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I have found your book un-put-down-able!!

As an 83 year old I was too young to for war service but my neighbour and life long friend Harry Sharland, from Sidcup in Kent, (UK) spent much of his war at Kanchanaburi and as a result I have an abiding interest in that particular phase of the war. I have since met and befriended a number of other men who were on the railway. …

Harry was a bank clerk before the war and he used his experience to sneak out of the camp at night and meet Boon Pong, who exchanged officers’ cheques for medical supplies and food. And all those cheques were honoured after the war. Page 105 (Digger’s Story) tells me that you (David) had similar dealings with Boon Pong: maybe you and Harry were known to each other?

Sorrento , Western Australia

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 history when we were together. Tribute has also to go to Brian Roberson, for doubtless he had a part in producing an account which is a cut or two above, indeed well above, the generality of the genre, which of course is not to detract one whit from David’s input—his amazing experiences.

I loved the imaginary cricket account —what an imagination, truly inspired. And I was intrigued at the distinction made between guards who had been at the pointy end of the war from the others —a valid point though it hadn’t occurred to me —the Kempeitai on Timor were ex-China almost to a man, I believe, not that that made them any less objectionable. … And I was interested in David’s take on the Japanese soldiery as having been “brainwashed”, which it took me most of my life post-war to realize, though I think brutalisation during training, indeed throughout service at or near the bottom of the heap played a part also. The command cannot be excused however: witness e.g. the rape and pillage inflicted by order, on the population of Manila, by Imperial Japanese Naval personnel. But who will ever really understand the mindset?

I am also deeply appreciative of the excellent Endnotes, perhaps Brian’s handiwork, but both fascinating and useful to me at least.

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.

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.


The Courier Mail - 11th August 2012

Pattie Wright Review

While I was reading toward the final pages of ‘Digger’s Story’, the book’s author was dying. After living to a great age, David Barrett had no final opportunity, no few hours left, to read the review he had asked me to write. No chance to read my comments about what a good and important book he had written with his friend, Brian Robertson.

Timing is everything in life: I think few would disagree. Therefore, in taking the glass half full attitude to David’s loss - as he was an optimist - happily he was able to live long enough to see the publication of the collaboratively written story of his life. And, with even more satisfaction, Brian Robertson and David knew they had done a good job; a fine job of telling David’s remarkable story as a Medical Orderly in the 2/9th Field Ambulance of the AIF from the fall of Singapore to the end of the war, via the Thai Burma railway.

David’s story is very broad and almost unbelievable. He begins it in Singapore when the great ‘fortress’ was lost. His fascinating insights only add to the ignominy of the loss in human life that the British Empire allowed to take place. David’s time then spent at Changi is high lit by the very Australian story of his invention of an ‘imaginary cricket’ game in order to assuage some of the horrors of war for the shell shocked soldiers in his care. Only an Australian would think of that, and only David would have it work. It was however, the long, long months spent existing during the inexplicable horror of the Thai Burma railway as a POW in L Force, one of the worst Forces on the Line, where David’s risk-taking and trading nature came to the fore. Not forgetting his utter tenacity in staying alive. L Force were gathered together by the Japanese in Changi as a small medical unit to be sent to the Thai Burma railway to stop the diseases that were wiping out the ‘romusha’, the indentured Asian slave labourers co-opted to build the Line. David was only 22 when he found himself in a disease-ridden hospital at Kanchanaburi where he eventually personally helped bury 11,000 forgotten people. Digging graves was just about all David could do on the Line. As he recounts with such pathos;

Digger never once saw any romusha patient receive treatment for his condition in the death house or in the cholera house. As a medical orderly in the cholera ward, all that Digger was permitted to do was to get the patients, if they were fit enough, to kneel with their bare backsides facing him in a row, and he would spray their arses with a liquid given to him by the Japanese. Digger expected this was just salt water. No romusha ever recovered in these wards.’

At war’s end, and after the horrors of the Line, David volunteered to return with a small, Commonwealth War Graves group to find, site and map as many of the Allied graves as was possible. By that stage in his survival, David showed what little time he had for either friend or foe if they had an officer’s uniform on. David writes of this attitude on his return to the still dangerous hell of Thailand and Burma; ‘He saluted no one, spoke to the officers on an equal basis and just got on with his job of attending to the sick.’ David was the last of this small, but dedicated group of men.

David was only 24 years of age when he returned home, and hardly done with life, even after so much living, and dying. The post-war years that followed were of determined foresight in the fight for POW reparation benefits and his own reconciliation with the Japanese. Natural tenacity, pig-headedness and determined manipulation of his life in those POW years had taught David much, but sadly he could never quite figure out how to grab onto those few extra hours to read of how I admired him and of how I both laughed and cried after reading, ‘Digger’s Story’. Thankfully, for Australia’s history, he did write the book; so we all can read it, talk about it. And value it.

One of David’s comments to make me smile, a jewel that should not go un-noted in this book was recounted by him about the time Singapore fell. David thought it more sense to think the best as he had, after all, ended up, ‘butter side up….still managing to knock up a bit of fun’. This quip says a great deal about what the Japanese had to look forward to in corralling our soldiers, but even more about David Barrett.

Author of ‘The Men of the Line’ (MUP-Miegunyah Press, 2008) and ‘Ray Parkin’s Odyssey’ (Pan Macmillan, 2012)

Glued to the Pages

I spent every spare moment with my nose glued to the pages. Digger's character is very strong indeed, and his sense of humour which undoubtedly helped him through horrendous times also assists in alleviating the reader's distress. However much one has read or heard about the horrors of the Japanese camps over many years, to read about them again is still gut-wrenching!

Very moving to me is Chapter 19 about the health of Ex—POWs. David's self analysis is a brilliant piece of writing. What a pity that it was not available years ago to all those families closely associated with ex prisoners who in attempting to adjust to their normal lives tried to lock down their memories and refused to discuss them openly, or who, worse still, tried to discuss the horrors of these years and who were told to forget them and get on with things! I fear this happened a lot, as it did more recently when the troops came home from Vietnam.

Okay, will wipe away my tears, put Digger's Story aside and have a strong cup of coffee. Congratulations to you both for a very fine book that deserves to do well and should be read by all the younger generation, who don't really know how lucky they are.

Perth, WA

Justice and Compassion

“David’s strong sense of justice is closely intertwined with his humane compassion. His continuous search for justice for former POWs of the Japanese Imperial Forces, even decades after the war, has moved many people, not only his fellow former POWs, but also Japanese supporters, including myself.”

Research Professor, Hiroshima Peace Institute


Glued to the Pages
I spent every spare moment with my nose glued to the pages. Digger's character is very strong indeed, and his sense of humour which undoubtedly helped him through horrendous times also assists in a...
Barbara L'Herpiniere

Perth, WA


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