my identification as an ex- POW and to see myself primarily in terms of my work role. I thought then that my behaviour was normal, and I believed that I no longer had adjustment problems.

Like most of us, I convinced myself that I had no grudge against the Japanese. Whenever questioned about it, I would absolve the Japanese people for the crimes committed by their military leaders. In my efforts to come to a peaceful resolution of my past, I acted sincerely. I believed that I was doing what was both right and necessary. So far as I could tell, I had no problem coming to terms with my prison camp experience.

It was in 1968 that I first began to suspect that I might have a more serious problem than I realised in shedding my prison camp history. On attending my first Anzac Day march and wearing my war medals for the first time, I found to my dismay that a few yards down the road I started to weep uncontrollably. I started to shake and became disorientated. I then broke away from the group I was marching with and made my way home. I have never marched or worn my medals since.

Later, it occurred to me that, during the march, memories had started to flood back of those horrendous years, memories that I thought had been put out of mind or in perspective. When I related he incident to my wife, I tried to tell her about the way the Japanese had treated us in captivity. I again broke down and wept, unable to continue.

In retrospect, I reasoned that I had denied myself the right to have normal human emotions about what had been done to my comrades and me by the Japanese. It was only natural that I should be angry with the Japanese guards. Instead of recognising and admitting my anger, I had denied my feelings because they conflicted with my social training. I had been taught as a child and counselled as an adult that it is wrong to hold a grudge, and that it is right to forgive one’s enemies. I did the dutiful and correct thing, dealing with the issue rationally and free of emotion. For the most part, I thought I was successful in forgiving the unforgivable and in forgetting the unforgettable experiences of my captivity.

It made me see that I was, first of all, a human being and not some kind of forgiving angel. I was able to live with my anger only because it had been so deeply buried in my subconscious that I was not aware of the burden I carried.

(Read more in the book!)

More Prisoner of War Stories

More from Brian RobertsonDuring the years that David Barrett and I wrote Digger’s Story we always had it in mind that we might use more of the material we had. David had collected this from other Prisoners of War who had shared similar experiences during World War Two.

Those who have read Digger’s Story will be aware that David founded the Australian Reparations Committee in 1986 to fight for compensation from the Japanese Government. Part of this process was that ex-POWs or their surviving relatives had to make a claim. This involved completing a simple form and returning it to the committee. On the form there were a few lines to:

  • describe their experience,
  • list any diseases suffered,
  • state any sadistic treatment received, and
  • make any further comment.

(See photographs between pages 146 and 147 in Digger’s Story).

Naturally this was not enough space for everyone to say exactly what they wanted to say and so some applicants attached several pages to their application.

I have those pages still, and I am seriously thinking that the world should also be able to read them.

This, of course, will depend on the wishes of their surviving relatives who I will be trying to contact.

If after trying to contact relatives and gaining permission to use the information or on the other hand not being able to find any relatives, I will make a decision about which stories to use and which not to use.

Any readers who would like more information and eventually a list of the names please feel free to subscribe to our mailing list.

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Reviews

Review from Fellow Digger Jim Ellwood
I am writing to let you know how much I enjoyed it (the book Digger’s Story) and how impressed I was by his extraordinary experiences. What a man he was and how I wish I’d known something of his hi...
Jim Ellwood

Jim Ellwood was also a POW of the Japanese. He accompanied David and a few other ex-POWs to Japan in early December 2011 at the request of the Japanese POW Friendship Program.


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